During World War II while Japan was wreaking havoc in the Pacific Ocean area, Germany, with the greatest armada of submarines the world had ever seen, started sinking the ships and tankers of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean area and even along the coast of the United States. Our tankers were being intercepted by German U-boats and were being sunk within sight of the shore of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico, where people could stand on shore and see our ships burning. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by Japan, ninety-five percent of the crude oil delivered to east coast refineries was transported by tankers. Ninety percent of that oil originated from Texas oil fields.
In 1942, the United States was losing an average of three oil tankers a day to German U-boats. These tankers were the only means of transporting this oil from the Gulf of Mexico area to east coast refineries.
The federal government recognized the need to develop a plan to transport this oil under safer circumstances. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a committee consisting of the United States Secretary of the Interior and the Petroleum coordinator for National Defense and others to find a solution. They recommended a massive overland pipeline be built from Texas to a point in Southern Illinois to connect with a railroad, where railroad tank cars would then transfer the oil to the east coast refineries. Texas and Southern Illinois locations were picked to run this pipeline from Longview, Texas to Norris City, Ill., a distance of 531 miles. This became the largest pipeline in history up to that time. The pipe measured 24 inches in diameter and was nicknamed the “Big Inch.” Later a 20 inch pipeline, called the “Little Inch,” was built beside the “Big Inch.” Norris City was picked as the terminal at the north end of the pipeline because fewer rivers needed to be crossed, because of its central location in the United States, and because of the rail line connections to the east coast.
Work began on the Big Inch pipeline at Longview Texas on August 2, 1942. The pipeline crews worked around the clock and the pipeline reached Norris City on February 19, 1943. A total of 13,500 barrels of crude oil started being received hourly at Norris City through this Big Inch pipeline. The first trainload of oil pulled out of the Norris City terminal that night, consisting of 96 tank cars headed for eastern oil refineries.
An editorial in the Longview, Texas newspaper in 1990 stated “The most important historical event in Longview, the Big Inch Pipeline built during World War II and credited with saving countless lives, will be commemorated with a marker.” It noted that, during World War II, the 24 inch pipeline was built from Longview to Norris City, Ill. and was the largest pipeline built in the world, at the time. It said that after about two years of work, the Gregg County Historical Commission of Longview won approval from the Texas Historical Commission for a 27 by 24 inch marker. The marker shows it was erected by the Texas Historical Commission. [I have a picture of it.] Also, the newspaper article says it was paid for by Texas Eastern and that the dedication ceremony had not been scheduled, but should happen within the next six months.
They didn’t get it dedicated in 1990 as it is dated, but did in 1991. A proclamation was made by the Mayor of Longview, Texas on May 17, 1991. The proclamation, in part, states “Whereas, recognizing the need to transport oil under safer circumstances other than by oil tanker, the Secretary of the Interior developed a plan for a massive overland oil pipeline and began construction of the largest pipeline in history up to that time, extending from Longview, Texas to Norris City, Illinois” The mayor’s proclamation in part proclaimed “Now, therefore I, Martha Whitehead, by the authority vested in me as Mayor of the City of Longview, Texas, do hereby proclaim Friday, May 17, 1991 as Big Inch Pipeline Day in Longview, and on behalf of the City of Longview, congratulate and thank all those who have made possible the historical marker designating the beginning of the Big Inch Pipeline.” [I have a copy of this proclamation as well as the newspaper editorial.]
I thought, if Longview, Texas can get a historical marker for the beginning of the Big Inch, then why can’t Norris City get one to mark the end of the Big Inch?
I have been a member of the Illinois State Historical Society since 1966, and I knew some historical markers were getting approved in 2018, during the Bicentennial Year of Illinois statehood. I contacted the Illinois State Historical Society, got an application and the details for a marker.
Then I contacted Bart Henson, Area Supervisor for Enbridge-Texas Eastern Pipeline. It took us some months, but the Illinois State Historical Society approved a historical marker 44 by 51 inches in size and to contain no more than 250 words. Then Bart and I had the task of telling the importance of the Big Inch and Norris City in these few words, but we did and got it approved. We were also told the cost of the marker.
While I worked on getting the marker approved and built, Bart worked on getting the funding for it. Now the historical marker is done, here in Norris City, and ready to be dedicated and erected. There was a big celebration, with approximately 2,000 in attendance, when the Big Inch Pipeline was completed to Norris City in 1943.
We are waiting to hear from officials of Enbridge-Texas Eastern as to when they will be able to attend this dedication ceremony before a date is set. We hope many will attend the celebration. I will let you know the date and time as soon as we know it.
In Longview, their marker is dated 1990 and got dedicated in 1991. The marker for Norris City is dated 2018 and will get dedicated in 2019. Longview, Texas and Norris City, Illinois were very, very important to the war effort during World War II and proud to have been chosen to take part. Many lives were saved because of the pipeline and transportation by the railroads. More about the saga of the War Emergency Pipeline and the details for the dedication of the historical marker will be in future articles in this newspaper.
If anyone has any pictures or information about the War Emergency Pipeline and the building and operation of the Norris City terminal to share please contact me at Edward Oliver, P O Box 456, Norris City, IL 62869 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.