--> --> The early Wyoming petroleum industry through the eyes of commercial photographers

AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Meeting

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The early Wyoming petroleum industry through the eyes of commercial photographers


Commercial photographers captured many views of Wyoming’s early petroleum industry. Common scenes included fields of derricks, oil gushers, gassers, refineries, oil tank farms, and oilfield camps. These photographs were often produced and sold as real photo postcards (RPPCs). Postcards with scenes of the Salt Creek and Big Muddy oilfields and others with oil refinery views appear to be the most common. During his 58-year career, photographer Ralph Russell Doubleday (1881- 1958), The Rodeo Postcard King, is credited with producing over 30 million real photo postcards. Drugstores, souvenir shops, and over 200 Woolworth stores sold Doubleday postcards. Will Rogers supposedly wrote that Doubleday’s name on a rodeo postcard was like “sterling” on silver. Though he is generally not known for his oilfield photography, Doubleday’s oilfield scenes include oil derricks, refineries, and boomtown scenes from Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming from about 1918 to 1932. His Wyoming postcards include Casper’s Standard Oil refinery (opened in 1914) and the Midwest Oil Refinery (opened in late 1911) and scenes from the Big Muddy oil field (discovered in 1916). Bell’s Studio of Casper, Wyoming advertised oil field and aerial photography as services in the Casper Star-Tribune newspaper as early as 1922. Several Bell RPPC’s, some dated between 1922 and 1925, show scenes from the Salt Creek Oil Field during its boom days. These Bell Salt Creek postcards depict scenes of oil derricks, an oilfield machine shop, and the nearby oilfield towns of Edgerton and Lavoye. Other Bell postcards and photographs show Casper refineries and a Casper oil tank farm. Some of Bell’s oilfield photos appeared in the Casper newspaper. Denver-based photographer Harold Sanborn traveled primarily in Colorado and Wyoming from the 1920s to early 1960s, shooting tens of thousands of photographs. Many of these he produced and sold as postcards. Sanborn captured Wyoming oil field scenes near McFadden and at Steamboat (Butte), as well as several Wyoming oil refinery views.