Sarasota History Alive 31st Edition

By | August 9, 2012

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Great Florida Oil Boom Didn’t Turn Out So Slick

John Ringling was involved in a variety of business enterprises in the course of his lifetime. Although his main focus was the circus, he also participated in land development and oil exploration.

In late 1926, the Florida Land Boom was beginning to wind down and the prospects for further land development were not very promising. Ringling had already stopped construction on his hotel, the Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key, and lots in his Ringling Isles development were not selling.

However, a new investment opportunity was appearing on the scene. Oil companies were beginning to look to Florida as the next area to search for oil. To help promote the search, the State of Florida promised a bounty of $50,000 for the first finder of commercial quantities of oil. With this incentive, many oil companies headed to Florida.

In late 1926 and early 1927, the Associated Oil and Gas Company began setting up equipment on the site just 12 miles east of Englewood, near the Tamiami Trail, on land that they leased from John Ringling.

Kenneth Hauer, president of the company, was hired to oversee the arrangements for exploring and drilling. Hauer was also the spokesperson for the company and handled all questions concerning the upcoming drilling.

Oil fever was beginning to grip Sarasota and the surrounding areas. Many were eager to invest in the venture. David Weeks stated in his book, “Ringling, The Florida Years, 1911 – 1936,” that participants in the oil venture included John Ringling, Owen Burns, J.H. Lord and the Palmer interests. They were quietly backing the venture and were meeting costs estimated at $45,000 to $100,000.

By February, 1927, Sarasota was eagerly waiting for the drilling to begin at the Ringling test site, named Well No.1. At a meeting at the Sarasota County Courthouse, site geologist Captain, B.F. Alley assured the crowd that he expected huge quantities of oil to be found at the site.

Alley stated, as reported in the February 27 edition of the Sarasota-Herald , that “the real estate boom was a mere shower compared to the cloudburst of money that is coming into this section with the oil boom – and that boom is coming just as we are seated here.” He assured the crowd at the meeting that he “could almost see the oil.” Although there were many cautioning the crowd that they may not find oil, a committee was formed to establish a community oil corporation.

All of Sarasota County was waiting for a test site, Well No.1, to begin operation by March, 1927. Kenneth Hauer was continuing to promote the project by saying, “should oil be found, and we are certain it will, the first so-called boom will be as a gentle zephyr compared to a cyclone.”
March 13, 1927, the “spudding in” (pictured above) of the first oil well was scheduled. The Sarasota Herald reported that there would be free cigars for the men, free candy and soft drinks for the women and children and that all roads were expected to be crowded with visitors to the site. To promote the ceremony, Rogers Hornsby, captain of the New York Giants baseball team and player deluxe, was enlisted to start the oil well machinery.

After all the preparations, celebrations and hopes of great riches, the oil never appeared. The only thing that Well No.1 produced at the test site was sulfur water. The oil fever that gripped Florida ended like the great land boon before it. The bounty that the state offered was claimed by an oil company, but the prospect of oil drilling and exploration in Florida never materialized.

Courtesy of Sarasota History Alive!


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