Location of Barnsdall, Oklahoma
|Coordinates: 36°33′34″N 96°9′40″W|
The town was founded in 1905 and originally named Bigheart, for the Osage Chief James Bigheart. It was initially a 160-acre site along the Midland Valley Railroad in March, 1905. The railroad opened Bigheart Station in September, 1905 and the Bigheart Post Office opened in January, 1906. Bigheart was exempted from the Osage allotment, so lots could be sold to anyone. Lots were auctioned in May, 1906. The first newspaper, the Bigheart Star, first appeared in 1906.
Joshua Cosden built the Southwest Refining Company oil refinery in 1910. He sold it to an undisclosed buyer in 1917, Theodore Newton Barnsdall, owner of the Barnsdall Oil Company, bought the refinery in 1921. Barnsdall had discovered the nearby Bigheart (later Barnsdall) oilfield in 1916. The town was renamed on January 1, 1922 in honor of Mr. Barnsdall.
The town of Barnsdall experienced a tornado in April 1911, a major fire in March 1913 and a flood in September 1915. Despite these calamities, the population increased from 307 in 1910 to 2,099 in 1920.That proved to be the high point of population in the town.
Barnsdall Refining Company renamed itself Bareco Oil Company in 1940. It ceased refining oil in 1946 and began producing microcrystalline waxes in 1946. Petrolite Corporation (now part of Baker Hughes Inc.) bought Bareco and has continued to operate the plant.
Barnsdall is located at  It is 17 miles (27 km) southeast of Pawhuska, the Osage County seat, and 40 miles (64 km) northwest of Tulsa..
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 0.6 square miles (1.6 km2), all of it land.