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Commercial Quantities of Oil First Discovered in 1925

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 Street.

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 year.

These were not spectacular production rates but it was enough oil to be sold commercially. Michigan had arrived as a real oil and gas producing state.

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 America (IPAA).