Oil Reigns at King Ranch

A 1933 lease earned hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and launched a major oil company.


The largest U.S. private oil lease ever negotiated was signed in Texas during the Great Depression. The 825,000 acre King Ranch oil deal with Humble Oil and Refining helped establish a major petroleum company. The 1933 agreement has been extended ever since.

Despite dry holes drilled more than a decade earlier, a geologist convinced his petroleum company to further explore a big ranch in South Texas. At one point covering one million acres, King Ranch today is still bigger than the state of Rhode Island (776,960 acres). According to the Texas State Historical Association, King Ranch began in 1852, when Richard King and Gideon Lewis set up a cattle camp on Santa Gertrudis Creek southwest of Corpus Christi. The ranch expanded into Nueces, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties. Its Running W  brand appeared in the 1860s.

King Ranch became famous for its Texas longhorn cattle. Petroleum exploration there began as early as 1919. Exploratory wells drilled by a future major oil company – the largest in America – were dry holes.

king ranch oil LIFE magazine 1957 cover

Well known in 1957, Robert Kleberg, the grandson of ranch founder, Richard King, made hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from his grandfather’s 1933 lease deal.

Humble Beginnings

Humble Oil and Refining Company, a Houston company founded in 1917, drilled early unsuccessful wells on the King Ranch. With no oil discoveries by 1926, the company let its lease expire. Years would  pass as new exploration and production terms were negotiated.

“Agreement was not reached until 1933 because Humble’s top management was uncertain about the oil potential of this part of Texas,” explained a 2010 article by John Ashton and Edgar Sneed. Company geologist Wallace E. Pratt finally convinced Humble Oil and Refining President W.S. Parrish to lease the King Ranch for $127,824 per year, plus a one-eighth royalty.

King ranch oil Humble Oil Houston logo

Humble Oil and Refining Company’s first home office was built in 1920 at Main and Polk streets in downtown Houston.

The petroleum lease, signed on September 26, 1933, would bring wealth to both the ranch and the young petroleum company. Subsequent leases from neighboring ranches gave Humble Oil and Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. The first successful oil well on the King Ranch was completed in 1939.

“Drilling was minor until 1945, when the Borregas oilfield was discovered,” noted Ashton and Sneed in their Handbook of Texas Online King Ranch article. “After that, several major oil and gas discoveries were made on the ranch, where in 1947 Humble operated 390 producing oil wells,” they added. The company constructed a refinery in Kingsville to handle its growing oil production in South Texas.

Destined for Greatness

King Ranch had 650 producing oil and natural gas wells in 1953. In 1980, a subsidiary — King Ranch Oil and Gas — was formed to conduct exploration and production in five states and the Gulf of Mexico. Eight years later the company sold its Louisiana and Oklahoma holdings to Presidio Oil for more than $40 million.

“In 1992 King Ranch Oil and Gas was one among several companies to discover natural gas off the coast of Louisiana,” concluded  Ashton and Sneed. By 1994, the King Ranch had received oil and natural gas royalties amounting to more than $1 billion since World War II, they estimated.

king ranch oil post card of Kingsville Texas mansion

In Kingsville, Texas, the tiered Mediterranean-style main house of King Ranch headquarters, “looms like a palace over the kingdom.”

Humble Oil and Refining Company will consolidate operations with Standard Oil of New Jersey. By the 1950s it merges operations with Esso, leading to Exxon.

Today, as ExxonMobil,  the company continues to extend the King Ranch lease agreement that has been in effect since September 1933. “The King family became the closest thing to royalty in Texas,” Nanette Watson proclaimed in her April 2012 article in Houses with History. “Admired for their hard work and generosity, the family is expressly private and protective of their land,” she reported. “The ruling family’s tiered Mediterranean-style main house at the headquarters looms like a palace over the kingdom.”

Watson also said the family’s “destined for greatness” legacy was portrayed in the 1956 Hollywood epic “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson.

Although the rancher (Hudson) and the roughneck (Dean) are thrown into conflict prior to an oil gusher, by the time the movie was made, well control had been around more than 30 years (see Ending Oil Gushers – BOP).


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Reigns at King Ranch.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/king-ranch-oil. Last Updated: September 23, 2020. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.


Oil & Gas History News, August 2020

August 19, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 8


Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our August newsletter, and thank you for subscribing. The pandemic continues to bring more people than ever online, especially as an unprecedented school year struggles to begin. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society is sharing energy education research and articles during this time of social distancing. We are adding new and updated posts to the website, which is undergoing improvements, thanks to supporting members.

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

Links to summaries from five weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers. 

August 17, 1785 – Oil Discovered Floating on Pennsylvania Creek

Two years after the end of the Revolutionary War, oil was reported floating on a creek in northwestern Pennsylvania. “Oil Creek has taken its name from an oil or bituminous matter being found floating on its surface,” noted a report by Army Gen. William Irvine. His report of the natural oil seeps would lead to the first U.S. oil well in 1859…MORE

August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Bit

“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented a roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to drilling faster and deeper. Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit…MORE

August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt (Not Tar) Pits discovered

The La Brea, “the tar,” pits were discovered during a Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted a Franciscan friar. Commonly called tar pits, the sticky pools between modern Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. are actually comprised of natural asphalt, also known as bitumen…MORE

July 27, 1918 – Standard Oil of New York launches Concrete Oil Tanker

The Socony, America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, launched from its shipyard at Flushing Bay, New York. Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the barge was 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam and carried oil in six center and two wing compartments, “oil-proofed by a special process,” according to Cement and Engineering NewsMORE

July 20, 1920 – Texas Company reveals Permian Basin

The first commercial well of the Permian Basin produced oil from a depth of 2,750 feet on land owned by William Abrams, an official of the Texas & Pacific Railway. Later “shot” with nitroglycerin by the Texas Company (the future Texaco), the W.H. Abrams No. 1 well today is part of the 75,000-square-mile Permian Basin…MORE

Featured Image

About 450 million years ago, a meteor struck north-central Oklahoma, creating an impact crater – an astrobleme – eight miles wide. Hidden beneath 9,000 feet of sediment, an oilfield discovery at the crater in 1991 attracted worldwide attention of petroleum companies.

“The Ames Astrobleme is one of the most remarkable and studied geological features in the world because of its economic significance,” noted independent producer Lew Ward from nearby Enid in 2007. Learn more in Ames Astrobleme Museum.

Energy Education Articles

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:

It was a foggy summer morning in 1927 as eight airplanes prepared for takeoff before a crowd of more than 50,000 at the Oakland Airport in California. Aviation history was about to be made with a 2,400-mile air race to Honolulu. High-octane gasoline refined by Phillips Petroleum Company powered the “Woolaroc” monoplane to victory in the record-setting but deadly air race. See Flight of the Woolaroc.

“The World’s Wonder Oil Pool” discovery in 1918 on a small farm along the Red River in Texas launched a drilling boom that would bring prosperity — and inspire a Hollywood movie starring Clark Gable, who was a teenager working in Oklahoma oilfields. Two decades later, he would star in “Boom Town,” a 1940 MGM movie inspired by the Burkburnett oilfield discovery. See Boom Town Burkburnett.


In addition to the above articles, a recent AOGHS website posting features Ray Sorenson, a petroleum geologist who has researched first oil sightings in the United States, Canada, and many parts of the world. Sources cited in the ongoing Exploring Earliest Signs of Oil would add up to 11 feet of shelf space!

Please share our latest newsletter. Like many small, educational organizations, the 2020 pandemic has put a financial strain on this historical society. We need your help to tell the many stories of petroleum history.

— Bruce Wells

“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Zebco Reel Oilfield History

Oilfield service provider Zero Hour Bomb Company produced “cannot backlash” fishing reels in 1949 — and became Zebco.


When Jasper R. Dell Hull walked into the Tulsa offices of the Zero Hour Bomb Company in 1947, he carried a piece of plywood with a few nails in a circle wrapped in line. Attached was a coffee-can lid that could spin. Hull, known by his friends as “R.D.,” was an amateur inventor from Rotan, Texas. He had an appointment with executives at the Oklahoma oilfield service company.

Since its incorporation in 1932, the Zero Hour Bomb Company had become well known for manufacturing dependable electric timer bombs for fracturing geologic formations. It had designed and patented technologies for “shooting” wells to increase oil and natural gas production. The company’s timer controlled a mechanism with a detonator in a watertight casing. The downhole device could be pre-set to detonate a series of blasting caps, which set off the well’s main charge, shattering rock formations.

Oil well explosive timers of the Zero Hour Bomb Company

The Zero Hour Bomb Company was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1932. Photos courtesy Zebco.

Hull’s 1947 visit was timely for Zero Hour Bomb Company, because post World War II demand for its electrically triggered devices had declined. With the military no longer needing oil to fuel the war, the U.S. petroleum industry was in recession. The company and other once booming Oklahoma service companies were reeling, and the future did not look good.

“Vast fossil fuel reserves beneath other Middle Eastern nations were being unlocked,” noted journalist Joe Sills in a 2014 article. “OPEC was beginning to take shape, and Texas and Oklahoma-based domestic oil in the U.S. was about to take a decades-long backseat to foreign oil.”

Further, with company patents expiring in 1948, “the Zero Hour Bomb Company needed a solution,” explained Sills, an editor for Fishing Tackle Retailer. After examining Hull’s contraption, a prototype fishing reel, the company hired him for $500 a month. Hull later received a patent that would transform Zero Hour Bomb Company – and sport fishing in America.

Downhole Patents and a Fishing Reel

Beginning in the early 1930s, Zero Hour Bomb engineers patented many innovative oilfield products. A 1939 design for an “Oil Well Bomb Closure” facilitated assembly of an explosive device capable of withstanding extreme pressures submerged deep in a well. A 1940 invention provided a hook mechanism for safely lowering torpedoes into wells. The locking method was to “positively prevent premature release of the torpedo while it is being lowered into the well.”

Two patents in July 1953 for the Zero Hour Bomb Company

Two patents in July 1953 for a well bridge would be among the last the Zero Hour Bomb Company received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer, thanks to a fishing reel designed by R.D. Hull in the late 1940s and patented on February 2, 1954.

A 1941 patent improved positioning blasting cartridges with a canvas plugging device that looked like an upside-down umbrella. The “well bridge” automatically opened “when the time bomb or weight reached a position at the bottom of the well.”

A 1953 design that took this concept even further would be the last patent Zero Hour Bomb received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer. By then, the earliest model of Hull’s new “cannot backlash” reel was attracting crowds at sports shows.

“After trying to design ‘brakes’ for bait-casting reels, and even failing at launching one fishing reel company, Hull hit on a better way one day as he watched a grocery store clerk pull string from a large fixed spool to wrap a package,” reported Lee Leschper in a 1999 Amarillo Globe-News article.

First Zebco reel of 1949

Zero Hour Bomb Company’s first “cannot backlash” reel made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June 1949.

Hull realized he needed a cover to keep the line from spinning off the reel itself and soon developed a prototype, Leschper noted. “Zero Hour officials asked two company employees who were avid fishermen for their opinions on the reel. One tied his set of car keys to the end of the line and sent a cast flying through one of the windows in the plant. The other sent a cast high over the building. All were impressed.”

Given his own Hull-deigned fishing reel at about age six, Leschper recalled, the “tiny black pushbutton reel” came with 6 lb. monofilament line (a petroleum-based polymer), a four-foot white hollow fiberglass rod, and a hard yellow plastic practice plug. It is possible the plug was made from Marlex, a revolutionary plastic invented at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Leschper added, “I wore it down to a nub pitching it across the hard-baked grass in our front yard.”

Zero Hour Bomb Company manufactures Zebco reels

A Zero Hour Bomb Company package addressed to President Eisenhower was submerged in water by White House security in 1956. Photo courtesy Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine.

Earlier, Hull, had tested several designs before developing a production process; the first reel was produced on May 13, 1949. Called the Standard, it made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June. By 1954, the reel’s simple push-button system used today was introduced.

Panic at White House

The regional marketing name – Zebco – became popular, but the bottom of each reel’s foot was stamped with the the name of the manufacturer, Zero Hour Bomb Company. The official name change to Zebco came in 1956, soon after a friend of President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked the company to send a reel to the president.

According to a Zebco company history, when White House security officers saw the package labeled “Zero Hour Bomb Company,” they plunged it into a tub of water and called the bomb squad. After changing its name to Zebco, the company left the oilfield for good.

In 1961, Zebco was acquired by Brunswick Corporation and introduced the 202 ZeeBee spincast, “an instant classic.” After shifting reel assembly production to China in 2000, Brunswick a year later sold Zebco to the W.C. Bradley Company. Zebco headquarters today remains in Tulsa, where it leases a 200,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center.

Jasper R. Dell “R.D.” Hull was inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame in 1975 after receiving more than 35 patents. At the time of his induction, 70 million Zebco reels had been sold. He retired from the former oilfield time-bomb company in January 1977 after being diagnosed with cancer and died in December at age 64.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Zebco Reel Oilfield History.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/zebco-reel-oilfield-history. Last Updated: July 12, 2020. Original Published Date: February 20, 2018.


Oil & Gas History News, June 2020

June 17, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 6 

Oil & Gas History News 

Thank you for taking time to read this month’s American Oil & Gas Historical Society summary of petroleum history during these extraordinary times. Please forward articles from This Week in Petroleum History to your friends and consider becoming a supporting member. Individual donations help the society add more articles, maintain the website, and expand our historical database for educators, students, researchers — and you.  

Monthly Highlights from “This Week in Petroleum History”

Links to summaries from four weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers.  

June 15, 1954 – Launch of First Mobile Offshore Rig 

The barge drilling platform Mr. Charlie left its Louisiana shipyard and went to work for Shell Oil Company in the East Bay field near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Navy veteran Alden “Doc” LaBorde, a marine superintendent for Kerr-McGee Company, designed this first transportable, submersible drilling rig…MORE 

June 9, 1894 – Water Well finds Oil in Corsicana, Texas 

A contractor hired by the town of Corsicana to drill a water well on 12th Street found oil instead, launching the first Texas oil boom seven years before the more famous Spindletop gusher. Although the discovery would bring great prosperity, the city paid the drilling contractor only half his $1,000 fee. The agreement had been for drilling a water well…MORE 

June 4, 1872 – Robert Chesebrough invents Petroleum Jelly 

A young chemist living in New York City, Robert Chesebrough, patented “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he named Vaseline. His patent proclaimed the virtues of the purified extract of oil distillation residue as a lubricant, hair treatment, and balm for chapped hands. Vaseline later helped launch a cosmetics empire…MORE

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons 

A new petroleum product would get its name from the French word for chalk, craie, and an English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous. Crayola Crayons began when Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith of Easton, Pennsylvania, received a patent for their “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black”…MORE 

Energy Education Articles 

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles: 

Oil from Alaska’s North Slope began moving through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System on June 20, 1977. Four years earlier, a deciding vote in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Spiro Agnew had passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act. The 800-mile pipeline system has since carried billions of barrels of oil to the port of Valdez and been recognized as an engineering landmark. See Trans-Alaska Pipeline History

Following the first commercial New Mexico oil well in 1922, the state’s petroleum industry took off with the discovery of the Hobbs field on June 13, 1928, by the Midwest State No. 1 well. Oil production attracted investors and drilling companies, transforming Hobbs from “sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits” to the fastest growing town in America. See First New Mexico Oil Wells

In 1923, near Big Lake in West Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, a new Permian Basin oilfield was discovered after 21 months of cable-tool drilling (averaging less than five feet a day). Within three years of the discovery by the Santa Rita No. 1 well, royalties endowed the University of Texas with $4 million, which the student newspaper reported, “made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.” See Santa Rita taps Permian Basin

Featured Image

To prevent fuel shortages from stalling the 1944 Normandy invasion, Operation PLUTO – Pipe Line Under The Ocean – became a top-secret Allied strategy. Pipe was wound onto enormous floating “conundrums” designed to spool off the pipe when towed across the English Channel. Each mile used over 46 tons of lead, steel tape, and armored wire, for crossing almost 70 miles from Isle of Wight to Cherbourg. Learn more in PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II.
Thank you again for subscribing. Please share this newsletter with your friends — and visit our website often. Help promote using petroleum history in energy education programs and teacher workshops. Finally, support keeping the American Oil & Gas Historical Society operating during these iconic times. — Bruce Wells
Support AOGHS Today!
“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.


Oil Well Tractor Ad Keepsake

Son preserves magazine advertisement with father operating “Caterpillar” D4 Diesel Tractor in New York oilfield.


While working as a foreman in the oilfield service industry in Pennsylvania and New York, Charles Gerringer’s father operated an innovative diesel-fueled tractor. The family kept a circa 1950 trade magazine advertisement featuring Harold Gerringer as he worked at a well using the “Caterpillar” D4.

“My Dad worked for N.V.V. Franchot and was a foreman in the oil and gas fields around Allegany, New York,” Charles noted in a 2019 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “I have an advertisement of him using one of the first modern Caterpillar tractors to pull a well.”

Caterpillar tractor at New York oil well

Thanks to his son Charles, this image of Allegany lease tractor operator Harold Gerringer (at right) in a Caterpllar advertisement has been preserved. This partially restored image of a well workover is from the ad, which appeared in Producers Monthly Magazine.

The trade magazine advertisement featured Harold Gerringer with a “Caterpillar” D4 at a workover site (replacing production equipment to extend the life of a well).  The promotion came from an prominent machine company in the region that sold the “Caterpiller” D4, whose virtue was its low diesel fuel consumption.

N.V.V. Franchot lease

“Never was there a cheaper power on a lease,” the ad proclaimed. Originally designed for farm use, the 41-horsepower tractor proved popular in oilfields. Its ads appeared in Producers Monthly magazine, published by the Bradford District of the Pennsylvania Oil Producers Association from 1936 to 1969.

The “Caterpiller” D4 ad began with a simple description of the oilfield photo. “Four men and a tractor are putting new economy into their work on the N.V.V. Franchot lease at Four Mile, New York, lease pictured above. Credit is due to the N.V.V. F. Munson, the general superintendent, Lawrence Gallets, the foreman, Harold Gerringer the tractor operator, and Norbert Karl, the able helper,” the text noted.

Caterpillar Tractor at oil well ad

“For more than three months now this ‘Caterpillar’ Diesel D4 Tractor has been operating at the amazingly low fuel consumption of only four gallons of Diesel fuel in an eight-hour day,” the ad continued.

The Caterpillar Company ad, promoting the region’s supplier, Beckwith Machine Company, proclaimed: “Never was there a cheaper power on a lease, never so much work for so little fuel cost, and never greater satisfaction for the owner built into a Tractor.”

Beckwith Machine provided contact information for sales at field offices in Pittsburgh, Bradford, Wilkes-Barre, and Harrisburg. Bradford today is home to the Penn-Brad Oil Museum. Not far away in New York, the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar also preserves the region’s considerable petroleum history.

Special thanks to Charles Gerringer, a supporting member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, for sharing a brief part of his father’s oilfield history.

Recommended Reading – Published in 1949, Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State by John P Herrick. “If you are doing business in the oil and gas industry in New York State this is a must read. The level of historical research is excellent,” noted one online reviewer in 2014 after reading the 474-page history.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad. Last Updated: June 18, 2020. Original Published Date: June 14, 2020.


Carl Baker and Howard Hughes

As the U.S. petroleum expanded following the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop in Texas, service company pioneers like Carl Baker and Howard Hughes brought new technologies to oilfields.

Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools specialized in maximizing oil and natural gas production (competitors would include Schlumberger, a French company founded in 1926 and Halliburton, which began in 1919 as a well-cementing company). 

R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.

Baker Oil Tool Company, later Baker International, was founded by Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker Sr. of Coalinga, California, who among other inventions patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

Baker Tools Company founder R.C. “Carl” Baker in 1919.

“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Coalinga historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”

Baker also patented a “Gas Trap for Oil Wells” in 1908, a “Pump-Plunger” in 1914, and a “Shoe Guide for Well Casings” in 1920.

Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” reports the Baker Museum. Baker organized small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.

After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through a well. By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga.

The R.C. Baker Memorial Museum was the 1917 machine shop and office of Baker Casing Shoe. When Baker Tools headquarters moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, the building remained a company machine shop. It was donated by Baker to Coalinga in 1959 and opened as a museum in 1961. Carl Baker Sr. died in 1957 at age 85 – after receiving more than 150 U.S. patents in his lifetime.

“Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” reported the Coalinga museum.

 The Houston, Texas, manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo couttesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

The Houston manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo courtesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

Baker Tools became Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after the 1987 merger with Hughes Tool Company.

Howard R. Hughes Sr.

The Hughes Tool Company began in 1908 as the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company founded by Walter B. Sharp and Howard R. Hughes, Sr.

“Fishtail” rotary drill bits became obsolete in 1909 when the two inventors introduced a dual-cone roller bit. They created a bit “designed to enable rotary drilling in harder, deeper formations than was possible with earlier fishtail bits,” according to a Hughes historian. Secret tests took place on a drilling rig at Goose Creek, south of Houston.

“In the early morning hours of June 1, 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. packed a secret invention into the trunk of his car and drove off into the Texas plains,” notes Gwen Wright of History Detectives. The drilling site was near Galveston Bay. Rotary drilling “fishtail ” bits of the time were “nearly worthless when they hit hard rock.”

AOGHS Support ad

The new technology would soon bring faster and deeper drilling worldwide, helping to find previously unreachable oil and natural gas reserves. The dual-cone bit also created many Texas millionaires, explained Don Clutterbuck, one of the PBS show’s sources. “When the Hughes twin-cones hit hard rock, they kept turning, their dozens of sharp teeth (166 on each cone) grinding through the hard stone,” he added.

Although several inventors tried to develop better rotary drill bit technologies, Sharp-Hughes Tool Company was the first to bring it to American oilfields. Drilling times fell dramatically, saving petroleum companies huge amounts of money.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1901 patent for a dual-cone drill bit.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers has noted that about the same time Hughes developed his bit, Granville A. Humason of Shreveport, Louisiana, patented the first cross-roller rock bit, the forerunner of the Reed cross-roller bit.

Biographers note that Hughes met Granville Humason in a Shreveport bar, where Humason sold his roller bit rights to Hughes for $150. The University of Texas’ Center for American History has a rare 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that chance meeting. Humason recalls he spent $50 of his sale proceeds at the bar during the balance of the evening.

After Sharp died in 1912, his widow Estelle Sharp sold her 50 percent share in the company to Hughes. It became Hughes Tool in 1915. Despite legal action between Hughes Tool and the Reed Roller Bit Company that occurred in the late 1920s, Hughes prevailed – and his oilfield service company prospered.

By 1934, Hughes Tool engineers design and patented the three-cone roller bit, an enduring design that remains much the same today. Hughes’ exclusive patent lasted until 1951, which allowed his Texas company to grow worldwide. More innovations (and mergers) would follow.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

A February 1914 advertisement for the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company in Fuel Oil Journal.

Frank Christensen and George Christensen had developed the earliest diamond bit in the 1941 and introduced diamond bits to oilfields in 1946, beginning with the Rangley field of Colorado. The long-lasting tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s.

After Baker International acquired Hughes Tool Company in 1987, Baker Hughes acquired the Eastman Christensen Company three years later. Eastman was a world leader in directional drilling.

When Howard Hughes Sr. died in 1924, he left three-quarters of his company to Howard Hughes Jr., then a student at Rice University. The younger Hughes added to the success of Hughes Tool while becoming one of the richest men in the world. His many legacies include founding Hughes Aircraft Company and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Learn more oilfield history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

Oilfield Service Company Competition

A major competitor for any energy service company, today’s Schlumberger Limited can trace its roots to Caen, France. In 1912, brothers Conrad and Marcel began making geophysical measurements that recorded a map of equipotential curves (similar to contour lines on a map). Using very basic equipment, their field experiments led to invention of a downhole electronic “logging tool” in 1927.

After successfully developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers lowered another electric tool into a well. They recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating first electric well log of geologic formations.

Meanwhile another service company in Oklahoma, the Reda Pump Company had been founded by Armais Arutunoff, a close friend of Frank Phllips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artifical lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump. Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump (also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology).


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/carl-baker-howard-hughes. Last Updated: May 31, 2020. Original Published Date: December 17, 2017.