ROSS SHAW STERLING, member of a pioneer Texas family, is a leading figure in the industrial and civic life of the State. His name is linked inseparably with the petroleum industry, and as organizer of the Humble Oil Company and one of the organizers of its successor, the Humble Oil and Refining Company, he has contributed as much to the development of the oil fields of the Southwest as has any other single man. Under his direction the Humble Oil Company grew in a few years to be one of the major concerns of the industry.
Mr. Sterling's business activities have covered a wide range. Railway building and management, banking, newspaper publishing, major real estate and building operations and numerous other commercial enterprises have engaged his constructive genius and added to the long list of his contributions to progress of the State.
In spite of the varied demands made upon his time by his own private affairs, he has performed notable service in civic and community work. As a member of the Houston port commission since its inception, and as its chairman in recent years, he has aided in the development of the great marine waterway and terminals at Houston. Under the guidance of Mr. Sterling and his associates on the navigation district board, Port Houston has broken all American seaboard records in the rapidity of its growth.
Mr. Sterling has been a member of the board of trustees of Hermann Hospital Estate since its creation. In late years he has served as chairman of the board, and also as head of the hospital's building committee. The splendid SI, 500,000 institution recently opened to charity patients became a reality as the result of his services and the services of the men serving with him.
In token of his worth to the community, the Houston Rotary Club awarded him its distinguished service medal for 1925. This honor is bestowed on the citizen performing the greatest disinterested public service during the year.
Mr. Sterling was born in Anahuac, Chambers County, Texas, on February 11, 1875. He was one of twelve children, eight boys and four girls. His father, Captain Benjamin Franklin Sterling, was a native of Mississippi. Captain Sterling was born in 1831 and moved to Texas well in advance of the Civil War; organized the first company to leave Liberty County at the outbreak of the war; formed a second company and served with this organization as captain, fighting with Waul's Texas Legion; located in Chambers County following the war, and became one of the leading men in his section of the State. Captain Sterling engaged in business pursuits and farming, and it was on a farm that the future industrial magnate spent his youth.
Captain Sterling married Miss Mary Jane Bryan, a native Texan and member of a Scotch-Irish family prominent not only in Texas but in Colonial history back to the early days of Virginia. One member of the family, Luke Bryan, served with distinction in the battle of San Jacinto. Mrs. Sterling's uncle, King Bryan, served as captain of the company which her husband first recruited for duty in the Confederate Army.
Anahuac did not offer great opportunities for schooling, and most of the broad education which R. S. Sterling received came to him through self help and through versatile experience and contact with men and affairs.
He left the farm when he attained 21 years of age and went into business for himself. Soon afterward, in 1898, he married Miss Maud Abbie Gage, daughter of Frederick Higbee Gage, a well known railroad man of Hamilton, Illinois.
Mr. Sterling entered the oil field region of Harris County as a merchant and banker; and at the little town of Humble in 1910 he launched into the oil business, purchasing two producing wells. He added to these properties, and in the following year he organized the Humble Oil Company.
The determination which forms one of his strongest traits came into play at a crucial time in the infant concern's affairs. A well was being drilled in the Sour Lake field, and when the bit had passed the depth at which production was expected, some of the stockholders were in favor of abandoning the hole. The outlook was none too encouraging, but Mr. Sterling prevailed on his associates to sink the well 200 feet farther. That test made history, and it made the Humble Oil Company. More than one million barrels of oil have been taken from the hole, and it is still producing.
With this well and other holdings as a basis, Mr. Sterling and other South Texans organized the Humble Oil and Refining Company on a capitalization of S4,000,000. Seven shares of the new stock were given for each share of the old.
Under Mr. Sterling's leadership as president of the enlarged company, and later as chairman of the board of directors, the capitalization was increased from time to time until it reached §43,750,000, while the assets grew until they passed the $100,000,000 mark. In March of 1926 the capitalization was increased again in order to allow for further expansion. At present it rests at S75,000,000.
Through the properties which it owns and operates directly, and through the pipe-line system owned and operated by a subsidiary, the Humble Oil and Refining Company covers all phases of the oil business, producing, transporting, refining and marketing petroleum and its products.
Its headquarters are at Houston, where it occupies one of the finest office buildings in the Southwest. Mr. Sterling was one of the moving spirits in the erection of this building.
One of the major achievements of this pioneer of the new industrial era in Texas centers around the building and operation of the Dayton and Goose Creek Railroad. In marked contrast to most short lines, the 23-mile road has been a consistent money maker. Even during the World War, when the great transportation systems of America were demoralized and forced to seek the sheltering arm of the government, Mr. Sterling's road was operated with signal success.
Construction work was begun in 1917 and completed in the succeeding year. The road-bed is of standard construction, and both passenger and freight schedules are maintained. The freight engines carry an average of sixty-eight loaded cars to the train. On one day two hundred and fifteen cars were handled over the road. There has never been a fatal accident to any employe; there has never been a strike or any sort of labor trouble; and not a single person has left the road's employ by reason of dissatisfaction. Mr. Sterling is president and owner of the road.
Through the purchase of the Houston Dispatch and the Houston Post and their consolidation in August, 1924, into the Post-Dispatch, Mr. Sterling and several associates acquired one of the major newspaper properties of Texas. Since the merger of these two dailies Mr. Sterling has served as chairman of the board of directors of the Houston Printing Company, publisher of the Post-Dispatch. The enormous gains made by this great morning publication and its rapid progress to a position of leadership in South Texas are matters of frequent discussion in Southwestern newspaper circles.
Among his many other interests Mr. Sterling numbers the American Maid Flour Mills, a huge concern located on the Houston Ship Channel; and the R. S. Sterling Investment Company. He is a director in various banks located in oil field centers of the State; and in October, 1925, he and his associates purchased three-fourths of the stock of the Houston National Bank, one of the oldest financial institutions in Texas. He is vice president of the First Texas Joint Stock Land Bank.
Mr. Sterling constructed one of the finest newspaper buildings in America to serve as the downtown home of the Houston Post-Dispatch. This imposing 22-story structure was completed early in 1926. His other real estate and building operations include the sub-division and development of the Rossmoyne Addition to the city of Houston, one of the better restricted residential districts; and the erection of the first brick buildings built in Sour Lake, Saratoga, Goose Creek and Humble. He has been active in the upbuilding of these oil towns, and still retains property interests in most of them.
Mr. Sterling is a member of the Houston Country Club and the Houston Club; a life member of the Congressional Country Club of" Washington, D. C; a member of the Masonic, Knights of Pythias and Woodmen of the World lodges; the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association; the American Petroleum Institute; the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Houston Chamber of Commerce; a member of the board of deacons of the South End Christian Church of Houston, to which he has been a liberal contributor; and a trustee of Texas Christian University of Fort Worth. He resigned recently as chairman of the board of the Humble Company, in order to devote more time to civic affairs.
Five children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Sterling. They are, Walter Gage Sterling, Mildred, wife of W. C. Hedrick of Fort Worth; Ruth, Ross Shaw, Jr., (deceased) and Norma.
Ross Shaw, Jr., died in April, 1924, and in memory to him Mr. Sterling gave the Y. M. C. A. of South Texas a beautiful wooded camp on Galveston Bay. The camp bears the name of the lad to whom it is dedicated; it is a favorite gathering place for boys of Houston and the adjacent towns; a spot where they may enjoy clean out-door sports under ample supervision.
Mr. Sterling's mother died in 1888. His father died in 1917, after spending his last years in the city named for his intimate friend, General Sam Houston.
R. S. Sterling's career furnishes a fascinatingchapter in the annals of the Southwest. A doer, a builder, an exemplary citizen, a brilliant leader of affairs, he is a worthy successor to the men whose mighty deeds and wonderful personalities shed undying luster on the Texas of yesteryear.