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TIME Magazine, June 20, 1955:|
Hero of Spindletop
At 10:30 on the morning of Jan. 10, 1901, on a low hillock called Spindletop just outside Beaumont, Texas, gas rumbled out of its prehistoric tomb, shot up a black plume of petroleum and launched the oil age. The heavy oil spouted 200 feet into the air in the greatest gusher Americans had ever seen. Men saddled their horses and rode off, shouting: "Oil, oil on the hill." As one of them passed 38-year-old Pattillo Higgins, he reined in, yelled: "People are saying you're the wisest man on earth. Hell, ain't you surprised?" "Not exactly," replied Higgins.
The Turning Point. Few had listened to Pattillo Higgin's theory that Spindletop's escaping gas and foul water indicated oil. The experts had scoffed in a body. At the time, America's 58 million annual barrels of oil came from the east, mainly Pennsylvania...
That was a turning point in the history of the U.S. economy. The first Spindletop gusher transformed the U.S. oil business from a tight little enterprise hobbled by the Standard Oil monopoly and near-exhausted wells (each pumping an average of 10 to 50 barrels daily) into an enterprising giant. That first well alone turned out as much oil as 37,000 eastern wells combined, and by year's end production of Spindletop's 138 wells more than equaled that of the rest of the world. Before Spindletop, Russia was the world's No. 1 producer, afterward, the U.S. took the lead it has never since lost.
Spindletop took petroleum out of lamps and lubricants, put it into gas tanks and made it a source of cheap power. It cracked coal's monopoly grip on fuel, and Standard's grip on oil. Before Spindletop, Standard directly controlled 83% of America's annual 58 million barrels; a year later it was just another competitor. Spindletop gave birth to the entire Texas oil industry and to two of its giants: Texaco and Gulf Oil.
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