James Smither Abercrombie, the son of a farmer, was born in Huntsville, Texas on 7th July, 1891. His family moved to the outskirts of Houston and started a dairy business.
In 1909 his cousin, Charles Abercrombie, employed him on a drilling rig for the Goose Creek Production Company. Later he worked as a field superintendent for Crown Petroleum. In 1918 he borrowed money in order to start his own company drilling for oil.
Abercrombie went into partnership with Harry Cameron. The Cameron-Davant Company, sold oil-drilling supplies and parts for rigs and wells. In 1921 Abercrombie became president of Cameron Iron Works. He also established the James S. Abercrombie Company, an independent drilling operation with five rigs.
In 1921 Abercrombie and Cameron began work on a means to control the increasing gas pressure in deep wells. Eventually they developed the Type MO blowout preventer. It was a great success and the two men made a great deal of money from this invention.
Abercrombie joined forces with Dan Harrison to drill in many oilfields in Texas and Louisiana. This included the discovery of the Old Ocean field in Brazoria County.
The Cameron Iron Works suffered during the Great Depression. However, the fortunes revived during the Second World War. In 1941 the company won a contract to build K-guns and arbor bombs. The following year they were given another contract to build .50-caliber gun barrels and Tiny Tim rockets.
In 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Abercrombie and Harrison to build an aviation gas refinery at the Old Ocean oilfield. Soon afterwards, Abercrombie sold his share in several of his companies to Magnolia Petroleum Company. However, he retained control of the Cameron Iron Works.
Abercrombie was a key member of the Suite 8F Group. The name came from the room in the Lamar Hotel in Houston where they held their meetings. Members of the group included Lyndon B. Johnson, George Brown and Herman Brown (Brown & Root), Gus Wortham (American General Insurance Company), Jesse H. Jones (multi-millionaire investor in a large number of organizations and chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation), William Hobby (Governor of Texas), William Vinson (Great Southern Life Insurance), James Elkins (American General Insurance and Pure Oil Pipe Line) and John Connally (Governor of Texas). Alvin Wirtz and Edward Clark, were also members of the Suite 8F Group.
In 1959 he established the J. S. Abercrombie Mineral Company which drilled wells in Texas and Louisiana. Cameron Iron Works continued to do well and by 1960 had a yearly turnover of $40 million.
James Smither Abercrombie died in Houston on 7th January, 1975.