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Amazing Historical Photos of California Swarming with Oil Derricks from the Early 20th Century

California was nicknamed the Golden State after the Sierra Nevada gold that drew miners and settlers to the West. However, black gold has proved far more valuable to California than metallic gold. Thousands of years before Europeans arrived in California, Native Americans used petroleum for about 13,000 years, albeit not for energy. Native Americans used oil both as a lubricant and a sealant for their canoes. Humboldt County drilled the first Californian well in 1865. Pico Canyon oil field, located north of Los Angeles, became the state’s first gusher in 1876, launching a statewide industry. After discovering oil in California, Edward L. Doheny struck the massive Los Angeles oilfield in 1892, only 35 miles south of Pico Canyon.

In 1897, the world’s first offshore well was drilled from a 300-foot-long pier in the Pacific Ocean, triggering an offshore drilling boom. California’s discovery of oil significantly impacted oil prices both in the state and across the nation. In 1860, the United States produced 0.5 million barrels of oil. The state of California alone had 1.2 million barrels of oil by 1895. In 1895, oil prices decreased from $9.60 per barrel in 1860 to $0.25 per barrel. This was due to increased oil supplies from California and the increased oil production in Texas and Pennsylvania.

California’s oil production continued to boom at the turn of the century. The state produced 4 million barrels of oil in 1900. By 1920, production had increased to 77 million barrels. New oil fields were discovered regularly throughout Southern California between 1920 and 1930. This included Huntington Beach in 1920, Long Beach and Santa Fe Springs in 1921, Dominguez in 1923, and Inglewood in 1924. In the United States, southern California was becoming a hotbed for oil production. As a result of the oil boom, whole areas became home to hundreds of wooden drilling derricks owned by independent speculators. It looked gloomy as oil derricks dotted the landscape like giant quills. Oil derricks were located next to residential areas and pristine beaches in Venice, California (now known as Marina del Rey). The coasts of Huntington Beach and Santa Barbara were lined with derricks, competing for space with sunbathers and lifeguard stands. At the time, however, L.A. was still in its early years, and the metastasizing cityscape was more concerned with growth than beauty. Today, these violent protrusions are at odds with the Southland’s idyllic image of fun in the sun.

Below are some stunning historical photos of California beaches and places with oil derricks from the 1910s to the 1950s.

#1 Oil derricks line the coast of Venice, California, 1920

Oil derricks line the coast of Venice, California, 1920

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#2 Huntington Beach, 1930s

Huntington Beach, 1930s

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#3 An oilfield in Venice, California, 1930

An oilfield in Venice, California, 1930

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#4 A forest of oil derricks sprouts up on the Signal Hill oil field, Long Beach, California, in 1937

A forest of oil derricks sprouts up on the Signal Hill oil field, Long Beach, California, in 1937

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#5 A man poles a garbage scow down the Grand Canal in Venice, California, with oil derricks on the horizon, 1953.

A man poles a garbage scow down the Grand Canal in Venice, California, with oil derricks on the horizon, 1953.

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#6 A high tide floods an oilfield in Long Beach, California, 1951

A high tide floods an oilfield in Long Beach, California, 1951

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#7 Goats near an oilfield in Huntington Beach, 1937

Goats near an oilfield in Huntington Beach, 1937

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#8 Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach, 1937

Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach, 1937

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#9 A family beach picnic with Signal Hill oil derricks in the background, 1920

A family beach picnic with Signal Hill oil derricks in the background, 1920

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#10 Oil derricks on Huntington Beach, 1937

Oil derricks on Huntington Beach, 1937

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#11 An oil derrick abuts a beach house in Venice, 1937

An oil derrick abuts a beach house in Venice, 1937

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#12 Cars travel through the Venice oilfield, 1937

Cars travel through the Venice oilfield, 1937

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#13 Students practice archery at Beverly Hills High School, with oil derricks nearby

Students practice archery at Beverly Hills High School, with oil derricks nearby

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#14 Laundry dries on a clothesline near the Venice oilfield

Laundry dries on a clothesline near the Venice oilfield

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#15 A couple on Huntington Beach, 1937.

A couple on Huntington Beach, 1937.

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#16 Oil derricks and bathers on Huntington Beach, 1937

Oil derricks and bathers on Huntington Beach, 1937

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#17 The Signal Hill oilfield in southern California, 1930

The Signal Hill oilfield in southern California, 1930

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#18 Sunbathers on Huntington Beach, 1937

Sunbathers on Huntington Beach, 1937

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#19 The coast along the Venice oilfield, in what is now Marina del Rey, 1937

The coast along the Venice oilfield, in what is now Marina del Rey, 1937

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#20 Germany races Italy in the Long Beach Marine Stadium during the 1932 Olympic Games, 1932

Germany races Italy in the Long Beach Marine Stadium during the 1932 Olympic Games, 1932

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#21 Four boats race in the Long Beach Marine Stadium during the 1932 Olympic Games, 1932

Four boats race in the Long Beach Marine Stadium during the 1932 Olympic Games, 1932

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#22 A Long Beach home with oil derricks nearby, 1929.

A Long Beach home with oil derricks nearby, 1929.

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#23 Men play volleyball on the beach next to the Venice oilfield, 1937.

Men play volleyball on the beach next to the Venice oilfield, 1937.

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#24 Oil derricks loom behind St. Mary’s by the Sea Catholic Church in Huntington Beach, 1937

Oil derricks loom behind St. Mary’s by the Sea Catholic Church in Huntington Beach, 1937

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#25 Mrs. W. B. Stoddard stands with her dogs in the yard of her home near the George K. Linderman well in Redondo Beach, 1936

Mrs. W. B. Stoddard stands with her dogs in the yard of her home near the George K. Linderman well in Redondo Beach, 1936

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#26 Oil derricks line a road outside Los Angeles, 1930

Oil derricks line a road outside Los Angeles, 1930

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#27 Oil wells near La Habra, Orange County, 1920s

Oil wells near La Habra, Orange County, 1920s

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#28 Oil derricks extending into the Pacific at Summerland Beach near Santa Barbara, 1903.

Oil derricks extending into the Pacific at Summerland Beach near Santa Barbara, 1903.

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#29 Oil fire on Signal Hill, July 15, 1924.

Oil fire on Signal Hill, July 15, 1924.

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#30 Oil derrick camouflaged as Christmas tree, Huntington Beach, 1939.

Oil derrick camouflaged as Christmas tree, Huntington Beach, 1939.

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#31 Atlantic Avenue and Patterson Street, Long Beach, are lined with oil derricks in 1940

Atlantic Avenue and Patterson Street, Long Beach, are lined with oil derricks in 1940

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#32 Oil wells in Venice, California, bringing oil up from beach area in 1952

Oil wells in Venice, California, bringing oil up from beach area in 1952

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#33 Huntington Beach in the 1960s was riddled with wooden oil derricks

Huntington Beach in the 1960s was riddled with wooden oil derricks

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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