Today is the 106th anniversary of the discovery of oil beneath Spindletop Hill, a salt dome formation in southeastern Texas. On January 11, 1901, a mining engineer named Anthony Lucas watched as an engine-powered rotary table turned a 700-ft. length of drill pipe. Slowly, a heavy-duty rotary drill bit spun through Spindletop's oil sands and bore into the soft rock below. At 1,139 feet, a geyser of mud and oil erupted, blowing six tons of four-inch pipe out of the well and shooting a stream of muddy oil 100 feet into the air. The Lucas geyser was capped nine days later, but affected the course of history for years to come. The discovery of oil near Beaumont, Texas tripled U.S. oil production, fueled a second industrial revolution, and marked the rise of the modern petroleum industry. Before Spindletop, a productive oil well yielded about 50 barrels a day. After Spindletop, petroleum producers sought new wells that could match the Lucas gusher's daily output of 100,000 barrels.
The rotary drill used at Spindletop was popularized by the Hamill brothers, roughnecks and speculators who drilled for oil and water across East Texas. During the 1890s, the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company had tried to use cable-tool drilling equipment to spud three shallow wells on Spindletop Hill. Their system of steel cables and drill bits was suitable for the oil fields of Pennsylvania, but foundered in the oil sands of Texas. The failure of the Gladys City Company's efforts led to the hiring of Anthony Lucas, an expert on salt domes, as head of drilling operations. With help from a new group of investors, Lucas hired Al and Curt Hamill of Corsicana, site of the first large oilfield in Texas. The rotary drill that the Hamill brothers brought to Spindletop required the construction of a 60-ft. rig and the assembly of a 1000-ft. drill pipe. Mule-drawn wagons carried all of the supplies.