Waite Phillips Left, Wiate Phillips Right
Waite Phillips was born on a farm in southwestern Iowa on January 19, 1883. He was born with an identical twin whose name was Wiate. Note that the “a” and the “i” in the two names were transposed – very confusing! The boys were extremely adventuresome. When they turned 16 in 1899 they left the farm and set out to see the West. They traveled thousands of miles and took jobs whenever they needed money. They worked at timber camps, railroad camps, a shingle factory, hotels, and even Western Union as messengers.
Sadly and unexpectedly, Wiate Phillips died of a ruptured appendix in Spokane, Washington on July 16, 1902. Waite was devastated. He traveled home by train with his twin’s coffin.
Following burial, Waite’s two oldest brothers, Frank and L.E. Phillips, sent Waite on to business college where he studied accounting. Waite Phillips’s first job was as an accountant at the Rex Coal Company in Knoxville, Iowa, which is the town where he met his future wife, Genevieve Elliott. After four years, Waite was ready to move on and he headed to Oklahoma’s exciting new oil fields.
Already working in the oil fields were his two brothers Frank and L.E. They hired Waite immediately and he spent the next eight years of his life learning all about oil production. Frank and L.E. went on to own and develop the
Phillips Petroleum Company and Phillips 66.
In 1914 Waite realized that he knew enough about oil to start his own company, so he left the employment of his brothers and started the Waite Phillips Company. He was very competitive in how he designed his company. He drilled for oil like many others but he also had his own refineries, tank cars on the rails, and gas stations. This vertical integration of “everything oil” caught the eye of an investment firm on Wall Street in 1925. After negotiations, Waite Phillips sold his oil company to that firm for $25 million.
Waite and Genevieve Phillips were now extremely wealthy. They realized they had far more money than their family would ever need. Beginning that year, 1925, and every year thereafter, they gave away half of everything that they earned.
Waite and Genevieve Phillips began the purchase of their Philmont Ranch in 1922 and by 1932 owned 300,000 acres. It was a highly regarded ranch with polo ponies, fine work horses, a cow calf operation, sheep, goats and buffalo. They named this new property the Philmont Ranch – “Phil” for Phillips and “mont” for monte, the Spanish word for mountain.
Their summer home, the Villa Philmonte, was begun in early 1926 and the family was moving in by June of 1927. It includes the main house, a guest house, household staff quarters, a caretaker’s cottage, a greenhouse and a four bay garage.
By the mid-1930’s Waite Phillips was already designing his next big move in life: to move to California and
get into real estate development. He and Genevieve entered this next chapter of their lives in 1945. They had decided previously that they did not want to continue to own their primary residence in Tulsa, Oklahoma so they gave it away as Philbrook Museum of Art in 1938; it is one of the top 50 art museums in the nation today.
Out in New Mexico in 1938, the Phillips family gave the Boy Scouts of America the first of two gifts of land. It was 36,000 acres in size and located north of Cimarron, New Mexico. By the summer of 1939 the gift was up and running as Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp. (“Phil” for the last name Phillips and “turn” for the Scout slogan, “Do a good turn daily.”) Mr. Phillips liked the program that was developing at Philturn. In 1941 he and his wife had another gift of land for the Boy Scouts. This time it was over 91,000 acres of mountain country located south of Cimarron. The land came with herds of sheep, goats, bison, cattle and horses. Their summer home, the Villa Philmonte, was included in the second gift and Mr. Phillips suggested that the Scouts might consider using it as an adult training center. (The National Training Center of the Boy Scouts of America is the result of that idea.)
Waite and Genevieve Phillips had two children: Helen Jane was born in 1911who married and had two children, and their son Elliott (nicknamed “Chope”) was born in 1918. He married, had three children, and was a successful northern New Mexico rancher. Chope (as he prefers to be called) and his wife Virginia have been associated with Philmont for many years. They have generously helped at times of financial need and they have passed on the colorful history of the Phillips family and the Philmont Ranch through many gifts of personal time, photos and literature. Their presence has been invaluable.