Wealth, Infrastructure, and Risk

Mapping Midland Oil Industry Businesses

After World War II, an increasing number of oil contractors – surveyors, map makers, geologists, engineers, and landmen – set up offices in Midland. The wealthiest rented space in the growing cluster of skycrapers in Midland’s downtown. Others set up smaller offices in the city’s growing suburbs. Many located themselves along I-20 or the Garden City Highway southeast of town.

Using the 1955 Midland City Directory, census data, and historic industry maps I am using GIS to map the city’s oil industrial corridors in relation to residential neighborhoods. This map will allow me to track the relationship between industrialization, income, race, and pollution exposure at midcentury. Below is a preliminary map, done in Google Maps, that pinpoints to location of Midalnd oil businesses in 1955





The region’s earliest oil migrants lived in hotels, boarding houses, and temporary shelters. Below are two photos taken in the 1930s by the US Office of War Information. On the left is a temporary settlement for oil extraction workers. On the right is the more permanant worker housing for refinery employees in Borger, TX.

OWA photos

By the 1950’s most temporary oil workers lived in trailer parks or motels. Below are colorful postcard advertisements for Midland and Odessa hotels.

motel postcards

[Photo credit: Author collection, Ebay acquisition.]

Despite most workers’ itinerate nature, sustained oil extraction brought with it rising standards of living for residents as well as an influx of disposable income for county governments. In 1942 the Mid Continent Oil and Gas Association documented the 75 Texas counties who produced the highest amount of state tax revenue from the oil industry. As seen in the map on the left, these 75 counties are divided into distinct geographic areas based upon the state’s oil deposits.

1965 maps of tax revenue

The map on the right is more interesting. This map tracks the same 75 counties, identifying what percentage of total county tax revenue comes from oil in 1943. In other words, the second map starkly demonstrates the Permian Basin’s dependence on the oil industry. In comparison with even the Gulf, the Permian Basin had a single industry economy, completely dependent upon the sale of oil and natural gas for regional jobs and regional wealth.