Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talks to oil historian Char Miller about Los Angeles’ role in greasing America’s economy with oil.
In 1892, the first oil well in Los Angeles was drilled and started an oil rush that first launched the city.
“I think the oil industry has really faded in Los Angeles in terms of its presence. You look up at old photos of Huntington and Seal Beach, up Santa Monica beaches until the ’50s… they were littered with oil derricks,” Miller says. “It was the symbol of the city and that’s all disappeared.”
Oil drilling is still going on though. About 3,000 densely placed pumps are still working underground, but the landscape of the city makes the oil industry invisible.
“The culture of the United States is driven by oil. The built landscape is created because of petroleum,” Miller says. “And so Los Angeles, at once in its sprawl and its density is the perfect example of the petrol economy.”