John W. Gates

Born: May 18, 1855 in Turner Junction, Illinois

Died: Aug. 9, 1911

     Raised on a farm, John "Bet-a-Million" Gates began his career selling barbed wire for the Washburn-Moen Company in 1876. On his arrival in San Antonio, he set up a corral and invited ranchers to bring in their meanest fence-busters to prove his barbed wire would hold them. The demonstration was a success, and Gates received more orders than Washburn-Moen could fill.

 

     When he was refused a partnership, Gates quit his job and began manufacturing and distributing unlicensed and un-patented barbed wire in St. Louis. Court orders couldn't beat him, and Gates formed numerous companies including Republic Steel.  Gates also invested in Arthur Stilwell's Kansas City and Southern Railroad, which he later took over.

 

     His most lucrative investment was in the Spindletop oil field, which resulted in the Texas Company, now Texaco.  Gates was fond of risky wagers, earning his nickname “Bet-a-Million” from his proclivity to bet on anything, such as which raindrop would roll down a train window fastest.  He famously bet $70,000 on a horse race, walking away with $600,000.  When his gambling upset his wife, he would placate her by giving her diamonds (which he habitually carried in his pockets).

 

     Gates contributed much to the city of Port Arthur including new docks, the First National Bank, the city's first light, power, and ice company, first rice mill, the Plaza Hotel, Port Arthur Business College, and St. Mary Hospital. He was instrumental in having Port Arthur declared an international port of entry.

His estate at the time of his death was 40 to 50 million (over a billion in 2016 dollars).  Mrs. Gates contributed funds to build the Gates Memorial Library in memory of her husband and their son Charles.

Tex Ritter Portrait
Tex Ritter Portrait

Gates Memorial Library on the
campus of Lamar State College Port Arthur.