1966 IPE Moved into World-Class Building

Associate Editor

OPENING DAY: Texas Governor John Connally was the keynote speaker at the opening day ceremonies for the 1966 International Petroleum Exposition, when the Tulsa Exposition Center, known as the IPE Building,??? was unveiled. The new structure covered more than 10 acres and showcased an enormous cable suspension roof. The building was constructed after being voted upon by the people of Tulsa.

From JAMES O. KEMM, “Tulsa, Oil Capital of the World.???

Editor’s Note: This article is the seventh in a multi-part series about the past, present and future of the oil industry in greater Tulsa and throughout the region. The first through sixth parts appeared in the Mid-June through Mid-November GTR Newspapers.

In the years leading up to the 1966 IPE, cost had become a concern for the exhibitors and they demanded a better ratio between exhibition costs and return on sales. Exhibitors wanted to reduce the number of non-industry visitors and eliminate what they considered interference from the sightseeing public. IPE officials and most Tulsans were opposed to barring the public from the show. The solution was to dedicate certain days of the show for industry people and other days for the public. The first four days were reserved for the general public and the last six were reserved for the guests and customers of the exhibitors.

Another concern for the IPE organizers was the increasing competition from other shows. In 1966 the IPE began to experience losses and these had to be covered by its reserve fund.

As early as 1960, the Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association was recommending that the IPE and all similar oil shows be discontinued. Since 1953 the domestic oil industry had been mired in a market glut and both big and small suppliers had been scrambling for business and trying to save money. In response, IPE officials stated that the technological developments that would continue to take place from 1959-1965 would produce enough equipment that there would be sufficient demand for industry professionals to see it. Therefore, IPE President W.K Warren decided that the 15th IPE would take place.

According to Walker, “Warren was fully aware that if Tulsa did not host the oil show other cities would, for several rivals were clamoring to hold the big international show.” At an October 29, 1963 meeting at the Tulsa Club, bankers, Chamber of Commerce officers, oilmen and state fair officials discussed ways to keep the IPE in Tulsa. Their solution was to propose a $3.5 million bond issue to be held on December 3, with proceeds to be used for the construction of a 10.5-acre exposition building on the Tulsa State Fairgrounds.

In an effort to address the cost concerns of the exhibitors, the IPE directors had determined that construction of the exposition building was necessary to reduce exhibitors’ costs. Additionally, technological developments in instrumentation, automation and processes indicated the character of the IPE would change from an exterior to an interior show.

The bond issue passed and ground clearing for the new site began in mid-1964. The building was completed by 1966 and on April 3 of that year, approximately 5,000 people were on hand for dedication. The Tulsa Daily World reported on April 4, 1966, “Governor Henry Bellmon, speaking from a platform loaded with dignitaries referred to the ‘super duper’ structure as a new industry and said Oklahomans ought to brag more… maybe not as much as Texans, but more.”

The giant building, when completed, was four blocks long, encompassed 10.5 acres and incorporated a cable suspension roof system that eliminated interior pillars. Walker describes it as a “mammoth structure, the largest of its type in the nation. And towering above the entrance to the new building was the ‘Golden Driller,’ eight stories high and weighing 43,500 pounds, a gift of Mid-Continent Supply Company and the permanent symbol of the IPE and Tulsa as oil capitol of the world.”

The 1966 IPE opened on May 12, to much anticipation and excitement. The principal speaker, Texas Governor John Connally, opened the 15th exposition calling for federal and state governments to do everything possible to reverse the slump in exploratory drilling by creating more incentives for oil companies to continue to explore for oil.

The transformations in the oil industry brought about by automation were apparent in the many exhibits in the new exposition building. The Tulsa Daily World, May 13, 1966 pointed out “With the exception of the aerospace industry, the oil industry has used automation to a greater extent than any other.”

Enthusiasm for the innovations in the industry was strong, as described by Walker, “O.W. Graham, president of Instruments Inc., a division of National Tank Company in Tulsa, predicted that the time would come soon that computers would dictate how wells could be pumped to best advantage. Another executive predicted that in the future customers would insert credit cards into gasoline pumps instead of paying a service station attendant.”

As in the past, traditional types of oil field equipment, sporting advancements, were a big feature at the 15th IPE. The Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors demonstrated the Turbo-Titan III. The Tulsa Daily World, May 15, 1966 described it enthusiastically, “It had a gas turbine engine and featured futuristic styling in fiberglass and steel with sophisticated control devices and advanced features for safety, convenience and comfort.” According to the Chevrolet engineers, the advantage of the turbine engine was that it was quieter than conventional gas engines and had few moving parts, making it almost free of vibration and giving it the potential for longer and more trouble-free service. The life of the engine was estimated to be at least 350,000 miles.

Another draw at the show was the Cat 594, the world’s largest pipelayer. It weighed 120,000 pounds and could lift 200,000. Four of these machines were in use on the 175 million dollarTrans-Alpine Project, a 320-mile, 40-inch system to carry crude oil from tankers at Trieste, Italy to refineries in Bavaria, Germany. North American Aviation’s submarine-workboat The Beaver was also on display. It was designed to complete wells 1,000 feet deep in the ocean. Its uses ranged from exploration and survey of the sea bottom to aiding in drilling operations and the installation of flow lines.

Oil professional and casual visitors were in awe of the futuristic machines and devices on display at the 1966 IPE. They weren’t the only ones. The great new IPE building and the marvels of its exposition were so successful that Business Week devoted a two-page spread of text and pictures to it in its May 21 issue. The article emphasized the importance of automation to the oil industry. The IPE management also took steps to assure that a proper record was made on the 1966 show. Tulsa photographer Howard Hopkins was contracted to serve as the official photographer for the event. It was, according to the Tulsa Daily World, May 30, 1966, “one of the biggest photographic assignments ever given to a photographer in the Southwest.”

The 15th IPE closed on May 21 and the general feeling was that the transition from an outdoor to an indoor event had gone smoothly. The county fair atmosphere had been replaced by a business emphasis on customer relationships. Total attendance was some 350,000 from all 50 states and 54 foreign countries. Those who came in for the business-only portion numbered 143,287. In a joint statement President Warren and Manager Martin C. Dwyer, president of the Chicago trade show management firm hired to oversee the operation of the IPE, remarked that the show was highly successful because the exhibitors were pleased with the number of contacts made with customers and prospective customers and the quality and quantity of oil men present.

As 1971 dawned thousands of independent operators believed that the United States was, according to The Tulsa Daily World, December 27, 1970, “on the threshold of a major effort to increase its domestic exploration activities and producing capacity in view of the alarming fuel crisis now upon us.” In response to this the officials of the 1971 IPE decided to make a special effort to assist independent operators and producers, as well as operators of small drilling and well-servicing companies. According to Walker, “This decision was made after a survey by Leslie Brooks and Associates which indicated that there were some 5,000 companies doing exploration and producing activities year-in and year-out. Of these 5,000 firms, some 200 bought 50 percent of the services and supplies and thus received close attention from the sales staff of equipment manufacturers.” This left the other 4,800 companies to fend for themselves in finding out about the latest and best in equipment and supplies. Consequently, IPE officials campaigned to attract independent operators and producers to the 16th IPE by recognizing their important contributions to the industry over the years.

By 1971 F. Randolph Yost of Pan American Petroleum Corp. had succeeded W.K. Warren as IPE president. The 16th IPE was widely anticipated and as of five months before the opening 81 percent of the display space had been sold and $1 billion worth of equipment was scheduled for display inside the IPE building, as well as additional displays for outside.

It opened on May 16 with principal speaker Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton discussing the controversy surrounding the Alaska pipeline. According to the Tulsa Daily World, May 16, 1971, Morton told his audience, “Ecology is the most wonderful thing in the world until the lights go out. You have to look at it from a practical point of view.” He concluded that exploration and production had to continue but with more concern for the land than had been the case in the past.

A symposium series was a new feature that had been added to the 1971 IPE and was intended to help exhibitors to present, in a more understandable way, contributions to the industry and its advancing technology made by the oil equipment manufacturers. The five-day symposium covered topics such as arctic exploration, air, water and soil pollution and new product developments.

Ecological concerns were addressed in the Ecology Hall of Science. This educational program was provided to the general public. Exhibit space was provided free to oil companies, trade associations, IPE exhibitors and educational institutions. Displays were required to be non-commercial and to show how the environment was being protected from the harmful effects of oil exploration. The Ecology Hall had 45 exhibits coordinated by former Oklahoma Governor Dewey Bartlett and George Roberts of Pan American Petroleum Corporation.

Two of the most popular exhibits at the 1971 show were Continental Emsco Corporation’s “Robot Girl” and Halliburton’s simulated trip down a 20,000-foot oil well. The “Robot Girl” (operated by a real girl) gave a taped spiel promoting Continental Emsco’s products. Another exhibit, according to Walker, was a 126,000 gallon water tank with clear glass windows that allowed viewers to observe divers work on an underwater pipeline.

By all accounts the 16th IPE, though not breaking previous attendance records, was a success. Foreign participation had increased to include participation from 62 foreign countries – the highest number of international representation in the IPE’s history. Despite slightly lower attendance than the previous IPE, sales at the 1971 IPE had increased. In celebration of the success of the show and the 56 year history, the Oklahoma Petroleum Council and the Oklahoma Historical Society had a seven-foot high granite monument erected at the Exposition building’s south entrance. The text on the marker noted that the IPE had started in Tulsa in 1923 and had grown from displays of $10,000 worth of equipment to exhibits valued at over $1 billion.

Bill Skelly, William K. Warren Led IPE in the 1950s

GTR Oil Series, Part 6

In 1952, for the second time, the IPE was postponed due to war. The U.S. was engaged in conflict with Korea and the show’s executive committee decided to plan for a 1953 IPE. There was more time to enhance the exhibition area and 35,000 square feet was added for outside exhibit space. Again housing would be a challenge but Tulsans were prepared. More than 1,150 private homes had been secured to provide accommodation to out-of-town visitors. Discussions had taken place as to how to better handle the housing complications. It was decided that the show would be extended from eight days to ten days. The logic was that it would allow companies to send half of their executives to the show for a few days. They would return home and the other half would attend.

Promotion of the 13th IPE was strong. In August of 1952 Governor Johnston Murray sent Shirley Barbour, Miss Oklahoma 1952, on a 16-day tour of Eastern cities as a “goodwill ambassador” to promote the IPE. She represented the Governor, who at the time was touring South America to present foreign oil executives with a special invitation to the exposition.

The 1953 show opened to great ceremony with Governor Murray addressing the visitors and, according to Walker, “the unfurling of the largest American flag ever flown in the air, measuring 60 by 80 feet.” There were 1,484 displays valued at over $100 million.

Foreign participation was particularly strong during the 1953 IPE. Foreign manufacturers had made tremendous progress and displayed their equipment with pride. Companies such as Eisenwvrkwuefel of Germany, Societe Nationale de Materiale Recherché L’Exploration of France and the Council of British Manufacturers of Petroleum Equipment and various others gave every indication that they planned to make a permanent impact on the oil in the United States.

A noticeable feature of the 1953 exhibits was how the petroleum industry had adapted technology from other industries for its own uses. Electronics were being used in every process used by oilmen, atomic power was being used for well-logging equipment, and plastics were used in well-bottom equipment, coatings, pipes and corrosion-resistant tanks.

Increasing along with the number of exhibits was the number of marketing materials, brochures and pamphlets handed out to the visitors. Visitors rushing around with armfuls of information were a common sight. For them it was “must reading” along with all of the information coming off of the trade presses. The Oil and Gas Journal offered free “Improve Your Reading” tests to help busy executives get through the daily mountain of reading material. Many of the oilmen saw the value in being able to read quickly and participation in the tests was strong.

In order to divert themselves from the overwhelming amount of information, excitement and fast pace of the exhibition, the 1953 visitors and their wives enjoyed themselves by engaging in a wide variety of entertainment events planned for them by the exhibition organizers. There were symphony concerts, baseball games, luncheons, museum tours, teas and style shows, cocktail parties and dinners.

1953 was a significant year for women at the IPE. It was the first year that the “Woman of Achievement Award” was presented, honoring the contributions of women in the many different areas of the oil industry. The first woman to receive the award was Ernestine Adams, an oil magazine editor from Dallas. The Tulsa World reported, “She received an all expense paid trip to the IPE and was honored at an elegant banquet.”

Attendance at the IPE had mushroomed. During the 13th IPE it was 450,000. Again, the show was considered by all to be an unrivalled success.

W.G. Skelly’s death in 1957 created great turmoil for the IPE. He had been the president of the IPE for 30 years. Everyone had grown to depend on his vision and leadership. After his death the executive committee frantically searched for a successor. They decided on William K. Warren, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Warren Petroleum Corporation and a director of Gulf Oil Corporation. He would serve as IPE president for 11 years. He was very active in the oil industry, as well as a respected civic leader and philanthropist. Warren brought wisdom, vision and energy to his new position, and his IPE executive committee planned to hold the grandest IPE ever in 1959.

1959 marked the 100th anniversary of the oil industry. The IPE committee was determined to highlight Tulsa’s importance in the history and development of the industry.

In 1918 Tulsa was the undisputed Oil Capitol of the World with 40 percent of the world’s production coming from or around Tulsa. By 1959, oil production had doubled around Tulsa. But the percentages had changed. As Walker points out, ”In 1958 the entire world produced 17,700,000 barrels of oil per day, and there were 275,000,000 in worldwide reserves, 60 percent of which was American-controlled. Tulsa, even though its percentage of this production had dropped sharply, continued to lead in oil exploration, research techniques, drilling and transportation.” This leadership was attributed to the University of Tulsa’s Petroleum Engineering School.

Tulsans had always had great pride in living in the Oil Capitol of the World and hosting the IPE. They continued to demonstrate their support for the 14th IPE in 1959. Over 2,000 Tulsa families opened their homes to provide lodging for visitors to the show. There were record numbers of visitors. Over 30,000 people per day attended the show viewing over $500 million worth of equipment displayed in over 1000 booths.

IPE President Warren dedicated the 14th IPE to former IPE President W.G. Skelly. As quoted in the 1959 Tulsa Spirit IPE Scrapbook, he stated, “From the day that Bill Skelly became the president of the IPE in 1925 until his death, his was the hand that steered this exposition show until it became recognized as the greatest single industry exhibition in the world. Therefore, I think it is fitting that in memory of Bill Skelly I now declare this International Petroleum Exposition officially open.”

The 14th IPE focused on innovations in the oil industry. They were simple, yet made a significant impact. According to Walker, “Within the past year world oil production had been increased significantly by the simple expedient of injecting into wells detergents similar to those used in cleaning dirty clothes.” Because of this, thousands of wells had been restored to production, adding millions of barrels to potential reserves. Continental Emsco’s development of the gas turbine engine increased efficiency, versatility and portability and was in the position to replace the standard reciprocating engine used on most rigs.

Walker discusses further developments showcased at the 1959 IPE, “four major oil companies were testing aluminum drill pipe, and the early results surprised even the manufacturer.” The Tulsa Daily World reported on May 16, 1959 that “Results indicated that the lighter drilling pipe could increase the depth capacity of drilling rigs by as much as 60 percent. However, it did cost more.”

Automobile manufacturers provided exciting exhibits as well. Ford Motor Company had ten different types of trucks, engines, power units and industrial tractors displayed over a 10,000 square foot area. The world’s largest truck was quite a draw. The Berliet Company of France had brought it in especially for the IPE. It was designed for use in the Sahara Desert, and in honor of the IPE and the 100th anniversary of the oil industry, it was named “The Tulsa.”

The most nostalgic exhibit at the 1959 IPE was a small booth dedicated to the legendary firefighting pioneer of the oil field fires Myron M. Kinley. He was the man that presidents of oil companies had depended on for years to put out fires on their rigs. According to a May 14 article in The Tulsa Daily World, “Although by 1959 he was slightly deaf and somewhat lame, he was treated with the respect and deference usually reserved for nobility by the oilmen who came to the IPE in 1959.”

Other industry pioneers were honored at the 14th IPE. One of the founders of Sinclair Oil, William L. Connelly of Tulsa, was named “Pioneer of Pioneers” in recognition of his distinguished 64-year career. Walker’s book lists the seven other “Grand Old Men,” “Edmund C. Breene, 81, of Oil City Penn., in production; William A. Cassidy, 93, of Bayonne N.J., in refining; Edward I. Hanlon, 78, of Tulsa, in natural gasoline; Frank J. Hinderlighter, 84, of Tulsa, in supplies and equipment; Wiley B. Hissom, 66, of Tulsa, in drilling; Frank L. Lerch, 71, of New York, in natural gas; and S. Miller Williams, 72, of Robinson Ill, in pipeline and transportation.”

These pioneers received gold lapel pins to confer their special status among the 30,000 oilmen who attended the show, along with the 2,042 foreign oil men (three times the previous record) and the 547,208 assorted visitors in attendance. The 1959 numbers, according the 1959 Tulsa Spirit IPE Scrapbook, “far exceeded the record set during the 13th IPE when 395-352 had twirled the turnstiles of the admission gates to wander through the oil industry’s fantasy land.” As usual, the 14th IPE closed on a note of tremendous success and enthusiasm.

Updated 12-19-2005

Back to Top


Back to Top

Contact GTR News

About Post Author