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Oklahoma Memories

OKC Discovery Well Comes In

2009-11-30

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"A fabulous Christmas present came to the city on December 4, 1928, with its discovery of the oil field within the city limits. The financial panic covered the country in 1929 while our oil field boom helped carry us through the Depression years."

That's the voice of E. K. Gaylord explaining the significance of the oil being discovered in Oklahoma County.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

Almost from the beginning of oil and gas exploration in Oklahoma, geologists were convinced that there was oil under Oklahoma County. With Oklahoma City barely a year old in 1890, an unknown wildcatter started a test well near NE 4th and the Santa Fe tracks. A prayer service was held for him, a minister asked for blessings for his well. He drilled almost 600 feet and then abandoned the project. In 1919 two geologists observed what they thought were favorable features, and over the next several years more geologists mapped out what would become the Oklahoma City field. More test wells were drilled in the Capitol area, and one just north of the state capitol went to a depth of more than 7,000 feet. But all the wildcatters found were traces of oil but no large amounts of oil.

Meanwhile H.V. Foster had left the Phillips company there as their chief geologist and formed his own company, the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Compnay, or I-T-I-O for short. An early employee of that company was Bud Harder,

"When I came out of school, I was offered a job with City Service which is the present company that took over ITIO. I elected not to go with them and went to Seminole on my own and went to work as a ditch digger for the Title Osage, and a couple months later I was working for ITIO, and I worked for them pert near a year before I found out I was working for City Service."

Foster was convinced that there was oil under Oklahoma County, and he thought he knew where to drill a test well at what is today about SE 59th and Bryant. Harder was assigned to that well.

"My company drilled the Discovery Well. Fact is, as a young engineer, I was the engineer on the pipe job on Oklahoma City #1 which came in on December 4, 1928."

Another ITIO Employee working on the Oklahoma City Discovery Well was Ed McCabe, who describes some of the dangers the roughnecks faced in their work.

"Yes, sir, I carried an even nitroglycerine across a swinging bridge, and I didn't know what I carrying, but I finally got across before it blew up. But I got it there. It was all right."

Drilling began on June 12, 1928. In late November the drilling crew encountered some Arbuckle limestone. It was saturated with oil, a casing was set. While drilling the plug with cable tools, gas pressure sent the tools up the hole where they became lodged. Work continued for two weeks, and at 3 p.m. on December 4, 1928, gas pressure broke thru sending everything up into the derrick followed by a massive flow of oil, proving H.V. Foster and his ITIO crew were correct. There was oil under Oklahoma County. In the first 27 days the Number One well produced more than 110-thousand barrels at $1.56 a barrel. The mother lode was tapped. E. K. Gaylord again.

"The Depression came on the oil discovery in 1928. That was a big thing. I was in London at the time. The office wired me that they struck forty million feet of gas out here."

Gaylord believed the Oklahoma City field would be big, but no one had any idea just how big. Gaylord and many others in the 1930s gave the Oklahoma City oil field credit for saving central Oklahoma from the worst ravages of the Great Depression.

It was 81 years ago December 4th that the ITIO Oklahoma City Discovery Well Number One hit oil and opened the Oklahoma City oil field, the largest oil field ever discovered in the state. You can learn more about the natural resources of Oklahoma and their part in the history of our state by visiting the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memoriesis a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.