Edward Laurence Doheny
(August 10, 1856 -
September 8, 1935) was an Irish
American oil tycoon
who in 1892, along with partner Charles A. Canfield, drilled the
first successful well in the Los Angeles City oil field, setting
off the petroleum boom in southern
. Formerly an unsuccessful prospector in
Mexico and the American Southwest, the Wisconsin-born Doheny became wealthy through his California
oil interests, and was later also successful in the oil fields of
During the administration of President Warren G. Harding,
Doheny was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal and was accused of offering a $100,000 bribe to
Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall in
order to secure drilling rights without competitive bidding to the
Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve in central California.
was twice acquitted of offering the bribe that Fall was convicted
of accepting. Doheny and his second wife and widow, Carrie Estelle,
were noted philanthropists in Los Angeles. The character Vern
Roscoe in Upton Sinclair
's 1927 novel
(the inspiration for the 2007
film There Will Be
) is loosely based on Doheny
born in Fond du Lac,
His family history reaches back to Ireland,
from which his family fled in the wake of the Great Famine
Doheny graduated from high school at the age of 15 which he was
named the valedictorian of his class. Following his father’s death
several months after his graduation, he was employed by the
U.S. Geological Survey, and in 1873 was
sent to Kansas with a party
surveying and subdividing the Kiowa-Comanche lands. The following year he
left the Geological Survey to pursue his fortune prospecting, first
in the Black
Hills of South
Dakota and then in Arizona
Territory. By 1880 he was in the Black Mountains of
Mexico, then part of Arizona Territory, living in the
rough silver-mining town of Kingston, prospecting, mining, and
buying, and trading mining claims.
During his time in
Kingston he met two men who would play important roles in his later
life—Albert Fall, the future Secretary of the Interior, and his
business partner Charles A.
. It was also during
this time that he met and married his first wife, Carrie Louella
Wilkins, on August 7, 1883.
Doheny and his granddaughter, Lucy Estelle,
Doheny and Canfield together worked the former’s Mount Chief Mine with little success, and thus in 1886 Canfield prospected further in the Kingston area, leasing and developing with great success the Comstock Mine, not to be confused with the Comstock Lode of Virginia City, Nevada. Doheny declined to join him in this venture, and whereas Canfield made a small fortune from it, Doheny was reduced eventually to doing odd jobs to support his family.
In the Spring of 1891, Doheny left New Mexico with his wife and daughter, and moved to Los Angeles, attracted by Canfield’s success in Los Angeles real estate. Canfield had previously left New Mexico with $110,000 in cash from his Comstock Mine venture, a sum that he parlayed into extensive real estate holdings during the Los Angeles boom of the later 1880s. With the collapse of the speculative fever, Canfield lost his wealth and land holdings and, by the time Doheny arrived in Los Angeles in 1891, was deeply in debt. Briefly the two men tried their prospecting luck in San Diego, forming there the Pacific Gold and Silver Extracting Company, but returned to Los Angeles soon thereafter without achieving success. By 1892, Doheny was so poor he could not afford to pay for his boarding room.
While in Los Angeles, Doheny found out that there was pitch
beneath the soil. Doheny obtained a
lease near downtown with $400 in financing from friend Charles Canfield
, who had made some money
from the mining
industry. A poor man, Doheny
dug a well with picks and shovels, looking for pitch
, which could be mixed with soil
to extract petroleum
When the well reached a depth of Doheny devised a drilling system
involving a eucalyptus tree
The well, when completed in 1893, produced .
Doheny and Canfield soon made a fortune by drilling in the area and
selling the oil to nearby factories
they helped spur the California oil boom of the early 1900s by
convincing railroads to switch from coal to oil as power for their
Doheny would later form the PanAmerican Petroleum and Transport
Company. The company owned 600,000 acres
(2400 km²) of land in Mexico worth about
It would later become the Mexican Petroleum Company
additional 800,000 acres (3200 km²) in Mexico in October 1919.
He would later step down from chairmanship and become head of Pan
American Western Petroleum Company.
Doheny also made his mark in the 1916 Presidential election
wagering on Woodrow Wilson
to be the
victor . A common practice at the time, this bet made him $500,000
Doheny contributed money to foundations. He helped fund the
construction of St. Vincent de Paul Church. He also donated $1.1
million in 1932 to USC to build the Edward L. Doheny, Jr., Memorial
Library. His second wife, Carrie Estelle Doheny
donated her rare book collection St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, CA.
also famous for another of his gifts — the wedding gift of Greystone
Mansion to his son, Edward (Ned) L.
Doheny, Jr. He
built the $3,188,000 house in 1928, selling the property and the
accompanying 400 acre ranch to his son for $10.Los Angeles's
Doheny, Sr., meanwhile, lived in his own mansion
had purchased in 1901. Part of Chester
, a gated community of Victorian mansions, Doheny ended up
owning most of the houses, as well as the street by the time of his
death in 1935. Built in 1899 in the French Gothic architectural
style, this 3-story, 22-room residence was damaged in the 1933
earthquake but was repaired, and is now part of Mount St. Mary's College
where it houses college departments, docent tours, and chamber
music concerts by The Da Camera
Dohenys also owned a great deal of coastal land in Dana Point,
CA, which was donated to the State of California for
Beach as a memorial to Edward's murdered son Ned.
Doheny poses with his lawyer Frank J.
They also donated the funds for the construction of the original
site of St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church, which has
since moved to a bluff-top location overlooking Doheny State Beach.
The original building is now home to San Felipe de Jesus Roman
began basing his Mexican oil operations near Tampico,
Tamaulipas in 1902, Doheny donated much money towards the
construction and maintenance of the Cathedral of Tampico, also
known as The Temple of the Immaculate Conception, located in Plaza
Doheny Estate has donated money for the construction of buildings
and residence halls to Loyola Marymount University and the land for one of the campuses of Mount Saint Mary's College in Los
In 1944, Carrie Estelle Doheny suffered a hemorrhage, leaving her
partially blind. Realizing the value of good vision, she created
and funded the Doheny Eye Institute, which today has become a world
leader in vision research.
Doheny took his yacht
, the Casiana
(named after his first major producing oil well in Mexico, the
Casiana No. 7), to Martinique to pick up a friend's brother who worked as a
farmer on the island
and who was seriously ill. Doheny brought him back to New York; the steam yacht was able to
make the trip in only 5 days.
Doheny's reputation was somewhat tainted by a bribe
paid to the Secretary of the
, Albert B. Fall
. The "gift" of $100,000 was made in
connection with obtaining a lease of 32,000
acres (130 km²) of government owned land used for the Elk Hills
Naval Petroleum Reserve near Taft, California. The resulting scandal broke soon after that
over similar bribes Fall accepted for leasing Teapot Dome in Wyoming.
Doheny faced criminal charges
over the incident but was cleared of all charges, including murder.
The scandal is also the inspiration for Upton Sinclair
's novel, Oil!
, based in part on Doheny's life.
He died on September 8 1935
of old age. His funeral was in St. Vincent's
Church in Los Angeles, a church that he built. Doheny Drive in West Hollywood and Beverly
Hills are named after him, as is Doheny Road, an
East-West running street in Beverly Hills. Doheny State
Beach is also named in his honor.
- Davis, Margaret L. (1998). Dark Side of Fortune: Triumph
and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. ISBN