Back When … How George William Strake Made a Difference
George William Strake was born on Nov. 9, 1894 in St. Louis. His father, William George Strake, died less than a year later; his mother, Anna Casper Strake, passed away by the time George was 9 years old. His older sisters took care of him. Young George worked many jobs and saved up the money to go to St. Louis University. He worked his way through and graduated with a B.S. degree in commerce and finance in 1917, the same year the United States entered World War I. Strake went into the Army Air Corps.
After he left the Army, Strake decided that the oil business would be perfect match for his drive and desire to get rich. He went to work with Mexican-Gulf Oil Co. in Tampico, Mexico making $450 a month. He wanted more and began an independent lease trading and drilling company. He earned a reputation and a fortune working in the Mexican oil industry from 1919-1925, by which time his net worth was around $250,000. With the Mexican oil boom coming to an end, he went to Cuba where he lost most of what he made.
Two years later, the now-married Strake came back to Houston, his wife’s home where he would pursue his dream of discovering a great, untapped oil field. His religious faith would sustain him through the ensuing trials and tribulations.
Strake gathered his remaining assets, and his South Texas Development Company started leasing every available piece of land southeast of Conroe. His company controlled 8,500 acres, the largest area of land ever under lease at that time. He made plans for drilling his first well. None of the major oil companies would partner with him, saying that there was no oil on Conroe’s east side. It was now 1930 and the Depression. Conroe was dying. The lumber industry was fading, the bank had failed and the schools needed funds. By 1931 Strake faced losing his leases unless he was able to drill a well on the site by August.
Strake began to piece together the start of a drilling company. Not everything went as planned, and the leases were due to expire at midnight if a well was not dug. Strake and several men had to hand-turn the bit slowly with chains to achieve a depth of 50 feet. Strake’s sheer determination, along with that of his crew, met the deadline and saved his leases. With more equipment to drill a proper well to the depth where the oil was, Strake discovered oil on Dec. 5, 1931. He then partnered with Humble Oil to do future drilling. The Strake No. 2 well that came in on June 5, 1932 was a huge find. The Conroe Oil field that Strake discovered became the third-largest oil field in the U.S. Strake continued his own drilling operations and obtained a net worth of over $100 million. His efforts brought life back to Conroe and Montgomery County.
Strake was truly a Texas oil tycoon. He became a civic leader, philanthropist and a board member of many companies. He gave significant donations to educational institutions, civic organizations and charities. Strake gave more than 2,000 acres of land to the Boy Scouts of America while serving on its national board. Being a devout Catholic, Strake donated $500,000 to the St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation in Houston and became a founding benefactor of the hospital. He also contributed generously to the University of St. Thomas and was a member of its board of trustees. He was also a benefactor of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School in Houston, which was named in his honor. Between 1937 and 1950, Strake received several honorary degrees and four papal honors in recognition of his gifts, including the Vatican’s highest honors for a layman. Conroe’s citizens honored Strake on the 25th anniversary of discovering oil in Montgomery County, and dedicated a monument to him on the city hall lawn. Gov. Price Daniel proclaimed June 5, 1957 as George W. Strake Day in Montgomery County.
Strake died on August 6, 1969. He was a man of great faith, vision, determination and hard work. He made his own way and helped others through his gifts of money and encouragement.
The Montgomery County Historical Commission provides the content for this page.
For information on the commission and its efforts, visit montgomerycountyhistoricalcommission.com