Home |  PublicationsEncyclopedia |  Barnsdall, Theodore Newton

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Oilman Theodore Newton Barnsdall was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, on June 10, 1851, to William Waller and Fidelia Ann Goodrich Barnsdall. To friends and family he was known as Thede. For many years Barnsdall was among the most widely known oil operators in the United States. His father, William, was responsible for beginning the Barnsdall oil legacy, drilling the second commercial oil well in American history and building the first oil refinery in Titusville, during the winter of 1860–61. After a brief period spent at a preparatory school in New York, the younger Barnsdall returned to Pennsylvania and began working for the Barnsdall Oil Company as a pumper on one of his father's wells. At sixteen Thede Barnsdall drilled his first oil well near Titusville. Active in the Bradford Field in Pennsylvania, he drilled a number of successful wells and built a foundation for his Mid-Continent Region operations.

When the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company's Osage lease was broken, Barnsdall acquired 334,000 acres of leases in the oil-rich Osage land. After succeeding his father as president of the Barnsdall Oil Company, he was able to build it into a major energy operation. The company had extensive holdings in Oklahoma. In terms of drilling wells and opening new territory, Barnsdall was one of the most aggressive entrepreneurs and oil operators in the history of the business. He also served as president or board chair of the Kansas Natural Gas Company, the Pittsburgh Oil and Gas Company, and the Union Natural Gas Corporation.

On June 22, 1881, Barnsdall married twenty-seven-year-old music teacher Louisa Angela Stitt. Together they had two daughters, Frances and Aline. Theodore Newton Barnsdall died on February 27, 1917, in Pittsburgh. The community of Barnsdall (formerly Bigheart), Oklahoma, site of substantial company operations, carries his name. In 2001 he was honored by the University of Oklahoma as one of the sixty most important individuals in the history of the Oklahoma oil and gas industry.

Dustin O'Connor


Paul Giddens, Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1948).

Norman Karasick and Dorothy K. Karasick, The Oilman's Daughter: A Biography of Aline Barnsdall (Encino, Calif.: Charleston Publishing Inc., 1993).

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1967).

James Steele and Frank Lloyd Wright, Barnsdall House: Frank Lloyd Wright (London: Phaidon, 1992).

Browse By Topic

Petroleum Industry


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dustin O'Connor, “Barnsdall, Theodore Newton,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=BA024.

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.