Edgar Byram Davis, oilman and philanthropist, was born on February 2, 1873, in Brockton, Massachusetts. With only a high school education, he began making his first million dollars in the shoe business in Massachusetts about 1905; later he made another fortune, about $3 million, as an early investor in foreign rubber plantations and as the largest individual stockholder in the United States Rubber Company. After thirteen years he sold his holdings and gave much of the proceeds away as gifts to friends and associates in New York. His brother Oscar invested in oil leases in Caldwell County, Texas, in 1919 and asked Edgar to manage his share of the oil leases. Edgar made his first visit to Luling that year. A deeply religious man, Edgar believed that he was directed by God to come to Texas and to deliver Luling and Caldwell County from the oppressive one-crop (cotton) economy that dominated the area. He believed he would do this by finding oil, though geologists claimed there was none there. In March 1921 Davis incorporated the United North and South Oil Company. After Oscar Davis died, Edgar purchased the oil leases from his estate. The first six wells were dry, and Davis's company was heavily in debt, but the seventh, Rafael Rios No. 1, gushed in on August 9, 1922. This well opened up a field near Stairtown that was twelve miles long and two miles wide. By December 1924 the field was producing 43,000 barrels of oil daily (see LULING OILFIELD). On June 11, 1926, Davis sold his leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for what may have been the biggest oil deal in Texas up to that time, $12 million (one-half in cash), and to celebrate gave a free barbecue for friends, associates, and employees; 15,000 to 35,000 people attended. In addition, to his employees he gave from 25 to 100 percent of their total salaries as bonuses. He also gave the citizens of Luling a golf course, an athletic clubhouse for local Blacks, various other facilities, and endowments for each. He established the Luling Foundation there for the teaching of improved agricultural methods. He also established the Pilgrim Foundation back in his hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts, to assist needy people in that area. In all, Davis donated at least $5 million to charity, as well as keeping a play, The Ladder, written by his friend James Francis Davis, running on Broadway for two years even though critics considered it one of Broadway's worst. Davis believed in the message of the play, which included the theme of reincarnation. Davis discovered two more oilfields in the area, Buckeye and Darst Creek, and again gave most of the cash away when they were sold. With the Great Depression he ran into financial problems again; by 1935 the development company was declared insolvent. He worked for twelve years paying off most of his indebtedness, always insisting that more oil could be found. Davis died in Galveston on October 14, 1951, and was buried in Luling at the site of one of his former homes. He never married. He belonged to no church but attended each church in Luling regularly. In 1966 the Edgar B. Davis Memorial Hospital was built on the site of his home in Luling; his gravesite is on the hospital grounds.
Support Texas History Now
Join TSHA to support quality Texas history programs and receive exclusive benefits.
Riley Froh, Edgar B. Davis: Wildcatter Extraordinary (Luling, Texas: Luling Foundation, 1984). Sally Pemberton, Portrait of Murdock Pemberton—The New Yorker's First Art Critic (Enfield, New Hampshire: Enfield Publishing, 2011). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
- Oil and Gas Industry
- Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
- Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Anonymous, “Davis, Edgar Byram,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 28, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/davis-edgar-byram.
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.