Phelan, John Henry (1877–1957)

By: Robert Wooster

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: May 1, 1995

John Henry Phelan, businessman, oil producer, and philanthropist, one of eleven children of Patrick Henry and Adele (Myers) Phelan, was born at Charlotte, North Carolina, on December 11, 1877. He left school after the ninth grade and in 1902 moved to Beaumont as a traveling salesman. He subsequently formed the Phelan-Josey Wholesale Company and became the first president of the Phelan Wholesale Grocery Company, which served much of Southeast Texas. As a partner of Miles Frank Yount, Phelan was an associate of the Yount-Lee Oil Company, formed in 1915. Yount-Lee's McFaddin Number Three well brought in a tremendous strike at new depths, reversing a decade of declining production at the Spindletop oilfield and leading to a second boom. Phelan was treasurer of the company in 1935, when it was purchased by the Stanolind Oil Company in a deal that was at the time the third largest cash transaction in American business history. In addition to his oil and wholesale grocery investments, Phelan was involved in a variety of other ventures: he served as director of the First National Bank of Beaumont, Standard Brass Company, Norvell-Wilder Supply Company, and several other firms.

He married Johanna Cunningham in Chicago on June 15, 1905. The couple had three children. Though he sought to avoid public attention, Phelan was a noted philanthropist who gave millions of dollars to charitable organizations. Particularly significant were his gifts to Catholic churches and foundations, which included the deed of his home at Beaumont to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word as the site for a convent and hospital. In 1951 Notre Dame University awarded Phelan its Laetare medal, given annually to an outstanding American Catholic layman. The Pope appointed him a Knight of St. Gregory. After a lengthy illness Phelan died in Beaumont on May 19, 1957, and was buried at Magnolia Cemetery there.

Beaumont Enterprise, November 14, 1933, May 20, 1957. Joseph L. Clark, Texas Gulf Coast: Its History and Development (4 vols., New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1955).
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Business
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists

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

Robert Wooster, “Phelan, John Henry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995