Acadia Parish oil seeps inspired 1901 Jennings oilfield discovery.

 

The first Louisiana oil well discovered the giant Jennings field in 1901 and launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. Almost a quarter million wells would be drilled by 2014.

Nine months after the 1901 headline-making oil discovery at Spindletop, Texas, oil erupted 90 miles to the east. W. Scott Heywood – already successful wildcatter at Spindletop – drilled a well that revealed the Jennings oilfield.

Heywood’s September 21, 1901, Louisiana oil gusher initially produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day.

The widow of Louisiana's oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood," unveiled an historical marker in 1961.

Mrs. Scott Heywood, “the widow of Louisiana’s oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood,” unveiled an historical marker on September 23, 1951, as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Louisiana’s first commercial oil well came in on the Jules Clements farm about seven miles northeast of Jennings. Local investors earlier had formed the Jennings Oil Company and hired Scott, who recognized that natural gas seeps found nearby were nearly identical to the conditions observed at Spindletop.

Scott would insist on drilling deeper than many investors thought wise.

Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana.

The Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana on September 21, 1901. Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

“At the age 29, W. Scott Haywood was already a seasoned, experienced and successful explorer,” noted Scott Smiley, a  Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS) historian. “He had gone to Alaska in 1897 during the great Yukon gold rush, sinking a shaft and mining a profitable gold deposit.”

Haywood, who also had drilled several successful oil wells in California, was one of the first to reach Spindletop following news of the “Lucas Gusher” of January 10, 1901. Haywood eventually convinced the reluctant Clements to allow drilling in the farmer’s rice field. The Clements farm was at the small, unincorporated community of Evangeline in Acadia Parish, northeast of Jennings.

W. Scott Heywood, who drilled the first Louisiana oil well.

W. Scott Heywood

However, after drilling to 1,000 feet without finding oil or natural gas, the Jennings Oil Company’s investors wanted to abandon the first attempt.

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“After all, 1,000 feet had been deep enough to discover the tremendous oil gushers at Spindletop field,” explained Smiley in a 2001 history of the Jennings field. “Instead of drilling two wells to a depth of 1,000 feet each, Heywood persuaded the investors to change the contract to accept a single well drilled to a depth of 1,500 feet.”

More drilling pipe was brought in and the well deepened.

Deeper Drilling Pays Off

Heywood found signs of oil at a depth of 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors had sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, shares of the Jennings Oil Company still sold for as little as 25 cents each. Patient investors were rewarded when 7,000 barrels of oil per day suddenly erupted from the well.

“The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” reported the Jennings Daily News. 

Scott Haywood and his oil well drilling crew circa early 1900s

W. Scott Heywood (5) and Elmer Dobbins (3) — “one of the drillers of the original Spindletop discovery in Texas.” Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Although the Jules Clements No. 1 well is on only a 1/32 of an acre lease, it marked the state’s first oil production and launched the Louisiana petroleum industry. It opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks.

The Jennings oilfield reached its peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906. Meanwhile, an October 1905 discovery in northern Louisiana further expanded the state’s young petroleum industry (visit the Louisiana Oil Museum in aptly named Oil City).

Haywood returned to Alaska in 1908 on a big-game hunting trip. He retraced much of his travels to the Klondike gold fields, notes Smiley. “After a brief retirement in California, he returned to Jennings and drilled several wells at Jennings and elsewhere in Louisiana,” Smiley reports, adding the he also found success at the Borger and Panhandle oilfields in Texas.

“Heywood returned to Jennings in 1927 and assisted Gov. Huey P. Long in passing legislation to provide schoolbooks for children,” concluded the LGS geologist in Jennings Field – The Birthplace of Louisiana’s Oil Industry, September 2001.

Early 1900s scene of the Jennings oilfield of Louisiana.

Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Among the petroleum producing states in 2014, Louisiana ranked fourth in natural gas production and tenth in oil production. Cumulative number of wells drilled in Louisiana from the first year of production (1902 for oil, 1905 for natural gas) up to 2014 was 230,647, according to the IPAA 2014 Oil & Gas Producing Industry in Your State. Of those wells, 35 percent (80,907) were dry holes.

Editor’s Note – A retired professor challenged the date of Louisiana’s first commercial oil well during a 2011 presentation at Carnegie Library in Sulphur. Thomas Watson, PhD, “has uncovered evidence that the first producing oil well in Louisiana was at the Sulphur Mines in 1886,” noted an article in the Sulphur Daily News. “This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana.”

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Recommended Reading: Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member today. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Louisiana Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-louisiana-oil-well. Last Updated: September 19, 2021. Original Published Date: September 1, 2005.

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