Oil for victory.
That proclamation on the front of a 22-page program from 1943 wasn’t an exaggeration. Published for the celebration of the final weld of the Big Inch pipeline — on July 19, 1943, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania — the program’s cover appears to have been designed with the American flag in mind, with faint red and white stripes and a few white stars on a field of blue. High in one corner of the cover, East Texas is clearly represented in small oil derricks, with a pipeline leading away, to the edge of the page. Drawings of military aircraft, tanks and ships are scattered across the page.
The program is one of several artifacts the Gregg County Historical Museum has in its archives related to the Big Inch — a 24-inch-diameter, World War II crude oil pipeline that started in Longview and ended in Phoenixville 1,253 miles later and that is largely credited with helping to win the war. With German U-boats making big business out of sinking oil tankers along the East Coast, the pipeline provided oil for products that were critical to the Allies’ success. Its smaller sister, the Little Big Inch, carried products from Baytown to Linden, New Jersey.
The program describes how plans for the pipeline had begun to form by at least July 1940. Construction started Aug. 3, 1942, and wrapped up about a year later. That means the pipeline is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The historical museum is planning a commemoration event in 2020 for the pipeline as part of Longview’s sesquicentennial year. Specific plans aren’t finalized, but museum officials are hoping to begin collecting memories of the pipeline now.
“When we found it in the museum, it was in here,” said Kelly Green, the museum’s archives supervisor, as he held up the tube in which the program had been rolled.
“I don’t like things to be folded up,” he said, so he was working to flatten the curled program.
In addition to a schedule of activities from the celebration 75 years ago — which included a radio broadcast and “The Big Inch — Dramatic Sketch from N.B.C. Studios” — the program includes a timeline of the pipeline, a map and descriptions of the Big Inch and Little Big Inch pipelines.
“The Big Inch will deliver 300,000 barrels of oil to the East each day when operated at rated capacity,” the program says. “This oil moves through the line at a speed of 100 miles per day and makes the trip from East Texas to the East Coast in slightly more than 13 days.”
Longview is home to an historical marker dedicated to the pipeline on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at Pittman Street.
The museum was taking stock recently of the Big Inch artifacts in its possession and also found a small bottle of some of the earliest oil the pipeline delivered to the East Coast. The bottle includes a label that says the oil arrived at Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, at 2:15 a.m. Aug. 14, 1943. The museum also has a part of the pipeline itself is on display in its standing exhibits.
“This is kind of like grandmother’s attic,” Green said. “I want anything and everything from Gregg County that anybody has.”
In particular, though, museum officials hope there are people with photos from the pipeline’s construction, for instance, or artifacts.
Museum director Lindsay Loy speculated there could be people whose fathers worked on the pipeline, for instance, who might have stories or photos to share with the museum.