More About the History of Spindletop, Texas
Drilling was difficult at first. Lucas and his men ran into the same problems that other drillers had faced along the Texas coastal plain. There is little in the way of rock at the surface in that part of the world. Instead, oil wildcatters had to drill through several hundred feet of sand. This made the hole prone to cave in on them. To help solve this problem, one of Lucas's drillers, Curt Hamill, came up with a solution that was revolutionary at the time. Instead of pumping water down the hole to flush out the cuttings produced by the action of the drill, he used mud. This proved to help not only in retrieving the cuttings, but just as importantly, it was found that the mud stuck to the sides of the hole and kept it from caving in. It was found there were even more benefits, and mud has been used in almost every drillhole around the world ever since.
Exhausted after 2 months of strenuous drilling, the crew shut down for a week over the Christmas holiday, 1900, having reached a depth of 880 feet. When they arrived back on site on New Year's Day, 1901, they were energized, and within a week drilled down to a depth of 1,020 feet. After pulling the drill out to change some equipment, they started to lower it back in. The day was January 10, 1901. After lowering it back into the open hole to a depth of about 700 feet, a full 17 hours since the last "drilling" had actually occurred, mud started bubbling back up the hole. Seconds later, the drill pipe shot out of the ground with great force, and then...nothing happened.
After a short time, the frustrated and confused drillers set about to clean up the mess and see if anything could be salvaged. All of a sudden, a noise like a cannon shot came from the hole, and mud came shooting out of the ground like a rocket. Within a few seconds, natural gas, then oil followed. The oil "gusher" - greenish-black in color, doubled the size of the drilling derrick, rising to a height of more than 150 feet (about 50 meters). This was more oil than had ever been seen anywhere in the entire world. Captain Lucas had been hopeful that this well might produce 5 barrels per day. In fact, this well, "Lucas 1", flowed at an initial rate of nearly 100,000 barrels per day, more than all of the other producing wells in the United States COMBINED!
There was much money to be made at Spindletop, but there was even more money to lose. It is estimated that $50 million dollars was made from Spindletop, compared with investments equalling $80 million. As had happened in other booms, there were many frauds and cheats, and Spindletop was renamed "Swindletop" by some of the less fortunate and more cynical locals. The population of Beaumont swelled from 10,000 to 50,000 in a matter of months. Before the end of the year, Lucas's well was joined by over 200 other wells, all fighting for space on top of Spindletop. These wells were owned by more than 100 different oil companies. The gusher at Spindletop was responsible for creating several companies that were to become giants in the oil industry, including Gulf Oil, Amoco and Humble Oil Company, which would later become an arm of Exxon.
Now, people realized the true potential of oil - the vast resources that were, in fact, there, and the vast potential that remained. Before Spindletop, oil was used many for lamps and lubrication - after Spindletop, petroleum would be used as a major fuel for such new inventions as the airplane and automobile. Ships and trains that had previously run on the power of coal, now began to switch to oil, becoming convinced that there would be no shortage of the fuel anytime soon. As an example, the Santa Fe Railroad went from only one oil-driven locomotive in 1901 to two hundred and twenty-seven in 1905.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Spindletop. From this point on, nothing in the oil industry would ever be the same again, for this "gusher" ushered in the modern age of petroleum.
The Paleontological Research Institution