The oil industry has been the chief factor in the attainment of the present prosperity and greatness of Oklahoma and the Priestley family, of which Willis Benedict Priestley is a member, has played a conspicuous part in the development of the rich oil fields of the state, being pioneer operators in this field. Willis Benedict Priestley is an alert, energetic and progressive young man and as president of the Tanner Oil Company he is controlling an enterprise of large proportions, proving fully equal to the heavy responsibilities which devolve upon him in this connection.
Mr. Priestley was born in Enterprise, Pennsylvania, March 24, 1888, a son of G. C. and Lulu (Ruland) Priestley, both of whom are natives of Maine. The father was born June 11, 1862, and at the early age of seven years he was obliged to abandon his studies, securing the position of errand boy in a Pleasantville store. Subsequently he handled coal for his father, G. C. Priestley, Sr., who was a teaming contractor.
When eighteen years of age G. C. Priestley, Jr., became superintendent for the W. B. Benedict Oil Company of Titusville, Pennsylvania, Mr. Benedict being at one time mayor of that place. After filling the position of superintendent for two years Mr. Priestley went to Goodville, Pennsylvania, where he engaged in merchandising, also becoming a lumber operator. In 1898 he became a candidate for the office of treasurer of Warren County but met defeat at the polls. He then moved to Warren, the county seat, and engaged in the lumber business and in the manufacture of furniture under the name of the Conwongo Furniture Company. In 1901 he again sought the office of treasurer of Warren County and was elected.
After completing his term he went to Indiana, becoming associated with the Braun Oil Company of Montpelier, that. state, and in February, 1905, he came to Oklahoma, settling at Bartlesville. In July, 1905, he drilled an oil well four miles northwest of Dewey which produced two hundred and fifty barrels per day, becoming one of the pioneer operators in this line and one of the most important factors in the development of the great oil fields of the state. In 1909 he was acknowledged to be the largest individual oil producer in Oklahoma, organizing in that year the Wolverine Oil Company, in which he merged all of his holdings, this being the first large oil merger in this part of the state. He was made general manager and vice president of the corporation, with head office at Bartlesville, and in 1916 he went to Philadelphia as manager of the Crew Levic Company, a distributing and refining concern, which he operated for two years and then sold at a good profit to the City Service Company of New York.
The qualities of business leadership are in a substantial degree the possession of Mr. Priestley, whose initiative spirit and notable powers of administration have led him into important connections. He is president of the Eastern Petroleum Company of West Virginia and has large holdings in that state, is the owner of the Bartlesville Water Company, and is one of the heavy stockholders of the Union Traction Company, operating between Nowata, Oklahoma, and Parsons, Kansas. He was at one time the owner of much realty in Bartlesville and contributed in substantial measure to the upbuilding and improvement of the town.
At Enterprise, Pennsylvania, thirty-six years ago, he married Miss Lulu Ruland and they now reside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In their family were five children: Willis Benedict of this review; Hazel, who is the wife of Paul R. Johnson of Independence, Kansas; Bessie, who married E. E. Ludwick of Philadelphia; George C. Jr., who is married and resides at Bartlesville; and Helen, who is at home with her parents.
Mr. Priestley was a member of the Republican Convention in 1911 and is a stanch supporter of the principles and candidates of the party. He is preeminently a business man whose record is written in terms of success and his contribution to the world’s work has been most valuable. He belongs to that class of men who have the constructive faculties largely developed the natural leaders who are absolutely essential in a new country and who prepare the way for the oncoming thousands.
His son, Willis Benedict Priestley, is a self-reliant, aggressive young business man who worthily bears a name that is inseparably associated with the development and exploitation of Oklahoma’s oil fields from pioneer times to the present. He is now serving as president of the Tanner Oil Company of Bartlesville, which is a close corporation, all of the stock being held by the family, and he has demonstrated in its control that he has the same executive power and keen discrimination between the essential and the nonessential which have characterized his father and placed him at the head of extensive and important business interests.
In 1907 Mr. Priestley was united in marriage to May Worthington Jameson of Fulton, Missouri, and they have an extensive circle of friends in Bartlesville.