by Richard T. Stuebi
Over my spring break vacation, I had the pleasure of reading The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burroughs. It was one of those books I just couldn’t put down.
The Big Rich profiles the saga of the so-called Big Four of the Texas oil bid-ness — Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson. Though hardly household names, these four amassed gi-normous fortunes under the radar screen during the 1930’s and 1940’s, while the rest of the U.S. and the world was focused on the Great Depression and World War II.
Only Hunt Oil remains as a direct consequence of this era. However, in their heyday, the Big Four were responsible for some major forces that continue to shape the world we know today, including:
- Supplying the preponderence of oil to fuel the Allied war machine in World War II — a huge factor in the success in defeating the Axis
- Launching the religious right as a force in American media, culture and politics
- Setting the precedents to ensure that large quantities of money from the oil industry became an enduring feature of the American political process — propelling the careers of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson (and, of course, the Bush dynasty)
- Elevating conspicuous consumption to a form of high art to be envied by the masses, as a result of their affiliations with Hollywood and the Dallas Cowboys
- Accelerating the shift of the U.S. power base and population out of the Northeast and down to the Southwest
A native Texan, Burroughs casts an unflinching eye at his home state. The book is essential reading for those who want to truly understand the U.S. in the early 21st Century.
Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will become a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.