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Yiddish greeting became Oklahoma oil field name

Mary Phillips Published: June 28, 2013

“Sholem Alechem!”

The Yiddish phrase which translates to “Peace be with you” was probably not what you would expect to hear on the street in Ardmore in 1923.

But, Bill Krohn, oil writer for the Daily Ardmoreite and a Jewish transplant from New York City who arrived in Ardmore after World War I, would greet whomever he met with “Sholem Alechem” and a raised hand of friendship. Little did he or anyone else know that his greeting would become the name of a new oil field.

In December 1923, the Humble Oil & Refining Co. had just completed its first well in Carter County and one of the deepest in southern Oklahoma at 4,200 feet.

It was big news and the main topic of conversation for people who gathered in the lobby of the Ardmore Hotel.

Clyde V. Barrow, The Oklahoman’s legendary oil writer and editor, told the story in his Dec. 17, 1961, column “Oklahoma Oil Lore.”

“So, just before Christmas, when Humble announced final gauges on the well, the gang in the lobby decided to name the field Sholem Alechem, although some had trouble pronouncing the name and few knew its meaning.

“The name caught on in a hurry, and the next spring Krohn with a few others formed ‘Sholem Alechem International,’ a fun club for the industry. The club had more officers and committees than did the American Petroleum Institute, and at a dollar a head, with a gold-and-green membership card there were soon members spread over Oklahoma and Texas.”

Their emblem was an oil derrick with a smoking cigar at the top.

“The club staged a wingding at the International Exposition at Tulsa on two occasions; it held meetings in several state areas and in north Texas.

“Shortly after the Oklahoma field was discovered (December 1928), Sholem Alechem International staged a rally and party at the Stockyards Coliseum. The city was filled with oilers from the four winds and the coliseum was packed. The noise drowned out the rituals, but all was going well until a juggler started throwing perfumed-filled “eggs” into the auditorium.

“That riled the crowd and someone threw a chair on the stage. Undaunted the juggler went on with his act, but as a finale threw handfuls of new “eggs” at the crowd. They were filled with carbon disulphide.” (Carbon disulphide smells like rotten eggs.)

“It was a month before the coliseum regained its smell of cows and bulls and horses. But, SAI never again held a meeting.”

While Sholem Alechem International faded in a smelly burst, William “Bill” Krohn went on to start the Krohn Oil Review, the first daily oil newspaper in the southwest, and later became an independent oil operator in Illinois.