Strike It Rich!

Entrepreneurship was the driving force behind the success of the El Dorado Oil Field. The discovery of oil changed the lives of people in the oil towns and of the oilmen who gained almost unheard of wealth in the boom days. Truly they struck it rich! In another way, it changed the history and the future of South Central Kansas.

Often when we think of striking it rich, we merely think of personal wealth. Truly being rich, however, reaches beyond yourself. Whether you’re talking about money, expertise, relationships, skills and abilities, etc; true wealth is expressed when your resources impact the lives of others. The wealth of the El Dorado Oil Field impacted the lives of others well beyond Butler County.

One of the entrepreneurs working in the El Dorado field was Jake Moellendick, who in addition to his oil ventures, was fascinated with airplanes.

Moellendick made a considerable fortune in the El Dorado field. He decided to start a factory that would mass-produce airplanes. He sought out a Chicago barnstormer named Matty Laird, who had built a faster, sleeker airplane. Laird, who was only 19 at the time, was convinced to bring his design to Wichita to begin production. Bankrolled by Moellendick, and El Dorado oil money, production was successful and the new airplane soon became known as the Swallow.

A year after the Swallow took flight, an Arkansas City World War I veteran Walter Beech was hired by Moellendick as a test pilot. He also hired a Harper County young man by the name of Lloyd Stearman as a draftsman.

Moellendick had earned a reputation of being hard to work for in the oil industry and these men were quickly convinced that the reputation was well deserved. A parting of the ways was short in coming.

Laird moved his successful Swallow operation back to Chicago.

Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman also soon left Moellendick over a disagreement to pursue a new airplane design utilizing steel construction. Beech and Stearman partnered with Clyde Cessna to start a new company called Travel Air and had great success in the industry.

It was the wealth of the El Dorado Oil Field and the entrepreneurial spirit of the oil industry that led to Wichita being dubbed the “Air Capital of the World.”

Out of that richness came Cessna, Beechcraft, and the Stearman airplane industry. Lloyd Stearman went on to be the first president of Lockheed. Later started another company that merged with Boeing, before going back to work at Lockheed Martin to assist in designing the F-104, vertical takeoff and landing craft, space re-entry vehicles and the Lockheed Constellations.

There is a lesson we can learn from those who struck it rich in the El Dorado Oil Field. Their wealth impacted individuals, communities and industries far beyond their wheelhouse. Museums and non-profits must always be mindful that our wealth is not simply found in what we are able to accomplish within ourselves. Our wealth is defined by how we impact the lives of others and give them the tools to move forward.

When we provide the tools and resources others need to make their lives better, we become better ourselves. The Kansas Oil Museum is dedicated to being a educational institution of choice built on the solid foundation of history that provides people with the resources they need to grow. That is where we will Strike it Rich! And we invite you to join us in this effort.

© 2015 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.