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The Backstory: The birth of America’s oil industry happened 121 years ago this week in Beaumont

January marks a historic milestone with the beginning of the modern age of oil in the Lone Star State.

BEAUMONT, Texas — At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a settlement near Beaumont in southeast Texas known as Gladys City, a collection of small businesses and primitive shacks where a handful of wildcatter-entrepreneurs hoped to find oil.

Early attempts there hadn’t been successful until Anthony Lucas arrived. He had a hunch that, with a big salt dome nearby, there had to be oil even though most geologists in the day had their doubts. But Lucas persisted. And during this week in 1901, Lucas’ hunch paid off.

Newspapers reported that on Jan. 10, the earth at Gladys City rumbled. From a deep oil well, drilling pipes came shooting out of the ground. 

Then mud. Then natural gas. Then oil ... a steady stream of oil so massive that it shot 100 feet in the sky. 

Geologists said that the well was producing 100,000 barrels a day, every day, for weeks. Soon, other wells that were nearby began producing oil.

As the news spread, speculators, dreamers and oil wells popped up around Beaumont. The so-called “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Field would change history. It marked the birth of the modern oil industry as fledgling companies like Texaco, Gulf Oil and what would later become Exxon got their start.

Each January, the folks in Beaumont celebrate the occasion at a museum and village built on the site where, 121 years ago this week, the Lucas Gusher launched what has become the global petroleum industry.  

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