Interesting Historical Facts
Bill Skelly (1878-1957) came to Oklahoma from Pennsylvania in about 1913 where he worked as a mule skinner and tool dresser in the oil fields around Ardmore and Duncan, Oklahoma, prior to partnering with Jack Sanky to form Skelly Sanky Oil Company in Duncan, Oklahoma in 1915. An article in The Pittsburgh (PA) Press on January 4, 1922, stated that Skelly Oil Company was formed to take over the oil properties of Mr. Skelly and of the Skelly Sanky company. Mr. Herndon was the son of Captain Thomas Herndon, a Civil War veteran who oversaw a family fortune in real estate, tobacco and banking in Tennessee. Captain Herndon’s cousin William Herndon was Abraham Lincoln’s law partner in Illinois.
Chesley Coleman Herndon was a practicing attorney in Tulsa when he won several court victories against William Skelly involving oil leases on Osage Indian land. Mr. Skelly summoned Herndon to his office for a meeting after his final loss in court, and shortly thereafter, the two unlikely allies, along with Fred Pielsticker, the son of German immigrants who was orphaned at age twelve and became a renowned engineer, would form Skelly Oil Company. For the next thirty-seven years, Skelly and Herndon held the number one and two positions in the company, and are buried twenty-five feet apart in Tulsa’s Rose Hill Mausoleum, the same distance as their desks for almost half a century. A 1932 Fortune Magazine article stated that “Skelly Oil Company is a great success because of the different temperaments of its top executives… in this company, William Skelly is the accelerator and Chesley Herndon is the brake.”
The company entered into the refining business by purchasing the Midland Refining Company in Eldorado, Kansas, in 1922. Throughout much of its history, Skelly was a popular gasoline marketer throughout the Midwestern United States and was a market leader in several cities throughout its marketing area including Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Wichita, Topeka, Omaha, Des Moines, Minneapolis/Saint Paul and other cities. Skelly’s branded products included Skelly Regular, Powermax, Keotane and Skeltane gasolines; and Skelly Supreme, Tagolene, Skelmark and Ranger motor oils, and Skelgas propane products through Skelgas franchised stores. What may have been unique to Skelly, beginning in the late 1950’s it offered its female customers a Ladies Credit Card in a shade of light blue.
Skelly was among the leading oil companies to develop a network of truck stops along major highways including the interstate during the 1950s and 1960s. Skelly also had a contract to sell gasoline at most locations of the now-defunct Nickerson Farms restaurant chain during the 1960s and 1970s, which was similar to Texaco’s arrangement with Stuckey’s.