By NANCY K. OWENS
OIL AND GAS JOURNAL: The famous oil publication, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, was located in Tulsa for many decades until it moved its editorial functions to Houston in the 1990s. The parent company, PennWell Publishing, continues to make its headquarters in Tulsa at the 15th Street and Sheridan Avenue location.
Jerry L. Cornelius for GTR Newspapers
Oil Business Sprouted Independents, Journalists in Tulsa
Judging by the numbers of operating rigs and the discovery rate, 1956 was a peak year for the domestic oil industry. According to Riley Wilson, former oil editor of the Tulsa World, “When I became oil editor in 1956, Tulsa was the ‘money city.’ Oklahoma City, Odessa and Amarillo were just as important, but they were the ‘working cities’. Tulsa was the world headquarters for the petroleum industry.”
Wilson adds, “Every major petroleum company had a district office here and there were 400 to 500 independent operators.” Major names like Texaco (known back then as The Texas Company), Warren, Sinclair, Standard Oil, Atlantic Oil Corporation, Gulf Oil and D-X shared Tulsa’s downtown with local homegrown companies such as Wood Oil Company, McGraw Oil Company and Smith Petroleum Company. Nearly everyone was familiar with the majors. The independents operating out of Tulsa however, were known primarily just to Tulsans. Still, says Wilson, “Today we say Tulsa was the oil capital of the world, but back then everybody really felt it and talked about it. Tulsa was literally the Oil Capital of the World.”
These independent oil companies were very active, and for the most part, successful. The Tulsa World covered all of the ins and outs of the oil business, the discoveries, the production, the deals and the economic issues. The World set the standard for oil reporting as it was the first newspaper in the country to have an oil editor. According to Wilson, “Other national newspapers had oil writers but they worked under the business editor. As oil editor I had a staff of three or four oil writers dedicated to covering just the oil business. There was so much to report on that it filled a full page of the newspaper every day, and two pages on Sundays.” Some said that the World’s coverage of the oil business was the best in the nation. By the mid-to-late 70s, the World consolidated oil reporting into its business section at about the time Tulsa was losing its significance as the world’s oil capital.
Being ‘Oil Capital of the World’ prompted the emergence of Tulsa-based oil industry publications. Holland Reevis, a businessman from Beaumont, Texas, founded a semi-monthly newspaper in 1902 called “The Oil Investor’s Journal.” In 1910, Patrick C. Boyle, founder of Petroleum Publishing Company, bought it and moved it to Tulsa. He changed its name to the “Oil & Gas Journal” and published it weekly rather than semi-monthly. According to Nancy Hamilton, marketing director of the PennWell Petroleum Group, “P.C. Boyle changed the name and the format but he didn’t change the publication’s editorial philosophy of fair and honest reporting. He was dedicated to producing an honest and unbiased publication. That philosophy continues at PennWell today.”
Boyle’s son-in-law, Frank T. Lauinger, further shaped the Journal through the 1920’s until his death in 1931. His son, P.C. Lauinger, headed the company from 1931 until 1970, after which he became chairman emeritus until his death in 1988. For years, the Oil & Gas Journal was Petroleum Publishing Company’s sole publication. After World War II the company branched out with other industry publications. In the mid-70s the Board of Directors decided to change the company’s name because they had purchased magazines from other industries. The new name became PennWell Publishing—formed from ‘Penn’ for the Lauinger family’s Pennsylvania roots, and ‘Well’ for inkwell.
Although PennWell’s petroleum division is now located in Houston, its corporate headquarters remain in Tulsa. Today, under the leadership of Bob Biolchini, president and CEO, PennWell continues to publish the Oil & Gas Journal, long considered the “bible of the oil and gas industry” as well as over 40 business-to-business magazines and newsletters. In addition, the company conducts over 60 conferences and exhibitions on six continents and has an extensive offering of books, maps, directories and database services.
News reporting and industry publications helped to keep the spotlight on Tulsa in the 1950s and 1960s. The number of companies continued to grow and the independent operators gained influence in the political arena. Associations and professional groups tied to the oil industry flourished. Tulsa was home to the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), founded in 1929 and headquartered in Tulsa from 1930-1971. The Oklahoma Independent Producers Association (OIPA), founded by Roy Woods, president of Woods Petroleum, moved its headquarters to Tulsa from Oklahoma City in the mid-60s. The Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, managed by Bill Pitts, was based in Tulsa and the American Petroleum Institute maintained a district office in the city under the leadership of James Kemm.
According to Wayne Swearingen, consultant to the petroleum industry, “As the independents became more politically aware it gave them political leverage at the state and federal level. There was a lot of growth and organizational momentum during this time.” These associations were crucial in supporting the industry as production increased and the market became saturated with supply.
As the 1950s progressed into the1960s, the independents started struggling with an excess of supply, a reverse of the situation facing the industry today. According to Wilson, “Adding to the struggles due to excess supply was the fact that owner-operated companies like Skelly Oil were forced to hire management as the first generation owner-operators passed away. Some merged, others were taken over by financiers. These two factors contributed to the shakeout of the independents in the 60s.”
Despite the shakeout of some of the companies during this time, Tulsa remained, unequivocally, the Oil Capital of the World. Phillips, an independent oil company founded by the Phillips brothers in 1916, gradually developed into a large integrated company. It continued, however, to internally refer to itself as an “independent.”
Many independents became major domestic oil companies and then, through acquisitions and mergers became major international petroleum companies. Phillips, for example, developed internationally and spearheaded development of the North Sea. In August 2002 Phillips merged with Conoco to become ConocoPhillips.
David and Miller Williams founded Williams Brothers Pipeline Company in 1908 in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. They moved operations to Tulsa in 1919. The company went public in 1957 under the Williams Brothers name. As it diversified in the 1970s it was renamed The Williams Companies, Inc. Since 1997, its brand identity has been simplified to “Williams”. Williams acquired Tulsa-based Mid-America Pipeline Company (MAPCO), founded by Bob Thomas, in 1998. The former MAPCO building at 18th and Baltimore, originally a Shell oil Compnay building, is now a branch of SpiritBank.
Organizations Continue Support of Oklahoma’s Oil Industry
Coincidental to Tulsa’s emergence as Oil Capitol of the World was the growth and development of various independent organizations devoted to supporting the progress and development of the oil industry. As the oil industry grew in vitality and importance so did the number of these organizations. Although some relocated their headquarters in later years, their presence in Tulsa speaks to Tulsa’s premier position as the “Oil Capitol of the World” decades ago.
The organizations that will be reviewed in this and upcoming issues include the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (OIPA), Desk and Derrick, and the Energy Advocates.
American Association of Petroleum Geologists
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) has been in existence since the earliest days of Tulsa’s oil history. It was founded in 1917 in Tulsa by a group of 122 geologists. Its first president, John Elmer Thomas, was the chief geologist for Sinclair Oil Company. (Sinclair, founded in 1916 by Harry Sinclair, was originally headquartered in Tulsa at the former Sinclair & Thurston Building at 5th and Main Street.)
Although the founders of the AAPG numbered 122, Thomas, Everette L. DeGoyer and Charles H. Taylor are considered to be the real creators of the organization. Since its founding, the AAPG has has been a pillar of the worldwide scientific community. The original purpose of AAPG, to foster scientific research, to advance the science of geology, to promote technology, and to inspire high professional conduct, still guides the Association today.
Currently the AAPG is the world’s largest professional geological society with over 30,000 members and continues to be located in Tulsa. Its members hail from 116 countries. Membership is comprised of geologists, geophysicists, CEOs, managers, consultants, students and academicians. Over half of its total membership comes from Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana while 62.5 percent of its membership is located in the 20 states between the Rockies and Appalachians.
AAPG provides publications, conferences, and educational opportunities to geoscientists and disseminates the most current geological information available to the general public. Its annual meeting, held each spring in key cities in North America attracts between 5,000 and 8,000 industry professionals from the United States and abroad.
The AAPG has played an important role in supporting the development of the petroleum industry. According to Larry Nation, the AAPG communications director, “You would be hard pressed to find a major discovery or any major producing area that either an AAPG member, or information provided by AAPG, has not had a hand in.” He adds, “We want to expand our organization as the industry becomes more global. We plan to become more international in our reach. We’ll accomplish this through the expansion of our international offices, increasing our membership and providing more opportunities for people in heretofore remote areas to become involved with the AAPG and our services.”
The AAPG is headquartered in Tulsa at 1444 S. Boulder Avenue.
American Petroleum Institute
1919 was a busy and productive year for the oil industry. On July 1, the Kansas-Oklahoma division of the Mid-Continent Gas Association was formed; on September 23, Sinclair Oil Company was organized; and on October 2, W.G. Skelly incorporated Skelly Oil in Tulsa. In addition to these companies, the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded on March 14, 1919, with headquarters in New York City and was later incorporated in Washington, D.C. T.A. O’Donnell, from Los Angeles, was elected as its first president.
James Kemm, author of “Tulsa: Oil Capitol of the World,” and former senior district representative for the API’s Oil Information Committee, says, “The API was very active in Tulsa in the 1950s and 1960s. Our focus was to provide information to educators and the general public about the industry.” He continues, “There was tremendous interest and we kept very busy. We had an educational program, provided updated materials to schools because many of the textbooks that mentioned oil were out of date. We also operated a library of films about the petroleum industry produced by API. The film library was very popular. We were constantly shipping films to teachers and civic clubs such as the Lion’s and Rotary.”
Kemm says, “During the 1950s, manmade materials like nylon, Dacron and such were just coming into vogue. We had a speaker’s bureau at the API and arranged for DuPont to come and show their products in our ‘Magic Barrel.’ The ‘Magic Barrel’ had shelves built inside. You could open the barrel and pull out a variety of products made from petroleum such as clothing, petrochemical items, and housewares. People never imagined that these products were made from petroleum. We also came up with a ‘Magic Suitcase.’ This was a small suitcase that contained items of interest to women such as brushes with nylon handles, cosmetics and such. Female volunteers from various oil companies would take these ‘Magic Suitcases’ to meetings and events and show these items to women. Both the ‘Magic Barrel’ and ‘Magic Suitcase’ presentations were well received and we booked many presentations through our office.”
Another one of Kemm’s responsibilities was the nationwide celebration of Oil Progress Week, an annual event that took place from 1949-1959. Kemm relates, “It was a big deal, especially here in Tulsa and all over Oklahoma. We sent people out to make speeches at civic clubs and school assemblies. We had parades with the latest pieces of oil equipment and open houses at many oil installations. A great deal was being done to showcase the oil industry during these years. The enthusiasm that people had for the industry was tremendous.” Many promotional materials were available and used, such as the billboard-sized posters that read ‘Your Progress and Oil’s Progress Go Hand in Hand’ and ‘Oil Serves You.’” Kemm recalls, “Kids would put signs in their yards that read ‘My Daddy is an Oil Man.’ It was a point of pride for them.”
The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce was very supportive of Oil Progress Week and, in conjunction with the API, sponsored the “Oil Men and Women For a Day” program. School students would visit an oil company’s offices for a day, attend a luncheon at the Mayo Hotel that featured an industry speaker, and have the opportunity to meet company executives. According to Kemm, many bright young students found jobs in the oil industry through this program.
In August 1958, a decision was made to set up separate state organizations to promote the industry and educate the public. Kemm’s division pulled out of the API and was re-organized as the Oklahoma Petroleum Council (OPC, which later merged with Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association). This decision was made in order to give states more local control over public relations and education initiatives. Despite the re-organization, the OPC continued to make good use of the API’s promotional and educational materials. The OPC took over management of Oil Progress Week, but despite its popularity, Oil Progress Week ended in 1959. Kemm attributes this to the fact that major oil companies felt it wasn’t relevant anymore. “Additionally, as time went by,” he says, “and we moved into the 1970s, the Suez Canal closed, we had the oil embargo, gas prices went up and we had long lines at service stations. The industry became very unpopular with the public and Oil Progress Week faded away.”
He adds, “This was unfortunate. A lot of people thought that the oil companies were gouging the public, just like they think now. It’s not the case. Pricing is very complicated, not easy to understand or explain.”