Geologists suspected in the first years of the twentieth century that
there was enough oil underneath Saginaw to make oil wells profitable.
Michigan's State Geologist Dr. A.C. Lane in the early 1900s observed
"uplift and folding" in Michigan geology between Bay City and Saginaw,
which he believed indicated that oil was likely present. Dr. A.C. Smith,
State Geologist, in the 1920s said "Most of the evidence indicating
favorable structure conditions for occurrence of oil and gas wells in
the ( Saginaw) region was derived from numerous comparatively shallow
salt wells drilled along the Saginaw River, drawing brine from the upper
Marshall Sandstone …. Apparently this fold will run slightly west of
north through Saginaw near the Bristol Street Bridge."
In 1912 and 1913 a group of local capitalists and businessmen
formed the Saginaw Valley Development Company to prospect for oil.
During the group's second attempt, a hole near the geographical center
of the city was treated with the downhole discharge of 100 quarts of
nitroglycerine. The well "erupted with a spout of oil forty feet high
from the mouth of the well and stood solid for four or five minutes."
This spurt was followed a few minutes later by a second, higher column
of oil that lasted about two minutes and also included natural gas. The
excitement in Saginaw was spontaneous," Predictions were freely
expressed that a new era of prosperity was opening for the Valley.
In a short time, outside speculators arrived to organize
companies and secure oil leases. The local demand for stock in the
Saginaw Valley Development Co. was overwhelming but none was offered,
The Company adopted policy of "not affecting its operating organization
until the quantity of oil existing in this locality was definitely
determined." The company's cautious attitude proved well-founded. The
discovery well, along with eight others nearby, did not pan out
commercially. Ultimately Mills says the Saginaw Valley Development
Company ceased operations, sold its equipment and the efforts
"determined without reasonable doubt that oil was a myth in this
locality" Fortunately there were those willing to try again.
One person willing to look again was James C. Graves, a
chemist by education, who worked for the Dow Chemical Company beginning
in 1900. Graves closely followed the progress of Dow's brine wells.
Graves left Dow to join the Saginaw Chemical Company. He became
acquainted with many Saginaw businessmen, some of whom made him
president of the Saginaw Prospecting Company, formed in 1925 to revive
the Saginaw area oil search. A test well was started July 25, 1925 on
city-owned property known as Deindorfer Woods on the north side of Weiss
On August 29, 1925, the Saginaw News reported the
well's success with a banner headline. The well produced an average of
23 barrels of oil per day for a few days, and averaged 17 barrels a day
for the first 30 days. Company records show production from that Saginaw
Field discovery well was 13 barrels of crude oil per day after 90 days,
eight after one year and an average of six barrels per day the second
These were not spectacular production rates but it was enough
oil to be sold commercially. Michigan had arrived as a real oil and gas
Others soon came to try their luck. Among those arriving in
Michigan to search for oil and gas were Clyde B. and George Miller, the
Michigan Oil patch's original Miller brothers and founders of what would
become a well known name in Michigan. Clyde's sons C. John Miller,
Clyde E. "Gene" Miller and H. Jack Miller (as well as John's son
Michael), would grow up to each serve as chief elected officer of the
Michigan Oil And Gas Association in 1966-67, 1976-77, 1988-89 and
2000-01 respectively. C. John Miller was the second Michigan oilman to
serve as President of the national Independent Petroleum Association of