Oil production dramatically changed the culture and economy of Texas in the first half of the 20th century, during what was known as the Texas Oil Boom. The widespread production of oil throughout the state rapidly increased the wealth of individuals and corporations, globalized the Texas economy, and changed the primary industry of the state. The Texas Oil Boom had a broad socio-cultural impact, as well, resulting from both the rapid development of communities around oil fields and the movement of large numbers of people to labor in areas around oil production.
This lesson examines the history of the Texas Oil Boom, as well as the “boom and bust” cycle of oil towns, the early period of independent oil prospecting, and the eventual push for regulation. Using videos featured on Texas Archive of the Moving Image, including documentaries, newsreels, home movies, and more, students will analyze events in the history of the oil industry, and assess the impact of both individual and government action. Students will develop analytical and critical thinking and viewing skills, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their subject. The worksheet designed to accompany the video is intended to encourage critical thinking about the role oil plays in the Texas economy, the impact the discovery of oil has on communities, and the benefits and advantages of regulation and oversight.
The Extended Learning section of the lesson employs a project-based learning approach, which improves retention of new content and develops students’ personal connections to the past. Students will be asked to work cooperatively with their class, as well as in groups or independently on their own research and final project. Students may find the discussion and information in the video/s useful for their Extended Learning project. An annotated list of resources for additional research is also provided.
Students should have prior knowledge of the following areas to successfully take part in this activity:
- A basic understanding of the Texas economy, industry, and production.
- Awareness that oil is a commodity that is important to the Texas economy.
- Skills to conduct basic research on their subject and present the information they have gathered on their topic.
- Access to technology that allows them to view streaming video in a group setting or individually.
Begin by dividing the board or overhead into four columns – environment, economy, community, and individuals. Have students break into four groups and brainstorm what they think changed in these areas after oil was discovered in Texas. Collect their responses and compare the lists. List the most common examples given on the board/overhead.
Discuss with students each of the topics and have them try to make connections with how these topics may overlap or how a change in one area may affect another, such as how having a lot of people moving to an oil field to work may place a strain on a community if they don’t have the infrastructure to support it.
Optional Hook - Visual Vocabulary: Oil
Introduce essential terms related to the study of the oil industry through our Visual Vocabulary: Oil activity.
approx. 1 hour
Tell students that they will start by watching the documentary film Wildcatter (1985). The film traces the history of the Texas Oil Boom by examining the actions of Texas wildcatters – the independent oilmen who were responsible for the discovery of many of the major oilfields in Texas. Explain that the film looks at the history of three major oil producing areas in Texas and the people involved in oil exploration and production. The film also includes scenes that depict oil exploration in more modern times.
Hand out the worksheet (see Worksheets) with questions over the film. This worksheet will highlight some of the terms and key concepts mentioned in the film, as well as require critical thinking where students weigh both the benefits and disadvantages of oil prospecting.
Show students the video “Wildcatter: A Story of Texas Oil (1985),” (see Videos). Have students complete the questions on the worksheet as they watch the video (they may complete the critical thinking portion of the worksheet after class discussion).
After students complete the worksheet, ask students what they thought the biggest risks were with oil production? Do they agree or disagree that regulation was necessary? How do they think proration changed the way that oil was produced?
Students should complete the critical thinking portion of the worksheet, asking them to reflect over the material presented.
Depending on the size of your classroom and your available resources, break students into groups or let students work independently. Have students select a site of a major oil discovery in Texas history (e.g. Spindletop, Panhandle, Corsicana, Big Lake, East Texas Field, Wichita, etc.). A full listing of all early Texas oil fields can be found on the Texas Almanac site here: https://texasalmanac.com/sites/default/files/images/other/oil10.pdf.
Have students use their books, class notes, library books, TAMI video footage, and the discussion from the lesson to research the history of their oil discovery. Students should then create a presentation or slideshow illustrating the history of oil in the region. The presentation should address the impact of the discovery of oil on the culture and local economy of the surrounding area, the environmental impact, how the boom-and-bust cycle played out in the community, and what impact proration may have had.