The Golden Driller of Oklahoma


Wikimedia Commons

If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home. This week we’re heading to Oklahoma, where I’ve heard the wind comes sweeping down the plain.


Oklahoma was built by the oil industry. After large reserves were found in the early 20th Century, barons moved in, requiring huge teams of men to work the derricks. These men needed room, board, and entertainment, leading to houses, hotels, restaurants, and saloons that soon became boom towns like Tulsa, at one time considered the Oil Capital of the World.

To celebrate their place in the oil industry, Tulsa regularly hosted the International Petroleum Exposition (IPE), a public exhibition to present the latest in petroleum technology, from 1923 until 1979. The IPE was held on 20 acres at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, attended by hundreds of thousands of visitors at its peak, and had a carnival atmosphere similar to the World’s Fair. In 1953, the Mid-Continent Supply Company built a large, golden statue in the shape of a common Okie oil worker, complete with hard hat and flashing an A-OK sign, at the entrance gate. The Golden Driller became such a symbol of the show that he was brought back again in 1959—only this time, he was slimmed down and hanging off the side of a derrick, waving to the crowd. Rather than ship the Driller back to Mid-Continent’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, the company decided to just donate him to the fairgrounds as a permanent fixture.

However, the statue hanging from the side of the derrick would never stand up to the tornadoes that Oklahoma is known for, so a redesign was in order. His makeover took seven years, but it was a complete transformation. Made of 2.5 miles of rebar covered in plaster and concrete, the new and improved Driller is 76 feet high, making him the largest free-standing statue in the world. He sports a lean, muscular build, with his right arm out, resting on top of a full-sized derrick taken from a depleted oil field in Seminole, Oklahoma. At over 43,000 pounds, it’s estimated he can withstand winds up to 200mph. The Driller got another makeover in 1979, with a new coat of paint and minor cosmetic repairs. His Mid-Continent belt buckle was replaced with one that reads “Tulsa” instead, firmly establishing him as a landmark for the city. That same year, he was named the state’s official monument.

Over the years, as promotional stunts, the Driller has received a few more makeovers, including gigantic clothes—among them, t-shirts promoting local radio stations, a bright orange necktie to celebrate the graduating class of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, and the world’s largest kilt for the 2011 Oklahoma Scottish Festival.

Have the scoop on an unusual person, place or event in your state? Tell me about it on Twitter (@spacemonkeyx) and maybe I’ll include it in a future edition of Strange States!

Peruse the whole Strange States series here.