Lucas, Anthony Francis (1855–1921)

By: Robert Wooster

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: July 21, 2016

Anthony Francis Lucas, petroleum engineer, was born Antonio Francisco Luchich, son of Capt. Francis Stephen and Giovanna (Giovanizo) Luchich, at Spalato on Austria's Dalmation coast. He graduated at age twenty from the Polytechnic Institute in Graz and entered the Austrian Naval Academy. He rose to the rank of second lieutenant but took a six months' leave of absence in 1879 to visit an uncle in Saginaw, Michigan. Lucas found employment in the lumber country and secured a second leave from his naval service. At the end of the year he decided to remain in the United States and changed his name to Lucas, as his uncle had done before him. Lucas received his naturalization papers on May 9, 1885, at Norfolk, Virginia. He married Caroline Weed Fitzgerald, daughter of a prominent physician, in 1887 and moved to Washington, D.C. Their son, Anthony Fitzgerald Lucas, was born in 1892. The elder Lucas, a mechanical and mining engineer, ranged from Colorado to Louisiana in search of gold and salt. From 1893 to 1896 Lucas superintended salt-mining operations for a New Orleans company at Petite Anse (Avery Island), Louisiana. In further drills at Anse la Butte, Belle Isle, and Grand Cote (Weeks Island), he found traces of salt deposits and oil characteristic of the salt domes of the Gulf Coast. As a result of his exploration, he became the foremost expert on these formations in the United States. In 1899 Lucas answered a trade journal advertisement for a drilling contractor inserted by Pattillo Higgins. Lucas leased 663 acres south of Beaumont at Spindletop and began drilling in June 1900. Although he located traces of oil, he found drilling extremely difficult, and his light equipment collapsed after reaching a depth of 575 feet. With funds exhausted, Higgins and Mrs. Lucas convinced the engineer to seek additional financing. Most contemporary geologists disagreed with Lucas's salt dome theory, but he finally convinced John H. Galey and James M. Guffey of Pittsburgh to join the project. With the promise of Guffey's economic backing, Lucas secured more land for the new partnership on and around the barely perceptible Spindletop Hill. Guffey's terms, however, were stringent: Lucas himself would retain only a small percentage; Higgins was cut out entirely. Drilling nonetheless commenced on October 27, 1900. Assisted by Al and Kurt Hamill and their experienced crew, Lucas pierced the difficult sands and brought in the Spindletop oilfield on January 10, 1901. The discovery revolutionized world fuel uses and transformed the economy of Southeast Texas. Although Lucas subsequently drilled wells for Guffey at Bryan Heights and Damon Mound, he sought to shun the publicity surrounding the Spindletop boom. He went to Mexico in 1902 and later served as a consulting engineer in Russia, Rumania, and various fields in the United States. Lucas died at his home in Washington, D.C., on September 2, 1921, and was buried in that city's Rock Creek Cemetery.

An able engineer whose theories and knowledge of geologic formations was far ahead of his time, Anthony Lucas was a member of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers and served as first chairman of that group's Oil and Gas Committee (later called the Petroleum Division). He also contributed several professional papers. In 1936 the institute inaugurated the Anthony F. Lucas Gold Medal in his memory to honor "distinguished achievement in improving the technique and practice of finding and producing petroleum," and in 1943 Lucas's son and daughter-in-law established a charitable foundation in his name.

James Anthony Clark and Michel T. Halbouty, Spindletop (New York: Random House, 1952). Everett DeGoyler, "Anthony F. Lucas and Spindletop," Southwest Review 30 (Fall 1945).

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Petroleum Engineers
  • Peoples
  • Austrians
  • Business

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

Robert Wooster, “Lucas, Anthony Francis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

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July 21, 2016