Oil, the Hamill Brothers and Spindletop
1900 sees the dawn of greatest consumer boom the world has ever seen. And in Texas, below the dirt is the black gold that will power this modern world. Spindletop will be the biggest oil reserve yet discovered.
Drilling the dirt are the Hamill brothers, Al, 24, an ex cattleman, and Curt, 28 an ex sales man. They’re being paid six and a half dollars for every metre they drill. Previous drilling in the area has hit sand and their contract only pays them to 366 ms, if they don’t hit oil no one gets rich. Worse, drilling is dangerous. 6000 die in oil explosions every year. At 180ms, the drill hits a pocket of explosive gas and water. The pressure forces the gas and water up the pipe and they’re lucky to survive.
The brothers have one advantage. Most rigs are primitive tools, smashing through rock by pounding it with a heavy object on a cable. And you can’t pound through sand. But the Hamills are using revolutionary technology: A steam engine that drills the pipe through the ground.
They start again but the walls keep collapsing in because the sand is too fine. They need a thicker liquid. So, using only the materials on hand, water, dirt, and cows, they make a small herd of cattle stomp in a small pool. This makes mud. They then inject the mud down and it’s this that holds up the walls.
“From then on we operated the rig for 24 hours a day”
10 January 1901
The Hamills have been drilling for over two months. They’ve gone past 330ms. Another 30, and they’ll have to quit. They hear a bubbling. Oil that’s been contained for 160 million years shoots up in a geyser 60m high.
The Hamills had been hoping for 50 barrels a day. They’ll soon be pumping out over 80,000. Overnight the backers of the rig are nearly $40m richer. Oil production increase 50% and within a year 500 oil companies are born, such as Texaco and Golf, The price of oil plummets from $2 a barrel to 3 cents. It’s cheaper than water and cheap enough to turn into petrol. At the turn of the century, millions of Americans work within 30km of their home petrol makes them mobile.