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Spindletop—The World Changed Forever

R. Gillespie, Adjunct
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI

President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him setting the United States on the path to becoming a global super-power. This rise was fueled by the country’s industrial power, which entered a new phase on January 10, 1901, when the Spindletop well “blew out” in Texas. Internationally, Spindletop provided Roosevelt with his “big stick,” while domestically, it triggered a shift of money and power away from the north to new ventures in Texas.

The Spindletop well, by itself, increased total world oil production more than 20 percent and increased United States production by nearly 50 percent. After five more wells were drilled, the Spindletop Field could produce more oil in one day than the rest of the fields in the entire world.

Spindletop was a petroleum engineering breakthrough. It proved the worth of the new rotary drilling rig and established many standard drilling practices still in use. Even much of today’s common oil field jargon was coined at Spindletop. Geologically, Spindletop was the first oil field discovered on a salt dome structure. This gave credence to ideas about hydrocarbon accumulations, and basic concepts concerning hydrocarbon seals were first envisioned with the success of this well.

Giant oil companies (i.e., Gulf and Texaco) got their start at Spindletop. Fledgling Texas oil companies (i.e., Magnolia) blossomed and northern oil companies (i.e., Ohio-based Sun) grew dramatically in size. They became Standard Oil’s first serious domestic competition. Oil was now plentiful and cheap. Spindletop confirmed that a mass automobile market could be supported. This in turn soon revolutionized America’s cities and transformed the agrarian society of the 1800s into the industrialized, urbanized society of the 1900s. The world changed forever.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90900©2001 AAPG Eastern Section Meeting, Kalamazoo, Michigan