McCarthy, Glenn Herbert (1907–1988)

By: Evan Kelly

Type: Biography

Published: April 1, 1995

Updated: July 30, 2020

Glenn McCarthy, oilman, was born in Beaumont, Texas, on Christmas day, 1907. He began working as a waterboy at age eight in the oilfields where his father worked, for a wage of fifty cents a day. He and his family lived for a short while in Houston and for several years in Port Arthur. They eventually returned to Houston. McCarthy went to Tulane University on a football scholarship, injured his ankle, and transferred to Texas A&M, where he was expelled for hazing. He subsequently played football at Rice Institute in the same backfield with Tom and Dick Driscoll and Jap Thrasher. Rice won the Southwest Conference championship that year. Later, McCarthy dropped out of college to go into business for himself. At the time of his marriage and his quitting college, he claimed that he had less than $1.50 in his pocket. At age twenty-four he took his savings and talked his father and brother into working with him to drill for oil in Hardin County. The attempt failed, but McCarthy gathered his finances to try again. Two years later he struck oil at Anahuac, near Trinity Bay on the Gulf Coast. The well could have produced 3,000 barrels of oil a day, but was only allowed twenty because of a glut in the Texas oil market. McCarthy struck oil thirty-eight times between 1932 and 1942. He bought land in 1941 at $154 dollars an acre at the future site of the Astrodome. He also purchased 4,800 acres of land where Sharpstown is today. By 1945 he had discovered eleven oilfields in Texas and extended several others. In Brazoria County he drilled the highest-pressure gas well drilled to that time (1946); it had the potential for producing 300,000 cubic feet a day at 8,225 pounds per square inch. McCarthy spent $21 million in 1949 to build the Shamrock Hotel in Houston. He spent over $1 million on the opening, dubbed "Houston's biggest party." His wealth in 1949 was estimated at $200 million, from 400 producing gas and oil wells. He built a mansion in 1950 for $750,000.

In spite of his wealth, however, McCarthy—known as "Diamond Glenn" and "King of the Wildcatters"—overextended himself and was $52 million in debt in 1952. The government made him a private loan of unprecedented size, exactly enough to cover his debt. He recovered financially. He sold the Shamrock by 1955 to the Hilton family. In 1957 he reopened his exclusive Cork Club in the Central Bank building, where he also had offices; it was originally in the Shamrock. He was a notorious drinker who introduced his own label, "Wildcatter" bourbon. McCarthy owned the McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, the Beaumont Gas Company, the Houston Export Company, KXYZ Radio, the McCarthy Chemical Company, the McCarthy International Tube Company, fourteen newspapers, a magazine, a movie-production company, the Shell Building, and two banks. He was also the chairman of Eastern Airlines and president of the United States Petroleum Association. He was the inspiration for Jett Rink in Edna Ferber's novel Giant (1952). His friends included John Wayne, Howard Hughes, John Carroll, and Natalie Wood. In his later years he lived a low-profile life in a two-story house near La Porte. At age twenty-three he married Faustine Lee, daughter of oilman William E. Lee; they had five children. McCarthy died on December 26, 1988.

Dallas Morning News, May 1, 1982. Wallace Davis, Corduroy Road: The Story of Glenn H. McCarthy (Houston: A. Jones Press, 1951). Houston Chronicle, December 2, 1974. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Victoria Advocate, November 12, 1984, December 28, 1988.

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Evan Kelly, “McCarthy, Glenn Herbert,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

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April 1, 1995
July 30, 2020

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