Joseph S. Cullinan
Pioneer In Texas Oil (1860 - 1937)
by Tommy Stringer,
Reprinted from the Navarro County
Scroll, Volume XXI, 1979
Printed with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society
With the discovery of oil in Corsicana in 1894,
that community gave birth to the industry that has become synonymous with Texas.
While several people contributed to the development of the Corsicana field in particular
and Texas oil in general, none played a greater role than did Joseph S. Cullinan. A
native Pennsylvanian, he began working in the oil fields at the age of fourteen, and he
remained active in the industry until his death at the age of 77. It was his
experience in virtually every phase of the oil industry that qualified him to assume a
leading role in the drama of Texas oil.
Born December 31, 1860, near Sharon, Mercer
County, Pennsylvania, Joseph and Mary Considine Cullinan, both of whom were recent
emigrants from County Claire, Ireland. They married at Dubuque, Iowa, in 1856, and
moved to Sharon, Pennsylvania shortly thereafter.
Joseph Cullinan attended public schools in Sharon,
but at the age of fourteen he went to work in the oil fields. His responsibilities
included messenger boy, oil wagon teamster, pipeline laborer, and drilling crew member,
all of which gave him a wealth of practical experience in the oil industry. He
learned the business literally from the ground up.
In 1882 he joined the Standard Oil major
transportation affiliate, Nation Transit Company of Oil City, Pennsylvania, and he
advanced rapidly in that organization.
His abilities were recognized by the key executive
of Standard, and Cullinan was transferred in 1888 to Lima, Ohio, where he was appointed
superintendent of the natural gas and tankage departments of the Buckeye Pipeline Company.
While he was in Lima, Cullinan met and married
Miss Luch Halm, daughter of a Lima merchant. To this union five children would be
born; John Halm (1893); Craig Francis (1894); Nina Jane (1896); Margaret Ann (1898); and
Mary Catherine (1901).
Cullinan continued to move up Standard Oil's
ladder, having been made division superintendent for another Standard Oil subsidiary, the
Southwest Pennsylvania Pipeline Company of Washington, Pennsylvania.
But in 1895 Cullinan left Standard Oil to organize
his own company, the Petroleum Iron Works, specializing in fabrication and erecting steel
storage tanks and steam boilers. Despite the stiff competition of the storage tank
business, Petroleum Iron Works was a profitable venture for Cullinan and the six partners
who had backed the effort.
His early years as managing partner of Petroleum
Iron Works were vital in the development of Cullinan's career. He gained further
experience and self-confidence from the exercise of independent managerial authority.
His travels for the company throughout the regions of Appalachia and the Middle
West enabled him to make new contacts and to renew old friendships within the oil
fraternity. He was involved in the design of the equipment sold by his company,
giving him first hand knowledge of the problems and practices of different petroleum
producing areas. Generally, his role in this company required him to make
on-the-spot decisions so vital in highly competitive business situations.
Obviously Joseph Cullinan was well qualified to
meet the challenge presented to him by a group of Corsicana businessmen interested in
developing their newly found oil deposits.
Corsicana, founded in 1848, like dozens of other
communities in the rich black-belt agricultural territory of North Central Texas, relied
almost exclusively on cotton for its economic livelihood. Railroads had come in the
1870's bringing professional and mercantile groups to the community. Times were good
through the '80s but the prolonged agricultural depression of the 1890's hit rock bottom
in 1894 when cotton prices his a low of 4 1/4 cents on the Dallas Cotton Exchange.
Corsicana's civic leaders, concerned with the situation, determined that something must be
done to solve the problem of a one-staple economy.
In 1894 the Corsicana Commercial Club was
organized for the expressed purpose of attracting new industry to the community.
While the city had several advantages, there was one obvious shortcoming: the town's water
supply was hopelessly inadequate for industrial purposes. The first goal of the
Commercial Club was to resolve that problem.
To do so, the Corsicana Water Development Company
was chartered. That company negotiated a contract with the American Well and
Prospecting Company, an enterprise composed of H. G. Johnston, Emlin Akin and Charles
Rittersbacher, iternerant well drillers. The contract called for the drilling of
three artesian wells within the city limits of Corsicana. James Autry, president of
both the Commercial Club and the Water Development Company, boldly and confidently
predicted that the three wells, when completed, would have a total daily flow of 750,000
gallons. No pumping installations would be necessary since there was sufficient
natural pressure to fill standpipes and storage tanks.
Work began on the first of the wells in the spring
of 1894 on South Twelfth Street near the Cotton Belt Railroad. On June 9, drilling
had reached a depth of 1,035 feet when crewmen noticed crude oil filling the shaft and
rising to the surface. Efforts to seal off the crude oil from the shaft proved
unsuccessful, as it saturated the ground surrounding the drilling site.
Workmen constructed a ditch for the purpose of
running off the oil seepage to an earthen tank nearby. As estimated 150 gallons of
crude flowed daily into the tank as drilling continued to complete the originally intended
|John Stephen Cullinan's biography,
JOSEPH STEPHEN CULLINAN:
A STUDY OF LEADERSHIP IN THE TEXAS PETROLEUM INDUSTRY, 1897-1937,
was published in
1974 by Vaderbuilt Press.