Texas History: The discovery at Spindletop that changed the oil industry forever

The Lucas Gusher, 1901
The Lucas Gusher, 1901 (University of North Texas Libraries)

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Texas’s economy relied on agriculture, cattle ranching and the lumber industry. Southeast Texas had another resource - oil - but the amount of underground remained a mystery.

According to History, by the end of the 19th century, several discoveries of oil had been made in the southeastern part of the state, including small fields near Nacogdoches and at Corsicana. However, there was a need for more oil.

Related: Howard Hughes Sr., the Houstonian that changed the oil industry

Texas was only producing a mere fraction of the country’s total. In 1900, Texas oil production was 863,000 barrels, while the national total was 63 million.

Just south of Beaumont in eastern Jefferson County, the Spindletop oilfield discovered a salt dome formation. Several oil and manufacture companies attempted to capture oil in Spindletop but were unsuccessful.

In 1899, Anthony F. Lucas, a leading salt dome formations expert, was in charge of the drilling operation. Lucas was able to drill to a depth of 575 feet but was unsuccessful at getting through the salt dome.

A year later, Lucas used a new heavier and more efficient rotary type to dig. For nearly three months, Lucas dug with the assistance of an experienced drilling team from Corsicana.

On January 10, 1901, after numerous attempts at digging into the salt dome, Texas’s oil industry changed forever.

The mud began bubbling from the hole, then six tons of four-inch drilling pipe came shooting up out of the ground. After several minutes of mud, followed by gas then oil spurted out. It’s believed the plume of oil was seen from miles away.

The Spindletop gusher raged for 9 days gushing 100,000 barrels of oil per day. In its first year, Spindletop produced more than 3.5 million barrels of oil; in its second, production rose to 17.4 million.

The success of Spindletop was a significant financial impact on the land and its surrounding areas. Beaumont’s population rose from 10,000 to 50,000.

Many investors came to Texas to get their hands on the oil boom. By the end of 1902, more than 500 companies had been formed, including Gulf Oil Corporation and Texaco. A total of 285 wells were in operation.

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