In Macon County, Tennessee, shortly after the discovery of natural gas in 1933, Wade Thompson founded Tenneco Gas. In 1943 Henry Gardiner Symonds became the first president of the newly established Tennessee Gas Transmission Company in Houston. The company would be rebranded as Tenneco in 1966, diversifying its business interests and acquiring assets from other industries, targeting failing companies for rehabilitation and profit. Eventually, Tenneco’s holdings included manufacturing, construction, agriculture, shipbuilding, automotive, a chemical company, and, yes, the transmission of natural gas.
As the price of oil dropped and the energy economy contracted in the 1980s, financial strains prompted Tenneco to break up the Tenneco Oil Exploration Company and sell off oil and gas assets to multiple suitors including Chevron, Amoco, Mobil, and Conoco in 1988. In the 1990s, Tenneco further reorganized around their automotive and packaging business, selling off their other diffused businesses.
Now, thanks to the generosity of Gary Cheatham, the contributions of Joe B. Foster, and the efforts of many others, the Tenneco Energy History Records are available for research at the University of Houston, in the heart of the nation’s Energy Capital. Foster held a number of positions with Tenneco following his graduation from Texas A&M University in 1957. He was named Chief of Planning and Economic Analysis for Tenneco Oil Exploration and Production in 1968, assumed the role of president of Tenneco Oil in 1978, and retired after 31 years of service to Tenneco as the company altered their strategic direction in 1988. Included in the records are Foster’s notes, speeches, and research over the years, providing some fascinating insight into the energy industry that goes well beyond a simple “boom” or “bust” understanding of decades of tumult in the energy industry. Materials date back to policy documents from the 1970s, exploration reports in the 1980s, and plans related to the reorganization and sell-offs of Tenneco’s various assets in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The Tenneco Energy History Records serve as a critical piece of our larger Energy & Sustainability collections. Thanks to the assistance of Dr. Joseph Allen Pratt, UH Special Collections has pooled a number of archives, books, and journals that document the history of energy production and its relation to the environment. We encourage researchers to visit our reading room to sample the Tenneco Energy History Records as well as other resources like our Joseph S. Cullinan Papers, the Terry Tarlton Hershey Papers, or the H. David Kaplan Schlumberger Well Services Collection.