Golden Driller Stands Tall 50 Years

HONORING LONGEVITY: Tulsa City and County officials and guests were among those who attended the Golden Driller’s 50th Birthday Bash April 8 at Expo Square. From left are Tulsa County Commissioner Ron Peters, Bonnie Peters, Pat Kroblin, Tulsa City Councilor Anna America, Michael Patton, Chief Deputy for Tulsa County Vicki Adams and Steve Adams.

At one time, Tulsa was known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”

But Tulsa did not build Tulsa’s giant oilman. It was built by Mid-Continental Supply Company of Texas, which set him up in 1953 for the International Petroleum Exhibition at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. Dubbed “The Golden Driller,” the giant roustabout resembled an oversized brass statuette, with a broad grin, a tin helmet tipped back at a rakish skew, and a gloved right hand raised in a kind of limp-wristed OK sign. The statue proved so popular that the Texas company returned six years later with a second temporary giant.

A third giant, tallest of all at 76 feet, took up permanent residence at the fairgrounds on April 8, 1966. This version still stands today. He’s very different from the original Golden Driller, with a slender waist, muscles ripped on a bare chest, mustard-colored rather than gold, and a face that’s a chiseled mask of Teutonic invincibility. He was designed by George S. “Grecco” Hondronastas (1893-1979), a Greek immigrant to Tulsa who viewed the Driller as his greatest artistic accomplishment.

By 1979, the Texas supply company had abandoned the Golden Driller, which had suffered from years of neglect (and bullet holes). The city of Tulsa adopted the statue, repaired it, and put “Tulsa” on the giant’s belt buckle. With that, the statue was declared Oklahoma’s official state monument. It was not a universally popular decision. Many Oklahomans at the time viewed the Golden Driller as an artistic eyesore. Some wanted his bare chest covered with a shirt, an idea that was quickly shot down by the protests of angry oilfield workers.

The Golden Driller is still the tallest free-standing statue in the U.S. He’s so high that he rests his gloved right hand on a real Oklahoma oil derrick. Built of steel and concrete, he weighs nearly 22 tons and is expected to survive 200 mph tornadoes. The plaque at his base dedicates him “to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God’s abundance a better life for mankind.”

To show how much Tulsa now loves its mega-roughneck, in 2011 it gave the Golden Driller a thorough inspection (which found him to be in excellent shape) and coated him with a new layer of state-of-the-art mustard paint, which its suppliers said will last 100 years.

Updated 04-25-2016

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