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Walter Benona Sharp and Estelle Boughton Sharp Collection

Identifier: MS 0271
Finding aid note: Stored offsite at the Library Service Center and require 24-hour notice for retrieval. Please contact the Woodson Research Center at 713-348-2586 or for more information.

Scope and Contents

Walter Benona Sharp helped usher in the oil boom in Texas, while his wife Estelle Boughton Sharp used her wealth and talents throughout her long life for a variety of social and charitable projects. A record of their lives, their times, and the people who surrounded them may be found in the Sharp Collection. Although of only moderate size--six linear feet of shelf space, a four inch deep oversized drawer, and twelve and one-half hours of oral interviews--this collection holds much of value for those interested in the Southwest. Within the Walter B. Sharp Papers (1889-1912) are his correspondence with his family, his business papers, other personal papers, and tributes, memorials, and expressions of sympathy at the time of his death. The Estelle B. Sharp Papers (1883-1965) consist of personal correspondence, and items related to social service, the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, the Texas Centennial, world peace, Rice Institute, and the University of Texas. Business papers, various clippings, and scrapbooks comprise other portions of her papers. The Sharp Family Papers (1868-1969) include material related to the Boughton-Frost-Sharp genealogy, and letters written and received by Estelle and Walter's sons, Bedford and Dudley. Magazine articles, biographical material on the Sharps, family photographs, and assorted books related to the Boughton-Frost-Sharp families are also housed with the Family Papers. The Sharp Oral Interviews (1953-1978) pertain to the oil and gas industry in the Southwest, Estelle, Walter, and Dudley Sharp, the J.S. Cullinan family, the Howard Hughes family, and the growth and development of Houston. Prominent events dealt with in the Sharp Collection include Spindletop, the founding of the Texas Company, the founding of the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company, the establishment of United Charities, the start of settlement house work in Houston, and Dudley C. Sharp, Sr.'s years of service as Assistant Secretary and Secretary of the Air Force. Besides the Sharps, individuals associated with the collection include Howard Hughes, Sr., Howard Hughes, Jr., J.S. Cullinan, Will C. Hogg, Edgar Odell Lovett, W.L. Clayton, James L. Autry, and Clark M. Eichelberger. Much has been written on the turbulent birth of the oil industry in the Southwest--and Walter Sharp's life certainly had its share of drama--yet, perhaps even more important was the ongoing role of the entrepreneurial families which came out of these early years. Within the bounds of the Sharp Collection is an indepth look at one of these families.

The Sharp collection is a particularly appropriate acquisition because it complements the Woodson Research Center's present holdings of the papers of other 19th- and 20th-century Texas entrepreneurs in oil and gas exploration, as well as in other ventures. Some of these are the papers of Judge Harris Masterson, General William Hamman, and Judge James L. Autry (who, through his oil interests, became General Counsel of the Texas Company). The Sharp papers, along with the other entrepreneurial collections, will provide not only original source material specifically concerning the development of the petroleum industry in Texas, but also information generally useful to researchers in the economic, political, cultural and social history of this area.


  • 1868 - 1978

Access Restrictions

This material is open for research.

Conditions Governing Access

Stored offsite at the Library Service Center and require 24-hour notice for retrieval. Please contact the Woodson Research Center at 713-348-2586 or for more information.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from Walter Sharp and Estelle Boughton Sharp - Collection must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Biographical Sketches

Walter Benona Sharp was born on December 12, 1870, in Tipton county, Tennessee. His parents, James R. and Amanda Forrest Sharp, moved to Texas when Walter was still a young child. Sharp began his business career at a very early age, and by 1890, he was operating a successful water well drilling company with his brother James R. Sharp. Walter Sharp then branched out to the drilling of oil wells and in 1893 drilled a dry hole in what was to be the famous Spindletop Field. Sharp next moved to the Corsicana and Sour Lake areas where he found limited amounts of oil. In 1901, soon after the first gusher at Spindletop, Sharp secured his fortune by trading leases and contracting for numerous wells. He next helped form the Moonshine Oil Company and later became president of Producers Oil Company. Sharp held an interest in the Texas Company and worked closely with J.S. Cullinan in developing that company's oil holdings. Sharp was also co-founder of the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company, and aided Howard Hughes, Sr. in developing that company's famous Rock Bit. Sharp was a daring innovator, always seeking better methods of drilling and producing oil, and to him can be traced many of the techniques which made the gigantic expansion of the oil industry in Texas possible. His willingness to innovate and to be involved first hand with the problems of the oil field led him to exert tremendous effort to extinguish a large oil field fire in the fall of 1912. Weakened from his exertions, he died at age 42 on November 28, 1912.

(Bibliography: W.P.Webb, et al, Handbook of Texas, II, 597.)

Estelle Boughton Sharp was born in Flint, Michigan on June 19, 1873. Her parents, George A. Boughton and Delia Frost Boughton, were divorced when she was about 16. She later attended Oberlin College, but discontinued her education after meeting Walter Sharp on a visit to Dallas. Married in 1897, the couple were the parents of three children, Walter Bedford, Kathleen, and Dudley Crawford. Kathleen died in early childhood, but the two boys gave the Sharps a happy family life. They lived in Dallas until about 1904 when the discovery of major oil fields near Houston prompted them to move to that Gulf Coast city. While still in Dallas, Mrs. Sharp began the charity work which was to occupy so much of her later life. After the death of her husband in 1912, she turned increasingly to what she called her hobbies: social welfare and world peace. Something of a progressive, she was one of the founders of United Charities in Houston, which later became the United Fund. She was also interested in the settlement house concept, and during the interwar years, she espoused the cause of several peace movements. Although this country was not a member of the League of Nations, Estelle Sharp served as a member of the National Advisory Council of the League of Nations Association and worked to gain U.S. entry into the League. In the 1930's, she was a member of the Texas Centennial Commission, and continued her long-standing interest in the Federated Women's Clubs of Texas. In the 1940's and 1950's, she was a member of the Community Council and contributed greatly to the Community Settlement Association. Interested also in education and the history of the oil industry in the Southwest, Mrs. Sharp gave the first endowed lectureship to Rice Institute in 1918, and gave additional gifts through the years. In the 1950's, she helped finance the Oral History of Texas Oil Pioneers at the University of Texas. After a long and active life, Estelle Boughton Sharp died on August 30, 1965, at the age of 92.


9.5 Linear Feet (19 boxes)

Language of Materials



Correspondence, scrapbooks, business papers, ledgers, tributes and memorials, audiotapes of oral history interviews, clippings, photos, and other papers of Sharp and his wife, Estelle (Boughton) Sharp, active in Houston, Tex., civic and philanthropic affairs. Topics include oil industry, lives of the Sharp family, Howard Hughes family, growth of Houston, Spindletop Oil Field, founding of the Texas Company and Sharp-Hughes Tool Company, and establishment of United Charities.

Acquisition Information

The papers of Estelle and Walter Sharp and their family were donated from their estate by their son, Dudley C. Sharp, Sr. Mr. Sharp also donated funds for processing and adding to the collection. The oral interviews done by W.A. Owens in the 1950's were transferred from reel-to-reel tapes to cassette tapes. All other interviews were done as part of the Sharp Collection Project.

Related Material

Texas oil entrepreneurs and their families have held a special attraction for students of Texas history. It is not surprising, then, that there are collections in the state which include additional material on W.B. Sharp and his wife Estelle. Related materials at the Woodson Research Center, Rice University include: James Lockhart Autry Papers (MS 003); the William L. Clayton Papers (MS 007), the William H. Hamman Papers (MS 006), and the Judge Harris Masterson Papers (MS 468).

Autry and Cullinan were friends as well as business partners of the Sharps, and their papers have much to say about the business dealings of the Moonshine Oil Company, Producers Company, and the Texas Company. Because Autry and Cullinan served as advisers to Mrs. Sharp after her husband's death in 1912, many estate matters are dealt with in their papers. Among these is the sale of Texas Company stock after Cullinan and Autry resigned from that company. John Hamman, William Hamman's son, had some business dealings with W.B. Sharp in the Sour Lake oil fields. Judge Masterson invested in the Moonshine Oil Company, the Producers Company, and the Texas Company.
Guide to the Walter Benona Sharp and Estelle Boughton Sharp Collection, 1868-1978
Walter L. Buenger, Jr.
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Repository Details

Part of the Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas Repository

Fondren Library MS-44, Rice University
6100 Main St.
Houston Texas 77005 USA