Michael Late Benedum

Michael Late Benedum
Born (1869-07-16)July 16, 1869
Bridgeport, West Virginia, USA
Died July 30, 1959(1959-07-30) (aged 90)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Resting place Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh
Nationality American
Other names Mike Benedum
Religion Methodist
Spouse(s) Sarah Lantz Benedum
Children Claude Worthington Benedum
Parent(s) Emanuel and Caroline Southworth Benedum

Michael Late Benedum (July 16, 1869 July 30, 1959) was a wealthy businessman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who made his fortune in the oil and natural gas industry in the early 20th century.

Benedum was born in Bridgeport, West Virginia. His mother, Caroline Lantz Benedum, named him after the family doctor Michael Late. Michael attended school until age 16, when he quit to take his first job at the Davison Flour Mill where he worked 12 hours a day and was paid $16 a month.[1]

His only son, Claude Worthington Benedum, was born in 1898 in Cameron, Marshall County, WV but died at the age of 20 during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic while working with the United States Army on chemical warfare.[2]


Benedum's career got a lucky start after a chance encounter on a train with a superintendent of the South Penn Oil Company. Benedum was known for his negotiating skills and his success as a wildcatter. He is said to have found "more oil in more places than anyone in history."[3] With his long-term business partner Joe Trees, Benedum created the Benedum-Trees Oil Company. The famous partnership started with the purchase of an oil lease in Pleasants County, West Virginia. The first well on this lease began producing in 1896; soon six other wells became active. The profit from this lease allowed Benedum and Trees to purchase a dozen additional leases in West Virginia.[4]

In 1911, the company moved into the Benedum-Trees Building in downtown Pittsburgh. Benedum and Trees were instrumental in 1943 in the first oil discovery in Florida in Collier County. Trees, however, had died a few months before the oil began to flow.

The company was responsible for the discovery of the famous Yates Oil Field in Texas.[5] The business was so successful that Benedum appeared on a list of the seventy-six wealthiest Americans in 1957. He was proclaimed West Virginian of the Year in the same year for leaving much of his wealth to the improvement of the state.

Legacy and philanthropy

Benedum never retired. Even though he was very wealthy and eighty-seven years old, The New York Times reported in 1956 that he continued to work seven days a week.

In 1910, Benedum sold an oil lease which he had procured in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, for $7 million. There he met one of his younger associates, Clem S. Clarke of Shreveport, whom he encouraged to run in 1948 as a Republican for the United States Senate against Russell B. Long. Clarke, who attended Benedum's 80th birthday party in 1949, recalled of his mentor, Benedum:

There were governors, senators, men of industry, and I've never heard from any group of men in my whole life the amount of nice things that these people had to say about Mr. Benedum during that birthday dinner. ...

Mr. Benedum has been known around Pittsburgh and around the industry as a maker of millionaires.[6] He hasn't tried to keep it all to himself - he's taken other people in with him. All of his associates that have been with him have all turned out to be millionaires or almost millionaires and some of them have made several millions of dollars by sticking to him and working with him. I think that's extremely commendable, because I've known in my life a number of great men who have been moneymakers, but a great portion of them have always wanted to get all of the money for themselves. They didn't want anybody else to share it with them. So I think it's extremely commendable that Mr. Benedum has never been a man who wanted to make all the money. ...[7]

Benedum donated to many charitable causes during his lifetime. He was responsible for the construction of a civic center and a Methodist church building in his hometown of Bridgeport, West Virginia. The wealth from the Benedum estate was placed in a foundation named for the Benedum's son: the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Benedum directed that the foundation use the money for causes local to Pittsburgh and West Virginia.[8]

When Benedum died in 1959 he was living in the mansion which he had constructed in Pittsburgh at Woodland Road and Fifth Avenue. He is interred at Homewood Cemetery.


  1. Dietrich II, William S. (Nov 16, 2011). Eminent Pittsburghers (illustrated ed.). Taylor Trade Publications. p. 133. ISBN 1589796071.
  2. http://www.wvgenweb.org/marshall/ww1-benedum.htm
  3. Dietrick II, William S. (Fall 2009). Mike Benedum: A portrait in oil. Pittsburgh Quarterly.
  4. "Heart Attack Proves Fatal To Oil Wizard". The Gettysburg Times. Associated Press. May 20, 1943.
  5. http://www.anb.org/articles/20/20-01841.html
  6. This statement was made at a time when millionaires were quite rare in the United States.
  7. Allan Nevins and Frank Ernest Hill. "Reminiscences of Clem S. Clarke: Oral history, 1951". New York City: Columbia University. Retrieved February 10, 2015.
  8. "Michael Benedum's Enduring Lessons" (PDF). Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
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