The D.G. Scofield at Ras Tanura
The D.G. Scofield at Ras Tanura – Les Snyder

Seventy-five years ago today, Casoc, now Saudi Aramco, had its first customer for a tanker-load of oil. If the company had been a mom and pop bakery, they would have proudly framed that first dollar bill. Unfortunately it seems that the Saudi media have neglected to recognize that May 1st 1939 was likely the most important single event in the company’s history. A year earlier on March 4th, 1938 Dammam well #7 struck commercial oil – and produced more than 2,000 barrels a day for thirty years before it was retired. The oilmen were elated and thought they had it made until management said, "Fine. Good work. Now we get to build a paved road and pull 35 miles of pipe to Ras Tanura where we will build a town, a refinery, half a dozen massive oil storage tanks and an off-shore loading port. We know that there is nothing but beachfront in Ras Tanura. So we’ll make it easy on you. How about doing this in 14 months?"

King Abdul Aziz
The king in his tent before the ceremony at the pump house – Les Snyder

After 30 years of struggle Abdul Aziz ibn Saud had finally unified the country in 1932. The problem was that at the depth of the worldwide depression his kingdom was broke and facing even bleaker prospects. A year later, Lloyd Hamilton of Standard Oil of California appeared in Jeddah to negotiate an oil concession in Saudi Arabia. After months of discussion, the deal was sealed and finance minister Abdullah Sulaiman approached the king for his final approval. He said, "Put your trust in God and sign."

King Abdul Aziz
King Abdul Aziz boards the tanker – Tom Barger

Six years later Ibn Saud was walking the deck of the tanker D.G. Scofield moored off Ras Tanura. Generous for its era with a capacity of nearly 100,000 barrels of oil, today it would be a minnow compared to the 2 million barrel tankers that routinely visit the oil terminal. After lunch on the vessel, the king returned to shore for a tour of the facility. Leading a large entourage of princes and officials King Abdul Aziz, accompanied by the company’s general manager Floyd Oligher, ascended the stairs to the top of one of the huge oil storage tanks that been built in a year’s time. If you watch the video that accompanies this article you can see that about half-way to the top the monarch break out into the biggest smile. As if he has finally realized that after decades of struggle his hopes and dreams have come true. His kingdom is secure with a promising and prosperous future for its citizens, his legacy to his people is completed. He has reason to be happy.

King Abdul Aziz
The king inspecting the tank farm - Tom Barger

At the pump house the royals and dignitaries crowded around in anticipation for the main event. In the words of the great American author Wallace Stegner, "Then Ibn Saud reached out the enormous hand with which he had created and held together his kingdom in the first place, and turned the valve on the line through which the wealth, power and responsibilities of the industrial 20th century would flow into Saudi Arabia."

King Abdul Aziz
R-L: Floyd Oligher, Mohammed Ali Reza, H.M. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud,
A.S. Russell (Chevron), Abdullah Sulaiman (Finance Minister) and an
unknown prince – Tom Barger

May 1st, 1939, 75 years ago, the D.G. Scofield loaded 90,000 barrels of oil at about a dollar a barrel for a total sale worth $1,350,000 in adjusted 2010 dollars. Saudi Arabia was now an oil exporting nation and the country as well as the world would never be the same. To see what happened that day, please enjoy this video:

Aramco ExPats

To learn more about Aramco’s fascinating early history, Wallace Stegner’s epic work on the birth of Aramco, Discovery: The Search for Arabian Oil, is definitely worth reading.

Discovery! by Wallace Stegner
Discovery: The Search for Arabian Oil
by Wallace Stegner

Paperback: 320 pages ~ $19.38
ISBN: 978-098820505-5

Aramco ExPats

Earlier stories by Tim Barger are included in his collection Arabian Son.

ARABIAN SON: 21 Stories by Tim Barger
ARABIAN SON: 21 Stories
by Tim Barger
E-book: $4.95

Paperback: 142 pages ~ $12.95
ISBN: 978-098820505-5
Available at Amazon