Mary Hudson

A world traveler and self-made millionaire, Mary Hudson was one of only three women on Forbes Magazine's list of 400 richest Americans. As an oil industry leader listed in the World's Who's Who of Women, she made international news when her empire collapsed.

Hudson’s career began in 1933, as a 21-year-old widow with an infant to support. She borrowed $200 to buy a gas station in Kansas City, which led to a prominent role in a man's industry. An in-your-face independent distributor, among the first to offer no-frills, self-service gasoline, she co-founded a national organization for independent dealers.

Eventually, Hudson owned 300 stations in 35 states, plus an Oklahoma oil refinery. She was the only woman in the Twenty Five Year Club of the American Petroleum Institute and Forbes ranked her worth at $325 million, richer than many of the men.

But a glut of cheap foreign oil, poor corporate management, and multiple government charges shattered Hudson’s empire. Fighting to stay profitable, she made unwise decisions. The federal government charged her with violations of wage and hour laws and cheating customers at rigged gas pumps. Hudson Oil properties were sold to settle multimillion-dollar fines. In 1984 Mary Hudson filed the largest bankruptcy ever recorded in Federal Bankruptcy Court in Kansas City, Kansas.

By the age of 80, she bounced back with several ventures, including a small chain of station-convenience stores and an oil-consulting firm in Russia.

She was complimented and cursed by competitors, a 'vinegar and velvet' woman. But she served on many local boards and was honored nationally as a women's role model. On the patio of her elegant Mission Hills home she kept an old gas pump as a reminder of early struggles; inside she exhibited a gown she wore as a Queen of the New Orleans Mardi Gras. The Queen of U. S. Oil, tagged "a woman before her time" by a government attorney, died in 1999 at age 87.

Acknowledgement: 

A previous version of this article appears on kchistory.org: http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-mary-hudson-1912-1999-oil-bar...

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