In 1908 two brothers, David and Miller Williams, formed Williams-McQuary Construction Company and built sidewalks in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The company quickly expanded into water and sewer pipes, bridges, and other concrete structures. Changing its name to Williams Brothers in 1910, by 1916 it had built its first pipeline connecting gas fields in southwest Arkansas with Fort Smith, Arkansas. Responding to the oil boom, the offices were moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1918, and by 1923 Williams Brothers was an international pipeline builder. During World War II Williams built pipelines known as "Big Inch" and "Little Big Inch" for the War Emergency Pipeline system, which brought crude oil from Texas to war plants in the Northeast.
In 1949 the company's first-generation founders, Dave and Miller, retired and sold part of the concern to Dave's son David Williams, Jr., and their nephews, Charles P. Williams, Jr., and John H. Williams. In 1966 these "youngsters," as they were known, bought their first pipeline, the 6,228-mile-long Great Lakes Pipe Line System. Under their leadership the company diversified into fertilizer, energy, and metals activities from the late 1960s until the late 1970s. The company changed its name to "The Williams Companies" in 1971 to reflect this new diversity.
Williams pioneered many firsts in the pipeline construction business including the backhoe (used to dig trenches), various rotary machines (used to clean and coat pipelines), and superchargers (allowing engines to work at higher altitudes). Over the years the company built more than one hundred thousand miles of pipeline, crossing jungles, mountains, and deserts in more than forty countries. The company delivered a complete pipeline package including financing, design, and construction.
Williams spun off the pipeline construction business as Willbros in 1975 (Williams's last job included sections of the Trans Alaska Pipeline). During the mid-1980s the company added communications to its business plan, placing fiber-optic cable inside old pipelines. The Williams Companies spun off the communications component in 2001.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: William J. Butler, Tulsa 75, A History of Tulsa (Tulsa: Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, 1974). Douglas Hicks, Snapshots in Time (Tulsa: Williams Companies, Inc., 2002). Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, 1 January 1958, 4 September 1961, 20 January 1969, and 8 January 1971. "Co-founder of Williams Cos. Dies," Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 18 January 2000.
Kent A. Schell
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