Holman, Eugene (1895–1962)

By: J. Conrad Dunagan

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: October 31, 2019

Eugene Holman, geologist and oilman, was born on May 2, 1895, the son of J. R. and America Geneva (Moore) Holman, Jr., in San Angelo, Texas, where his father operated the first mail route to Sonora, then "wild, open country." His paternal grandfather, James Riley Holman, born in Kentucky and reared in Missouri, was among the first to go to California after gold was discovered there in 1848. J. R. Holman, Jr., became an orphan at age twelve and at sixteen went to Argentina, where he married in 1875. William Tandy Moore, America's father, was a native of Missouri who had moved to California in 1849 and to Argentina to establish the California Colony in 1866. Trouble with the Indians in Argentina, including the killing of Moore's oldest son, resulted in 1877 in a move to Texas. Holman grew up in the tiny railroad town of Monahans, where his parents operated the Holman Hotel (now restored and part of the Million Barrel Museum complex). He finished the ten grades then offered in the Monahans schools in 1911, entered Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University) in 1912, and received an A.B. degree in 1916. At the University of Texas he received his M.A. degree in geology in 1917. His knowledge of elementary conversational Spanish helped him to get a job assisting two professors who made a geological survey of Cuba in 1917. His service in the aerial-photography division of the United States Army Signal Corps in World War I included Great Britain.

In 1918 Holman worked for the United States Geological Survey. He soon got a job as a geologist with Humble Oil and Refining Company (now Exxon Company, U.S.A.) through Wallace E. Pratt. He worked in the boom in Ranger, Texas, and was sent to Shreveport, Louisiana, as geologist for the North Louisiana-Arkansas area. There he met and in 1923 married Edith Carver Reid, a native of Alabama. They had two children. Holman was promoted to district superintendent in Shreveport, and in 1926 he moved to Houston as chief geologist for Humble. His oil-finding ability soon attracted the attention of officials in the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the major stockholder of Humble. He moved to New York City in 1929 and was sent to Venezuela to evaluate Jersey Standard's unsuccessful operations in that country. His recommendations for improvement and expansion were followed, and he became an officer or director of six of Jersey Standard's Latin-American affiliates.

Holman was elected a director of Jersey Standard in 1940, a vice president in 1942, and president in 1944. He served on the Petroleum Administration for the War Council during World War II. In December 1945 he was named chairman of the executive committee of Jersey Standard while continuing as chief executive officer, a position he held until his retirement in 1960. In 1954 he was also elected chairman of the board of Jersey Standard. During his long administration of the company, many Humble executives were brought to New York to head various departments of Standard. Holman's most intimate friends in New York were from Texas, and every journalist who wrote feature articles about him for national publications referred to his Texas background. In 1947 his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine. During his administration Standard Oil of New Jersey secured vast oil concessions in the Middle East.

He believed in free trade and placed great emphasis on employee relations, including those in foreign countries, where he recommended employment of foreign nationals whenever possible. In the opinion of an eminent historian of Jersey Standard and Exxon, the company made more progress during the sixteen-year administration of Holman than during the term of any other of its chief executives. Holman received a distinguished service award from the Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association in 1948. He was given the first Texan of Distinction Award by the State Fair of Texas in 1952. In a banquet speech at this event, he gave credit for his success to the qualities instilled in him among the West Texas pioneers, including a sense of adventure and a high regard for education. He anonymously sponsored Carl Coke Rister's book Oil! Titan of the Southwest (1949). As president of Jersey Standard, Holman encouraged the establishment of a foundation to develop the history of that company's worldwide operations. He received the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement from the American Petroleum Institute in 1960.

His hobbies included hunting (preferably big game), fishing, and gardening. He was an Episcopalian. He voted as a Democrat until about 1940, when he supported Wendell Willkie for president. He became a friend and confidant of Dwight D. Eisenhower. After his retirement, he owned a ranch in Arkansas in partnership with his son, Eugene, Jr. Holman died on August 12, 1962, in New York, and is buried in Putman Cemetery, near Greenwich, Connecticut.

J. Conrad Dunagan, "Eugene Holman, a Texan of Distinction," Permian Historical Annual 27 (1987). Henrietta M. Larson and Kenneth Wiggins Porter, History of Humble Oil and Refining Company (New York: Harper, 1959). Wallace E. Pratt, "Memorial: Eugene Holman (1895–1962)," Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists 47 (May 1963). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Science
  • Geologists and Geophysicists
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters

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

J. Conrad Dunagan, “Holman, Eugene,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/holman-eugene.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 31, 2019