The Big Inch: How Norris City Made History During World War II

You might not realize it when visiting the small 1300-person town, but Norris City was an important component in the United States fight against the German nazis. And we might forget, were it not for Ed Oliver, an 81-year-old man who was originally appointed the town historian in the 1970s by the then-mayor. When reliving those days, he says, “They never did fire me.”

When the United States entered World War II, oil was still being transported primarily on seafaring tankers which, not too surprisingly, were important targets for the German submarines. Take one of them out, and that means other boats don’t have the needed fuel to make a scheduled trip. And of course that fuel was hugely important for land vehicles as well. 

German subs sank at least 233 American vessels in the first six months of 1942 alone. 

That’s why the U.S. needed a new way to transport fuel quickly, efficiently, and across long distances. And it didn’t take long for the country to find an alternative: oil pipelines. One of the most important was called the “Big Inch.” You might’ve guessed that one segment of the 1253-mile line passed right through Norris City.

$35 million was granted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to being construction of the Big Inch, which would transport oil from East Texas oil fields directly to where it was needed in the Northeast.

It was in Norris City that the quickly completed pipeline was dedicated on February 19, 1943, instantly putting the small town on the national map.

Oliver remembered, “NBC Radio came here. They broadcast live from Norris City on their network nationwide. Paramount studios came with a camera crew, and it became a newsreel shown all over the country.”

Oliver was only five when the big day arrived, though.

He said, “The main thing I remember is all the rationing. Whenever my father needed new tires on the truck, he was considered an essential business, so they sent him a special ration of tires. I can remember seeing all the used tires piled up to recycle.”

Although he has a lot of pride in his town and how important it was during the war effort, Oliver says it’s sad that no one seems to remember the massive effort that went into the Big Inch’s construction.

“They ran this thing seven days a week, 24 hours a day. You cannot overestimate how important it was. Yet people have no idea.”

But he recently fought for a commemorative plaque — a 250-word historical marker to help people remember what they were a part of creating.

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