Nunn, John Lindsay (1886–1985)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: June 6, 2020

John Lindsay Nunn, Panhandle utilities and newspaper owner, the son and youngest child of Joseph Elbert and Lettie (Hamlet) Nunn, was born on May 14, 1886, in Simpsonville, Kentucky. He was christened John Lindsay Martin, after both of his grandfathers, but later on dropped the Martin from his signature. He received his first schooling in Simpsonville, and in 1896 the family moved to nearby Shelbyville, where his father bought Stuart Female Seminary, a girls' boarding school, and reopened it as Shelbyville College. In the fall of 1903, after a period of tutorial instruction, Nunn enrolled in Georgetown College, where he played football and from which he graduated in June 1905. There he met Bettie Nunnelley, whom he married on October 31, 1907. They had two children. Shortly after graduation in 1905 Nunn moved to the Texas Panhandle to join his father, who had bought the Amarillo Telephone Exchange Company. He ably assisted in the acquisition and operation of six exchanges and 200 miles of toll line, which by 1912 had been consolidated as the Panhandle Telephone and Telegraph Company and sold to Southwestern Bell, in which he owned considerable stock. Later Nunn put together the Standard Telephone Company of Texas, comprising forty exchanges and interconnecting toll lines. These were subsequently combined with companies in Indiana and California to form the General Telephone Company, in which Nunn retained all real estate. In 1910 he began the Nunn Electric Company, with retail outlets in North and West Texas, Oklahoma, and eastern New Mexico. His father bought what became known as the Nunn Building, on South Polk Street, as the company's main headquarters in 1912. The company, to which Nunn added the Farwell Light and Power Company, lasted until the severe financial recession of the early 1920s, at which time he gradually sold off this chain of businesses. He later owned several electric plants in New Mexico. The Nunn Building was demolished in 1957.

In 1916 Nunn and his father bought a major interest in the financially shaky Amarillo Daily News, which they merged with the Daily Panhandle. During World War I Nunn resided briefly in Dallas to look after his electric-company interests there, but in 1920 he moved back to Amarillo to assist his father with the Daily News operations. At that time he set up Amarillo's first radio transmitter, over which he broadcast phonograph records two hours a day to the handful of crystal receiving-set owners. In 1923, after buying the defunct Daily Tribune and occupying its building, Nunn was made chief editor of the Daily News. In 1926 he sold the paper to Eugene A. Howe and Wilbur C. Hawk and formed the Nunn-Warren Publishing Company, a newspaper chain serving much of the Panhandle and eastern New Mexico, with David M. Warren. At about the same time Nunn started his own printing firm, and with money borrowed in Chicago, bought several more newspapers, including the El Paso Times and the Lubbock Avalanche, which he combined with its evening rival, the Journal (see LUBBOCK AVALANCHE-JOURNAL). In 1931 he sold these papers one by one for a considerable profit. The following year the Nunn-Warren corporation split; Nunn retained the papers in Childress, Pampa, and New Mexico.

When the Panhandle oil boom began in 1926, Nunn and two partners formed the Spring Creek Oil Company and later the Black Diamond corporation; only the first one, however, proved profitable. In 1931, with Walter Burch, Nunn organized Plains Creamery, the Amarillo area's leading dairy firm, which he headed until 1954, when he sold it to the National Dairy Products Corporation of New York. In addition, he owned several farms and ranches around Amarillo, on which he bred sheep, hogs, dairy cattle, and horses. He also made investments in real estate; during and after World War II he and his son, Gilmore, spearheaded several low-cost housing projects in Amarillo, including the Belmont Park subdivision. Between 1908 and 1936 Nunn and his family owned or occupied at least four residences on Tyler and Polk streets in Amarillo. In addition they had a country "cottage" in the upper Palo Duro Canyon, which they traded in 1927 for a rambling mountain retreat on the upper Pecos River east of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In 1936, weary of the droughts and dust storms that characterized the Panhandle during the Great Depression (see DUST BOWL) the Nunns sold their Amarillo residence and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where they purchased their spacious Providence Farm home. There Nunn bought the faltering Lexington Herald and radio station WLAP. Over the next two decades he bought other stations in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, formed the Kentex Oil Company of Kentucky, and invested in a sawmill at Hot Springs, Arkansas, and a cotton farm in Mississippi. Although they made Lexington their permanent home, the Nunns made frequent visits to Amarillo to look after their real estate interests and the dairy. Nunn once attempted, without success, to start a commuter airline between Lexington and Amarillo. One of his last, and most successful, enterprises was the Breeders Supply and Equipment Company. Founded in 1953, this Lexington-based venture handled livestock supplies and other items for breeders nationwide. Nunn also became active in the Kentucky Hereford Association and raised prime breeders on his 485-acre Providence Farm. Legendary as a "collector of careers," he owned during his lifetime forty-six telephone companies, six electric light firms, twenty-six newspapers, and five radio stations.

Nunn, like his father, was active in public education and civic and religious affairs in both Texas and Kentucky. He gave Wayland Baptist College in Plainview money for the school's new gymnasium in 1929. He also supported his alma mater, Georgetown College. In December 1972 he made a $56,000 gift to Cal Farley's Boys Ranch from the sale of his remaining lots in Amarillo's Hamlet subdivision. His first wife died on December 22, 1971, and Nunn married Lois Weaver, his secretary, on January 12, 1973. On May 19 of that year he was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by Georgetown College. He spent his remaining years at Providence Farm and died on October 22, 1985, at the age of ninety-nine. He was buried in Lexington.

Amarillo Daily News, October 23, 1985. John Lindsay Nunn, 91 Years from Kentucky to Texas and Back (Lexington, Kentucky: Byron-Page, 1977). Vertical File, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University.


  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Publishers and Executives
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Business

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Nunn, John Lindsay,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
June 6, 2020