When the drilling barge Mr. Charlie left its New Orleans shipyard for the Gulf of Mexico on June 15, 1954, it became the world’s first mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU).
Alden “Doc” Laborde a young U.S. Navy engineer, had the idea that a self-sufficient oil rig could be placed on a barge and floated in 40-foot water depths. The idea was revolutionary, but all of the major companies involved in the oil and gas industry at the time passed on the idea. He made the decision to search for investors and eventually found a partner in Charles Murphy, the owner of an independent oil company from El Dorado, Arkansas.
Construction on Mr. Charlie began in 1952 at Alexander Shipyards in New Orleans and was completed in late 1953. The barge was approximately 220 feet long and 85 feet wide. Under the living quarters pontoons extend the width to 136 feet. The barge was 14 feet deep, with a 4 foot skirt extending below its bottom on both port and starboard sides. The floor of the platform was standing 60 feet above the barge, supported by the massive legs that serve to connect the barge and platform. In 1954 Mr Charlie went to work for Shell Oil Company, drilling a new field in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Despite skepticism from offshore industry professionals the drilling rig performed up to expectations and went on to drill hundreds of wells for every other major oil company operating in the Gulf, with a cumulative depth of 2.3 million feet. Mr. Charlie could accommodate a crew of 58. Once on location, it was an independent island generating its own electricity and nearly totally self-sufficient with room to store drinking water, food, and supplies for the crew. The first transportable oil drilling rig to be deployed offshore was capable of drilling wells in water depths up to 40 feet and had a prolific career lasting nearly 4 decades revolutionizing the offshore oil industry in the Gulf and world-wide. The submersible was retired in late 1986 when drilling activity moved beyond 40 foot depths. An effort to preserve Mr. Charlie was led by Morgan City oilmen and former workers on the Mr. Charlie, it now sits on the bottom along the shore of the Atchafalaya River in Morgan City serving as an educational museum. (Source and image: AOGHS)