On this day in 1901, the Spindletop oilfield was discovered on a salt dome south of Beaumont, marking the birth of the modern petroleum industry. Pattillo Higgins, the "prophet of Spindletop," and others had tried for years to find oil on Spindletop Hill, but with no success. In 1899, however, Higgins hooked up with Anthony F. Lucas. Despite negative reports from contemporary geologists, Lucas remained convinced that oil was in the salt domes of the Gulf Coast. On January 10 mud began bubbling from a well that Lucas had spudded in the previous October. The startled roughnecks fled as six tons of four-inch drilling pipe came shooting up out of the ground. After several minutes of quiet, mud, then gas, then oil spurted out. The Lucas geyser, found at a depth of 1,139 feet, blew a stream of oil over 100 feet high until it was capped nine days later. The discovery of the Spindletop oilfield had an almost incalculable effect on world and Texas history. Investors spent billions of dollars throughout the Lone Star State in search of oil and natural gas. The cheap fuel they found helped to revolutionize American transportation and industry. Many of the major oil companies were born at Spindletop or grew to major corporate size as a result of their involvement at Spindletop, including Texaco, Gulf Oil Corporation, Magnolia Petroleum Company, and Exxon Company, U.S.A.
On this day in 1894, Charles A. (Doc) Dudley, an African American physician, civic leader, and civil rights worker, was born in Waskom, Texas. He graduated from high school at Marshall and attended Bishop College in Dallas before entering Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After receiving a license to practice medicine in Texas, he assumed the practice of his cousin in Victoria. Dudley supported education for black children and, working with teachers in Victoria, helped furnish equipment not provided by the school board. In January 1940 he organized a council composed of black citizens that provided improvements for the grounds of F. W. Gross High School. He led the fund raising drive that established the George Washington Carver Civic Council for the recreational and cultural development of black youth. During the struggle for voting rights, he worked closely with NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, the future United States Supreme Court associate justice. Dudley died in 1975. Dudley Elementary School in Victoria is named for him.
On this date in 1964, groundbreaking for the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts took place in Houston. Construction of the building was underwritten by the Houston Endowment, a charitable foundation endowed by Jesse H. Jones and his wife, Mary Gibbs Jones. With its luxurious decor and excellent acoustics, Jones Hall won the American Institute of Architects' Honor Award in 1967 and today is the home performance venue for the Houston Symphony Orchestra and the Society for the Performing Arts.
On this day in 1954, two leading figures in Texas aviation, Edgar Tobin and Thomas Elmer Braniff, died in a plane crash near Shreveport, Louisiana. Tobin, a San Antonio native, became an ace after shooting down five enemy aircraft while flying with Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's "Hat-in-the-Ring" squadron during World War I. After the war he started Tobin Aerial Surveys and entered the commercial mapping field for Humble Oil and Refining Company (now the Exxon Company, U.S.A.). During World War II he served as a special advisor to the Army Air Force, and his company mapped the entire United States for the federal government. He generously contributed to many charitable organizations in San Antonio. Braniff, a native of Kansas and co-founder with his brother Paul of Braniff Airways, pioneered airline service to Texas and the Southwest.