West Kern Oil Museum (Taft, California)

West Kern Oil Museum
Photo by Konrad Summers

When people outside California think about the San Joaquin Valley (which they rarely do), it’s often farms that fill their minds. While there are plenty of farms here, this inland region of California is also known for oil production. And while a museum dedicated to oil might not be high on your list of places to visit, The West Kern Oil Museum, established in 1973 has become something of an unlikely tourist destination in Taft, Califormia.

In the early 20th century, with the discovery of new oil fields around Los Angeles and throughout the San Joaquin Valley, a boom was born that had nothing to do with the gold rush of the 1840s. An overlooked but major industry in California for more than a century, oil production has been the dirty little secret that almost no one wants to talk about. Well… Almost no one wants to talk about it.

The West Kern Oil Museum was created to collect, preserve, and interpret the oil history in the southern California valley and they are happy to talk about the role oil production played in the valley and in California at large.

Opened to the public in October 1980, the West Kern Oil Museum includes one of the few complete original wooden derricks left in the world. This derrick, known as Jameson #17, was built in 1917 and stands over a well drilled during the first few weeks after the United States entered World War I.

Over the years since opening, the museum has grown from a small three acre plot with an old wooden derrick to a more sprawling eight acres with 11 buildings and literal tons of history. With plans to continue growing, the museum dreams that it will someday represent a complete old-timey oil company camp.

Maintained and operated entirely by volunteers, the West Kern Oil Museum includes indoor and outdoor meeting spaces and could be the perfect place to have your child’s petroleum themed birthday party.

Honestly, if you happen to be on the south side of Taft, California, it’s actually an incredibly well maintained industrial museum and a really interesting place to spend a few hours learning about an often overlooked and undervalued part of California’s history. A history that is particularly important to many people still working in the oil industry throughout the state.

West Kern Oil Museum Facts

  • The West Kern Oil Museum was founded in 1973 by five women
  • Berry Holding, Chevron, Texaco, Fred Holmes, and numerous oil companies have been active in donating buildings, equipment, and expertise.
  • Jameson #17, the site where the Wooden Derrick stands was an active until 2005
  • Museum hours: Thursday – Saturday 10AM to 4PM. Sunday 1PM to 4PM

California Oil Facts

  • In 1900 California pumped 4 million barrels, nearly 5% of the nations oil supply
  • Each day, California produces 463,000 barrels of oil
  • There are 600,000 oil and gas royalty owners in California
  • More than 6,000 everyday products are made from petroleum products, including shoes, phones, eyeglasses, and artificial heart valves
  • California has the most stringent oil production regulations in the world and more than 25 federal, state, and local agencies oversee oil and gas production in state
  • More oil and gas is consumed in California than it produces
  • California is the 7th largest producer of oil in the United States