Throwback Thursday: drilling for oil in 1950s Texas

Photos from the Robert Yarnall Richie Photography Collection, housed at SMU's DeGolyer Library depict the Texas oil boom in the 1940s and 1950s.

By Dave Wogan

If you’re not from Texas, the image you probably have in your head is one of tumbleweeds and oil derricks. While that’s not completely representative of the state, the oil industry is an important part of our state’s history and modern Texas.
The DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas has shared photos of the Texas oil boom in the 1940s and 1950s. The 50s were a time of peak production for Texas and helped solidify the Texas Railroad Commission as the world’s first oil cartel by setting global prices with West Texas Intermediate crude. Texas retained this dominance until the 1970s when Middle Eastern oil production expanded.
There is something Captain American/Leave it Beaver-esque about these photos. Here oil is depicted much differently than it is today. In these photos we see see oil representing opportunity, and for good reason. Oil has been good for the state of Texas and its people. It’s been seen as a vehicle for economic mobility, meaning a landowner could potentially come across a windfall by selling or leasing oil rights – or by inheriting land and striking it rich like James Dean’s character in the 1956 film Giant. Young men could also find work in oil fields as long as they were willing to work in dangerous conditions.
The image of oil today is much different....