Mericos “Max” Whittier (1867-1925) cofounded Belridge Oil in Southern California in 1911 and developed the town of Beverly Hills in the early 1900s before becoming an avid philanthropist and creating the precursor to the Whittier Trust Company.
Max Whittier left his family’s Maine potato farm with $25.00 and a new suit to follow the lure of the western tales that fascinated him.
Born in 1867 near Caribou, Maine, Whittier’s dreams of adventure were realized in his early twenties as he bought the train ticket that would bring him across the continent to Southern California. He found work in the lemon groves near Santa Paula for $1.00 per day, but his interest quickly turned to the other burgeoning industry in the area, oil.
His interest quickly turned to the other burgeoning industry in the area, oil.
After working as a roughneck for the newly formed Union Oil Company, he formed the prophetically named Hardly Able Oil Company in 1893. The one shallow well that was drilled was a failure. Los Angeles was experiencing a drilling frenzy and Whittier continued his search for a producing well.
In 1894 he formed a partnership with Tom O’Donell and subsequently met Burton Green, who became his life-long partner. Short on experience, but determined to succeed, Whittier moved his search to Kern Country after the Kern River discovery in 1899. He traveled the whole area, setting up camps, investigating potential oil sites.
He and Green risked their entire savings on Kern River leases. Those Green-Whittier leases proved to be the most productive of any in California.
Those Green-Whittier leases proved to be the most productive of any in California.
As technology progressed from the cable tool to rotary process, drilling became more efficient and greater depths were reached. The Green-Whittier leases were producing several thousand barrels per day. At the same time prices, controlled by the purchasing companies, dropped dramatically. To combat the price controls, Whittier and Green formed the Associated Oil Company and financed the building of a pipeline from San Joaquin Valley to the coast. There they joined with Tidewater Oil Company whose tankers transported the oil to San Francisco. Associated became California’s largest production company and in 1909, California was the nation’s number one oil producing state.
Along with developing one of the four “billion barrel” fields in Kern County, Whittier had been significantly involved in two of the remaining three, a heady accomplishment for the son of a Maine potato farmer.
Based upon a friend’s report of an oil seep on the west side of San Joaquin Valley, Whittier investigated and decided the area looked promising. Max Whittier, Thomas O’Donnell, Charles Canfield, Burton Green and Frank Buck formed the Belridge Oil Company in 1911 after purchasing 33,000 acres. The promising oil seep was the forerunner of one of the United States’ fourteen “billion barrel” fields. The obscure oilfield in Kern County, California was the largest independent oil producer in the state. Leland K. Whittier later sold the company to Shell Oil Company. The purchase price was nearly $3.7 billion, the largest corporate acquisition in United States history at the time.
Max Whittier and four friends formed the Belridge Oil Company in 1911.
Max’s good judgment brought him another notable achievement. The purchase of Rancho el Rodeo de Los Aguas for potential oil production became instead the Rodeo Land and Water Company after drilling produced only water. It is now called Beverly Hills.
Each of Max’s four children were highly accomplished individuals, dedicated to their families and communities, and gave generously to the causes they cared about.
One philanthropic endeavor Max took on was the McKinley Home. The mission of the McKinley Home is to provide a proper home atmosphere for boys who have been denied the protection and advantages of a parental home, as well as to give them an opportunity to grow into useful citizens. It has remained true to its mission since its founding in 1900. In 1922, the Kiwanis Club raised $76,000 to support the Home, which was matched by Max H. Whittier.
It was situated on a 157-acre tract of land in the very heart of the rich and picturesque San Fernando Valley, between Van Nuys and North Hollywood, sixteen miles from Los Angeles. Today, the McKinley Home is located in San Dimas. Besides the McKinley Home, Max also supported many other organizations, including The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, YMCA, YWCA, and the Boy Scouts of America – Los Angeles Area Council. The Whittier family continues to carry on Max’s philanthropic legacy.
In 1935, Max Whittier’s family and advisors started the Whittier Family Office, which later became the Whittier Trust Company, a multi-family office. Today the company continues to serve high net worth families with a focus on tangible and intangible aspects of family wealth – as it has done for six generations.