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Orcutt is named after William Warren Orcutt, and was founded in 1906. The town was founded at the height of oil production in the Santa Maria Valley and was soon became a center of trade and shipping.
W. W. Orcutt was born in Minnesota and came to California in the 1880’s. He graduated from Stanford in 1895 with an engineering degree. After running his own engineering office for several years, he went to work for Union Oil Company in 1898. He worked there for 42 years. W.W. pioneered the use of geology as a tool in oil exploration. Assigned to survey the Santa Maria Valley, he urged the company to move forward and within the year over 70,000 acres were leased for drilling.
This oil field was very productive and within a few years several companies were producing oil. By 1903, Union Oil had 22 wells in production. Workers and their families moved to the area. Union Oils asked W. W. to design a town plan. He chose a location that was conveniently located to a siding of the Pacific Coast Railway. Union Oil insisted that the town be named after the engineer. W.W. was reluctant to do so. He publicly stated that the idea was like “naming cheap cigars after cheap actresses.” The Post Office opened in 1904.
In June of 1904, a boiler fell off a wagon on its way to a new drill site. Instead of trying to reload the boiler, the crew decided to drill at that spot instead. On Dec 2, oil shot up 150 feet in the air. It turned out to be the biggest oil strike in North America at that time. The well, officially called Hartnell No 1, produced 12,000 barrels a day. Lovingly called Old Maud, the well continued to produce until 1988. The original site that the boiler was going to never produced more than 95 barrels a day. Old Maud’s bountiful strike caused the town to flourish. Within four years of the strike the town added three additional school districts to serve Orcutt and the surrounding areas. By 1906, Orcutt had several stores, two restaurants, a hotel, and three saloons. There was no electricity, public water source, or fire department, and indoor plumbing was a rarity. The population was around 1000 people.