LUCICH DISCOVERY OF OIL AT SPINDLETOP, TEXAS
JANUARY 10, 1901 AT 10:30 AM
Adam S. Eterovich, Santa Clara, USA
Captain Francis Stephen Lucic was a shipowner and a shipbuilder on the Island of Hvar, Dalmatia, Croatia. He spent his entire youth on the island, but shortly after his marriage he and his bride Joanna left his native town of Hvar and went to the historic and picturesque capitol of the Province of Dalmatia, Split. Here on September 9, 1855, a son, Anthony Francis, was born to them, who eventually was to come to the wastelands of Texas and gain international recognition for his famous Spindletop discovery of oil, and the consequent revolution of industrial America.
Lucich and Tesla
When young Anthony Francis reached the age of six, his parents enrolled him in the Public School of Split. However, when he reached high schoolage, his family moved to and settled in Trieste. Here Anthony was admitted to the local Gymnasium, and during this period his father, Captain Lucic, served the navy of Austria-Hungary. Immediately after young Anthony entered the Gymnasium, his parents and professors noticed that he possessed unusual interests in the engineering field which led to his parents' decision to enroll him in the Polytechnic Institute at Gratz, Austria. Also attending the Institute was another young man of nineteen, Nikola Tesla. How strange it is that fate should have brought together these two boys, both of whom made history, one in oil and other in the field of radio and electricity, and both of whom made their names immortal in the world of science. It is a coincidence that two men who contributed so much to the progress of America and the world should have graduated from the same school, Lucic at the age of twenty, and Tesla only a year or two older. Even the birth of these geniuses was close. Lucic was born September 9, 1855, and Tesla July 9, 1856, only ten months later. Young Lucic was graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in 1875, and enlisted as a midshipman in the Austro-Hungarian navy, where he was soon promoted to the rank of second lieutenant.
It will be fitting, and we believe necessary, at this point to quote the direct words spoken by the late Anthony Francis. He tells how he left the navy, how he came to the United States, and how he came to be known as Lucas instead of Lucic. From an interview with this great man, only a few years before his death, we quote: "I entered the Austrian navy as a midshipman and was promoted to second lieutenant. At that time an unpleasant incident made me very much dissatisfied with the rigor of the service, perhaps because of my Croatian origin, so that I was glad to accept an invitation to pay a visit to an uncle of mine in this country. For that purpose I obtained a six months' leave of absence and came to the United States. That was in 1879, when I was twenty four years old. My father's name was Lucic-Luchich. The reason of the change was that when I came to America on a visit to my uncle, my father's brother, as I have stated, I found my uncle had adopted the name of Lucas, owing to the difficulty that Americans had in spelling and pronouncing Luchich. So, for the time, expecting to remain only three or four months, I permitted myself to be addressed as Lucas. When I decided to reside in the United States I retained this modification of the name."
In 1879, when Lucas arrived in the United States, the State of Michigan was a lumber country, and Saginaw, where Lucas found himself, was its center. Lucas was offered a "flattering engagement", as a designer in a saw mill, which he accepted. Here began his interesting career in America. However, before accepting the offer, Lucas asked for an extension of his leave for another six months, and this request was granted. At the expiration of his leave, Lucas decided to stay in the United States, and to become a naturalized citizen of the country. The necessary papers were filed at the Circuit Court, Saginaw, and on May 9, 1885, he received his citizenship papers at the Corporation Court, at Norfolk, Virginia.
But running a country sawmill was not enough for this man. He wanted to go west and explore. He spent a number of years trekking through the plains, then the Rockies, and then the West Coast, stopping every so often to prospect for gold. During these travels, he visited mines and talked to mining engineers about the newest techniques in shaft construction and flood control.
Eight years after Lucas' arrival in America, he took his young and beautiful bride, Caroline FitzGerald, on a honeymoon trip to his native Dalmatia, visiting Split, Trieste, and Pula, where he had formerly served as a naval officer. The young couple spent one year abroad, and upon their return to this country established their home in Washington, D. C., where Lucas entered the mining mechanical engineering profession.
Nationai Public Radio (NPR) recently featured a report on the January 10th 2001 celebration in Beaumont, Texas commemorating the centennial of "Spindletop", the world's most important oil strike. This famous oil field in Southeast Texas changed the course of history, inaugurated the huge Texas oil industry and the petroleum era, and, according to the report, "helped to transform the United States into a Superpower. Spindletop is also known as the "Lucas Gusher" named after mining engineer, Captain Anthony F. Lucas, who discovered the oil field. Spindletop was the ultimate confirmation of his belief that the area was a natural petroleum reservoir, despite ridicule and skepticism about his theory during the time of his exploration.
What NPR did not correctly report was that Anthony F. Lucas was a Croatian immigrant, born in Split, Croatia in 1855. He was the son of Franjo Lucic, a sea captain, from the Croatian island of Hvar. As was common among some immigrants, he changed his surname from Lucic to Lucas when he came to the United States. Yet, NPR's broadcast reported that he was Austrian. While certain words on his Washington, DC tombstone inscription such as Spalato and Illyrian (referring to his birthplace, Split, and his Croatian ancestry) might baffle the average American, these should be comprehensible and unambiguous to anyone doing serious research about the subject. Nevertheless, most books and articles published in the United States about Spindletop say Lucas/Lucic was Austrian or German or Italian.
A 1995 article entitled: Captain Anthony F. Lucas: An Austrian Pioneer by an associate professor of English and German at Lamar University In Beaumont, Texas indicates the Texas Energy Museum in that same city has a life-sized, talking figure representing Captain Lucas that explains, in a German accent, that he was Austrian born. The writer says that his surname is an Americanized form of the Slavic "Luchich". This particular article even appears on the Austrian Information web site. Austria seems quite happy to claim Lucas/Ludic as its own!
On October 9, 1941, during the convention of the Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association at Beaumont, Texas, a fifty foot granite monument honoring Lucas was unveiled at Spindletop. The inscription on the front reads, along with other tributes to Lucas:
Petroleum has revolutionized Industry and transportation. It has created untold wealth, built cities, furnished employment for hundreds of thousands, and contributed billions of dollars in taxes to support Institutions of government. In a brief span of years, it has altered man's way of life throughout the world.
The memory, of Captain Lucas-Lucich has been honored in other ways too. The American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, in order to recognize "'distinguished achievement and practice of finding and producing petroleum" established in 1936 the Anthony F. Lucas Medal as an award to all outstanding persons whose achievements. contribute to the development of oil".
"Texas oil" are magical words. People in other states (or nations) hear them and picture popular media images---as from TV's "Dallas" or the movie "Giant-- stereotypes derived from the West Texas oil fields. But the real story of early Texas oil begins in Southeast Texas, along the Upper Gulf Coast in a number of towns between Orange, near the Louisiana border, and Freeport, south of Houston. In fact, it was a 75,000-100,000 barrel-a-day gusher on the edge of Beaumont that launched oil as one of the largest global industries of the 20th century. The Lucas Gusher blew on January 10, 1901, on Sour Springs Mound in the now famous Spindletop oil field. The story of the Lucas Gusher and its legacy is as dramatic as any TV show or movie.
In 1893 we find Lucas employed as a mining engineer at the salt mine in Petit Anse, Louisiana, where for three years he practiced the engineering and mining of salt. To understand the conditions under which the great sources of salt were found in Louisiana, and the mining ingeniousness of Captain Lucas, we will again quote him. "I found the salt deposit only twenty feet below the drift soil, and the shaft one hundred and eighty feet deep. The mine and mill were in very bad condition, owing to the fact that water had found its way into the mine and caused a large cave. The mill was antiquated, it required constant care to check the caving and water in the mine, and the ravages of the salt on the mill machinery." When the mining in this chamber was completed, another under-cut was started laterally, and we thus had always in reserve one or more chambers full of broken salt, sixty feet wide, sixty feet high, and two to three hundred feet long, each containing from three to five thousand tons, at a cost of less than fourteen cents per ton of salt mined. The salt was of unusual purity, 98.590 to 99% sodium chloride, the remainder being gypsum.
Captain Lucas experienced many disappointments and discouragements from the day he arrived in Beaumont, Texas, until he realized his dreams. Captain Lucas insisted on drilling at Beaumont, and we give his own version of what took place in his struggle to obtain financial support to drill at Spindletop.
"I went to Beaumont, Texas, about seventy miles west of Lafayette. There I was attracted by an elevation, then known locally as Big Hill, although this hill amounted merely to a mound rising only twelve feet above the level of the prairie. This mound attracted my attention on account of its contour, which indicated possibilities for an incipient dome below, and because at the apex of it there were exudations of sulphuretted hydrogen gas. This gas suggested to me, in the light of my experience at Belle Isle, that it might prove. a source of either sulphur or oil, or both. I decided to test it, therefore, and leased all the ground that I could secure. The hillock covered only 300 acres, of which I secured, 220 acres; but I leased altogether about 27,000 acres in the vicinity in order to have ample scope for exploration, although this proved unnecessary, as no oil was ever found beyond the contour of the dome. This elevation had already been explored by three companies and none succeeded in penetrating below 250 feet in depth. A bed of quicksand was struck at about 200 feet. Knowing that they used cable drilling apparatus, I decided that that must have been the reason for their failure, so I set to work with rotary-drilling tools. The rotary drill at that time was almost unknown and was used only for artesian water wells of shallow depth on ranches and rice plantations. I penetrated the quicksand and soon realized that I was correct in my surmise of the reason why my predecessors had failed. I managed to pass the quicksand and bored to a depth of 575 feet, encountering an oilsand but losing the well by gas collapse. I thought best, however, before proceeding with heavier rotary-drilling machinery, to seek geological and financial aid, so I went to a number of capitalists and laid before them my plans and expectations; but they turned me down."
In spite of this shocking experience, however, and with firm determination, Captain Lucas began to drill. The crew consisted of A. W. Hamill, his brother Curt, Henry McLean, and Peck Byrd. Work began on October 27, 1900. In order that we may know what actually occured on the historic date when oil was struck, let Al Hamill tell us in detail.
". . . On December 9 it was my turn to get up at midnight for my 18-hour shift. As usual, I tried to make all the hole I could. The evening before, we had put up an additional joint of drill pipe. At about three o'clock in the morning I noticed the pump working more freely, and the rotary turning very easily, so I began to let the pipe down, and soon had most of it down. As daylight began to appear, I could detect oil on ditch and slush pit. When Curt and Byrd appeared with my little bit of breakfast, the slush pit had a big showing of oil on it. We at once sent Byrd for Captain Lucas, who lived about a mile and a half from where we were drilling. "On his arrival, he showed some excitement and asked how much of a well I thought it would make. The only experience any of us had was in drilling small wells in the Corsicana Field, but I thought it would easily make 50 barrels a day. Captain Lucas asked us to put up another joint of drill pipe to see how much oil formation there was. After making about 35 feet through the soft sand, we struck hard going at about 880 feet.
"January 1, 1901, we were back on the job. In the following seven days we made 140 feet of hold, making a total of 1,020 feet. There we seemed to hit a crevice. In letting pipe down in one place, it would go at least six inches farther than it would by giving the pipe a quarter turn. In rotating, our pipe would hang up and jerk the rotary chain to pieces. We kept grinding away without making any headway. ". . . We put the new bit (fishtail) on, and had about 700 feet of the drill pipe back in the hole when the rotary mud began flow up through the rotary table. It came so fast and with such force that Curt, who was up on the double boards, was drenched with mud and water and had a hard time getting out of danger. "Soon the 4-inch drill pipe started up through the derrick, knocking off the crown block and shooting through the top of the derrick and breaking off in lengths of several joints at a time as it shot skyward. After the mud, water, and pipe were blown out, gas followed, but only for a short time. Then the well was very quiet. We ventured back, after our wild scramble for safety, to find things in a terrible mess. There were at least six inches of mud on the derrick floor, and our equipment had suffered some damage. Naturally, we were all disgusted. We started shoveling the mud away-when, without warning, a lot of heavy mud shot out of the well with the report of a cannon. It was followed for a short time with gas, then oil showed up on head flows. In a very short time oil was going up through the top of the derricks, and rocks were being shot hundreds of feet into the air. Within a very few minutes, the oil was holding a steady flow at more than twice the height of the derrick. As soon as I pulled myself together, Peck Byrd was again started on the run for Captain Lucas. It was not long until we saw Captain Lucas coming over the small hill with his horse at full run. About this time he decided his horse was too slow, so he jumped from the buggy, picked himself up, and ran up to me shouting: 'Al! Al What is it?' When I told him 'oil', he exclaimed: 'Thank God,' and grabbed me and hugged me good and hard."
At that moment a new epoch was born in the oil industry, and the name of Captain Anthony Francis Lucas was immortalized! While the tremendous gas pressure and volume of oil were running wild, and the well was blowing 200-odd feet into the air and pouring an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil onto the ground, the country as a whole became electrified. Fifty thousand people descended upon Beaumont to see the wonder, the shooting oil of Spindletop, four miles away. The Lucas well was heard 'round the world'."
The well went wild, and for full ten days shot oil into the air, making a lake of about 100 acres. This discovery of oil led to the development of a big oil field, which later became known as Spindletop. It has produced over fifty million barrels of oil, and is still producing."
"I did, but my chief reward was to have created a precedent in geology whereby the Gulf Coast of the Coastal Plain has been and is now a beehive of production and industry. Owing to the fact that Mr. Guffey and the Mellon group had a lot of money and I had not, I accepted their offer and sold my interest to them for a satisfactory sum.
In Beaumont, big money sought to profit. Under corporation law in Texas at the turn of the century, John Henry Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company (which owned 90 percent of oil resources and 50 percent of production in the U.S.) could not buy oil property in Texas. So Rockefeller created one of his "blind tiger" corporations, a method he often used to anonymously back front men in business deals. Standard Oil put up the money to back George Burt, who arrived in Beaumont on a train one day and bought what eventually became the Mobil Oil holdings. The Texas Legislature forced Burt to sell his holdings when his Standard Oil connection was discovered. After the Standard Oil antitrust case of 1911, Mobil was allowed to buy in Beaumont.
During the past year, a century after the famous gusher that started it all, the Spindletop 2001 Commission has conducted ongoing celebrations. A new Spindletop derrick has been erected at the Gladys City-Spindletop Boomtown at a cost of $350,000. The Boomtown is a functioning museum and a replica of the original Gladys City. Former President George Bush is scheduled to speak at the Boomtown at the centennial event on January 10. As part of the ceremony, a derrick in the town will spew water 150 feet above a slicker-covered crowd of thousands. But another, less crowded way to see and feel the grandeur of the ongoing legacy of oil is to head down the road from Beaumont a few miles into south Jefferson County. Take State Highway 82 at Port Arthur over the bridge that leaps the Intracoastal Canal and leads to Pleasure Island. Go after dark. When you reach the top of the bridge, a kaleidoscope of lights will appear as far as the eye can see. These are the lights of the present day refineries and petrochemical plants, the lights of the "Chemical Empire" that began on January 10, 1901, with the Lucas Gusher.
At such a moment, one might recall the words of Michel T. Halbouty, a Houston oil man and co-author of the definitive 1952 book Spindletop: the True Story of the Oil Discovery That Changed the World. Halbouty says of the centennial celebration--- "We will be celebrating an event that affected the entire world. It changed the way people would live all over the world. It revived the industrial revolution, which had been dead for a while. It caused the United States to become a world power. It revolutionized transportation through the automobile industry. It started the Liquid Fuel Age, the greatest age in the history of the world."
After a brief illness, at the age of sixty-six years, Captain Lucas passed away on September 2, 1921, at Washington, D. C. Symbolic monuments to the great mining engineer Captain Lucas appear everywhere. Every oil well, every derrick, every gasoline station, reminds us of the great contribution to the progress of America and the world which was made by a man of Croatian descent. Croatia may well be proud of her native-born son, Captain Anthony Francis Lucas-Lucich.
Anon. "The Birth of A Great Discoverer-Captain Anthony Francis (Lucich) Lucas." American-Croatian Historical Review, July 1946. Excellent article on Lucich and the discovery of oil.
Badovinac, John. "Croatian Engineer had a Hand in Establishing Gulf Oil Corporation." Zajednicar, Feb. 4, 1976. Antonio Lucich makes first great oil strike in America in Texas.
Chriss, Nicholas C. "Legendary Oil Field That's Still Pumping." San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 12, 1978. Discovery of oil in Texas by Antonio Lucich.
Dubrowski, Jerry. "U.S. Oil Addiction Began with 1901 Gusher." San Francisco Chronicle, January 12, 1991. Anthony Lucas-Lucich discovers oil.
Gol, Nenad. "Otkrivac nafte u Teksasu." Matica Zagreb, Nov. 1965. Antun Lucic discovers oil in Texas.
Halbouty, Michel. Spindletop: The True Story of the Oil Discovery that Changed the World. Dallas, Texas, 1952.
Hallowell, Christopher. People of the Bayou. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979. About Antonio Lucich-Lucas who made first discovery of oil.
Hina. "Oil Well Pioneer Honored." Croatia Weekly, June 3, 1999. Anthony Lucas-Lucich discovers oil.
Kane, Harnet T. The Golden Coast. NY: Bonanza, 1959. Antonio Lucich-Lucas struck oil Jan. 10, 1901 at Spindle Top, Texas near Beaumont. Has good picture in book.
McBeth, Reid S. "One item typed on Life of Anthony F. Lucas at Archives."
Archives Univ. of Texas at Austin 1936. Oil discovery in Texas. Lucas-Lucich. NCAB. "Anthony Lucas Discoverer of Oil in Texas." National Encyclopaedia of American Biography (1936): p262. Lucas-Lucich was born in Dalmatia.
Richard, T.A. "Interviews With Mining Engineers." Mining and Scientific Press- San Francisco 1922. About Captain Anthony Lucas. Lucich discovery of oil in Texas.
United Press. "The Day Spindletop Blew In." S.F.Chronicle, Jan 10, 1976. Antonio Lucich Oil Discovery.
Zajednicar. "Splicanin Antun Lucic-Lucas Otkrio Naftu U Texasu." Zajednicar, Mar. 2, 1966. Lucic from Split discovered oil in Texas.