Reiter, Wilhelm Arthur (1886–1974)

By: Mary Foster Hutchinson

Type: Biography

Published: February 13, 2014

Wilhelm Arthur “Bill” Reiter, geologist whose expertise and persistence brought in the Mexia Oil Field, was born at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 21, 1886. He was the son of William Theodore Reiter and Carrie L. (Putnam) Reiter. His grandfather, Conrad Reiter, had been an oil wildcatter in the dawn days of the U. S. oil business in Pennsylvania and inspired Reiter to seek a career in oil. After his father’s death, Wilhelm moved with his mother to a farm in western Kentucky.

In 1910 Reiter earned a degree as a mining engineer at Kentucky State University, where he met F. Julius Fohs, nationally-known petroleum engineer. From 1909 to 1916 Reiter worked for the U. S. Geological Survey before he became one of Fohs’s stable of bright, college-educated young geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

After service in the United States Army during World War I, Reiter returned to Tulsa. On April 1, 1919, he reported to the Corsicana-Mexia region of Texas on instructions from Fohs to hunt for oil in existing natural gas fields. Although his boss became discouraged about prospects and ordered him to another site, Reiter was so sure that there was oil in Limestone County that he arranged financing himself and insisted that the discovery well be drilled. He was amply vindicated when Roger No. 1 blew in on November 19, 1920, setting off the incredible Mexia oil boom and opening up a field which was to produce more than 100 million barrels.

The Mexia Field was pivotal in the history of Texas oil as the first fault-line oil reservoir and the first to exploit the rich Woodbine Sand (see WOODBINE FAULT-LINE FIELDS), which later produced millions of barrels of crude from all over the eastern half of the state, including the great East Texas Oil Field, the field that won World War II.

In 1922 Reiter married Minnie Lucille Denning of Mexia, who had had the honor of driving the stake for Rogers No. 1. The same year he left the Fohs organization to join with a fellow geologist, William Henry Foster, to form Foster-Reiter Consulting Geologists and the Reiter Oil Corporation. These successful companies evolved into the Reiter-Foster Oil Corporation with offices in Tulsa, Dallas (where Reiter made his home and had offices in the Magnolia Building), and New York. He sold his interest in the corporation in early 1929.

In 1936 Reiter moved to Houston to resume work for the Julius Fohs organization. During 1946 he worked geology for the Sinclair Oil Company in Panama and returned to set up business for himself as an independent in Houston.

Some of his important later discoveries were the Reiter Field in Freestone County in 1949, the Reiter North Field in Navarro County in 1951, the Coit Field in Limestone County in 1952, the Cistern North Field in Fayette and Bastrop counties in 1964, and the Mary Macha Gas Field in Wharton County in 1958.

All three of his sons—William Jr., Putnam K., and Jesse Oscar—became active in the oil business. Putnam K., who later became Judge P. K. Reiter of Houston, said that his father discovered more oil after the age of sixty-five then before it, in spite of his early successes. Reiter died in Mexia on April 13, 1974. He was buried in Mexia City Cemetery.

Mexia Daily News, March 29, 1976. Mexia Evening News, January 27, 1922. Mining and Metallurgy, 162 (June 1920). Edgar Wesley Owen, Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum Vol. 6 (American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1975). Judge P. K. Reiter, Interview by Logan Wilson, February 29, 2012, Limestone County Historical Commission (, accessed February 8, 2014). W. A. Reiter, “Memorial to Ferdinand Julius Fohs,” Geological Society of America Bulletin 76 (1965). Carl Coke Rister, Oil!: Titan of the Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949). Walter Rundell, Jr., Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866–1936 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1977). C. A. Warner, Texas Oil and Gas Since 1543 (Houston: Gulf Publishing Company, 1939). “Wilhelm Arthur Reiter,” Find A Grave Memorial (, accessed February 8, 2014.

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Science
  • Geologists and Geophysicists

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

Mary Foster Hutchinson, “Reiter, Wilhelm Arthur,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 13, 2014