Spindletop Hill, south of Beamount in Jefferson County, was formed by an underground salt dome, which pushed the earth above it higher and higher as it grew. It was the mechanic and self-taught geologist Patillo Higgins who first suspected there might be oil lurking beneath Spindletop (and other similar salt domes). Higgins organized the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company in 1892 to look into the possibility, though his theory met with widespread skepticism from petroleum and geologic experts. Years later, Higgins ran a newspaper advertisement for fellow investors and got a response from the Austrian-born engineer Anthony F. Lucas, who shared Higgins’ view on the salt domes. When Lucas finally convinced leading Pennsylvania oilmen John Galey and James Guffey to finance a drilling operation, Higgins was completely excluded from the arrangement. (Higgins would later sue, and receive a comfortable profit from the Spindletop oil field.)
Drilling began at Spindletop in October 1900, and by early January 1901 they had reached a depth of some 1,020 feet after overcoming initial difficulties in drilling into the sandy ground. On January 10, mud began bubbling out of the hole. Workers soon fled as the mud came gushing out at high speed, followed by natural gas and then by oil. The Lucas Geyser, as it was called, reached a height of more than 150 feet, and was the most powerful that had ever been seen in the world. It was soon producing close to 100,000 barrels a day, more than all the other oil wells in America combined.