Dakota Datebook

Dickinson’s Failed Oil Refinery

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Today’s story is going to be light, sweet, and crude. That’s because it’s about North Dakota oil, which is considered to be light, sweet crude – being low in sulfur.

When the oil rush began in 1951, crude oil began to flow out of the state, for there were no oil refineries within its borders. That changed quickly, for by 1954, oil companies built refineries for gasoline in Williston, closest to the source; and in Mandan.

But the first-ever gasoline refined in the state was produced by the Queen City Oil Refinery. When Amerada Petroleum Corporation struck oil near Fryburg in southwestern North Dakota, the area experienced an oil rush. Business leaders in Dickinson immediately organized a company and built the refinery in 1953 on the west side of Dickinson along U.S. Highway 10 and the Northern Pacific railroad tracks. It produced its first gasoline on May 7, 1954.

Residents of Dickinson commemorated the first gasoline refined from North Dakota crude with an “Oil Celebration Parade” on that day in May. Dickinson hoped to become “the big center” of the state’s oil trade thanks to its small refinery, but the Queen City Oil Company soon ran into financial difficulties, shutting

down in February 1956, despite having “issued a million dollars in stock and bonds for its operation.”

The stockholders voted to sell the Refinery in 1957, enduring the agonies of bankruptcy in 1958. A syndicate, made up of former stockholders, purchased the refinery for $124,000 in cash during bidding in 1959.

It was on this date in 1961 that the newly-organized Great Western Refining Company published an advertisement in the Minot daily newspaper offering stock in the refinery for North Dakota residents only. Each share was $2.75.

The Great Western Refining Company intended to produce jet fuel and asphalt, in addition to gasoline. The jet fuel would be sold to the Air Force bases and the asphalt would be used for highway and street pavements throughout the state.

Investors in Dickinson hoped to have a thriving refinery as the 1960s unfolded, and they did sell some asphalt and fuel. Unfortunately, the Great Western Refinery also failed.

Newspaper reports in 1970 wrote about hopes of the refinery being re-opened, but the refinery and the first oil “boom and bust” in Dickinson faded to dust shortly thereafter.


Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department



Advertisement, “Great Western Refining Company,” Minot Daily News, January 17, 1961.

“Stark Refinery Seen,” Bismarck Tribune, November 24, 1952.

“To Sell Refinery,” Billings [MT] Gazette, September 6, 1957, p. 24.

“Bids on Dickinson Oil Refinery Are Opened,” Billings Gazette, September 17, 1959, p. 8.

“Dickinson Refinery May Be Reopened,” Billings Gazette, March 19, 1964, p. 28.

“Refinery Ready to Process Crude Left in Its Tanks,” Bismarck Tribune, May 21, 1956.

“Dickinson Feels First Oil Impact,” Bismarck Tribune, June 27, 1953, p. 1.

“Dickinson Fetes Home Town Girl,” Bismarck Tribune, May 8, 1954, p. 1.

“Company May Lease Dickinson Refinery,” Billings Gazette, September 11, 1970, p. 5.

“Fryburg’s Oil Goes to Mandan,” Bismarck Tribune, May 9, 1956, p. 7.

“Dickinson Refinery is Put Up for Sale,” Bismarck Tribune, March 10, 1956, p. 3.

“Dickinson Oil Refinery May Reopen in Spring,” Billings Gazette, October 8, 1959, p. 24.

Janell Cole, Centennial Roundup: A History of Dickinson, North Dakota (Dickinson, 1982), p. 74-75.


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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