History of the Oil Boom

5 AM on November 22, 1905 was a moment that forever changed Oklahoma and the American oil industry. Two men, Robert Galbreath and Frank Chesley had been alternating shifts on the floor of a cable tool drilling rig in the Creek Indian Reservation. They had paid for the lease and the rig ($5 a day including driller) with their own money. The well was on the banks of a creek located 4 miles south of an unimpressive, small town on the Frisco Railroad and the Arkansas River by the name of Tulsa. Some small oil discoveries had been found earlier in the Tulsa area and to the north in Bartlesville, just enough to raise some excitement, but nothing very large. Bob and Frank had already drilled through the deepest, known oil-producing reservoir in the area, the Red Fork Sand, at about 1,450 ft. with a slight show a gas. They should have stopped there, but drilling was cheap. They were using only surface casing, the well was not taking water and was not caving. The steam engine boilers were being fed by coal dug off a nearby hill in Jenks. And, they were living right on the rig. On that night they made the irrational decision to drill deeper into the unknown.

Frank had just changed shifts with Bob who went to bed on a cot next to the rig. A couple of feet below the Red Fork Sand, they drilled into a previously-unknown sandstone in that area, the Bartlesville Sand. Frank noticed a stain on the bit and ran a bailer that came up with oil in it. Frank woke up Bob saying "Oil! Oil! My God, Bob. We got an oil well!" The well started to make gurgling noises and then blew in over the derrick with a gusher of 75 barrels of oil per day. The Oklahoma oil boom had started.

Unlike the thick, sour oil from Spindletop, an earlier Texas discovery that had already played out, this oil was light and sweet. Just right to refine into gasoline and kerosene. The reservoir was shallow, less than 1,500 ft. deep, well within the range of the wooden drilling rigs of that day. And the field covered a large area that was soon well defined after drilling just a couple of dry holes. Only 2% of the wells drilled were dry holes. Families from the older and now developed oil fields of Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia rushed into the booming area. Many young men such as Harry Sinclair and J. Paul Getty learned the business and made their first millions in the Glenn Pool. Royalties of almost a million dollars a year were being paid to some Creek Indians who held 160-acre allotments in the field. More money was made on the Oklahoma oil boom than the California gold rush and Colorado silver rush combined. Although Tulsa Oil Field and Supulpa Oil Field names were proposed, Bob and Frank named the Glenn Pool after Ida E. Glenn, the woman who owned the land that they had leased.


Within two years, pipelines had been laid up from the Texaco and Gulf refineries on the Gulf Coast and down from the Standard Oil refinery in Kansas to access the high-quality crude. Dozens of other refineries were built in the Tulsa area. That same year, 1907, Oklahoma became a state. During that year, Oklahoma produced more oil that any other state in the United States and any other country in the world. The small, railroad stop, Tulsa had become the undisputed "Oil Capital of the World."

There is no apparent, geological reason on the surface of the Glenn Pool to drill a well where Bob and Frank drilled. But they did, and they forever changed the American oil industry. The Glenn Pool has produced 340 million barrels of oil. It is not the largest oil field in Oklahoma but it was the first great oil field in Oklahoma. The field is now under waterflood and producing primarily from low-producing, stripper wells. Bob and Frank's original well was plugged and abandoned in 1964 and the major oil companies have gone from Tulsa. The year 2005 marks the 100th anniversary of the Ida E. Glenn discovery and the start of Oklahoma's rich heritage.