Joseph Ryan's new book "Ice and Oil" is a must have for any California history buff. This book about an unknown California Titan, is well researched as well as well written. Mr. Ryan spent years researching Dan Murphy's life in the railroad, mining, early refrigeration, oil and cement industries. It also shines a light on Mr. Murphy and his families support of the Catholic Church in the Las Angeles, from the turn of the century right today. Little know, Mr. Murphy was on par with Croker, Huntington, Doheny but surpassed these tycoons in many ways. A must read.
I found it to be a fascinating, feet-on-the-ground history of the expansion of the great West of America, a story told of courageous and expansive thinkers and doers. Yes, the mindset was often the exploitation of resources, which at the time must have seemed endless and bottomless. It’s a tale of mining, pioneers, railroads, oil wells, water, transportation, and ice, but in the telling reveals the humanity of many of the characters Mr. Ryan limes. The saving grace to the story of our forefathers’ trampling on the rights of Native Americans and exploiting what we now know as finite resources of water, oil, people and even….yes…ice is that Dan Murphy did care about all of these things, and he had a very unusual attitude towards his partners, workers, and especially Americans who were there before he was and would carry on after he left his giant, but quiet, mark on the West.
REVIEW PUBLISHED IN: WESTERNERS INTERNATIONAL
Ice and Oil: The Life and Legacy of Dan Murphy, California’s Unlikely Titan, by Joseph Francis Ryan, Angel City Press, 2020. 310 pages, bibliography, illustrations, notes, index. $26.95, available through Amazon.com. California historians, and more than a few dedicated readers of history and biography, know that non-fiction is eminently more entertaining than fiction. A well-written life-story of someone hitherto unfamiliar can also be just as satisfying as it may be edifying, for we can always identify with a real person much more easily than a fictional character. Joseph Francis Ryan’s brand-new biography of Dan Murphy is just such a book. Compared to the Huntingtons and Dohenys of recent Southern California history, Murphy is almost unknown, and yet his story is no less compelling than those of other, more familiar, titans of commerce and development. Born in Pennsylvania in 1858, Irish Catholic Daniel Murphy, one of eight children, came to Los Angeles, California, when he was twenty years old. He arrived just as Southern California was being transformed from its Spanish-speaking, cattle-growing, lightly-populated roots, into an English-speaking agricultural and commercial Mecca, where railroads and petroleum were the coming thing. Dan Murphy had a varied and adventurous life, from working as the brakeman on an Arizona train line, to successfully prospecting and mining in the Southwestern desert, to even pointing out the precise location of where Boulder Dam should be built, fifty years before construction was completed at that very spot he selected. Himself part of the world-wide post-famine Irish diaspora, Murphy had great sympathy for the American Indians of the Southwest and Desert California. He developed close personal contacts with the Mojave Indians on the California side of the Colorado River as the very young (only 25 years old) founder of the town of Needles. When he built his Murphy Water, Ice and Power Company there, in one of the hottest, driest, parts of the Western United States, he made certain that Mojave Indians were preferentially hired. Murphy’s business interests grew throughout the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. He became an oil tycoon, developing the Brea Canyon field, which made him a millionaire many times over. He also built a cement plant just in time for Los Angeles to experience a building boom, creating an almost inexhaustible demand for this essential building material. No mere robber baron, unlike so many of his peers Murphy was a philanthropist who gave bucketloads of cash away to worthy causes, including local and international religious establishments, to historic preservation efforts and artistic development in Southern California. Author Joseph Francis Ryan spent more than a decade researching his protagonist Dan Murphy, and has written a very readable, entertaining, and educational biography of him. Through Ryan’s work, and no less through the high quality production values we have come to expect from Angel City Press, a new name must now be added to the Olympian roster of Southern California heroes. Before the publication of Ice and Oil Dan Murphy was little known, even in Southern California where his contributions were so substantial. Joseph Francis Ryan has brought him out of the shadows, to take his rightful place amongst the first rank of local historical figures. Highly recommended. Brian Dervin Dillon