Southeast Nebraska’s Oil Boom

In the latter 1930s Richardson County in Nebraska’s southeast corner was the scene of feverish excitement. The Falls City Journal announced November 24, 1938, that oil drilling at three area sites was underway. Potential oil and gas land had been leased by several groups and individuals. The small Pawnee Royalty Company had obtained oil from its Boice well, according to the Journal of November 6, 1939.

Imagine the excitement this news generated after years of economic depression. People wondered if Nebraska might become an oil state like Texas or Oklahoma.

The Boice well was the first producing well in southeast Nebraska. There were no oil refineries in Richardson County, and the crude oil produced was trucked to the Searle Refining Company of Omaha. The Pawnee Royalty Company drilled the new Bucholz well and obtained oil similar in quality to that derived from the Boice well. The Bucholz was soon flowing at the rate of 330 barrels per day. It qualified for the cash prize offered by the Nebraska Legislature to the first oil well in the state producing fifty barrels of oil for sixty consecutive days.

A flurry of activity over oil leases followed the successful pumping at the Bucholz as larger companies and more experienced oil men tried to capitalize on the small boom. The Skelly Company sent in a crew of fifty-five. The search for oil expanded throughout Richardson County, to the south into Missouri, and on the north about fifty miles into the area around Peru.

However, the oil boomlet was encountering difficulties, including a lack of local refinery facilities and low demand for the oil produced. By October 5, 1940, the Journal reported that two refineries were operating in Falls City and that a third was being built in Salem. In the fall of 1940 there was an increase in the production of individual wells and in the number of wells drilled—part of the drillers’ strategy for heading off nearby competitors who might be draining the same pool of oil that was feeding their wells. In an effort to prolong the life of the oil field, well owners finally restricted production voluntarily.

The last month in 1941 witnessed a decline in Richardson County’s oil production, and each month in 1942 saw a continuation of the same trend. The oil fields were being pumped dry. The county’s first oil boom had been brief, lasting only three years. However, it did stimulate Nebraska’s interest in oil and developed new economic ventures in the area.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.