Dresser Industries

By: Darwin Payne

Type: General Entry

Published: August 1, 1995

Dresser Industries, Incorporated, a multinational corporation headquartered in Dallas, provides a wide range of technology, products, and services used for developing energy and natural resources. Its beginning goes back to the early oilfields of Pennsylvania and the mechanical enterprise of a Michigan-born man named Solomon Robert Dresser (1842–1911), who forsook the uncertainties of wildcatting to manufacture a product that he devised for drillers to keep oil and water separated underground. To do this Dresser constructed a "packer," using rubber for a tight fit, and after taking out a patent on May 11, 1880, he began advertising and selling his product, the Dresser Cap Packer, from his modest frame building in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in the heart of the oilfields. Dresser's packer was merely one of many available, and it was not that invention, but another, that converted his struggling company into one that was national in scope. This was a coupling that Dresser built in 1885 to join pipes together in such a way that they would not leak natural gas. This coupling also used rubber for a tight fit, and it was so successful that it permitted for the first time the long-range transmission of natural gas from the fields where it naturally occurred to faraway cities. The natural gas industry prospered and expanded after 1900, as more and more cities began preferring gas for heating and lighting, and Dresser's company grew as pipelines were built over great distances. By 1927 the company's annual sales had reached $3.7 million, and some 400 workers were required to keep up with the demand. Dresser's descendants, who had been operating the company since the founder's death, decided to sell it, and in 1928 the Wall Street investment-banking firm of W. A. Harriman and Company, Incorporated, converted the firm into a public company by issuing 300,000 shares of stock. H. Neil Mallon was selected as president and chief executive officer; he held that position until his retirement in 1962. Under Mallon, a Cincinnati native and Yale graduate whose earlier experience had been in the canning industry, Dresser took advantage of its strong cash position to launch a program of acquisitions designed to survive a new threat to its coupling business-the introduction of welding for joining pipes together. Between 1930 and the entry of the United States into World War II, Dresser acquired various companies that manufactured valves, heaters, pumps, and engines and compressors.

After the war, expansion continued, as the company diversified into such products as oil derricks, blowers, drill bits, refractories, and drilling mud. Dresser was energetic in following new oil and gas markets around the world, even behind the Iron Curtain. Future United States president George Bush worked for the company in several positions after the war. His father, Prescott Bush, had been a W. A. Harriman and Company executive who had been involved in the conversion of Dresser to a public company, and he served on the board of directors for twenty-two years. In 1950 the company headquarters were transferred to Dallas to be near the nation's major oil and gas fields and also to take advantage of the central location for managing what by then had become a far-flung empire. An aggressive acquisition program continued through the purchase of well-known companies involved in manufacturing such things as overhead cranes, gasoline-dispensing pumps, and heavy equipment for mining and construction. Many of these firms had themselves played pioneering roles in the nineteenth century with innovative products that had helped to develop the world's energy resources.

During the 1980s, as the oil industry began to decline, Dresser's chairman, John Murphy, began to streamline the organization of the company. Murphy ordered the elimination of the insurance, mining, and construction-equipment divisions. Beginning with a joint agreement with Komatsu of Japan in 1988 to manufacture construction equipment such as tractors, loaders, and hydraulic excavators, Dresser began to expand its operations once again. During the early 1990s the conglomerate purchased two European businesses. Dresser generated sales of more than $4 billion in 1992, and in 1993 it employed 31,800 people in fifty countries. At that time the company had three major divisions: Oil Field Products and Services, Industrial Operations, and Energy Processing and Conversion Equipment. In 1994 the company expanded through acquisitions of Wheatley TXT (a manufacturer of pumps, valves, and metering equipment) and the Baroid Corporation (a Houston-based oil-services firm that had competed directly with Dresser for customers). To comply with federal antitrust regulations, Dresser sold off its interest in M-I Drilling Fluids Company and Western Atlas International. Upon completion of the Baroid merger, Dresser became the third-largest oil-services company in the world.

Business Week, February 22, 1988. Forbes, November 14, 1988, February 14, 1994. Hoover's Handbook of American Business (1993). Darwin Payne, Initiative in Energy: The Story of Dresser Industries, 1880–1978 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979). Damon Robinson, "Tool Exporter Finds Key to Success," Journal of Commerce and Commercial, February 22, 1991.
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Support Industry
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

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

Darwin Payne, “Dresser Industries,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 07, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dresser-industries.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995

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