H. L. Hunt, oil tycoon, the youngest of eight children of Haroldson Lafayette and Ella Rose (Myers) Hunt, was born in Carson Township, Fayette County, Illinois, on February 17, 1889. He was educated at home. In 1905 he traveled through Colorado, California, and Texas. By 1912 he had settled in Arkansas, where he ran a cotton plantation that was flooded out by 1917. In 1921 he joined the oil boom in El Dorado, Arkansas, where he became a lease broker and promoted his first well, Hunt-Pickering No. 1. He claimed to have attained a "fortune of $600,000" by 1925, the year he bought a whole block in El Dorado and built a three-story house for his family. His El Dorado investments and a venture called Smackover taught Hunt lessons about the cost of wasteful practices and excessive drilling. Both fields were depleted rapidly. He also lost money on the Florida land boom, and by the time he got interested in the East Texas oilfield in 1930, he seems to have been broke again.
Hunt is in the famous photograph that immortalizes the drill test for Daisy Bradford No. 3 and the opening of the East Texas oilfield. On November 26, 1930, he made a deal with Columbus M. "Dad" Joiner that made him owner of the well and all Joiner's surrounding leases. Hunt used $30,000 that belonged to P. G. Lake, a clothier from El Dorado, and planned to make subsequent payments from revenue to buy out Joiner. He knew Joiner was beset by problems of oversold interests in the well. By December 1, 1930, Hunt had his own pipeline, the Panola Pipe Line, to run oil from the East Texas field. By 1932 the Hunt Production Company had 900 wells in East Texas.
In 1935 H. L. Hunt, Incorporated, was superseded by Placid Oil Company, and the shares were divided into trusts for Hunt's six children. In late 1936 Hunt acquired the Excelsior Refining Company in Rusk County and changed the name to Parade Refining Company. It was residue gas from this company's lines that caused the New London Explosion on March 18, 1937. Most of the people involved in that catastrophe were employees of H. L. Hunt. In 1937 or 1938 the family moved to Dallas. On April 5, 1948, Fortune printed a story on Hunt that labeled him the richest man in the United States. It estimated the value of his oil properties at $263 million and the daily production of crude from his wells at 65,000 barrels.
On November 26, 1914, Hunt married Lyda Bunker in Arkansas. They had six children. On Armistice Day 1925 a Franklin Hunt married Frania Tye (probably short for Tiburski) in Florida. They had four children. On November 11, 1975, after H. L. Hunt had died, Mrs. Frania Tye Lee filed a civil complaint against Hunt in which she revealed the history of their relationship. They had married in 1925 and lived together in Shreveport until 1930, when they moved to Dallas. In May 1934 "Franny" had discovered Hunt's other marriage. Hunt apparently shipped her off to New York and in 1941 provided trusts for each of the four children. A friend of his, John Lee, married her and gave his name to the children. Lyda Bunker Hunt died in 1955. In November 1957 Hunt married Ruth Ray and adopted her four children, who had been born between 1943 and 1950. Ruth Hunt admitted in an interview that H. L. Hunt had, in fact, been their real father. H. L. and Ruth Hunt became Baptists.
In his later life Hunt promoted "constructive" politics in two radio shows, Facts Forum and Life Line, which he supported from 1951 to 1963. In 1952 Facts Forum endorsed Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1960 Hunt published a romantic utopian novel, Alpaca, and in 1968 he began to process aloe vera cosmetics. He died on November 29, 1974.
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Stanley H. Brown, H. L. Hunt (Chicago: Playboy Press, 1976). H. L. Hunt, H. L. Hunt: Early Days (Dallas: Parade, 1973). H. L. Hunt, Hunt Heritage (Dallas: Parade, 1973). Harry Hurt, Texas Rich (New York: Norton, 1981). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Dramatists and Novelists
Oil and Gas Industry
Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Jerrell Dean Palmer,
“Hunt, Haroldson Lafayette,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
February 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
January 29, 2022
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: