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North Dakota oilman was inspiration for popular mixed drink

In 1952, a Williston Basin oilman had a special drink created and named for him and his business partner. This drink became very popular, and for many years has been requested at bars all over the world.

Wendell Smith. Special to The Forum
Wendell Smith. Special to The Forum

In 1952, a Williston Basin oilman had a special drink created and named for him and his business partner. This drink became very popular, and for many years has been requested at bars all over the world.

Wendell Smith and his business partner, James Curran, were frequent patrons of the Blue Blazer Lounge in Bismarck, where the Smith and Curran cocktail that is frequently referred to by the distorted "Smith and Kearns" name was created.

A year later, a married couple who were close friends of Smith died in a tragic automobile accident, leaving behind three young sons. When Smith had an opportunity to lend his assistance to a couple of the children, he and his wife took them in, one at a time. One of the boys was Kent Conrad, who later became a U.S. Senator.

George Wendell Smith was born Oct. 17, 1917, to Mamie (Cook) and George Ward Smith in Hayden, Colo. George Smith Sr. was the publisher-editor of the Hayden Republican newspaper, and his son helped out as a printer. To avoid confusion with his father, the younger Smith went by the name G. Wendell Smith, but most often answered to Wendell.

After completing his public school education in Hayden, Wendell Smith enrolled at the University of Colorado, majoring in journalism, but he later switched his major to geology. Following graduation in 1939, he began his graduate work at Michigan State University.

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Prior to receiving his master's degree in 1942, Smith was hired as a geologist by the Magnolia Petroleum Co. in June 1941. Magnolia, with its home office in Dallas, Texas, was a subsidiary of Socony-Mobil. Having established good-paying employment, Smith married his sweetheart Joanne Blackmer on Oct. 31, 1941. After completing his master's thesis, Smith and his new wife moved to Texas, and for the next seven years, he assisted in oil exploration in Texas and Oklahoma.

By the late 1940s, no major oil finds had occurred in the U.S. in a dozen years, but geologists were convinced that massive amounts of oil existed in the Williston Basin, "a large sedimentary basin in eastern Montana, western North Dakota, South Dakota, and southern Saskatchewan." In May 1949, Magnolia dispatched Smith to Bismarck to look for the best potential oil-bearing sites, and after getting his growing family settled there, he began his exploration in June.

In April 1951, Smith turned in his resignation at Magnolia and began working as a "consulting geologist." Later that year, he formed a partnership with James Curran, a printer in Bismarck.

"Curran was a land man - a speculator who locked up drilling rights and then brokered the leases to explorers. Curran needed a good geologist to scout land, and he persuaded Smith to be his partner."

In the evenings, the two men often frequented the Blue Blazer Lounge in the Prince Hotel to discuss the events of the day. One Saturday evening in 1952, Smith and Curran asked the bartender, Gebert "Shorty" Doebber, to come up with a good drink that didn't leave them with a hangover the next morning. After some experimentation, Shorty settled on a drink made with two ounces of a chocolate liqueur (creme de cacao) and one ounce of dairy cream, which was topped with soda water.

Not only were the two oilmen very pleased with the drink, but so were the other oil workers who patronized the Blue Blazer. Because of this, the oilmen who traveled all over the world often requested a "Smith and Curran" from their bartenders, who then learned how to make this new drink.

Besides their pursuit of oil, Smith and Curran also shared another interest - they both were or had been in the printing business. Another printer in Bismarck, Gaylord Conrad, also became a close friend with Smith. Gaylord, along with his brothers and father, ran the Conrad Publishing Co.

Since both Wendell and Joanne Smith and Gaylord and his wife, Abigail, had three young children, the families became very close. Tragically, both Gaylord and Abigail were killed in an automobile accident Oct. 4, 1953, and their three sons Roan, Kent, and Dean were orphaned. The children were raised by their grandparents, but Smith vowed that one day he would do what he could to help out.

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At the end of 1952, Smith and Curran dissolved their partnership, and in January 1953, Smith formed a new partnership with George Summers, a geologist from Bismarck. Smith was held in high regard by other oilmen in North Dakota, and in 1951 and 1952, he served as president of both the North Dakota Geological Society and the North Dakota Petroleum Club. In 1955, he was elected president of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Association.

On Jan. 1, 1956, Smith was re-employed by the Mobil Oil Co. as an exploration representative and sent to their European headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. After getting settled into their new home, the Smiths contacted the Conrad children's grandparents to have the oldest Conrad boy join them.

On March 14, Roan Conrad boarded the Queen Mary and after arriving in Basel, he spent the next 18 months living there with the Smith family. Smith was later transferred to Paris as manager of exploration for Mobil Oil Francaise, and in 1960, he "was promoted to the head office in New York City, where he was appointed chief geologist."

In 1964, he was sent to Tripoli as vice president and deputy general manager of Mobil Oil Libya. When the Smiths were settled in Tripoli, they sent for Kent Conrad, the next oldest of the children to join them.

In Tripoli, Kent attended high school at the Wheelus Air Force Base, which included students from the military base as well as children whose parents worked for the State Department and those involved in the oil industry. Kent graduated from high school at Wheelus in 1966, and he is the only known U.S. Congressman ever to graduate from high school in Libya.

Smith was transferred to Nigeria in 1967 and later to Indonesia. He retired from Mobil in 1972 and settled in Tubac, Ariz., and then he continued to do consulting work up until the time of his death on July 2, 1974.

 

"Did You Know That" is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net .

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Wendell Smith. Special to The Forum
Wendell Smith. Special to The Forum

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