In 1939, after 80 dry holes, with some being drilled to 6,180 feet, Florida legislators were desperate for their state to become an oil producer and offered a $50,00 bounty for the first discovery.

Feeling they’d have better success than Gulf Oil, Peninsular Oil and Refining Company drilled in Monroe County in Southwest Florida, to 10,006 feet, and again, did they not find any oil either.

While Barron Collier’s son had given up hope of finding oil, saying to his father, “You know, perhaps we have to face the fact that maybe there is no oil in Collier County. Barron, never losing his confidence, shook his finger at his son and said, “Just don’t let anybody tell you that there isn’t any oil in Collier County.” Smiling he said, “I can smell it.”

Not to be discouraged with their disappointment in Monroe County, Peninsular executed a lease assignment to Humble Oil and Refining Co. Searching near Sunniland, a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. When Collier died in 1939, he remained confident oil would be found in southwest Florida, but that remained an unrealized dream.

Continuing on after Collier’s passing, Humble brought in one of the foremost drilling companies in the country, the Loffland Brothers of Tulsa, Oklahoma. After spending about $1 million and reaching a depth of 11,626 feet, on September 26, 1943, Humble Oil Co. found Sunniland No. 1, Florida’s first producing oil well. A 30-minute drive from Naples and 12-miles south of Immokalee, and close to Big Cypress Preserve sits the well’s site.

In the beginning, the site produced 140 barrels of oil and 425 gallons of salt water. Eventually, it settled down to 20 barrels per day. While this was no gusher, it proved Collier’s wildcatter intuition correct.

As with most oil discoveries during this time period, the Humble’s find sparked a flurry of lease purchases and wildcat wells.  With an average depth of 11,575 feet, in 1954 the Sunniland field was producing 500,000 barrels per year from eleven wells.

In 1964, Sun Oil Co., after spending $10 million on 34 dry holes, discovered oil in the Felda field in nearby Hendry County. Sunniland was no longer Florida’s top producer.

Humble Oil Co. accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state and added another $10,000, and in turn donated $30,000 to the University of Florida and $30,000 to Florida State College for Women.

Humble Oil Co. went on to become Exxon Corp. and is now ExxonMobil.

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