Henry Latham Doherty formed the Cities Service Company on September 2, 1910. A New York based holding company, it derived income from dividends generated by stock held in subsidiary corporations.
Cities Service was designed to concentrate on public utilities, such as natural gas, electric and transportation companies, but quickly became involved in the petroleum and natural gas industry.
The company developed large holdings in the Mid-Continent Region as early as 1912, when it acquired the assets of Theodore N. Barnsdall, who operated primarily in Oklahoma. Two years later Cities Service began extensive works in the Kansas oil fields.
On October of 1915, Cities Service added the company Empire Gas & Fuel Company of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
In 1916 Cities Service bought their first oil refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. By 1918, or the final year of the First World War, Cities Service was the supplier for half of the oil used by the US and its Allies. Also in 1918 Cities Service companies operated seven oil refineries, five of which were in Oklahoma and were active in nine Oklahoma oil fields.
During the 1920s Cities Service located three of the five pools that comprised the Greater Seminole Oil Field, and one of the company's subsidiaries, the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, discovered the Oklahoma City Oil Field in 1928.
Over the next decade more than 60 petroleum reservoirs were found in 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma and seven were “giants,” producing more than million barrels of oil each.
In March 1930 a well hit a high pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath the state capital, Oklahoma City. A geyser of oil erupted and flowed skyward for 11 days. The Oklahoma City oilfield discovery well soon became an international sensation.
Cities Service became a major American enterprise with operations across the nation and abroad. In 1940, however, federal courts ordered Cities Service to divest itself of either its utility companies or its oil and gas companies, due to the Public Utilities Holding Company Act of 1935.
Because the oil and gas business was so productive, the company decided to drop its more than two hundred public utility companies.
The long and tedious divestiture process was completed in 1958 and the following year the Cities Service Oil Company, headquartered at Bartlesville, was formed to absorb all the oil companies owned by the original corporation.