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North Dakota Strikes Oil


North Dakota oil drilling was an oddity in the first half of the 20th century. Thirty years of wildcat drilling in the state’s northwest corner left nothing but dry holes. So, in 1950, when the Clarence Iverson farm outside the community of Tioga hosted an oil drill, it was a real oddity. There were no small number of skeptics. Oil wells in North Dakota? Gushers in wheat country? The idea seemed absurd to many.

A winter storm descended on Iverson’s land for 1951’s new year. White snow came down – but black gold came up. On January 4, oil – a whole pint of it – was recovered from the well.

Those 16 wet ounces of crude were enough incentive to dig deeper. But Mother Nature didn’t seem to join in the drilling enthusiasm. More snow fell and operations ceased. Determination and pluck waited out the weather, and on this date in 1951 drilling officially resumed. Thus, today is considered a birthday for North Dakota’s oil industry. The “Clarence Iverson” – North Dakota’s “discovery well” was the first major oil discovery since before World War II.

Only a few company employees and officials were present for the first test, for the news of the Amerada Petroleum Corporation’s initial success was a well-kept secret. However, when announced two days later, oil fever swept the region. State Geologist Dr. Wilson Laird of Grand Forks said the oil tested was very high quality. “They should be extremely happy,” he said.

Land owner Clarence Iverson was born and raised on the farm. The 42-year-old wheat farmer had been confident that oil would be found. The low-key nature of a farmer was also evident even in the wake of the oil strike. Iverson told The Forum newspaper that the wheat crop “had been

Following the find, oil companies took root in North Dakota faster than winter wheat. Williston, the county seat, felt the immediate impact of petroleum industry operations. By May 20, thirty million acres of North Dakota were under lease. By November the following year the one-millionth barrel of oil was lifted from North Dakota’s belly.

The North Dakota’s governor’s flag bears the motto: Strength from the Soil. On this date in 1951, the wet, black strength of oil started to flex its new muscle.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark


North Dakota 100 Years 1988 Forum Publishing Company

Robinson, Elwyn B. 1966 History of North Dakota