Ponca City is a north central Oklahoma town founded after the 1893 Land Rush opened up the Cherokee Outlet for white settlement. Ponca City is the largest city of Kay County with other major towns including Blackwell, Tonkawa and Newkirk, which is the county seat. The unincorporated area of McCord is directly east of Ponca City on U.S. Highway 60 inside Osage County, OK. Ponca City has a population of more than 25,000 people.
Ponca City is located on the Arkansas River at the intersection of U.S. Highways 60, 77 and 177. Ponca City is 13 miles east of Interstate 35 and 25 miles south of the Kansas boarder.
Ponca City's history has been shaped for the most part by the ebb and flow of the petroleum industry. The Marland Oil Company, which once controlled approximately 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, was founded by eventual Oklahoma governor and U.S. congressman E. W. Marland, who drilled his first successful oil well on land he leased from the Ponca Tribe of American Indians in 1911.
Marland's luck and tenacity would fuel growth and wealth that were previously unimaginable on the Oklahoma prairie, and his company virtually built the city from the ground up. Decadent 1920s mansions—including the famed Marland Mansion and Grand Home—were built by Marland and his associates. Because of this period of wealth and affluence, Ponca City has an unusually high concentration of buildings that exemplify the popular Spanish revival architecture of the period, as well as art deco-influenced buildings and homes.
The so-called "Roaring 20s" would come to an end for Ponca City shortly before the Great Depression. After a takeover bid by J.P. Morgan Jr., son of famed financier J.P. Morgan, Marland Oil Co. eventually merged with Continental Oil Co. (Conoco) in the late 1920s and would be known as Conoco for more than 70 years. The company maintained its headquarters in Ponca City during this time and continued to grow into a global corporation.
During the oil boom years of the 1980s, Conoco was owned by the DuPont Corp., which took control of the company in 1981. After nearly two decades of ownership and an oil bust that crippled Oklahoma's economy in the late 1980s, DuPont eventually sold off its Conoco assets in 1998. By 2002, Conoco had merged with Phillips Petroleum (interestingly, another major petroleum player with roots in northern Oklahoma) to become ConocoPhillips. ConocoPhillips is now one of the five largest oil companies in the world and maintains a significant presence in its historic home state.
Based in Houston, Texas, ConocoPhillips continues to operate one of the United States' largest refineries in Ponca City, as well as offices at the former Phillips Petroleum corporate headquarters in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The company's presence is much smaller than it once was, and Ponca City's population has declined steadily since the early 1990s as a result. However, recent efforts to grow the city's economy beyond the petroleum industry have landed a number of technology, manufacturing and service jobs.
In 2005, ConocoPhillips announced plans to build a $5 million museum across from its Ponca City refinery. Opened to the public in May, 2007, the Conoco Museum features artifacts, photographs and other historical items related to the petroleum industry and its culture in northern Oklahoma. A sister museum—Phillips Petroleum Company Museum—will also be opened in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
The Conoco Museum is funded by a private foundation, and ConocoPhillips allows free admission.