Oil seeps were reported often in the early 19th century in what later became Wyoming; it was sold, for example to Oregon Trail travelers for wagon lubricant. The first producing well in Wyoming Territory was drilled in 1883 at Dallas Dome southeast Lander. Perhaps the state’s best-known historic oil producing region is the Salt Creek Field, north of Casper, which was one of the world’s largest-producing fields in the 1920s. Oil remains an important part of Wyoming’s economy and culture today, and the state is ranked high among the top national producers.
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Business & Industry
Discovery of gold near South Pass in the 1860s led to the creation and settlement of short-lived South Pass City, Wyo. and other settlements nearby. The Carissa Mine was one of the richest, but between 1867 and 1869, 1500 lodes were located during the rush, and as many as 2,000 miners and others may have lived in the little town or on their claims. By the early 1870s, only a few hundred were left. Sporadic gold production has continued since, however, with systematic prospecting by an American subsidiary of a Canadian firm permitted as recently as 2006.
Although the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s was named for a Wyoming rock formation resembling a teapot, the wrongdoers were not from the state. During the administration of President Warren G. Harding, oilmen Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny bribed Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to gain access to the naval petroleum reserves located at Teapot Dome in the Salt Creek field north of Casper in northern Natrona County. Fall was the first Cabinet official to be imprisoned for crimes committed during his time in office. Sinclair also served a jail sentence.
Though the site was an important river crossing on the early frontier, the town of Casper did not begin until 1888, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad reached the area. The town immediately became an important shipping point for cattle and wool. The first oil refinery was built in 1895 to process crude oil from the Salt Creek Oil Field, 40 miles to the north. The first true oil boom began after 1910 and lasted through the mid 1920s, and the town’s fortunes have been closely connected to the energy business ever since. In 2010 the city’s population passed 55,000. Casper continues as a retail, medical and energy-industry service hub.
South Pass City, a gold mining town founded near South Pass in 1867, reached its pinnacle soon after a valuable strike was made in 1868 at the Carissa Mine. The town is also famous as the birthplace of women’s suffrage, because the 1869 bill making Wyoming Territory the first government in the world to guarantee women the right to vote was introduced by South Pass City’s representative, William H. Bright. Esther Hobart Morris, appointed South Pass City justice of the peace soon afterward, became the first woman in the nation to hold public office. The town, with many original buildings carefully restored, is operated as a state historic site.
In the 1820s and 1830s, what’s now western Wyoming was at the center of the fur trade of the northern Rocky Mountains. Indians, trappers and their suppliers met each summer at a big trade fair called rendezvous, where trappers exchanged their season’s beaver pelts for hardware, whiskey and supplies. By 1840, demand for beaver had disappeared and the species had been nearly rubbed out. But the rendezvous supply routes were already becoming the trails that would bind the nation together.
The yarn that Thomas Edison dreamed up the idea of a bamboo filament for the incandescent electric light bulb while staring into a Wyoming campfire is almost certainly not true. He did come to Rawlins, Wyoming Territory in 1878, however, as part of an astronomical expedition, and he did go fishing afterwards. The rest of the facts still make for a pretty interesting story.
The Piedmont Charcoal Kilns southwest of Evanston, Wyo. were built in 1869 to supply charcoal primarily to Utah mining and smelting operations. The town of Piedmont’s location—on the Union Pacific Railroad but near a ready timber supply in the Uinta Mountains—made it a logical spot for the industry. Most of the charcoal was shipped to the Salt Lake valley, and some to Fort Bridger for use in blacksmith forges and heating stoves. Piedmont was a railroad station on the Union Pacific line. Three of the original five kilns remain standing. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
W. Edwards Deming grew up in difficult financial circumstances in Powell, Wyo., early in the 20th century. Still, he worked his way through the University of Wyoming and Yale and became absorbed by statistics as a way to solve problems. After World War II, he shared his ideas on efficiency with Japanese manufacturers eager to rebuild their shattered economy. The Japanese used that knowledge to flip the global economy on its head and beat U.S. industry at its own game.
The JC Penney Company, long among the world’s largest department store chains, traces its roots to a one-room shop in a small Wyoming coal-mining town at the turn of the last century. Penney’s career in Wyoming lasted just a decade, but in 1902, Wyoming provided exactly what young Penney needed to found a chain that has survived, as of 2011, for 109 years.