Carl G. Cromwell (the Big Swede), oilman, was born to Swedish immigrants John Nels and Hannah (Anderson) Cromwell on January 26, 1889, in Saybrook, Pennsylvania. As the oldest of six children he took an oilfield job at age sixteen to help his family. He worked in major fields in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Oklahoma and became one of the industry's most knowledgeable drillers. After service with the 358th Infantry at Camp Travis in San Antonio, Texas, during World War I, he returned to Oklahoma and married Luella Lundsford in 1919. They soon moved to Texas, where Cromwell drilled around Burkburnett, Cisco, and other booming areas.
In mid-1921 Frank T. Pickrell, vice president of Texon Oil and Land Company, contracted with Cromwell to drill on university lands in Reagan County. For almost two years the Cromwells, including a baby daughter, Carlene, lived in a shack on an isolated well site. Cromwell persevered, with only intermittent help from a constantly changing, inexperienced crew. Finally, on May 28, 1923, the famed Santa Rita No. 1 (see SANTA RITA OIL WELL) blew in, and the event heralded great wealth for the University of Texas. Subsequently, Cromwell became drilling superintendent of the Texon Company's rapidly expanding field around the camp of Santa Rita. He also acquired his own leases and became known as an honest, generous, free-spirited wildcatter.
Cromwell, Pickrell, and Clayton W. Williams, company engineer, experimented in drilling deeper than the average 3,000 feet. On January 20, 1926, Williams located a site and Cromwell's crews began work. In late November 1928, because of mounting expenses and problems, Cromwell was directed to shut down. Instead, he disregarded orders and went into hiding. On December 4, at 8,525 feet, University 1-B, the world's deepest well (until 1931) came in.
Cromwell was also an entrepreneur and aviation pioneer. He looked to the airplane to replace time-consuming automobile travel and named his first plane the Miss Carlene. He established an airport in San Angelo and, on November 1, 1929, inaugurated airline service between that city and Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. He was director of a San Angelo insurance company. He was also a Lutheran, a Democrat, a Mason, and an American Legionnaire. While on a business trip he was killed in an automobile accident near Sheffield, Pennsylvania, on September 27, 1931.