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Early Texas Oilfield Photographers


Commercial photographers captured many great views of early Texas oil booms. Common scenes included oil gushers, oilfield fires, fields of wooden derricks, and boomtowns. These photographs were produced and sold, often as real photo postcards (RPPCs). Port Arthur, Texas photographer Frank Trost (1868-1944) had the good fortune to photograph early scenes of the Spindletop oilfield (discovered in 1901), including perhaps the most famous photograph of the Lucas Gusher. Trost sold over 45,000 prints of this photograph in just a few months. His other Spindletop views include dozens of derricks so close together they appear to be touching, the field's first oilfield fire, and several views of early gushers. ostcards were also made from Trost photographs. Benjamin Harrison Loden (1871?-1926) was the founder and owner of Loden's Studio in the North Texas town of Electra. His work appears to be limited to scenes from the town and the Electra oil field (discovered in 1911). His postcards include oilfield fires, derricks, gushers, and a missionary group ready to venture into the oilfield. Frank J. Schlueter (1874-1972) and his wife, Lois, opened a photography studio in Houston in 1907 or 1908. Schlueter captured scenes in many Texas Gulf Coast oil fields, including Goose Creek, Humble, Orange, Sugarland, Pierce Junction, Hull, West Columbia, Damon Mound, Barbers Hill, Markham, Thompson, Rabb's Ridge, Manvel, Blue Ridge, South Houston, and Vinton (Louisiana). Though perhaps best-known for his oilfield photography, Schlueter also documented the growth of Houston and the surrounding area's industries and agriculture until his retirement in 1964 at the age of 90. Much of Schlueter's work is preserved at the Houston Public Library as the Schlueter Photographic Collection. Two additional Texas oilfield photographers were F. (Frank) G. Allen (1881-1921) and L. (Lester) L. Allen (1875-1949). Whether these two contemporaries were related is still being researched. Frank, formerly a New York newspaper photographer, photographed scenes in Goose Creek, West Columbia, and Pierce Junction oil fields including the destruction at Goose Creek caused by a May 24, 1919 “cyclone”. L. L. Allen captured images in the 1920s of Raccoon Bend, Orange, and Spindletop (second boom) oil fields. On the back of some of L.L. Allen's postcards, the cities of Houston, Galveston, or Texas City are stamped. He maintained a studio in Houston, at least in 1912. Census records list him living in the Texas cities of Houston (1910), West Columbia (1920), and Orange (1930). Jack Nolan (1889-1972) was a pioneer Texas photographer and newspaperman who documented the East Texas oil boom of the early 1930s. Nolan's real photo postcards are highly collectible and capture the hustle and bustle of the boom towns and oilfield camps, as well as spectacular images of oil gushers and oilfield fires. He also documented the enforcement of martial law in the oilfields by the Texas National Guard. Nolan photographed some of the early gushers and boomtowns of West Texas before venturing to East Texas. Jack's postcards are also known for their highly descriptive captions.