A history of America’s oil industry with an emphasis on its interplay with Christianity throughout the decades.
Asserting that both oil and faith shaped the United States significantly through its years of ascendancy, Dochuk (History/Univ. of Notre Dame; From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, 2010) sets out to identify how these two forces related through the so-called American Century. Though his lengthy study does not necessarily prove an organic relationship between oil and faith—in many instances, the connections were simply caused by the omnipresence of Christianity in a culture in which oil was asserting itself—the author ably shows how these connections shaped American history. Beginning with the oil discoveries in Pennsylvania after the Civil War, which solidified John D. Rockefeller as the paragon of Eastern oil barons, Dochuk explores the first “wildcatters” who set out to compete with Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, resulting in a continuous cycle of booms and busts. Eventually, with oil discoveries in Texas and Oklahoma, the center of the industry moved west. At every step, the church was present in these new settlements, attempting to curb the wild influences of oilmen. At the same time, many of the industry’s leaders were committed Christians, seeing in their work a divine calling and often using their wealth to support religious causes. The philanthropy of the Rockefellers, the Pews, and others remains as a testament to these convictions. As the power of American oil waned after World War II, its influence became more centered upon political movements and the rise of Evangelicalism. Dochuk notes that evangelist Billy Graham was funded by oil figures early in his career, and the industry has been involved in the development of countless organizations, from the Fuller Theological Seminary to Oral Roberts University. The Bush family’s oil ties round out this intriguing book.
A sweeping tale that uses both oil and faith to paint a panoramic portrait of post–Civil War American history.