December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth visits Pennsylvania Boom Town
Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appears as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania. Once extolled by a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper as “the most handsome actress in the Confederate States,” Miss Bridges performs in the region’s most notorious oil boom town.
Within nine months of the discovery of oil, Pithole hosts a muddy population of over 30,000 oilmen, teamsters, coopers, lease-traders, roughnecks, and merchants of all kinds – along with gamblers, “soiled doves” and criminals.
Almost overnight, 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania are up and running. Murphy’s Theater is the biggest building in Pithole.
Three-stories high, the building includes 1,100 seats, a 40-foot stage, a twelve-musician orchestra – and chandelier lighting by Tiffany. Miss Bridges is the darling of the Pithole stage.
However, following her performance as Lady Macbeth, a critic for the Titusville Morning Herald chastises the roughneck audience for going beyond simple clapping, noting the “rude boisterous stomping and screaming…is absolutely disgraceful.”
Eight months after Bridges departs for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil suddenly runs dry. The most famous boom town in Pennsylvania collapses into empty streets and abandoned buildings. Today, visitors walk on the grass streets of the historic ghost town. Read more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.
December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized
With almost 1.5 million acres of Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry Foster organizes the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company by combining the Phoenix Oil Company and Osage Oil Company.
For the Osage Indians, the lease provides a 10 percent royalty on all petroleum produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleases drilling to 75 different companies, but by 1903 only 30 wells have been drilled – including 11 dry holes.
Although debt ultimately drives the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership, the company emerges with veteran oilman Theodore Barnsdall a majority owner.
By the end of 1904, drilling results in 361 producing wells. In 1912, Barnsdall sells his interests to the Empire Distributing Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, for $40 million.
Foster, who becomes known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” builds the 32-room La Quinta Mansion – now the administration building for Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville.
The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company old headquarters building is at the corner of Frank Phillips Boulevard and Johnstone Street. Read more in Discovering Oklahoma Oil.
December 1, 1913 – First U.S. Drive-In Service Station opens in Pittsburgh
“Good Gulf Gasoline” goes on sale when Gulf Refining Company opens America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offers free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stand by. The service station’s lighted marquee provides shelter from bad weather.
“On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. On its first Saturday, Gulf’s new service station pumped 350 gallons of gasoline,” notes the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
“Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.”
The decision to open the first station along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh was no accident, the historical commission adds. By 1913 when the station was opened, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the high number of dealerships that were located along the thoroughfare.
“Gulf executives must have figured that there was no better way to get the public hooked on using filling stations than if they could pull right in and gas up their new car after having just driven it off the lot.” In addition to gas, the Gulf station also offers free air and water – and sells the first commercial road maps in the United States.
The gasoline pump can trace its roots to a pump that dispensed kerosene at an Indiana grocery store in the late 1880s. See First Gas Pump and Service Station.
December 1, 1960 – Oil Musical hits Broadway
Lucille Ball debuts in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics love Lucy – but hate the show.
Lucy stars as penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find a gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912.
“Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” reports an unimpressed New York Times theater critic. Audiences flock to this rare oil patch musical – but after 171 performances, the show closes.
December 2, 1942 – War brings Oil Regulation
President Franklin Roosevelt establishes by executive order the Petroleum Administration for War to centralize war policies relating to petroleum and provide adequate supplies “for the successful prosecution of the war and other essential purposes.” He will end the program on May 3, 1946.
December 2, 1969 – Nixon creates EPA
President Richard M. Nixon establishes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency less than one year after the Santa Barbara oil spill of January 1969. EPA consolidates into one agency “a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.” William Ruckelshaus will be the first administrator.
December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography
Amerada Petroleum drills into a Viola limestone formation in Oklahoma – the first successful oil well produced from a geological structure identified by a reflection seismograph.
The exploration technology for the first time reveals an oil reservoir near Seminole. Successfully tested as early as June 1921, reflection seismography – seismic surveying – will lead to oilfield discoveries across the world.
Amerada Petroleum’s subsidiary Geophysical Research applies the new technology, which has evolved from World War I weapons research. Scientists developed portable equipment that used seismic reflections from artillery to aid the in locating the source. Read more in Exploring Reflection Seismography.
December 4, 1928 – Oklahoma City Well uncovers Giant Oilfield
Henry Foster’s Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company and Foster Petroleum Corporation bring in the 4,000 barrel-a-day Oklahoma City No. 1 well, discovery well for the Oklahoma City oilfield.
Petroleum companies had searched for decades before this successful well is completed just south of the city limits.
The 6,335-foot-deep wildcat well produces an astonishing 110,000 barrels of oil in its first 27 days, causing a rush of development that soon extends the field northward toward the capitol.
Exploratory drilling reaches the city limits by May 1930, prompting the Oklahoma City Council to begin passing ordinances limiting drilling to the southeast part of the city – allowing only one well per city block.
By January 1932, a total of 867 producing wells have been completed – and the Oklahoma City oilfield’s production peaks at 67 million barrels.
From such a beginning the sprawling Oklahoma City oil and natural gas field will become one of world’s major oil-producing areas, notes a state historical marker. Production will rank eighth in the nation for the next 40 years – yielding about 734 million barrels of oil.
Another major well hits the city’s prolific Wilcox producing zone in 1930. Excessive pressure and equipment failure results in the well remaining uncontrolled for 11 days – making it “the most publicized oil well in world.” See World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.” Visitors today can watch newsreel film of the Mary Sudik No. 1 in the natural resources exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center.
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