Amarillo is well known for many things good and bad, but did you know Amarillo once had an abundance of this treasure?

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Helium

Amarillo was once the home of global helium production.  Most of the world's helium supply was produced in Amarillo.

Amarillo is known as the Yellow City (amarillo is Spanish for yellow), Bomb City (for Pantex), and it could've been known as Helium City if the city had been able to continue producing helium

In 1917 the US began producing Helium, making it the first nation to do so.  A helium plant was constructed in Fort Worth, Texas.  However, in 1921, a gas field was discovered in Amarillo. It was called the Cliffside Gas Field.   It is currently located north of Amarillo on Brick Plant Rd.

CLUI/ CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Deed
CLUI/CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Deed
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About 3,500 feet below ground at the Cliffside Gas Field is where the Bush Dome is located.   It is about 12,000 acres big and it was determined that this contained a 100-year supply of helium and could hold 52 million cubic feet of gas.  The dome is named after the rancher who originally owned the land, William Henry Bush.

Why was this so important?

The Federal Helium Act of 1925 was enacted and the Bureau of Mines was able to operate helium facilities to supply helium to the Army and Navy. The Fort Worth plant was soon closed to make way for a new plant.  The Amarillo Helium plant was opened in 1929 close to the Cliffside Gas Field.  A pipeline that ran 12 miles connected the Amarillo Helium Plant to the Cliffside Gas Field.

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In 1937 the Cryogenic Research Lab was moved to Amarillo from Washington D.C.

The Amarillo Helium Plant was the only helium plant in the US until 1943. Another helium plant was opened in the Texas Panhandle in Moore County in 1945 called the Exell Helium Plant.   The Amarillo and Exell Plants experimented with new ways to produce helium.

What happened to the plant?

In 1996 Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 and shortly after that all the federal helium plants were closed.

Source: Historic American Engineering Record

A historical marker once sat in front of the ruins of the helium plant in Amarillo, but it was removed due to construction on the road near the marker.  Hopefully, it will soon be returned.

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The marker read,

"This plant, operated by the United States Bureau of Mines, was the first to produce helium from the extensive helium resources in the Texas Panhandle. From 1929 until 1943, it furnished almost all of the world’s supply of helium. Operating around the clock, the plant extracts helium by liquefying the natural gas and separating helium from it at temperatures 300 degrees below zero. The natural reserves in these fields and in extensions into adjacent states contain more than 95 percent of the world’s known supply of helium. This is also the site of the world renowned research center which provides fundamental data on the production and uses of helium. Helium is used for a variety of purposes: lighter-than-air craft, low-temperature research, shielded-arc welding; and in national defense, nuclear energy programs and space exploration."

The sale of the helium plant was concluded in 2024 and purchased by Messer. According to a press release from Messer,

The Federal Helium System was auctioned by the General Services Administration (GSA) on January 25, 2024, in accordance with the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, which required the Bureau of Land Management to sunset its management of the System and follow a statutory disposal process. The Helium System includes helium molecules stored in the caverns in Amarillo, Texas, as well as the Cliffside field, wells and gathering system, the 423-mile-long crude helium pipeline, and additional operational assets.

To remember Amarillo's reign of helium, a monument stands near the Don Harrington Discovery Center.   It is also home to multiple time capsules.

Michael J. Rivera, Townsquare Media
Michael J. Rivera, Townsquare Media
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Amarillo has many nicknames that have stuck over the years, but unfortunately, the helium nickname did not make the nickname cut.  However, it's reassuring that Amarillo is considered a significant location by the government, first with helium and now with Pantex.

25 Landmarks of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle

Gallery Credit: Lori Crofford

Historical Photos of the Amarillo FIre Department

Here's a historical look at the Amarillo Fire Department.




Gallery Credit: Lori Crofford

Historical Smith-Rogers Home in Amarillo

The Smith-Rogers home was originally built in 1904 by Amarillo settlers James Bynum and Marie Lowery Smith. The home was located at 1101 S. Taylor. It was moved to its current location 4841 SW 9th Avenue in 1945 by then-owner Jesse A. Rogers.

The home has 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, on 1.16 acres. The home includes a detached 2-car garage with a 1 bedroom/1 bath apartment.

It is a a Texas Historical Landmark and the marker reads:

"This house was built for early Amarillo settlers James Bynum and Marie Lowery Smith c. 1904, and was originally located at 1101 South Taylor Street. The home was purchased in 1945 by Jesse A. Rogers, who planned to move his car dealership to the site. Instead of razing the house, he had it moved to its present site to serve as his family’s home. At the time of its relocation, architect C.W. Brott made changes to the original design. The classical revival style house now features leaded glass windows, roof cresting and interior woodwork from the 1900s and brick veneer, balustrades and full-height columns from the 1940s."

The home was on the market in October 2023 and listed for $945,000 by Sabre Cofer with EXP Realty


Gallery Credit: Lori Crofford

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