The Sharps

Someone in the comments to yesterday’s post mentioned that you could spend a month talking about the families whose names encircle the border of the map. (Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to do that.) It did strike me as a possibly fruitful idea, though, to pick out a few of those families whose histories intertwine closely with Rice and say a bit about them. I’ll confess to some qualms about this project, mostly because the entanglements of these families with each other through marriages and business partnerships and with Rice sometimes create a web so dense you can barely see through it. But you know, what the heck. I’ll do my best to avoid getting bogged down.

I’ll start with the Sharp family based only on the fact that we have their papers in the Woodson and it’s as good a place to start as any. Here are Walter B. Sharp and his wife Estelle on vacation in Colorado, at a date uncertain but probably sometime in the first decade of the 1900s:


Sharp was an early Texas oilman and a phenomenally successful one. He started out as a driller, then expanded into trading leases. He worked closely with J.S. Cullinan in the Texas Company and also partnered with Howard Hughes Sr. to form the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company, which manufactured the legendary and extremely lucrative Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit in Houston. His life was eventful, but very short. He died at the age of 42 in November, 1912 leaving his widow Estelle and two sons, Walter Beford and Dudley. (Here’s a link to a short bio that gives a fuller picture of his time in the early years in the  Texas oilfields.)

Although Walter Sharp was involved with Rice from its beginning, it was Estelle Boughton Sharp who made the greatest impact on the university. After his death she sold the interest in Sharp-Hughes Tool back to Mr. Hughes and spent her time on a wide range of progressive civic and social organizations and charities. Her 1918 gift to Rice to endow the Sharp Lectureship in Civics and Philanthropy was the first major gift to the Institute after its opening. The inaugural lecture was given by Sir Henry Jones of Glasgow University, who had spoken at the Formal Opening as well, on “The Rights of the State and the Rights of Humanity”:


Mrs. Sharp continued to give generously to Rice over the years, most notably through the Sharp Research Fund. She died in 1965 at the age of 92.

Bonus: Here’s an example of what I mean by the tangled web of family connections. This is  from the “Related Materials” section of the Guide to the Sharp Family Papers. Note several  more names that appear on yesterday’s map.

Texas oil entrepreneurs and their families have held a special attraction for students of Texas history. It is not surprising, then, that there are collections in the state which include additional material on W.B. Sharp and his wife Estelle. Related materials at the Woodson Research Center, Rice University include: James Lockhart Autry Papers (MS 003); the William L. Clayton Papers (MS 007), the William H. Hamman Papers (MS 006), and the Judge Harris Masterson Papers (MS 468).

Autry and Cullinan were friends as well as business partners of the Sharps, and their papers have much to say about the business dealings of the Moonshine Oil Company, Producers Company, and the Texas Company. Because Autry and Cullinan served as advisers to Mrs. Sharp after her husband’s death in 1912, many estate matters are dealt with in their papers. Among these is the sale of Texas Company stock after Cullinan and Autry resigned from that company. John Hamman, William Hamman’s son, had some business dealings with W.B. Sharp in the Sour Lake oil fields. Judge Masterson invested in the Moonshine Oil Company, the Producers Company, and the Texas Company.

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2 Responses to The Sharps

  1. effegee says:

    Colorado photo appears to be Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods outside CO Springs —

  2. grungy1973 says:

    Three entertaining summers at the Hughes Tool Co (Hughes @ Polk) working third shift to manufacture those rock bits, mostly in “Finished Cones” and “Heat Treat”.
    It appears that most of the buildings at the plant are still standing, although they’ve all been repurposed.

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