Industry History

Tulsa grew up as an energy town, but it didn't start out that way.

Long before Oklahoma statehood in 1907, eastern Oklahoma, including all of the Tulsa metropolitan area, was Indian Territory. During most of the second half of the 19th Century, the region that is now modern-day Tulsa was a trading outpost along the Arkansas River.

The Creek Indians, who settled there after being forced by the federal government out of their homelands in the southern U.S., named the area Tulasi, which means “old town.” Eventually, Tulasi changed to Tulsey Town and later shortened to Tulsa.

Tulsa’s oil history goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. Oil was first discovered in the region in 1901, just three years after the town of Tulsa was officially incorporated. The discovery of oil in the Red Fork community and again in Glenn Pool turned the small city into a boomtown, where the population grew from about 1,300 people to more than 72,000 in less than two decades.

The Glenn Pool strike about 10 miles southwest of Tulsa especially created such a large supply of crude oil that Tulsa oilmen had to develop storage tanks for the excess oil and, later, pipelines and refining. The integrated and diverse nature of the Tulsa energy industry remains one of the strengths of the region’s economy more than a century later.

This development put Tulsa on the map as an oil and gas industry giant and a leader in petroleum production as well as work related to the oil and gas industry. For this reason, many early oil companies chose Tulsa as their home base. In the 1920s, a second surge of oil discoveries occurred and for several decades established Tulsa as the "Oil Capital of the World.”

The economic growth and wealth created by Tulsa’s second oil boom, at a time when much of the rest of the nation was mired in depression, helped elevate Tulsa to world-class status as an economic and cultural hub. Two of Tulsa’s other cornerstone industries – aviation/aerospace and manufacturing – evolved in large part because of Tulsa’s national and global prominence as an oil center.


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