‘WWII was won in Longview’: Presentation details history of Big Inch Pipeline

A panel discussion Saturday talked about the importance of an oil pipeline that began in Longview and helped the Allies defeat the Germans in World War II.

Started Aug. 3, 1942, and completed Aug. 14, 1943, the Big Inch Pipeline at 24 inches in diameter carried oil for 1,254 miles from Longview across the Mississippi River into southern Illinois and then east to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Lines from there carried the oil to New York City and Philadelphia.

“It was the largest contributing factor to the Allies winning World War II,” Larry Courington, a volunteer at the Gregg County Historical Museum, said during the start of a program and panel discussion on the pipeline. Before its completion, the longest pipeline was only a few hundred miles long.

The Gregg County Historical Museum and East Texas Oil Museum sponsored the 90-minute program, which drew more than 125 people to the gymnasium at Red Oak Baptist Church. The event tied in with Longview’s sesquicentennial celebration this year.

During the war, the U.S. government turned to building a pipeline to deliver oil from Texas to refineries in the Northeast because the Germans sank oil tankers headed to the East Coast, Courington said.

After his introductory, Longview author Kimberly Fish introduced the panelists: Don Carleton, executive director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin; Mickey Smith, former Kilgore mayor and Gregg County judge; oil and gas industry lobbyist Luke Legate; and Bobby Ausburn, area supervisor for Enbridge (Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline).

Carleton gave a brief history lesson, saying the Allies and Axis Powers spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to secure fuel for the war effort. Before the war, 95% of the oil for the Eastern Seaboard came by ship.

He said the Allies consumed about 7 billion barrels of oil for the war effort in Europe, with 6 billion barrels coming from America.

“This was a monstrous project,” Carleton said, adding that an Army tank needed 10,000 gallons of gasoline for every 100 miles driven.

He said the U.S. decided to use steel to build the Big Inch Pipeline and recruited workers who built pipelines in the Middle East and Venezuela.

The pipeline crossed mountains higher than 4,000 feet, 30 rivers and 200 streams and lakes, Carleton said. Crews laid pipeline during a blizzard for two days on the side of a mountain in Pennsylvania.

Carleton said crews repaired damage from a flood in the Mississippi River in two days.

“Nobody knew when D-Day was going to happen,” Carleton said, referring to the landing June 6, 1944, of Allied troops in France that turned the course of the war in their favor. However, he said, “They knew D-Day depended on the oil that was coming from this pipeline.”

After the war, German military officials confided that Allied access to oil was a major reason for their defeat, Carleton said.

After his presentation, Smith drew laughter when he said, “I’m glad we are here to talk about oil and not impeachment.”

Smith said the Big Inch still exists.

Ausburn noted the Big Inch Pipeline is now called Texas Eastern.

He mentioned ownership changes over the years for the pipeline, which was bought by the Texas Eastern Transmission Corp. in 1947. Spectra Energy now owns the pipeline.

The panelists also fielded submitted questions after their talks.

One person who asked a question, Marie Edwards of Longview, said after the presentations that she learned about the importance of the Big Inch in winning the war effort.

“World War II was won in Longview, Texas,” she said. “To win the war you had to have oil. .. The Germans ran out and we still have plenty of oil.”

After the program, more than 30 people gathered nearby on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to snap photos at the state historical marker for the start of the Big Inch.