Boots Adams

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Boots Adams
Photograph of K. S. Boots Adams
K. S. "Boots" Adams
Born Kenneth Stanley Adams
August 31, 1899
Horton, Kansas
Died March 30, 1975(1975-03-30) (aged 75)
Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Resting place
Memorial Park Cemetery
36°43′47″N 95°55′39″W / 36.72970°N 95.92750°W / 36.72970; -95.92750
Other names K.S. Adams
K.S. "Boots" Adams
Kenneth "Boots" Adams
Alma mater University of Kansas
Occupation Business executive
Employer Phillips Petroleum Company
Home town Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Title President of Phillips Petroleum
Term 1939–1964
Predecessor Frank Phillips
Successor Stanley Learned
Board member of
Chairman of the Board of Phillips Petroleum
Religion Presbyterianism
Children Bud Adams

Kenneth Stanley "Boots" Adams (August 31, 1899 – March 30, 1975) was an American business executive, University of Kansas booster, and civic philanthropist of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Adams' legacy began as a career with the Phillips Petroleum Company when he hired on, in 1920, as a clerk in the warehouse department. Twelve years later he was chosen by founder and president Frank Phillips to fill the newly created position of Assistant to the President. Six years after that, he was elected president of the company.

When Adams succeeded Frank Phillips as president of Phillips Petroleum Company, he became one of the nation's youngest leaders of a major corporation; then 38 years old. He remained in continuous service as the company's chief executive until his retirement in 1964; after 44 years with the company.

During his tenure, through innovation, diversification, and streamlined operations, Adams transformed the successful oil production company; entrusted him, into the global industrial giant he would entrust his successor, Stanley Learned. Though retired from the company, Adams continued serving as its Board Chairman until 1968.

Adams received a celebrated public thanks for his legacy when Bartlesville, Oklahoma coordinated a civic holiday, legislated in his honor, with his 66th birthday and then recent retirement. Amongst a diverse panel of public speakers; giving thanks, would emerge Dwight D. Eisenhower with sentiments of national gratitude, and his own personal affection of Adams' accomplishments.

Early life[edit]

Kenneth Stanley Adams was born August 31, 1899, in Horton, Kansas; the son of John V. and Lavella Adams (née Stanley).[1] His father was an engineer for the Rock Island Railroad and in 1902, he boarded several of his co-workers along with their families (they had been dislocated due to large scale regional flooding in that year).[2] One of the co-workers noticed Kenneth Adams, then three years old, had a pair of boots that he wanted to wear all of the time, even falling asleep with them on at times. Noticing this affinity, the man began calling him "Boots"; the name Adams would use for the remainder of his life.[2][3]

Adams graduated, as an aspiring athlete, from Wyandotte High School in 1917; the same year brothers Lee Eldas "L.E." and Frank Phillips founded the Phillips Petroleum Company. Adams moved to Dewey, Oklahoma and took a job delivering ice in the neighboring town of Bartlesville. It was Adams' first job and he said he was happy that the work involved heavy lifting; because it helped keep him in good physical condition while he waited for classes to begin at the University of Kansas.[2] He enrolled into the university in the fall of 1917; becoming active in their athletic program. Adams left the university in 1920, to work for the Phillips Petroleum Company. He would have graduated the following year but economic circumstances required him to place his academic aspirations on hold and instead, enter the workforce right away.[2][4][5]

In 1924, Adams married Barbara Blanche Keeler, the sister of W. W. Keeler who would later become President and Chief Executive Officer of Phillips Petroleum Corporation and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Their eldest son, Kenneth S. Jr. would later become renowned himself as an independent business mogul and owner of the Tennessee Titans. In 1945, Boots and Blanche Adams divorced whereas Boots Adams married Dorothy Glynn Stephens the following year.[1][6]

Career at Phillips Petroleum[edit]

Boots Adams helped organize and also played for the Phillips 66ers, a semi-professional basketball team sponsored by the Phillips Petroleum Company. Because of his team affiliation, Adams was offered employment with the company.[7][8] He began working as a warehouse clerk in 1920,[9] and ascended to become the company's chief executive – one of the youngest ever to lead a major corporation in the United States.[10]

Early executive years[edit]

Boots Adams first entered the company's executive tier in 1932, when founding president Frank Phillips appointed him as his assistant – aside opposition within the executive corps, where Adams was viewed as an Oscar Madison type, and the teaming, an odd couple managing the company's front office. Adams inaugurated the newly created position where even Frank Phillips was outspokenly cautious about incorporating his ideas.[11] Phillips instructed Adams: "I'm going to object to everything you do, but you go ahead and do it anyway."

A conservative criticism of the relationship between Phillips and Adams suggests mildly that "They often disagreed as to how the company should be run."[11] Amidst skepticism, Adams was able to secure the confidence of Frank Phillips, and the amber light of caution relented to a green light of authority to move forward. Just before becoming the president of Phillips Petroleum, Adams turned his attention to the company's amateur basketball team.

Because of the depression, Phillips had not sponsored its team since the 1929–30 season. Boots Adams, remembering his days as a member of the Phillips 66ers, wanted to revive the program. His support culminated in producing the 1937, team that would later be called a "dream team".[12] Adams signed Joe Fortenberry and Jack Ragland, both Olympians from 1936, teaming them with Chuck Hyatt, Tom Pickell, Jay Wallenstrom, and Bud Browning. Lastly he recruited local favorites, Ray Ebling and Dave Perkins, completing the team. Although the 66ers lost the championship that year, 43–38, columnist Chet Nelson called the game "the greatest game Rocky Mountain fans ever witnessed."[12] In 1958, Boots Adams was inducted into the Helms Foundation Amateur Basketball Hall of Fame.

When Frank Phillips announced his plans to retire he personally recommended that Boots Adams should be appointed as his successor. At the 1938, stockholders and board of directors annual meeting Phillips said he wanted K.S. Adams, "the fast-talking young man from Kansas with the big ideas, [to] be elected as the new president of Phillips Petroleum Company". Adams was referred to as Frank Phillips' "visionary disciple" in Gale Morgan Kane's book, Bartlesville Means Business.[13] The directors subsequently returned a unanimous vote in support of Phillips' recommendation.[10]

Years as company president[edit]

When Boots Adams became Phillips' president, he immediately began implementing some of the "big ideas" Frank Phillips mentioned at the 1938, meeting. Adams wanted the company to diversify – expanding into emerging industries related to oil which he intuitively sensed as profitable – ventures he felt the company was well poised to capitalize upon. He started by purchasing mining rights for natural gas – considered cheap in 1938; practically worthless as oil producers still burned off natural gas at the wellhead, as a waste product of oil exploration.[11] After increasing the company's share of mining reserves, Phillips reaped the benefits of the commodity's value more than doubling by the end of World War II.[9]

Adams also elevated a start-up venture called Pace Setter Inc., Their goal was to glamorize the trendsetting benefits of constructing a more modern style home. They called it a Pace Setter home and soon after, introduced a version billed as a Price Setter – being more economical than the somewhat pricy Pace Setter. Adams purchased a Pace Setter himself and had it built as his residence in Bartlesville.[14] The key aspect which Adams hoped would catch on was the wide range of natural gas appliances and central heating units these homes were equipped with. He knew of the profit potential that existed if the trend towards natural gas became mainstay – which did occur. The Phillips company had a "commanding share" of natural gas reserves by 1955, 13.3 trillion cubic feet worth approximately US$931,000,000 ($8,196,269,565 in 2014),[11] more than half of Phillips' total value. Dividends increased from the reserves, satisfying stockholders and workers benefited as well when their wages increased, commensurate with the company's bottom line.

Adams sensed the need to employ a variety of scientific disciplines on the company's payroll as well. He realized that research, and technical expertise, would be necessary for a company to compete in the impending technological society that was emerging – beginning to abound and subsume the antiquated ways of the era in wane. No longer could Big Oil depend on roughnecks alone to extract wealth by the stringency of their stamina and physique. One of the newly hired professionals was Jack Graves, a geologist from the University of Oklahoma, Graves was tasked by Boots Adams to evaluate an oil formation known locally as the Mississippi Chat. Graves' evaluation resulted in a significant new discovery of oil, and Phillips continued using the results over the ensuing three years – striking a lot of new oil as a direct result.[15]

Adams also diversified the company into the emerging petrochemical industry – an industry that would inherently increase demand and profits for oil producing companies, and generate its own revenue stream as products were developed. Here again, the newly hired chemical engineers would use a doctorate to create the company's new wealth, within modern laboratories opposed to greasy drill rigs – wearing white coats no less. Adams was particularly interested in diversifying the company into the field of synthetic polymers (specifically petroleum based polymers),[16] having witnessed the exponential growth of companies like DuPont and Dow,[17] while appreciating the economic value of a patent, and the exclusive right to profit which they entailed. In particular, Adams was determined to involve Phillips in the quest to develop synthetic rubber.[18]

There were already significant advancements in place, and it was possible to produce material similar to rubber – slightly inferior in quality, as well as cost prohibitive to produce. Adams' biggest concern was the fact that there were two processes that showed an equal potential to emerge as the preferred manner of production. One would depend on distilling an additive for reactivity while the other would use a petroleum based reagent.[19] Adams related the answer to this question to profit for the Phillips Company – plus or minus depending on which process emerged as best. Adams was determined to polymerize rubber by petrochemical means.

U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program[edit]

At the beginning of World War II the supply of natural rubber from Southeast Asia was abruptly cut off. A national emergency immediately ensued and it was unequivocally clear that the war could not be won unless enough synthetic rubber could be produced to support the war effort. The government already knew the strategic importance of rubber for a modern army and had instituted the Rubber Reserve Company (RRC) to stockpile reserves of rubber, and mitigate the consequences of being cut off from supplies. But the RRC only had one million tons of rubber in reserve while the military consumed about 600,000 tons annually. There simply was no model for victory that did not depend on a massive influx of synthetic rubber. Cost was not a limiting factor of the program – its success would only be measured by tonnage. Either sufficient quantities would be produced, giving the Allies a fighting chance, or demand would not be satisfied, guaranteeing an inability to prevail.

Boots Adams joined the consortium, dedicating the resources of Phillips Petroleum to the ennobling effort dubbed GR-S (Government Rubber-Styrene).[17] History provides the spoiler regarding the programs outcome,[20] but it does not lessen the magnitude of achievement surmounted by the entire group of participants. On August 29, 1998, the GR-S, (also called the U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program), was officially labeled as a National Historic Chemical Landmark,[21] with records and accolades stored in the archives of the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. The market for synthetic rubber grew to a US$60,000,000,000 ($84,942,069,517 in 2014) a year industry by the turn of the century, and Phillips, now ConocoPhillips, retained its share of that market.[19][22][23]

Spinning off subsidiaries[edit]

In 1948, Adams began spinning off assets from Phillips' diversification, forming subsidiaries while retaining a controlling interest in the company and a sizable share of any profits realized. The first company formed was the Phillips Chemical Company and in 1951. it secured lucrative patents for its discovery of polyethylene and further development of it into high-density polyethylene resin (HDPE). The company's first tangible product derived from the patents was a durable HDPE polyolefin plastic it marketed as Marlex. Marlex was the material Wham-O contracted for use to produce its Hula Hoop,[24] the ubiquitous toy from the 1950s that sold over 25 million units in its first four months on the market.[25] The chemical subsidiary maintained its viability and continues returning profits to its parent company from Bartlesville. As of 2014, having merged with Chevron in 2000, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company operates as a 50-50 venture; splitting costs and profit shares equally. The new entity tossed a coin in its boardroom to settle on the company's name with Chevron winning the toss and electing to have their name appear first.[26]

The Adams building[edit]

In 1949, Adams decided to consolidate the company's in house operations under one roof. The operations at that time were scattered across 38 different facilities. Adams also wanted the company's research laboratories to be fully modernized, to support the profits being generated from research and development. He contracted the architectural firm of Neville and Sharp of Kansas City, Missouri to build a 12-story, 457,000 square feet multipurpose headquarters. It occupied an entire city block in Bartlesville[27] and was named the Adams building. The town also renamed Seventh Street, Adams Street,[28] and in 1962, constructed the Adams Municipal Golf Course in his name.[29] As of 2014, all three namesakes continue to bear Adams' name.


Boots Adams retired from his position as company president in 1964, after 44 years with the company. The following year the city of Bartlesville organized a parade and civic holiday to honor Boots Adams on his 66th birthday – and give thanks with a public celebration. The schools in Bartlesville were closed and the town itself was officially renamed Bootsville for the entire day. A huge birthday cake was mocked up to resemble an oil storage tank, and the Phillips 66 logo "stood tall" in its own pair of boots.[30]

Several dignitaries were present as well including President Dwight D. Eisenhower;[30][31] as both a personal friend of Boots' and a U.S. President, carrying the gratitude of a nation.[32] Eisenhower was a direct beneficiary of the GR-S program and Adams' participation in it.[18] He was arguably the single man with "the most to lose" if GR-S had failed.

The President adopted the hobby of painting in 1950, as a relaxing way to reduce stress. He presented Boots Adams with a portrait he had recently painted – depicting Adams seated at the head of a table, as chairman of the Philips 66 board. The portrait was a prized heirloom of Adams' second wife, Dorothy Glynn, and remains in the family's care, having been passed on to the eldest daughter of Boots and Dorothy.[30]

W. Clarke Wescoe, the University of Kansas' (KU) 10th chancellor attended as well; thanking Adams for his alumnus support, and philanthropic good will. In appreciation, Wescoe announced the University's decision to name its planned on campus residential complex, the Adams Center.[33][34] Stanley Learned, Boots Adams' successor as president of Phillips, as well as a KU alumnus himself, showed his support of the university's decision by donating US$100,000 ($748,363 in 2014) for use "at the chancellors discretion".[2][34]

Death and legacy[edit]

Boots Adams died March 30, 1975, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and is buried at Bartlesville's Memorial Park Cemetery.[35] Under his leadership, Phillips Petroleum Company transformed from the US$317,000,000 ($5,374,590,909 in 2014) entity entrusted to him,[9] into a US$2,000,000,000 ($15,208,154,506 in 2014) industry, with over 28,000 employees and 8,000 miles of oil pipeline.[2]


  1. ^ a b Ingham 1983, p. 6–7
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hitchcock, Doug (August 1983). The KU-Bartlesville connection. Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  3. ^ 1950 Adams Building Bartlesville OK. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  4. ^ (April 14, 2013). Making history in industry. Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. Retrieved June 8, 2013.
  5. ^ City's Birthday is Coming. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  6. ^ Robbins 2001, p. 16.
  7. ^ Robbins 2001, p. 14.
  8. ^ "Amateur Professionals: The Phillips basketball team works for money and plays for recreation". Life: 149. December 8, 1947. Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c Knowles 1980, p. 319.
  10. ^ a b Wallis 1988, p. 380.
  11. ^ a b c d Phillips Petroleum Company. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Grundman 2004, p. 58–9.
  13. ^ Bartlesville Means Business. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  14. ^ Penick 2007, p. 230
  15. ^ Ray, Russell (October 1, 2006). Calumet Oil: Pride of Jack Graves family. Tulsa World. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  16. ^ Rubber Matters: Solving the World War II Rubber Problem & Polymers, A Brief History. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  17. ^ a b Rubber Matters: Solving the World War II Rubber Problem & Collaboration. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  18. ^ a b Photographs of Plains Butadiene Plant; a plant incorporating Phillips processes and designed, built and operated by Phillips Petroleum Company for the National Synthetic Rubber Program of World War II – with a bound volume of captioned photographic prints. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  19. ^ a b Rubber Matters: Solving the World War II Rubber Problem & the Grain verses Petroleum Debate. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  20. ^ Rubber Wins the War. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  21. ^ (August 29, 1998). "U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program". Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  22. ^ (August 29, 1998). U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program. Retrieved Jully 11, 2013.
  23. ^ Rubber Matters: Solving the World War II Rubber Problem & Wartime Crisis1950. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  24. ^ Our History / Post World War II – 1960S. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  25. ^ The History of Wham-O. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  26. ^ (April 18, 2000). Coin toss decides company name. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  27. ^ Perkins 2008, p. 91–92.
  28. ^ Perkins 2008, p. 95.
  29. ^ Bartlesville Area History Museum/timeline/1962. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  30. ^ a b c Barnes, Rita Thurman (April 21, 2013). Lost Bartlesville: The day a president came to town and the love of a lifetime…. Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  31. ^ Atta 2008, p. 495.
  32. ^ Dwight D. Eisenhower Papers, Pre-Presidentual 1916–52 PDF. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  33. ^ Adams Center History. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  34. ^ a b Adams Campus History. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  35. ^ Kenneth Stanley "Boots" Adams. Retrieved July 11, 2013.


  • Ingham, John N. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. "Adams, Kenneth Stanley." (1983) Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23907-X (v. 1). Available on Google Books.
  • Knowles, Ruth Sheldon (March 1, 1980). The Greatest Gamblers: The Epic of American Oil Exploration. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806116549.
  • Atta, Dale Van (February 28, 2008). With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299226800.
  • Penick, Monica Michelle (2007). The Pace Setter Houses: Livable Modernism in Postwar America. Ann Arbor, Michigan: ProQuest Publishing Company. UMI number 3290901
  • Robbins, Louise S. (January 15, 2001). The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806133140.
  • Wallis, Michael (1988). Oil Man: The Story Of Frank Phillips & The Birth Of Phillips Petroleum. New York, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 9780312131357.
  • Perkins, Scott W. (May 26, 2008). Building Bartlesville, (OK): 1945-2000. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738550510.
  • Grundman, Adolph H. (October 1, 2004). The Golden Age of Amateur Basketball: The Aau Tournament, 1921-1968. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803271173.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lobsenz, Norman M. (1965). The Boots Adams story. Bartlesville, OK: Phillips Petroleum Company. ISBN 9781122712118.

External links[edit]

External images
Portrait of Boots Adams as Phillips' chairman Painted c.1964 by Dwight D. Eisenhower (click on image 2)
What a Birthday Cake!
Photograph showing Boots Adams with Frank Phillips and Phillips' wife