Kilgore, Texas is a small town in the eastern part of the state. Comprised of only fifteen square miles, Kilgore is home to approximately 12,000 residents. Kilgore was founded in 1872 when the International-Great Northern Railroad completed the beginning phase of line in the area around present day Kilgore.
For the next several decades, Kilgore struggled to establish itself as a farming community, while businesses and commerce began to pop up along the outer edges of the city. By 1920, Kilgore had a population of 1,000. A sharp decline in cotton prices and the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s all, but rendered Kilgore a ghost town. By mid-1930, Kilgore's population had fallen to 500 residents.
The decline would be short lived, though. In October of that same year, a prospector stuck oil in a neighboring community. The oil boom breathed new life into Kilgore, whose population had swelled to 12,000 residents by 1936. At the peak of the oil boom, there were an estimated 1,100 oil derricks located in the vicinity of Kilgore. Due to the interest in the oil industry, all kinds of people converged upon the tiny east Texas town. Lawmen struggled to keep the peace in the outer lying shanty towns and bar rooms, where fighting and shooting broke out several times a day. At one point, the Texas Rangers were called in to restore peace to Kilgore.
The East Texas Oilfield, which was the name given to the area around Kilgore after its initial discovery, was once the largest oilfield in the country. During World War II, oil from the Kilgore oilfield was manufactured into fuel that was used in the efforts of allied forces. By 1940, most of the original wildcatters from the East Texas Oilfield had sold out their fortunes to large corporations and the oil boom had ended.
Oil is still Kilgore’s main industry today. Eighty of the original derricks are still in operation today. Each of the derricks is topped with a lighted star to serve as a reminder of their contributions to the World War II effort.