What was ultimately to become Tulsa was originally part of Indian Territory and was first settled by the Lochapoka and Creek tribes in 1836. They established a home under a large oak tree at the present day intersection of Cheyenne Avenue and 18th Street, and named their new settlement "Tallasi", meaning "old town" in the Creek language, which later became "Tulsa". On January 18, 1898, Tulsa was officially incorporated and elected its first mayor, Edward Calkins.
When Tulsa was a small town near the banks of the Arkansas River in 1901, Tulsa's first oil well, named Sue Bland No. 1, was established that year. By 1905, the discovery of the large Glenn Pool (located approximately 15 miles south of downtown Tulsa and site of the present day town of Glenpool) prompted a rush of entrepreneurs to the area's growing number of oil fields; Tulsa's population swelled to over 140,000 between 1901 and 1930. By 1909, seven years after the discovery of oil in the area, Tulsa's population had sprouted to 18,000. Known as the "Oil Capital of the World" for most of the 20th century, the city's success in the energy industry prompted construction booms in the popular Art Deco style of the time. Profits from the oil industry continued through the Great Depression, helping the city's economy fare better than most in the United States during the 1930s.
Cain's Ballroom came to be known as the "Carnegie Hall of Western Swing" in the early 20th century.
In the early 20th century, Tulsa was home to the "Black Wall Street", one of the most prosperous African American communities in the United States at the time. Located in the Greenwood neighborhood, it was the site of the Tulsa Race Riot, one of the nation's worst acts of racial violence and civil disorder. Sixteen hours of rioting on May 31 and June 1, 1921, was only ended when National Guardsmen were brought in by the Governor. An official report later claimed that 23 black and 16 white citizens were killed, but other estimates suggest as many as 300, mostly black people, died. Over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, and an estimated 10,000 people were left homeless as 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire. Property damage was estimated at $1.8 million. Efforts to obtain reparations for survivors of the violence have been unsuccessful.
In 1925, Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery, known as the "Father of Route 66," began his campaign to create a road linking Chicago to California by establishing the U.S. Highway 66 Association in Tulsa, earning the city the nickname the "Birthplace of Route 66". Once completed, U.S. Route 66 took an important role in Tulsa's development as the city served as a popular rest stop for travelers, who were greeted by Route 66 icons such as the Meadow Gold Sign and the Blue Whale of Catoosa. During this period, Bob Wills and his group The Texas Playboys began their long performing stint at a small ballroom in downtown Tulsa. In 1935, Cain's Ballroom became the base for the group, which is largely credited for creating Western Swing music. The venue continued to attract famous musicians through its history, and is still in operation today. For the remainder of the mid-20th century, a master plan called for the construction of parks, churches, museums, rose gardens, improved infrastructure, and increased national advertising. The Spavinaw Dam, built during this era to accommodate the city's water needs, was considered one of the largest public works projects of the era. In the 1950s, Time magazine dubbed Tulsa "America's Most Beautiful City."
A national recession greatly affected the city's economy in 1982, as areas of Texas and Oklahoma heavily dependent on oil witnessed a freefall in gas prices and a mass exodus of oil industries. Tulsa, heavily dependent on the oil industry, was one of the hardest hit cities by the fall of oil prices. By 1992, the state's economy had fully recovered, but leaders would attempt to expand into sectors unrelated to oil and energy.
In 2003, the "Vision 2025" program was approved by voters with the purpose of enhancing and revitalizing Tulsa's infrastructure and tourism industry. The keystone project of the initiative, the BOK Center, was designed to be a home for the city's minor league hockey and arena football teams, as well as a venue for major concerts and conventions. The multi-purpose arena, designed by famed architect Cesar Pelli, broke ground in 2005 and was opened on August 30, 2008.
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