Cullen, Hugh Roy (1881–1957)

By: Rita Crabbe

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: December 7, 2016

Hugh Roy Cullen, oilman and philanthropist, son of Cicero and Louise (Beck) Cullen and grandson of Ezekiel W. Cullen, was born on July 3, 1881, in Denton County. His formal education was limited to a few years in the public schools in San Antonio. He married Lillie Cranz on December 29, 1903; they had four daughters and one son, Roy Gustave Cullen, who died in 1936. At the age of sixteen Cullen worked for a cotton broker; he later went into that business for himself and also dealt in real estate. He moved to Houston in 1911 and entered the oil business in 1918. His policy of drilling deep wells was so successful that he became known as the "king of the wildcatters." He made major discoveries in the Houston area, notably at Pierce Junction, Blue Ridge, Rabb's Ridge, Humble, and the O'Connor field. He owned half of the South Texas Petroleum Company and later formed the Quintana Petroleum Company. Cullen took an active interest in politics throughout his life. Since he was firmly dedicated to states' rights, much of his energy was spent in opposition to the New Deal. He promoted W. Lee O'Daniel for governor in 1938 and 1940 and for senator in 1941. Although Cullen aided the Dixiecrat movement in 1948, he normally supported Republican candidates, particularly Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. He gave more than $11 million each to his favorite projects, the University of Houston and Houston hospitals. In 1947 he established the $160 million Cullen Foundation to provide for continual aid to education and medicine. By 1955 he had given away an estimated 90 percent of his fortune. Cullen served in many capacities during his career, including chairman of the board of regents of the University of Houston, vice president of the Texas World Fair Commission in 1939, and director of the Boy Scouts of America. He received honorary degrees from the University of Pittsburgh in 1936, Baylor University in 1945, and the University of Houston in 1947. He was an honorary member of the American Hospital Association and a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas. Cullen died in Houston on July 4, 1957.

Edward Kilman and Theon Wright, Hugh Roy Cullen (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1954). Houston Post, July 5, 1957. Who's Who in America (1956–57).

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Rita Crabbe, “Cullen, Hugh Roy,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

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December 7, 2016

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