Industry (1901-1945)

Tulsa History

Before the discovery of oil and gas, Tulsa’s economy was tied to cattle and agricultural products. After the Red Fork oil strike in 1901, the oil and gas industry dominated Tulsa’s economy. Other early urban industries also grew with Tulsa. These industries included bakeries, flour and feed mills, saddlery and harness manufacturers, carriage and blacksmith shops, saw mills, bottling works, brick yards, ore mills, ice plants, tailor shops, planing mills, boot and shoe shops, and cotton oil mills. Brooms, cigars, ice cream, dressed meat, tanks, tinware, and torpedoes were also produced in the city.

Zinc and lead mines were located all around Tulsa. At the turn of the century, Collinsville, located in Tulsa County, boasted the single largest smelter in the world. This industry continued in northeastern Oklahoma until shortly after World War I, when strikes and the depletion of ore almost brought it to a complete halt.

Coal was mined in Tulsa as early as 1882. Coal mining operations, which reached a peak in the 1920s and continued until 1955, were concentrated in the area around Dawson. The Dawson coal seam, running from the Arkansas River northeast to the Bird Creek valley, was mined extensively. Both strip mining and shaft mining techniques were employed to exploit the seam. Other significant mines operated in the area around 21st Street and Yale Avenue.

After 1915, a number of other industries developed, including vineyards, a pork-and-beans plant, and the Claro-cola plant. Midwest Bread Company, the largest bread factory south of Kansas City, was located in Tulsa. The Purity Ice Cream plant was built in 1927 and produced 500,000 gallons of ice cream a year. The film industry came to Tulsa in 1918 and a number of Western movies were produced in the city. The automobile industry also tried its luck at manufacturing in the city. “The Tulsa,” an oil field car, and the “Tulsa 4,” a family car, were short-lived experiments, however.

Despite the economic crash of 1929, Tulsa continued to hold the title of “Oil Capital of the World.” By the late 1930s, Tulsa had diversified and industries including agricultural processing, textiles, and glass production had located in the city. Oil, however, continued to be the number one industry, with forty-four oil companies and 614 oil company offices located in the city.

The 1940s was a period of growth for Tulsa, both during and after the World War II. Aviation and the adaptability of oil-related industries to war industries made Tulsa the perfect location for defense plants. Many of the plants, tooled for fabrication of close-tolerance oil equipment, easily adapted to war materials production. Items such as propeller spinners, bombsight parts, winches used on landing crafts, bulldozers and trucks, 80 mm gun barrels, and all types of ammunition and weapons were manufactured in the city. Defense workers swarmed to Tulsa and war housing was built, particularly in the northeast section of the city.

After the war, many of these same plants converted to peace time industries. These included a trailer home manufacturer and a factory to rebuild surplus military vehicles for construction and petroleum applications. The construction industry continued to boom after World War II.

Factory buildings, company housing, warehouses, mill complexes, quarries and salt works were identified as industry property types in a 1987 statewide report prepared by George O. Carney. Factory buildings constructed prior to 1945 were generally one-story buildings with high ceilings and large, multi-paned windows which allowed for the greatest amount of natural light. Other characteristics of this property type include poured-concrete foundations, brick or structural tile exterior walls, metal casement windows, and metal roofs.