In the early 1890s, Texas businessman and amateur geologist Patillo Higgins became convinced there was a large pool of oil under a salt-dome formation just south of Beaumont, TX. He and several partners established what was called the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company and made several unsuccessful drilling attempts in the area. In 1899, Higgins leased a tract of land at Spindletop Hill to mining engineer Anthony Lucas. A drilling derrick he had positioned on the ground not far from Beaumont, Texas, officially became the first U.S. oil gusher on this day in back 1901. Unfortunately for Higgins, he’d lost his ownership stake by that point. Reports circulating said Lucas drilled to 575 feet before running out of money. He secured additional funding from John H. Galey and James M. Guffey of Pittsburgh, but the deal left Lucas with only an eighth share of the lease and Higgins with nothing. Lucas continued drilling and on January 10, 1901, at a depth of just over 1,000 feet, oil blew sky-high and started coating the landscape, signaling the advent of the American oil industry. The Spindletop geyser was the largest gusher the world had seen, flowing at an initial rate of approximately 100,000 barrels a day and took nine days to cap. Following the discovery, petroleum, which until that time had been used in the U.S. primarily as a lubricant and in kerosene for lamps, would become the main fuel source for new inventions such as cars and airplanes; coal-powered forms of transportation including ships and trains would also start converting to the liquid fuel. Crude oil, which became the world’s first trillion-dollar industry quickly started transforming towns and creating vast wealth. Beaumont became a “black gold” boomtown, its population triplingin three months. The town filled up with oil workers, investors, merchants and con men (leading some people to dub it “Swindletop”). Within a year, there were more than 285 actives wells at Spindletop and an estimated 500 oil and land companies operating in the area, including some that are major players today: Humble (now Exxon), the Texas Company (Texaco) and Magnolia Petroleum Company (Mobil) were all at the inaugural party.
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