The Golden Driller Statue
If you’re traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the city’s can’t-miss sights is the Golden Driller Statue. Of course, it would be hard to miss this iconic figure that stands 76 feet tall, weighs 22 tons and is resting his right hand on a genuine oil derrick. Located on historic Route 66, sitting in the middle of Expo Square, the Driller was dubbed Oklahoma’s official state monument in 1979. The Golden Driller is the fifth-tallest free-standing statue in the United States and is Tulsa’s most photographed landmark.
The Golden Driller was built to honor Tulsa’s petroleum industry workers in what was, at the time, the “Oil Capital of the World.” Its base bears the inscription, “The Golden Driller, dedicated to the men of the petroleum industry, who by their vision and daring have created from God’s abundance a better life for mankind.” The statue’s belt, which originally said Mid-Continent, now brandishes Tulsa’s name.
There were actually three Golden Drillers. In 1953, the first was built by a Texas oilfield supplier, Fort Worth’s Mid-Continent Supply Company. This Driller looked as though it was giving the “OK” hand sign. This version was a temporary piece that was displayed at the International Petroleum Expo.
The statue was so popular that it returned to Tulsa for the 1959 Trade Show. This time, the Golden Driller, nicknamed the Roustabout, hung from an oil rig with one hand and jauntily waved with the other.
The third and final Driller was upgraded from the flimsy, papier-mâché Roustabout to a permanent steel and fiberglass statue. The Texas oil supply company that built it withdrew from the Golden Driller in 1979. Tulsa officially preserved it and made it Oklahoma’s official monument.
Although the Golden Driller Statue generally met with enthusiasm, there were those who felt scandalized by the statue. They considered it an eyesore, and some were offended by his bare chest and wanted him to wear a shirt. However, many outraged oilfield workers angrily protested that this was an accurate representation of them, and the Driller remained as-is.
The Model & The Artist
Twenty-nine-year-old Sapulpa, Oklahoma native, John Franklin Stephens, Jr., was chosen to model for the Driller’s body and face. He also oversaw the statue’s construction as superintendent of the endeavor. A Navy and rodeo veteran, and former oilman, Stephens is now 86 years old. He says that, to him, the Golden Driller represents the men who worked tough, hard days in the oil fields in all types of weather. He explained that the Driller also pays homage to the workers who died on the oil rigs.
The Golden Driller Statue was designed by Greek immigrant and WWII veteran George “Grecco” Hondronastas. He viewed the Driller as his greatest artistic achievement. Hondronastas attended the Art Institute of Chicago and later went on to become a professor. He also created business promotions, parade floats and backgrounds and props for school plays.
For fun, the Golden Driller’s body mass (BMI) is 36.8. Although he looks slim and trim, this number actually qualifies him as obese. This means that he would have to drop 14,000 to 21,000 pounds. The Driller’s boot size is 393-DDD, his hat size is 112 and he wears a size 48 belt.
The Golden Driller Was Almost A Woman
In the early 1940s, Marjorie Morrow Anderson posed – nude – for a statue called the “Goddess of Oil.” She held a flaming torch representing oil high over her head. The statue was slated to be a colossal 40 feet tall and be erected in front of the International Petroleum Exposition Building at Expo Square. However, once the war started, the project was abandoned. The Golden Driller now occupies the spot where the Goddess of Oil would have been.
If you’re looking for a great photo op for a vacation or road trip, the Golden Driller Statue is a perfect roadside destination. The Driller is a great tribute to black gold, and a fun, quirky attraction that stands head, shoulders – and derrick – above the rest.
And if you still have some time for another tourist attraction, check out this weird outdoor acoustic phenomenon.