BORN IN CAMERON, MARSHALL COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA.
Presented by Linda Cunningham Fluharty, 9 Apr 2006.
Websites abound with the words, "The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation." The charitable organization, established in 1944 by Michael L. Benedum and his wife, the former Sarah Nancy Lantz, has awarded countless grants to further human development in their native state, West Virginia, and in Southwestern Pennsylvania, their home for half a century.
The foundation was named for Claude Worthington Benedum, the only child of Michael and Sarah Benedum, who died in 1918, in his twenty-first year. This fact is often mentioned in connection with the foundation, but beyond that, almost nothing is said about Claude.
Many stories accurately reflect that Claude died during World War I, but statements that he was "killed during World War I" are not correct. Since the 1959 obituary of Michael L. Benedum is one source for the misstatement, and nothing of the real story is found online, it seems appropriate to present what is known about the young man, Claude Worthington Benedum, whose name is so frequently invoked.
Michael Late Benedum, born in Bridgeport, Harrison County, West Virginia on July 16, 1869, was the son of Emanuel Benedum and Caroline Southworth. Michael was the namesake of Dr. Michael Late, the physician who delivered him.
Early in his career, Michael worked in flour mills and sold milling machinery, but he got involved in the oil business soon after giving up his seat on a train to a stranger. The man was John Worthington, the general superintendent of South Penn Oil Company. Michael eventually became a leasing agent for Worthington but resigned in 1898 to begin an independent company. With his partner, Joseph Trees, he owned and operated one of the most successful oil and gas corporations in the United States.
On May 17, 1896, in Monongalia County, West Virginia, Michael L. Benedum married Sarah Nancy Lantz, born in September 1870. They lived in Cameron, Marshall County, West Virginia and are found there in the 1900 census with their two year old son, Claude W., born in Cameron on January 13, 1898. Michael Benedum's occupation was "Superintendent Oil Company."
The History of Cameron, Marshall County, West Virginia, presented on this website, mentions Mr. Mike Benedum:
"THE ELJER POTTERY COMPANY - The first pottery in Cameron was promoted by Mr. Mike Benedum and others, in the late nineties. They also built a plant at Mannington about the same time. Both of these plants manufactured table ware. The first few years operations were not a financial success and the plant laid idle for a few years."
"In the year 1904, Hose Company No. 2 was organized and another reel of hose was purchased. In the year 1905 a hook and ladder was added to the fire fighting equipment. This was bought by the city of Cameron raising $700.00 and Messrs. Mike Benedum and John Crawford paying the balance."
Charles Yantis Benedum, the brother of Michael, as well as a close business associate, died of typhoid fever in 1904. He and his wife, Leota H., are buried at the Cameron Cemetery.
The year 1904 was a dark time time in Benedum's oil business. In debt and with no assets, he moved from Cameron to Wheeling and started anew. - He was successful.
An article, newspaper and date unknown, was submitted by Joseph D. Parriott. The headline is "U. S. Suing Two Men for 76 Million." This was related to a lawsuit filed by the government against Michael Benedum and Foster Brooks Parriott for back taxes from 1919. [The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the defendants, Benedum and Parriott.] Parriott and Benedum were business associates early on and, like Benedum, Parriott went on to make a fortune in the oil business. - The article says:
"Benedum was born and reared at Bridgeport, W. Va., near Clarksburg, and came to Cameron with his brother, Charles, between 30 and 35 years ago as a land agent for the South Penn Oil Company.
"Later, Benedum quit his position with the South Penn. company and with other men took up a number of leases in the Cameron district and began to do his own drilling. An office was opened in Cameron and Parriott, who was born and reared there, was placed in charge. Since then they had worked together in the industry. They moved their headquarters to Wheeling in 1903 and went from there to Pittsburgh where the partnership was dissolved a few years ago."
The Benedum family moved to Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in 1907. In the census of 1910, Michael Benedum, an Oil Producer, resided with his wife of fourteen years and their only child, Claude, age twelve.
Claude Worthington Benedum, obtained a U. S. Passport in 1916. His Passport Application indicates that he was born "on or about" January 13, 1898, with the note: "No record of births in Cameron."
According to his Draft Registration Card, dated September 12, 1918, Claude Worthington Benedum, 20, born January 13, 1898, was a resident of 3021 Macomb Street, Washington, D. C. He was employed by the Federal Government at American University and worked as a "Laboratory Assistant Chemical Warfare." He was medium height, with light hair and blue eyes.
About three weeks later, on October 3, 1918, Claude was in a motorcycle accident:
"A motorcycle, ridden by Claude Benedum, 3021 Macomb street northwest, ran into Clyde Edwards, 35 years old, of 5304 Eighth street northwest, yesterday, seriously injuring him about the head and breast. The accident occurred on Macomb street near Thirty-third. Edwards was taken to Georgetown University Hospital. Benedum, who was slightly injured, refused hospital treatment." - Washington Post, Oct 4, 1918.
Just two weeks later, on October 17, 1918, Claude Worthington Benedum died. The news of his death was published in the Moundsville Journal (West Virginia) the next day, and, if accurate, reveals that he was born in Cameron, Marshall County.
An article in the Washington Post, dated October 18, lists the name of Claude Benedum among the ninety-one deaths from Spanish Influenza that occurred in a 24-hour period in Washington, D. C. Claude's death occurred at Walter Reed Hospital.
The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between twenty and forty million people, making it more devastating than the Bubonic Plaque and taking more lives than the 15,000,000 lost during the four years of World War I.
According to The Great Wildcatter - The Story of Mike Benedum, by Sam Mallison, 1953, "Claude had enlisted in the Chemical Warfare Corps, was sent to Camp Meade, near Washington, D. C., was eventually commissioned, and by the fall of 1918 he had almost completed his training."
The foundation in Claude's name was established in 1944 and the beneficiaries of the abundant good will of the Benedums are innumerable. For more information, see the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
The obituaries that follow contain a wealth of information about the Benedum family, as well as about Mr. Trees, the partner of Mr. Benedum. Mr. Trees also knew the tremendous sorrow experienced with the loss of child. He lost two sons, including one in World War I.
"Miss Ella Benedum, of Bridgeport [WV], a sister of M. L. Benedum, an oil and gas operator of Pittsburgh, died this afternoon at her home of cancer. Her brother was at her bedside." - Washington Post, Oct 24, 1922.
Developer of Rich Fields in W. Virginia, Texas, Stricken in Pittsburgh Office
M. L. BENEDUM'S PARTNER
Superstition Often Led Them to Productive Wells - Exploited Many Foreign Areas
Special to The New York Times -- May 20, 1943
PITTSBURGH, May 19--Joseph C. Trees, wealthy wildcat oil operator, dropped dead here today while engaged in conversation at his office with his partner, M. L. Benedum. His age was 73.
Mr. Trees was born in Trees Mills, near Delmont, Westmoreland County, Pa., where his grandfather, Thomas Trees, had established a flour mill and a sawmill after coming here from England. His parents, Isaac and Lucy Johnston Trees, operated the mills later and the youthful Joe worked in them.
He soon drifted into school teaching and his $40 a month pay seemed profitable, so he decided to go to Indiana Normal School. Later he transferred to Western University of Pennsylvania, now Pitt, and in his Summer vacations worked for Standard Oil, where he became friendly with Benedum. They decided to buy a lease in Pleasants County, W.Va., and this was the start of their fabulous career together. Their first well came in 1896 and six more soon gushed from the same lease.
After that success Benedum and Trees developed a dozen other rich pools in West Virginia with varying success up to 1900. In those four years they experienced their only financial washout, running into some bad luck on nonproductive drillings. But since then, as one associate put it, "they've been in the blue chips right along."
Superstition played a big part in their decisions. A blind farmer once told them he had envisioned oil gushing out of a hill on his farm and shooting up over a tree. They drilled that spot. The well gushed just as the blind man had dreamed.
Another time they heard of a natural rock-formation arrow which legend said pointed to treasure. Benedum sighted along the arrow while Trees moved back and forth in a straight line from it. They drilled the chosen spot. The treasure was found.
Their success was out of all proportion to oil-well wildcatting statistical experience. One producer out of twenty wells drilled is considered good going. Benedum and Trees did much better.
For Queen Marie and her Rumania, Benedum and Trees helped develop the big Ploesti fields, now producing for Hitler. But producing for the United Nations are wells in Illinois, West Texas, Mexico, Colombia, and other South American countries which Benedum and Trees prospected and developed.
Their West Texas discoveries were among the most significant in their partnership. Untouched and despised by other oil men, this area was opened up by them and has since poured out a billion barrels, with reserves estimated at another billion.
Mr. Trees married on Nov. 22, 1894, Claudine Willison. They had two sons, both of whom were killed: Joseph Graham Trees as an aviator in the first World War and the other, Merle, in a traffic accident in Pittsburgh, as a youngster of 10.
Mr. Trees' business was oil, his hobbies philanthropy, scientific research and agriculture. His 2,600 acre estate in Gibsonia is devoted to a large extent to fruit trees.
For many years before her death Mrs. Trees was a partial invalid. After her death Mr. Trees married in 1929 his secretary, the former Edith Lehm. She and a son, Joe Benedum Trees, survive.
Certain alumni of the old Western University of Pennsylvania, paid the tuition and other college expenses of Mr. Trees, who played on the Pitt football teams of 1891, 1892 and 1893 and became "the first subsidized player ever to wear a Pitt football uniform."
He so stated in a speech at a football dinner in 1937, and added: "I believe subsidization is eminently sound and proper, provided - and these provisions are important - that education is the primary objective; that the boy really wants an education; that the institution sees to it that he either gets that education or is removed from its student rolls.
"My plea is not for the adoption or rejection of any policy but that the educational institutions of the country drop the mask of hypocrisy about college football."
New York Times - Aug 12, 1951
PITTSBURGH, Aug. 11 (AP)--Mrs. Sarah N. Benedum, wife of Michael L. Benedum, well-known oilman, died today in her home at the age of 79. Although she had been in failing health, Mrs. Benedum went for an automobile ride yesterday.
Her husband, an oilman and philanthropist, is believed to have sunk more speculative oil wells than any other individual.
Like her husband, Mrs. Benedum was noted for her charitable work. In 1937 she gave an iron lung to a Pittsburgh hospital and one to another hospital in 1941.
Lima News, Lima, Ohio - Aug 13, 1951
Mrs. Sarah N. Benedum, 79, wife of famed oil wildcatter Michael L. Benedum, died today in her home. She had lived in Pittsburgh since 1909.
Oil Prospector Who Opened Many Major Fields - Had $100,000,000 Fortune
Special to The New York Times -- July 31, 1959
PITTSBURGH, July 30--Michael L. Benedum, last of the great oil wildcatters, died today at his home, Greystone, in Pittsburgh's old East End section. His age was 90. He was active until last December.
Mr. Benedum was said to have discovered more oil than any other single man in the industry. His fortune at his death was believed to be near $100,000,000.
He opened the rich fields of Illinois, the Caddo fields of northern Louisiana, the Tampico fields along Mexico's coast and the DeMares concession pool in Colombia.
His biggest strike came in 1924, when he tapped what turned out to be the largest petroleum reserve in the country - the Permian Basin in West Texas.
Mr. Benedum had gone into west Texas, a waste of sand dunes and scrub cactus, against almost everyone's advice. It had been punctured by enough dry wells to be called a "petroleum graveyard," yet he brought in a gusher near Big Lake by going east where others had cut south.
"The oil's there waiting," he had said, "but it won't show itself unless you seek and seek it strenuously."
Four years later, that tenacity brought to Mr. Benedum the richest single strike the country had seen, the Yates Field at the Pecos River in Texas. It since has produced more than 500,000,000 barrels.
Mr. Benedum also helped to develop the Texas offshore area and the rich Ploesti oil fields in Rumania, at the request of Queen Marie.
A gesture of courtesy put Mr. Benedum into the oil business after lean times had spoiled his family's hopes of sending him to West point. One day in 1900, while traveling in a crowded train to a new job, he offered his seat to an older man, an oil executive. The executive rewarded the courtesy by hiring him to lease gas and oil lands in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
By 1905, Mr. Benedum and a friend, Joseph G. Trees, had gathered together $7,500 and set out on their own. Their first strike was in West Virginia.
While he maintained a staff of highly paid geologists, Mr. Benedum stuck most of his life to a primitive form of prospecting called "creekology." He once described it as the knack of finding sites in stream beds and elsewhere with a combination of superstition, hunch and a good sound knowledge of likely-looking rock formations.
He was a shrewd bargainer who enjoyed the thrill of pitting his wits and money against others to prove his hunches about where there was oil. He poured $19,000,000 down dry holes in five years before he finally brought in the Yates strike.
"Once you've touched oil, once you've seen it come roaring out of the ground, like a thousand locomotives, it becomes part of you until it saturates," he said recently.
But gambling never became a part of his personal life, although he had staked millions to develop fields that have influenced history. He was a devout Methodist who never smoked or drank or played poker. In recent years, when watching a fight on television, he sometimes would wager 5 cents, but that was all.
Mr. Benedum was as well known for his philanthropy as for his amazing success as an oil wildcatter. During his lifetime he set up a foundation destined to devote most of wealth to philanthropy. It was named the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, for his son, killed in World War I.
In setting up the foundation, Mr. Benedum indicated he expected to leave it the bulk of his fortune. Its charter specified it is to be used for the advancement of religious charitable, scientific, literary and educational interests and for the prevention of cruelty to animals.
Besides the foundation, Mr. Benedum's gifts during his lifetime totaled many millions of dollars. To his hometown of Bridgeport, W. Va., he gave $4,500,000 to build a new civic center and to restore a community cemetery.
Despite his success, Mr. Benedum remained in the background. He founded a long series of corporations, including the Plymouth Oil Company and the Transcontinental Oil Company, but he put in other men to serve as officers and directors. His only post was president of the Benedum-Trees Oil Company, which he kept out of respect for his later partner.
Mr. Benedum's wife, the former Sarah Nancy Lantz, died in 1951. His closest survivors are three nephews and a niece: Paul G. Benedum of Pittsburgh, Claxton Benedum of San Augustine, Tex., Darwin Benedum of San Antonio, Tex., and Mrs. Paul Mashburn of Albany.
A private service and burial will be held in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon.
Times-Mirror - Warren, Pa., August 5, 1959
PITTSBURGH (AP)--The bulk of the estate of Michael Late Benedum, estimated at 100 million dollars, has been left to the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and three nephews and a niece.
Terms of the will were disclosed as it was filed for probate Tuesday. The multi-millionaire oil wildcatter died last Thursday at the age of 90.
After a number of personal bequests to employes, the estate is divided into two trusts. Half of the estate goes to the foundation named for Benedum's only son who died at the age of 20 in 1918 while serving with the Army in World War I.
Another 25 per cent was willed to Paul G. Benedum of Pittsburgh. The remaining quarter will be divided equally among J. Claxton Benedum of San Augustine, Texas; Darwin Benedum of San Antonia; and Mrs. Clara Mashburn of Albany, N.Y.
Sarah Nancy Lantz, born in September 1870, was the daughter of John Lantz and Victoria Ann Marsh, who were married January 10, 1861 in Ritchie County, (West) Virginia. John W. Lantz was the son of William & Sarah (Thomas) Lantz. Victoria Ann was the daughter of Elias & Nancy (Collins) Marsh.
The gr-gr-grandfather of Sarah was Revolutionary War soldier, John Lantz.
John Lantz b. 1749 m. Barbara Waggoner, d/o Wilhelm Waggoner
John Lantz, Jr. b. 1773 m. Elizabeth Bonnett, d/o Lewis & Elizabeth (Waggoner) Bonnett (sister/o Barbara)
William Lantz b. 1810 m. Sarah Thomas, d/o Wm. & Amelia (Swan) Thomas
John W. Lantz m. Victoria Ann Marsh, d/o Elias & Nancy (Collins) Marsh [Marriage record says "Mary," mother of V. A.]
Sarah Nancy Lantz b. 1870, m. Michael L. Benedum
At the time of the 1870 census of Clay Township, Monongalia County, West Virginia, Sarah Nancy was not yet born. However, her family resided there with their five sons: William E. F., Albert G. N., Benjamin F. P., Marsh R.N., and John G. W.
Sarah Nancy Lantz was almost 10 years old in 1880 but she is missing from the census records of Blacksville, Monongalia County, West Virginia. Her brothers, William, B. Frank and Marsh, were in the home but perhaps she was away at school.
According to Benedum family historian, Beverly Railey Walter, Sarah Nancy Lantz attended Waynesburg College in Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania prior to her marriage.
*Based on Ritchie County, West Virginia Marriages, compiled by Wes Cochran; The History of Ritchie County, by Minnie Kendall Lowther, and The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Family, by Howard Leckey.
Sarah Nancy Lantz was the 3rd cousin, 3 generations removed, of Gene Fluharty, husband of this compiler, Linda Fluharty. He, too, descends from John Lantz and Barbara Waggoner, via their son Alexander Lantz who married married Margaret Minor.