Black Gold Beginnings
In 1866, Lyne Barret drilled the first oil-producing well in Texas near present-day Nacogdoches. He produced about ten barrels a day. Oil prices were unstable during Reconstruction, so he shut down his well.
Then the World Changed
On January 10, 1901, Spindletop erupted, sending oil 150 feet up into the wide Texas sky.
100,000 barrels of pure profit spewed out daily. The town of Beaumont grew from 10,000 to 50,000 people practically overnight. Previously cheap land tracts in the area sold for high prices. The now-giant Texaco and Gulf Oil companies were established to store and transport the millions of gallons of Spindletop oil. At the beginning of the 20th century, the black gold of oil rivaled the white gold of cotton as the state's most profitable crop.
Boomtowns, Wildcatters, and Roughnecks
Oil derricks crowded the landscape of Texas boomtowns. Wildcatters (independent oil contractors), boll weevils (farmers inexperienced in the oil industry), and roughnecks (farmers who became oilmen) dreamed of black gold wealth.
Rough was the right word for life in a boomtown.
Sometimes no town existed near a newly-tapped oil field, so shanty towns popped up to serve the thousands of people streaming in. Workers risked gas blindness on the seeping rigs. There was plenty of gambling and fights in the saloons.
Safe drinking water was not available. The smell of the water clearly indicated the presence of alligator, bullfrogs, and fish.
People lived in tents, in cardboard boxes under trees, or in their cars and trucks.
The Legacy of Black Gold Lives On
The Texas oil boom continued throughout the early 1900s.
In 1932, Governor Ross Sterling tried to regulate the wildly expanding oil industry. Throughout the 1930s, big oilmen made big oil money and even bigger contributions to Texas’s cultural, scientific, and educational heritage.
By the 1950s, the peak of the Texas oil boom was ending. Reduced but steady production of a wide range of petroleum products replaced the spectacular eruptions of the early days. In the early 2000s, Texas experienced a second oil boom through natural gas and fracking.
© Bullock Texas State History Museum