Alfred Curry Glassell, Jr., oil and gas businessman, oceanic explorer, fisherman, and philanthropist, was born on March 31, 1913, on the Cuba Plantation, a cotton plantation near the Red River in northern Louisiana. He was the son of Alfred C. Glassell, Sr., and Frances “Fannie” Elvira (Lane) Glassell. He graduated from Bird High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, and subsequently attended Louisiana State University, where he was a member of thirteen honor societies, ROTC commander, and president of both the student body and Kappa Alpha fraternity. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1934.
Glassell became very successful in the energy business and discovered and extended oil and gas fields on the Louisiana and Texas Gulf coasts. He was living with his family in Shreveport at the time of the 1940 census, and his occupation, as well as the occupation of his father, was listed as “oil production.” Glassell eventually was one of the founders of the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corporation (Transco), the first gas transmission system from Texas to New York. He served on the boards of Transco, El Paso Natural Gas, and First City Bank.
During World War II, he served in the United States Army and achieved the rank of major. He served in the African and European theaters. After the war, he moved to Houston and continued his work in energy production.
Glassell was an avid sport fisherman, and during the 1950s he took part in the International Tuna Cup Matches as a member of the United States team. He captained the 1952 team to earn second place in the tournament. He enjoyed fishing for blue fin tuna, swordfish, and marlin, and in 1953, while fishing off the coast of Cabo Blanco, Peru, he set a world record for the largest marlin (at 1,560 pounds) ever caught on a hand-held rod and reel. Footage of his monster catch was captured on film and later used in the movie The Old Man and the Sea (1958). Glassell donated the black marlin for exhibit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. His catch generated considerable attention, and Glassell appeared on the cover of the March 19, 1956, edition of Sports Illustrated. He was inducted into the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame in 2001, and his record still stood in the 2010s.
Not only an enthusiastic angler, Glassell also had a lifelong interest in marine biology and sea life preservation. In his vessel Argosy, he participated in and led seafaring expeditions throughout the world, including an expedition for Yale University in 1957 and for the University of Miami in 1961. In 1971 the International Oceanographic Foundation granted him their Marine Science Award for outstanding contributions.
Glassell’s success in business, enjoyment of the outdoors and wildlife, and his personal interest in art fostered his civic activities and philanthropy. He was a founding member of the Smithsonian National Board and was later named honorary member. He supported the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as well as the Archaeological Institute of America. In Houston, Glassell was a prominent civic leader and devoted himself to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Symphony Society, Society for Performing Arts, Houston Ballet Foundation, Houston Chamber of Commerce, Texas Children’s Hospital, and other causes.
A world-famous collector of art, Glassell was especially supportive of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. First elected to the museum’s board of trustees in 1970, he worked closely with longtime director Peter Marzio to achieve major museum status—greatly increasing attendance, membership, operating budget, endowment, and collections. In 1979 Glassell established the Glassell School of Art to provide training in the fine arts by giving students hands-on experience in a studio environment. In 1990 he was elected chairman of the board of trustees of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and spearheaded a ten-year effort culminating in construction of the Audrey Jones Beck Building, now housing the museum’s collection of Western Antiquities and European and American art. From 1997 into the 2000s he donated to the museum his extensive and unparalleled collections—primarily precious gold—of Asian art, Pre-Columbian, and African art. Known as the Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian Gold, the pieces are prized as among the museum’s finest offerings.
Alfred Curry Glassell, Jr., died at age ninety-five in Houston on October 29, 2008. He was survived by his wife Clare Attwell Glassell, whom he had married in 1962; six children; and numerous extended family members. He was buried in Houston’s Glenwood Cemetery.
Houston Chronicle, April 19, 2014. Frances Marzio, The Glassell Collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Masterworks of Pre-Columbian, Indonesian, and African Gold (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012). New York Times, November 2, 2008; December 12, 2010. “Oral history interview with Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., 2002,” Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives, Smithsonian Institution (https://sova.si.edu/record/SIA.FARU9601?s=0&n=10&t=C&q=Glassell%2C+Alfred+C.+%28Alfred+Curry%29%2C+1913-2008&i=0), accessed January 27, 2020.
Oil and Gas Industry
Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
Sports and Recreation
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
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