Ross Sterling, Texan: A Memoir by the Founder of Humble Oil and Refining Company

Ross Sterling, Texan: A Memoir by the Founder of Humble Oil and Refining Company

Ross Sterling, Texan: A Memoir by the Founder of Humble Oil and Refining Company

Ross Sterling, Texan: A Memoir by the Founder of Humble Oil and Refining Company


Born on a farm near Anahuac, Texas, in 1875 and possessed of only a fourth-grade education, Ross Sterling was one of the most successful Texans of his generation. Driven by a relentless work ethic, he become a wealthy oilman, banker, newspaper publisher, and, from 1931 to 1933, one-term governor of Texas. Sterling was the principal founder of the Humble Oil and Refining Company, which eventually became the largest division of the ExxonMobil Corporation, as well as the owner of the Houston Post.

Eager to "preserve a narrative record of his life and deeds," Ross Sterling hired Ed Kilman, an old friend and editorial page editor of the Houston Post, to write his biography. Though the book was nearly finished before Sterling's death in 1949, it never found a publisher due to Kilman's florid writing style and overly hagiographic portrayal of Sterling.

In this volume, by contrast, editor Don Carleton uses the original oral history dictated by Ross Sterling to Ed Kilman to present the former governor's life story in his own words. Sterling vividly describes his formative years, early business ventures, and active role in developing the Texas oil industry. He also recalls his political career, from his appointment to the Texas Highway Commission to his term as governor, ending with his controversial defeat for reelection by "Ma" Ferguson. Sterling's reminiscences constitute an important primary source not only on the life of a Texan who deserves to be more widely remembered, but also on the history of Houston and the growth of the American oil industry.


Dolph briscoe, jr.

In 1919, my father, Dolph Briscoe, Sr., became the Uvalde County oil distributor for the Humble Oil Company, which had its headquarters in Houston. a group of independent oilmen, including Ross Shaw Sterling, Walter Fondren, Robert Blaffer, and William Stamps Farish, created Humble in 1911 by consolidating their individual holdings in the newly discovered oil fields in southeast Texas. By the time my father went with Humble, the company was well on its way to becoming one of the most powerful business enterprises in Texas. My father kept his Humble Oil distributorship for the rest of his life.

Four years after my father affiliated with the Humble Company, he met Ross Shaw Sterling, at that time Humble’s president, during a hunting trip in Uvalde County in which my father served as Mr. Sterling’s guide. This deer hunting expedition, which Mr. Sterling describes in detail in this memoir, proved to be a life-changing event for my family. As a result, my father and Mr. Sterling began a friendship that would endure until Mr. Sterling’s death, a quarter of a century later.

Born in 1875, Mr. Sterling had grown up near Anahuac, the town where my ancestor Andrew Briscoe had settled in the early 1830s. While in his twenties, he had worked as a farmer and a merchant. He became an independent oil operator in 1903, eventually merging his interests with other operators to form Humble Oil, one of the predecessor companies of today’s ExxonMobil Corporation. Mr. Sterling also had branched out into the railroad business by the time he and my father formed their partnership. Later, after serving as chairman of the Texas Highway Commission, he was elected governor in November 1930.

It is obvious that Mr. Sterling was a gifted entrepreneur and a successful politician, but my family also knew him to be an extremely kind and generous man. He was a true gentleman. He liked Mother and Father very much and he . . .

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