During his tremendously successful career in the oil business, Michael Late Benedum amassed a fortune ranking him among the 100 wealthiest Americans of his day. Known as the "Great Wildcatter," (in recognition of his perseverance in prospecting new sources of oil), Benedum's wildcatting took him across four continents. From the company's first major oil strike in Crawford County, Illinois, to international expeditions in the Philippines and Central America, Benedum traveled across the world in his search for oil. Even upon his death at the age of 90, he was still prospecting for oil in Alaska.
After an early career working in flourmills and selling milling machinery, Benedum's initial involvement with the oil industry began with the South Penn Oil Company, an affiliate of Standard Oil. A chance meeting on a train with one of South Penn's executives led to Benedum's first position as a leaser. After a series of promotions, he reached the position of Assistant General Land Agent in 1892.
Benedum left South Penn four years later to become an independent producer and founded the Benedum-Trees Oil Company in partnership with Joseph Trees, a young engineer. From their headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Trees and Benedum continued this partnership for the next fifty years and built one of the most successful oil and gas companies in the United States.
Born in Bridgeport, West Virginia in 1869, Michael Benedum was the son of Emmanuel and Caroline Benedum. In addition to being the town's mayor and justice of the peace, Emmanuel owned a farm and operated the local general store. Michael spent the majority of his youth working in his father's store and on the family farm.
Benedum demonstrated his continued devotion to his birthplace throughout his life, sponsoring many philanthropic projects for the benefit of the town. He restored historic Bridgeport cemeteries, constructed the Benedum Civic Center on the site of his birthplace, and built a new Methodist Church for the town.
Benedum's philanthropy extended beyond Bridgeport, West Virginia. Possibly his greatest legacy to his home state of West Virginia and his adopted home of western Pennsylvania was the establishment of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation in 1944 in honor of his deceased son. Dedicated to furthering educational, religious, social and charitable institutions throughout West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, since its inception, the Benedum Foundation has awarded more than 600 grants totaling over 200 million dollars. With over 300 million dollars in assets, the Foundation continues to supported countless projects, programs and communities.
Information compiled from:
American Association of Professional Landmen (www.landman.org)
American National Biography Online (www.anb.org)
Bridgeport, West Virginia High School (www.wvonline.com/bhs)
Columbia University Oral History Research Office (www.columbia.edu)
Proud Heritage of West Virginia by Robert H. Sykes
West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia edited by Jim Comstock