R. E. (Bob) Smith, Houston oilman and civic leader, the son of Robert Davis and Minnie (Shanahan) Smith, was born in Greenville, Texas, on August 28, 1894. He graduated from Humble High School in 1911 and played semiprofessional baseball for nearly ten years. In World War I he graduated from Officers' Training Corps at Camp Pike, Arkansas, but did not see service. Before and after the war he was an oilfield roughneck or warehouse worker for Humble, Gulf, and the Texas Company but was fired on at least two occasions. He was district manager in sales at Peden Iron and Steel and for an oilfield-supply firm, W. K. M. Company, the position that led to his first entrepreneurial enterprise as a drilling contractor and producer in 1920. Smith went into partnership with Claude Hamill, established a Houston headquarters in 1925, and began to purchase land near Hobby Airport in southeastern Harris County, which increased significantly in value over time. In 1935 he married Vivian Leatherberry, and they had two daughters. In the 1940s he bought out Hamill's interest, including thirty-six oil wells in the East Texas oilfield, and briefly owned a newspaper at Pasadena. In World War II he was a regional director of Civil Defense and later became chairman of the Houston Housing Authority. Smith served as president of the Petroleum Club in Houston and is credited in 1955 with establishing Houston's United Citizens Association, which ran Roy M. Hofheinz against Oscar F. Holcombe for mayor. In the 1960s Smith built the Galveston Yacht Basin and fostered five University of Houston students as the Jamaica Corporation, which developed Jamaica Beach, Tiki Island, and other subdivisions in the region. He promoted the Harris County Domed Stadium, or Astrodome, and played a role in acquiring the Colt 45 major league baseball team, later the Houston Astros, in 1962. By 1964 Smith owned more land than any other person in Harris County, over 11,000 acres, where he raised Santa Gertrudis, Brahman, shorthorn, and Hereford cattle, as well as thoroughbreds and quarter horses. His success in oil, real estate, and cattle ranching led to an estimated fortune of $500 million.
Smith was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican government in 1951 and honorary doctoral degrees from George Pepperdine College, Texas Wesleyan College (later Texas Wesleyan University), and Southwestern University. He was a member or officer of numerous other local, state, and national civic and charitable organizations, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Houston World Trade Committee, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Harris County Association for the Blind, the Eliza Johnson Home for Aged Negroes, Methodist Hospital of Houston, Southern Methodist University, and Southwestern University. Smith was stricken with an unidentified illness in 1966 and died on November 29, 1973.
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Houston Metropolitan Research Center Files, Houston Public Library. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Oil and Gas Industry
Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
Texas in the 1920s
World War II
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Diana J. Kleiner,
“Smith, Robert Everett,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
June 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 27, 2017
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: