White sand, black gold: when oil derricks loomed over California beaches

Huntington Beach, 1926, California.Photo courtesy: ©© Orange County Archives


Native Americans first discovered oil in California, as it seeped to the surface of the earth. They used it as a lubricant and sealant for canoes.

As the state’s population boomed in the decades following the gold rush of 1849, there was a rapidly growing demand for petroleum.

By 1920, California was producing 77 million barrels of oil a year, and vast stretches of the state were occupied by derricks, drilling rigs and refineries.

In places such as Venice, California (now known as Marina del Rey), oil derricks ran right up to the shore, mingling with residential neighborhoods and pristine beaches…

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