The history of Bartlesville is deeply rooted in the entrepreneurial spirit. It started with Jacob Bartles in 1873 and his vision of a flour mill turned general store. It has continued through the last 100 years with the Phillips brothers and many others setting Bartlesville as one of the centerpieces of the American oil industry.
Bartlesville was named for Jacob Bartles, a Civil War veteran who saw opportunity in Indian Territory. Bartles and his family came to the area in 1873 and found an area shaped by three Indian tribes - Osage, Delaware and Cherokee. He bought an existing grist mill, expanded it into a flour mill and, eventually, a general store and home for his family. Bartles was married to the Delaware Indian Chief Charles Journeycake's daughter, Nannie Journeycake Pratt. His marriage allowed him to be a business owner in Indian Territory.
However, Bartles did not start the general store that is given credit for the birth of Bartlesville. Two employees, William Johnstone and George Keeler, worked for Bartles until they set out on their own to open a general store south of the Caney River. By January 1897, the area around the Johnstone-Keeler store had grown to include other small businesses and dwellings. In the meantime, Jacob Bartles saw opportunity elsewhere and moved his store a few miles north and created the community of Dewey, Oklahoma.
Bartlesville, Indian Territory, was officially incorporated on January 15, 1897.
It was Keeler who also found another key to Bartlesville's future - oil. Keeler had noticed rainbow sheens on the area creeks and believed that there was an untapped oil supply beneath the Caney basin. Keeler was right. On April 15, 1897, the first commercial oil well in what is now the state of Oklahoma - the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 - blew in as a gusher.
Frank and L.E. Phillips, two brothers raised on an Iowa farm, came in 1904 attracted by the oil boom. They hit a gusher north of Bartlesville, followed by 80 straight producers. The two founded Phillips Petroleum Company on January 13, 1917. It has become Bartlesville's largest employer and one of the nation's top oil companies.
In 1904, the Commercial Club was formed by a group of citizens who worked to enhance the economic development of the community. The group became the Chamber of Commerce in 1913. Today the Bartlesville Regional Chamber of Commerce continues to implement avenues of continuing prosperity in the community.
The 1940's began with the building of a combined high school and two-year college, College High School. The 1950's followed with more development east of the river. Phillips Petroleum built a new research facility west of the city and Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Price Tower as a combination living and office space for the H.C. Price Company.
Since 1960, Bartlesville has survived and flourished through the departure of Cities Service and the Price Companies, two takeover attempts and down-sizing of Phillips Petroleum and the 100-year flood of 1986.
The city celebrated its heritage in 1997, with a year-long Centennial Celebration.