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El Dorado Oil Field


Aerial view of "Oil Hill." Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.



Dozens of oil derricks dot the landscape in Butler County in this undated photo. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.



Aerial view of present day Frontier Refining, which was the original Skelly refinery. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.



El Dorado boasts the Butler County History Center that features the oil industry in one of their many exhibits. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.



A 1950s rotary drilling rig at the Butler County History Center. Photo courtesy of the Kansas Oil Museum.



A monument marks the spot of the Stapleton #1. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.



Oil field workers at Oil Hill, 1916. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.



Frontier Refinery oil workers in more recent times. Whether it is the 20th or 21st century, working in the oil industry is hard work! Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.


Address: 383 E. Central, El Dorado, KS 67042 [map this location]
Phone: 316.321.9333
Website: www.kansasoilmuseum.org

The El Dorado Oil Field and Petroleum Industry is a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Commerce because the discovery of the El Dorado field changed petroleum exploration technology forever by using science and geology to pinpoint location.

It also influenced the course of world history by being the largest producer/supplier among single fields in the U.S. during World War I, spurred the aviation industry in Wichita with investment of oil field dollars, and still profoundly impacts the general local and state economy today through jobs provided and tax revenue.

Thanks to Jennifer Callaway with the El Dorado Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Kansas Oil Museum/Butler County Historical Museum for compiling this information.

The El Dorado Field is a story of men and events that helped Kansas and the nation emerge from the draft-horse and kerosene-lamp years into the gasoline age. Few events in oil history had such lasting effects on petroleum technology, on the course of world history and on the general economy, local, state, and national as that of the El Dorado Field.

Stapleton #1 was the first well to be drilled using science and geology to pinpoint location

On September 29, drilling contractors, Golden and Obins spudded Stapleton #1. Oil was discovered on October 6, 1915 at a depth of 2,497 feet and our history was changed forever.

Stapleton #1, the discovery well for the great El Dorado Field, became the most notable of all regional wells because it was located by scientific methods. It dawned on oil people that an unprecedented and utterly remarkable pinpointing had resulted from this geological work. Not only was oil found within the geologists recommended area, it was found on nearly every acre of that area, and almost none was found directly outside that area! It was shocking to the oil industry. The largest, formally organized industrial geological operation in history was launched.

It was the first time science and more specifically geology had been used to determine where to drill for oil by pinpointing locations on a map. In addition to location of wells the geologists also recommended how deep to drill.

From the book Discovery! Cycles of Change in the Kansas Oil and Gas Industry 1860-1987 by Craig Miner:

"El Dorado brought "Big Oil", with all its thrills and headaches, to the state of Kansas. It insured also that exploration in the future would be limited by neither geography nor superstition."

El Dorado Field becomes largest producer among single fields in the United States.

Within weeks of striking oil on the Stapleton, representatives of oil companies such as the Carter Oil Company, an affiliate of Standard Oil; Empire Oil, an affiliate of Cities Service; and Gypsy Oil, an affiliate of Gulf Oil; began flooding into El Dorado, looking for landowners who would lease lands for oil exploration. By 1917 developments expanded into western, eastern and northwestern Butler County.

From the Kansas Oil Museum website (www.kansasoilmuseum.org): Kansas oil history began in the 1860s with G.W. Brown's drilling of the state's first oil well near Paola. The oil strike at Neodesha in 1892 led to the construction of a refinery in the area by John Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. There was a decline in Kansas oil production between 1905-1910. Then a major strike in 1915 with the drilling of Stapleton #1, the discovery oil well for the El Dorado Field, would change Kansas history forever.

This historic field, covering 34 square miles (22,320 acres), used scientific geology methods to pinpoint drilling locations. It became the largest producer among single fields in the United States. In one year alone (1918) the prolific El Dorado Field produced nearly 29 million barrels of oil.

In 1910 the population of Butler County was 23,000, but nearly doubled to 43,000 in 1920, much of which was located in the "oil company towns" of Midian and Oil Hill, just west and north of El Dorado. The town of El Dorado thrived with all this activity. Many of the oil companies located their offices in El Dorado, and retail and service businesses did a brisk business.

From the book El Dorado - Legacy of an Oil Boom by Jay M. Price:

Local businesses did well with oil companies and their workers nearby. Even the businesses had to adapt to longer hours. Derricks operated 24 hours a day with crews working in shifts or "tours." For those in the night tour, drugstores and other establishments were open at night as well as during the day.

The historic oil strike brought the refining business to El Dorado, where the largest refinery in Kansas still operates today. Men such as Archibald Derby, John Vickers and William Skelly were drawn to the El Dorado oil field, and established successful oil producing and refining companies as well as service station chains.

From El Dorado - Legacy of an Oil Boom by Jay M. Price:

By 1918, there were eight refineries in the vicinity of El Dorado and Augusta. The White Eagle Refinery was in Augusta. The Vickers Refinery was in Potwin. El Dorado had two refineries: the El Dorado Refining Company, or   "El Reco," to the north of town and what became the Skelly Refinery to the south. In the early 192's Derby built a refinery in Wichita as well. Several other smaller refineries also developed, but were short lived.

Today, the former Skelly Refinery, which became part of Getty, then Texaco, is now in operation as Frontier Oil and Refining. It is the largest refinery in Kansas and the only one of the eight original area refineries still in operation. Frontier purchased the plant in 1999, and has continually expanded and improved the facility. Today the Refinery employs 400 workers and can process 120,000 barrels of crude oil and 15,000 barrels of natural gas liquids daily. In the face of increasing energy demands, the Frontier plant has grown in national significance.

The discovery of oil and its production spurred a myriad of related support businesses and jobs, upon which the economy of the entire area was based. This included exploration companies, drillers, pumpers, pipelines, well servicing businesses, refineries and distribution outlets such as service stations. Today, El Dorado's economy is still largely based on the petroleum industry as shown by a multitude of oil service related businesses still in existence. (See attached list.) Recent decisions by companies such as Barton Solvents, BG Products and Consolidated Oil Field Services to expand their operations in El Dorado have been facilitated by the petrochemical "friendly" atmosphere resulting from the town's long association with the industry.

El Dorado field is a major contributor to the war effort

Not only was the local economy impacted by the discovery of oil, but the nation benefited from the fruits of the El Dorado field. In 1917 the United States entered the World War I conflict, and the demand for oil increased dramatically. By 1918 the El Dorado Oil Field was the largest producer among single fields in the U.S. In 1918 the field was responsible for 12.8% of national oil production and 9% of the world production. This production level during a crucial time of America's involvement in World War I, led to statements that El Dorado "floated" the country to victory on a "sea of oil." It would later make a substantial contribution to World War II as well.

From the book El Dorado - Legacy of an Oil Boom by Jay M. Price:

World War I and the needs of national defense launched this already booming scene into national prominence. By the end of the Great War, the fields between El Dorado and Wichita were among the most productive in the nation.

Money from the El Dorado oil fields helps set Wichita on the road to being "Air Capital" of the U.S.

 Another far-reaching impact to the region and to the nation was the development of the aircraft industry by entrepreneurial types which had been drawn to the area through oil exploration. In particular, Jacob Melvin Moellendick, an oilman who had done well in the El Dorado field, is credited as being the father of aviation in Wichita. With a team of investors, he established the Laird Aircraft Company in Wichita in 1919. Laird employed other young aviation pioneers such as Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman, who broke off from Laird and joined with Clyde Cessna to form their own company. Although that company failed, Beech, Stearman and Cessna went on to be instrumental in the development of the aircraft industry in Wichita and the world, and are well recognized names today.

From the book El Dorado - Legacy of an Oil Boom by Jay M Price:

The discovery of oil fields in places like Russell and Hugoton shifted the focus of the Kansas oil industry, while entrepreneurs in Wichita focused their attention on new ventures such as aviation. By the 1930s, production in the El Dorado oil field slowed to a more modest level as remaining companies and workers concentrated on other opportunities. Towns like those of Midian and Oil Hill shrank and vanished even as the refineries in El Dorado modernized and expanded. Today, the legacy of the Butler County oil boom lives on in the legion of pumps still dotting the landscape, in the aircraft that fly overhead, and in El Dorado's Kansas Oil Museum.

WHERE TO "SEE" THE INDUSTRY
 
History is preserved at the Kansas Oil Museum. At the Butler County History Center/Kansas Oil Museum, 383 E. Central in El Dorado, one may step back in time and relive this period of oil exploration in Butler County through the meticulous research and excellent exhibits. A visitor can tour an actual pump house and two styles of operational drilling rigs, an actual shotgun style house from Oil Hill, and view a wealth of artifacts and equipment from the early days of oil discovery. The drilling rigs can be seen in operation on specific occasions. The museum boasts of housing the best collection of vintage operational oilfield equipment in the nation.

Also housed here is the Kansas Oil and Gas Legacy Gallery, which features photos and biographies of more than 125 men and women who made history in the oil boom in El Dorado area and throughout Kansas.

MUSEUM HOURS: 
May through September, Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
October through April, Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday 12-5 p.m.
Admission charge:  Adults $4; Senior citizens $3; Students $2

VISIT STAPLETON #1
 
Follow the signs on N. Haverhill or 6th. At this former site of Oil Hill boomtown, imagine 2,500 workers living here in shotgun houses. A historical marker provides interesting background to Stapleton No. 1.

As you can see, the discovery of the El Dorado oil field continues to have a monumental impact on Kansas and the nation. The 50-plus year history of companies such as Hogoboom Oilfield Trucking and the addition of companies like Barton Solvents attest to the fact that the discovery of oil in El Dorado is vital to the local and regional economy in the present age, and promises to be so for many years in the future. The El Dorado employers listed below provide over 1,500 individuals with jobs and compensate their employees with higher than average wages and benefits.

Oilfield Related Businesses with Current Presence in El Dorado and Butler County

G & G Machine and Welding Service

Hogoboom Oil Field Trucking Service

Maclasky Oilfield Service

Phillips Well Ser vice

R & D Electric

Simmons Well Service

Timm Backhoe

Weatherford International

Buckeye Supply Company

Harbison-Fischer Sales

Hizey Service and Supply

Sunrise Oilfield Supply

MJ Murphy Oil Company

Aztec Oil Company

Flowers Production Company, Inc.

Kaneb Pipeline Company

Plains Petroleum Marketing, Inc.

Teichgraeber Oil

Baker Petrolite

Champion Technologies

Chem-Co Warehouse

Energy Services, Inc.

United Cementing and Acid Company

Savage Services Corporation

SemMaterials

Magellan Midstream Partners

Frontier Refining and Marketing

CDH

Drisco

Tri-Hydro

Consolidated Oil Field Services

Hoyt Supply, Inc.

C-Tech

BG Products, Inc.
 
Thanks to Jennifer Callaway with the El Dorado Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Kansas Oil Museum/Butler County Historical Museum for compiling this information.