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Titans of Industry - February 7, 2020

Q: This man grew up in southeast Kansas and later graduated from the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy. He tried becoming a small-town druggist, but it wasn't meant to be. Instead, he got into the oil business and by 1907, was described as the richest man in Kansas. By World War I, his company was the largest independent oil company in the nation. What's his name and the name of his company?

A: Harry Sinclair / Sinclair Oil Company

Harry Ford Sinclair was born near Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1876. His family moved to Independence, Kansas, when he was a child. According to the Kansas Historical Society, Sinclair was described in 1907 as "the richest man in Kansas." Sinclair's parents wanted him to follow in his father's footsteps as a druggist and, indeed, he did graduate from the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy. But Harry Sinclair wasn't cut out to be a small-town druggist. His two attempts in Independence and Coffeyville were far from successful.

After the Independence store failed, Sinclair began selling lumber for the oil derricks in the booming southeast Kansas oilfields. He also started dealing in oil leases on the side. His land in northeast Oklahoma made him a millionaire before he was 30 years old.

In 1913, he moved from Independence to Tulsa, Oklahoma, taking many of his early associates with him. In 1916, he began the Sinclair Oil and Refining Corporation. Before long, he built a company worth more than $350 million. Sinclair built or bought pipelines, refineries, wells and other oil firms.

By World War I, Sinclair became the largest independent oil company in the nation. The company became well-known through advertising efforts that included Sinclair's iconic green mascot, a dinosaur named Dino. Harry Sinclair's reputation was tarnished, however, by his involvement in the "Teapot Dome Scandal" in the 1920s. The scandal resulted in Sinclair spending several months in jail. In 1949, after presiding over his oil company for 33 years, Sinclair retired to California. He died in 1956.

Fun Fact: Sinclair's iconic dinosaur, Dino, is an apatosaurus, a dinosaur once known as brontosaurus.

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