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Reviewed by:
  • Historic Photos of Texas Oil
  • Jaime Olivares
Historic Photos of Texas Oil. By Mike Cox (Nashville: Turner Publishing, 2009. Pp. 216. Black-and-white plates, notes on images, ISBN 9781596525313, $39.95 cloth.)

The study of the Texas oil industry in the twentieth century receives a welcome addition in Historic Photos of Texas. In this work, Mike Cox offers a visual retrospective of the Texas oil industry from its early years in Beaumont through the discovery of oil in West Texas and, finally, the exploitation of oil in East Texas. As the oil discoveries spread across Texas throughout the twentieth century, the social implications were evident with the construction of company towns, higher wages, economic inequality, and social inequality.

The book commences with photographs explaining the early Texas boom (1880-1910). Specifically, Cox shows such prominent figures as the fathers of the Texas oil industry, Pattillo Higgins and his partner, Anthony Lucas, and the practices that eventually led to Spindletop. The focus of the book then shifts to the discovery of oil in the North Texas area known as the Red River uplift. Cox then discusses the oil discoveries of West Texas during the Great Depression and World War II. Here Cox focuses attention on the Hendrick find, the Panhandle discoveries, and the Permian Basin. The book concludes with an engaging section on the discoveries of East Texas where, as Cox points out, there were more than 30,000 active wells at the peak of production. The book offers more than 200 photographs that visually trace the history of the Texas oil industry. The author uses a variety of photos from his personal collection, as well as government photos and stereograph cards, "real photo" postcards that consisted of photos by traveling photographers, news photographs, and snapshots.

The book is an exceptional photographic text of the oil boom. The photos reflect some interesting dynamics of the Texas oil industry. First, many of the photographs have members of the Texas Rangers supervising boundary disputes between oil companies as well as labor disputes in the early twentieth century. Second, after 1926, oil companies extracted increasingly more petroleum with new technologies from West Texas, close to the Texas-New Mexico border. For the western discoveries, Cox published pictures of oil workers with their children in the oil fields, which points to an increasingly more humanitarian approach to petroleum development in the Texas industry as the twentieth century progressed. Finally, there is an intriguing dynamic throughout the book, as Cox offers pictures that illustrate the increasing importance of new technology to the oil production process. At the commencement of the book, oil fields are covered with traditional derricks; [End Page 200] by the early twentieth century, the rigs used more technological innovations. This dynamic is also evident as one looks at pictures in the first chapter where there is a plethora of horses, while at the end of the book the pictures are replete with automobiles. This illustrates the increasing importance (and interconnectedness) of technology to the petroleum industry.

In conclusion, Historic Photos of Texas Oil is an interesting approach to the study of the petroleum industry in Texas. The pictures paint a vivid portrait of oil magnates, oil workers, and the "oil business." The book offers a distinct approach to the study of industrial development that could be implemented by scholars who study the petroleum industry in the international markets.

Jaime Olivares
Houston Community College-Central


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pp. 200-201
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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