Mary Sudik Oil Gusher
"The "Wild Mary Sudik" runs wild in 1930." Oil well shoots oil in the air.
Photograph used for a story in the Daily Oklahoman newspaper. Caption: "Wild Mary" on the afternoon of its first day's rampage."
Photograph used for a story in the Daily Oklahoman newspaper. Caption: "For 11 days, the Wild Mary Sudik defiled all efforts to shut off her volcano of crude oil and natural gas."
Backstory and Context
The oil and natural gas industry has been a staple in
Oklahoma from the 1850’s to present day. Between 1900 and 1935, Oklahoma was
ranked number one in oil production in the country 22 times. Long before Oklahoma
was considered a state, oil was being drilled here. In 1928 the oil and natural
gas industry came to Oklahoma City where it remains a thriving industry today.
“Seneca oil” is what the people of northwestern Pennsylvania called the rock oil. It was named after the local Indians, who had taught the white man of its medicinal uses. Oil seepages across the globe, from the Americas to the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, were used for generations by indigenous peoples for medicine. Rock oil wasn’t useful for much else in the 19th century. It wasn’t until an investment group, led by a New York lawyer, set out to find another illuminating fluid, that “Seneca oil” would be given another use. In 1854, a Yale educated chemist was contracted to find out if the rock oil could in fact be used as an illuminating fluid. It was discovered that the rock oil could be refined into kerosene, and five long, arduous years later the first American well would be drilled in Pennsylvania. The oil industry was born.
Throughout Oklahoma territory oil drilling was taking place during the late 1800’s, but most weren’t profitable until railways connected the far reaches of the west to the rest of the world. However, at the turn of the century huge discoveries were being made again and again in Oklahoma and Tulsa emerged as the oil capitol of the world. Oil had been found in Oklahoma City on accident, shortly after the land run, when drilling was taking place to find water. The fist actual well was bought in 1928 by the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company (ITIOC). The discovery of the Oklahoma City oil field marked a great shift in strategy to find oil. Instead of relying on seepages at the surface to prospect, geology started to be utilized to understand what was going on inside the earth. Even after science had become a much larger part of the industry, the Oklahoma City field proved to be troublesome. Huge high pressure gas pockets, and lack of understanding of the subsurface formations often led to run-away wells. None more famous in Oklahoma then the Wild Mary Sudik oil gusher.
The Mary Sudik Number One was a well owned by the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, which was being drilled on the Vincent and Mary Sudik farm. The farm was located to the south east of the intersection, of present day, I-240 and Bryant in southwest Oklahoma City. On March 26th, 1930 the well blew out due to lack of experience drilling in the newly found Wilcox formation and human error. The “Wild Mary” as it became to be known, gushed oil from the well for eleven days before it was capped on April 6th. The well blew out 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, an amount too large to be controlled even by today’s technologies. Unknown quantities of the black gold spewed from the mouth of Wild Mary, but it was estimated that some 200,000 barrels were recovered from ponds and small lakes of oil that were the result of the blow out. Even after the well had been capped, a new enemy had to be neutralized. Oil mist had drifted in the air as for south as Norman and to the north all the way to Nicoma Park, posing an enormous fire threat. The Wild Mary garnered national news attention. NBC gave daily updates on the gusher and news reels were shown in movie theatres across the country. The events of March 26th, 1930 were instrumental in safety, procedure, and equipment reforms within the oil industry along with playing a major role in securing prosperity for the city of Oklahoma City.
Kenny A. Franks, “Petroleum Industry,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=PE023.
Glendeen R. Unsell, “Wild Mary Sudik,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WI008.
American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “World-Famous “Wild Mary Sudik””. aoghs.org. https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/world-famous-wild-mary-sudik/.
Blair, James R. & Vandivier, Davis O. The El Reno Daily Tribune (El Reno, Okla.), Vol. 38, No. 205, Ed. 1 Wednesday, June 4, 1930, newspaper, June 4, 1930; El Reno, Oklahoma. (gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc918254/m1/4/?q=%22mary+sudik%22
“Enormous Pressure Throws Drill Pipe Out of Gas Well.” The Daily Oklahoman, 27th March, 1930. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/29280397/
“City’s Greatest Oil Well Still Running Wild.” The Daily Oklahoman, 29th March, 1930. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/29281990/
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