Main Street in the oil boom town of Freer

When Carl Mydans first started working for LIFE magazine, he was asked to go to Texas and document everything from the state's last great cattle drive to its tough oil towns. Some of his images of the oil boom town of Freer were later published in the magazine (Jan 17, 1938).
The town of Freer received its name in 1925, when the government granted permission for a post office to be built there. The first settlers had arrived a decade earlier, after a Houston real-estate promoter named C. W. Hahl advertised his land for sale in newspapers throughout the Southwest. At first, only six families established themselves there. But by the mid-thirties, the population of Freer had reached about five to eight thousand inhabitants.
The first oil boom occurred in 1928, but the Great Depression and the discovery of oil in East Texas in 1930 put an end to it. During the spring of 1932, a second, even bigger, boom occured. By 1933 Freer had become the second-largest oilfield in the United States and had attracted a flood of settlers from Oklahoma, Kansas, and other midwestern states. Despite a monthly payroll estimated at $500,000, Freer's main streets were not paved until 1938. It was common for the town to be covered in dust during months of drought, when it rained it was impossible for trucks carrying bread and milk from Alice and San Diego to travel through the mud and reach the town. During this period, the town also lacked potable water, a sewage system, and a bank.
Currently not on view
Date made
Mydans, Carl
place made
United States: Texas, Freer
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 20 in x 30 in; 50.8 cm x 76.2 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Carl Mydans
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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