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Oil Boom Jobs


The history of oil in North Dakota can best be described as episodic. From the early 1900s to more recent times, the search for oil has added an exciting chapter in the history of the state. The early homesteaders, drilling wells in search of water, found trace evidence of oil or natural gas, giving rise to a belief of vast deposits beneath our feet. Geologists, speculators and even schemers sought ways to extract the oil with various results. It was not until April 4th, 1951, that the first major-paying well came in – the Clarence Iverson #1 Well near Tioga.

The news of the find spread across the country. Post-World War II production was winding down, and war veterans were finding jobs difficult to acquire in the Eastern states. In the next few years a flood of workers began looking toward the North Dakota oil fields and the related surge in the economy of state’s western communities. Prior to this, the state had been predominately agricultural, with a seasonal influx of migrant farm workers, but a declining population overall. So, shortly after the announcement, came the speculators wanting to cash in on the prosperity, the workers seeking good-paying jobs, and merchants and craftsmen hoping to find a niche in the booming economy.

On this date in 1954, The Bismarck Tribune stated that the city had been flooded with job hunters. The flow of workers came from as far away as New York and Oklahoma and consisted of mostly skilled workers. According to L. M. Bechtel, Bismarck district manager at the North Dakota Unemployment Service, workers were arriving at the rate of 200 to 300 per day. There was also an average of 60 additional requests being received each day by mail and telephone. Some found work at the refineries in Mandan and Williston, some at the Garrison Dam as it neared completion, but when offered farms jobs, most moved on westward.

According to an oil field character named Blackie Davidson, this was too bad because a farm is a good place to find oil. When asked why they always chose the best field of wheat to drill their wells, Blackie responded, "Oh, we always look for a good wheat field," he drawled. "That's the easiest way to find oil. You can always find oil under a good wheat field. I guess it's the gas pressure that pushes up that there wheat!"

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune May 12, 1954

The 50th Anniversary of the Discovery of Oil in North Dakota, by John P. Bluemle, 2001,