Historical Tour of Oklahoma's Oil & Gas Industry

The first recorded oil well in what is now Oklahoma was completed in 1859, the same year that Colonel Edwin Drake ushered in the age of oil at Titusville, Pennsylvania. Although Oklahoma's first oil find was accidental - the driller was seeking saltwater - other oil men quickly invaded the Indian Territory in search of "black gold." Their efforts were hampered severely by governmental regulation, inadequate transportation facilities and the lack of a readily accessible market.

Nevertheless, on April 15, 1897, a shot of nitroglycerin brought in the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 - The first commercial oil well in Oklahoma.

Just before Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory were united in single statehood in 1907, a fantastic oil-boom era begin in the region. Its immense oil riches ignited a mineral rush that would ebb and flow across the twin territories and the state for more than thirty years and would rival all previous quests for hidden wealth in the American West.

The Oklahoma oil fields were part of the huge Mid-Continent Oil Region that stretched from central Texas across Oklahoma to eastern Kansas. Within this vast reservoir of crude oil were some of the nation's greatest oil finds. Texas boasted of Desdemona, Eastland, Ranger, Breckenridge, Electra and Burkburnett; Kansas has Neodesha, Augusta, Eldorado, and Paola; Oklahoma claimed Cleveland, Red Fork, Glenn Pool, the Osage, Burbank, Cushing, Healdton, Three Sands, Garber, the Greater Seminole, Oklahoma City, and many others.

More than 8,804,000,000 barrels of crude were pumped from the various pools of the Mid-Continent Region from 1900 to 1935. In twenty-seven of these thirty-five years, this region ranked first among the nation's major producing areas. Moreover, in the years between 1918 and 1922 and between 1924 and 1935, the Mid-Continent Oil Region poured forth more than half of all the crude produced within the United States. Oklahoma was consistently a leader in production within the Mid-Continent Region. For twenty-two of the years between 1900 and 1935 it ranked first among the Mid-Continent Region states in production, and for nine years it was second.

With each new oil pool brought into production, one or more boom towns were created. Many of these suddenly thriving communities previously had been rural hamlets, but others were entirely new creations spawned by the rush for wealth. Most of the boom towns sank back into obscurity or oblivion when production declined from the pools which had given them life. Several of them, however, survived and are modern, progressive communities. The development of most boom towns followed a similar pattern. First, the discovery of a new pool of oil by an enterprising wildcatter would ignite a frenzy of excitement marked by a furious scramble to lease the most promising lands. With the beginning of drilling activity, the community nearest the fields would be inundated by oil-field workers. This rush of humanity would stimulate the frantic construction of hotels, cafès, pool halls, and other establishments designed to meet the needs of the workers. The town would mushroom as men and women of various backgrounds would flock to the area to share in the wealth generated by the black gold flowing from the earth. Frequently the boom towns were so crowded that workers were forced to sleep in tents, on rooftops, or even under pool tables.

The fact that many workers who followed the oil strikes either were single men or had left their families at home added to the chaos of the boom towns. Without the stabilizing influence of wives and families, the men were more likely to spend their leisure time and money in saloons, dance halls, and bawdy houses. Civilizing elements, such as churches and law enforcement agencies, faced a difficult battle under these circumstances. However, in those towns where prosperity persisted over a sufficient period of time, the forces of order and law dominated. More men married or brought their families to the community, schools were constructed, and churches grew in number and attendance. Many of the towns, of course, declined or even died before the civilizing process could take place. Yet even in those places, law-abiding individuals and legitimate businessmen sought to bring stability to the chaos and to establish enduring cities.

Oil made Oklahoma. It ushered the state into the twentieth century and gave it an economic base that for decade allowed continued development. Boom towns, gambling wildcatters, and the men and women whose labor made it all possible are vital elements of the state's heritage. Moreover, the state's petroleum industry had influence far beyond Oklahoma's borders. Technological innovations first tried in the Oklahoma oil fields revolutionized the industry, and the oil fortunes made within the state laid the foundations for some of the world's greatest energy companies, which went on to develop the petroleum industry in dozens of other countries. (Early Oklahoma Oil and Gas, Dr. Kenny Franks)

In 1963 the Oklahoma Petroleum Council, later to be merged into the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, and the Oklahoma Historical Society began a cooperative program to mark some of the significant sites and events in the history of the petroleum industry in Oklahoma.

The participation of the Council and the Association in this activity has been coordinated by a Historical Committee, which works with the Historical Society on research, site selection and dedication plans.

In only one other state has there been such a systematic method of telling the story, by means of historical monuments, of the significant role played by oil and gas.




1. Oklahoma's First Commercial Oil Well
2. State's Earliest Oil Refinery
3. Birthplace of Interstate Oil Compact

4. Oklahoma City Oil Field
5. Tulsa: Oil Capital of the World
6. Oil in the Osage Indian Nation and the Million Dollar Elm
7. International Petroleum Exposition
8. First Gas Processing Plant West of the Mississippi River
9. Oklahoma's First Waterflood


10. Healdton: Oklahoma's First State-Regulated Oil Field
11. World's First School of Petrolem Geology
12. Oklahoma's Oil Pioneers
13. The Greater Seminole Oil Field
14. Bartlesville Energy Technology Center
15. Oil in the Cushing-Drumright Area
16. Patriarch Petrochemical Plant of the Southwest
17. The Anadarko Basin
18. Panhandle Area Natural Gas
19. Reflection Seismograph