Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources
The Story of Oil and Bromine

Smackover, AK

April 14th, 2002

The southern end of Arkansas is a quiet sleepy place today, but it was not always that way. Prior to 1921, this part of the U.S. based its economic future on the declining cotton and timber industries.  Things were getting tough for the farmers in the lower part of the state.  This all changed on January 10, 1921, when an exploratory oil well in El Dorado exploded in a fountain of black gold.  The Busey NO. 1 would set the stage for a bonanza that would last  a decade.  Within days, miners, investors and money poured into the area at breakneck speed.  The little town of Smackover, with a population of around 100 people, boomed when the Richardson NO. 1 came in.  Within a few months, more than 25,000 people had re-located to the town.  Sloshing through the mud filled road that had once been forests, thousands labored at the art of drilling. For a short 5 months in 1925, the Smackover oil field ranked number one in the nation for oil production. As in many other places, the boom was not to last. Eventually the oil levels dropped, and although it never ran out, as it is still being pumped today, the level was too low to  be considered attractive and the oil speculators and miners moved on to other "new" finds.  Those glorious days in the 1920s were not to be forgotten.  The state of Arkansas has created a museum, exhibit, and education center dedicated to the collection and preservation of those days, now long gone. This 25,000 square foot exhibit center has collected many of the old tools and equipment once abandoned in the field. We decided to review the inside first, and upon entering found ourselves walking through a model of the inside of the earth looking out.  The purpose was to show where the oil and bromine was located throughout the world.  The museum is mostly static, with several rooms of displays.  Another "walk through" was that of a simulated core shaft in an oil well where we could examine actual samples of formations found hundreds of feet under south Arkansas.  Then there was the stroll through time to the Jurassic Period of around 200 million years ago when oil was just beginning to be formed.  Oil and Bromine remained the theme as we continued on.  The 20th century came into view as we found ourselves looking at an oil slick floor of a gusher which was just being brought under control.  The boom town era of Smackover was reproduced in full size replica of the main street complete with stores and vehicles.  Of course, there had to be a collection of gas pumps from the grand old days.  Such names as Pure and Atlantic which have long since disappeared from the street corners of America, as well as some old familiar ones like Texaco.  The old pumps were simple looking and simple to operate.  No credit card slots, no question of grade.  None ever asked if you wanted a car wash with the price of gas. A few even had the old glass bubble on  the side that the gas had to pass through on the way to the pump head so that the operator could tell at a glance that there was actually gas running into his car's tank. Of course back when these beauties were in operation, gas station attendants pumped the gas for you, and checked the oil and washed the windshield. Today, only two states require gas pumps to be operated by attendants. 


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