A lifelong resident of Texas, Sid Williams Richardson was born on April 25, 1891, in the East Texas town of Athens. He rose from humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest men in the country.
Oil, cattle, and land formed the basis of his lifework. His fortune paralleled the boom and bust nature of the petroleum industry in its early years.
Mr. Richardson attended Baylor University and Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons) from 1910 to 1912. Later, with borrowed money and with his friend and partner, Clint Murchison, he hit oil and amassed a million dollars in 1919 and 1920.
In 1921 the oil market fell, and for the next 12 years Mr. Richardson’s fortunes were erratic. In 1933, however, with a small investment and a friend with drilling know-how, he turned his oil business into a booming enterprise. From then on, the sky was the limit, and his hard work, coupled with his ability to get along with people of all walks of life and his perseverance, turned almost every venture into a success.
He served as President of Sid Richardson Gasoline Co. in Kermit, Texas, Sid Richardson Carbon Company in Odessa, Texas, and Sid W. Richardson, Inc., in Fort Worth. He was a partner in Richardson and Bass, Oil Producers, in Fort Worth.
“Mr. Sid” as he was called, numbered among his friends Presidents to shoeshine boys. The late John Connally, who served as Governor of Texas and later as the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, worked for Mr. Richardson as his attorney during the 1950s and remained a lifelong friend.
Mr. Connally once said, “Mr. Richardson loved to create and build. He was a real entrepreneur in the sense that he would accept challenges and pursue them time and time again. He was in no sense extravagant or flamboyant, but rather a plain-spoken man who got along with people of all walks of life. He was very much at home with cowboys in a country cafe but also comfortable in fine New York restaurants.
“He was unimpressed with ostentatiousness and by people who practiced it. He had an amazing instinct about people and a keen insight into human nature. His capacity for generating and maintaining real friendships was exceptional, and he loved to be around those true friends.
“Sid Richardson was a man of great courage, yet soft spoken, kind, sentimental, and loyal to everyone who befriended him.”
Mr. Richardson’s philanthropy extended to churches, schools, and hospitals throughout the country. He contributed $100,000 to the First Baptist Church in Athens to build an auditorium in memory of his mother, and he donated the proceeds from the sale of a race track in California to aid troubled youth. In this, as in all he did, he never sought publicity or notoriety. Unpretentious, he seldom gave interviews.
He was known for his ability to condense complicated situations into simple “horse sense,” which endeared him to Presidents and business executives.
When asked to describe his own business philosophy, he said, “I guess my philosophy of business life is: Don’t be in too big of a hurry, don’t get excited, and don’t lose your sense of humor.”
During the 1930s, his love for cattle and horses led to another enterprise, large cattle and ranching operations. It was a lifelong interest inspired by his father, who owned the largest peach orchard in Henderson County and who was an active trader of land and cattle.
When he was eight years old, Sid Richardson made his first trade. His father gave him a downtown lot, then offered to trade him the lot for a bull. He ended up with the bull, but no cows to go with the bull.
“My daddy taught me a hard lesson with that first trade, but he started me tradin’ for life,” he said. By the time he was a teenager, he was buying and selling cattle. The year he graduated from high school, at the age of 17, he made $3,500 by trading cattle.
Of the several working ranches he ultimately owned, he spent most of his time at St. Joseph Island, or “San José” as he referred to it, which he purchased in 1936. Located seven miles off the coast of Rockport, Texas, the 33,000-acre island has a year-round growing season and is abundant with wildlife. It is 28 miles long, has a maximum width of six miles, and averages about one mile wide.
Realizing that the island was ideally suited for Santa Gertrudis cattle, he launched a breeding program to establish what is now considered one of the best purebred herds in the country. He liked Santa Gertrudis because it is extremely hardy and has excellent beef-producing ability.
Following a process known as “grading up,” he started by breeding a foundation herd of cows that were of half Brahman and half Shorthorn blood to a herd of purebred Santa Gertrudis cattle by the use of Santa Gertrudis bulls. He bought the first 100 bulls from the King Ranch.
The quality of the herd was reflected in awards won at leading stock shows. One of the bulls, Mr. Sid’s Ditto, had won seven grand championships by the time it was two years old. It won in Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Houston, all in the same year.
Sid Richardson also was concerned that the true Longhorn of early Texas history might become extinct. To prevent this from happening, he roped writer J. Frank Dobie and cattle inspectors Alonzo and George Peeler into selecting a herd for preservation. They chose a group of Longhorns from East Texas because there had not been as much cross-breeding with Brahmans there as had occurred in other parts of the state. Through the years, the number of offspring of the initial herd has grown, and they can be found grazing at San José and at a number of state parks including Lake Corpus Christi and Fort Griffin.
A love of Western art emerged from his ranching experience, which provided him with vivid impressions of the American West. An admirer of the paintings and sculptures of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, he built one of the largest private collections of these two great artists, starting with the purchase of his first Russell painting in 1942. He thought they captured, better than any other artists, the vitality, the color, and the motion he had always associated with the West. Today, these magnificent paintings are on permanent exhibit in Fort Worth in the Sid Richardson Museum, which is supported by the Sid W. Richardson Foundation. Since the collection opened in 1982, approximately one million visitors from all 50 states and 65 countries have viewed the paintings.
Regarding his reputation as a tireless dealmaker, Mr. Richardson was once quoted as saying, “Only one thing I know…I’ll still be tradin’ when they bury me.” As he predicted, after arriving at St. Joseph Island from his office in Fort Worth, he died quietly in his sleep after a full day of activities on September 30, 1959.
Mr. Richardson continues to have a tremendous impact on his native state through the broad and diverse programs of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation.