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The Smithsonian’s exhibit includes the history behind creation of the interstate highway system.

The role of “Route 66″ from Chicago to Los Angeles is an exhibit feature.

ExxonMobil is among the sponsors of a Smithsonian exhibition that includes themes aimed at educating young people about transportation in American history.

A red oilfield service truck from Shawnee, Oklahoma, is among the petroleum-related exhibits.

The Transportation Hall of National Museum of American History is 26,000 square feet – with 340 objects. The Washington, D.C., attraction features 19 historic settings in chronological order.

“America on the Move” features the Smithsonian Institution’s extensive transportation collection using the latest multimedia technology.

The exhibition “brings back to life the history of ships, trains, trucks, and automobiles. It also reveals America’s fascination with life on the road.”

The large exhibit hall begins with late 19th century transportation technologies, including steam-powered ships and trains, the building of canals and urban development of street cars.

Among the most popular collections, “American Adopt the Auto” features interactive exhibits about the massive new infrastructure required across the country.

“Explore the way the automobile went from being a plaything of the rich to a major factor in the American transportation landscape,” notes the Smithsonian. “In this exhibit section full of objects, you can see toy cars, early license plates, engines, road markers, car-part inventions, mechanics’ tools, and gas pumps.”

To cope with the changes that “automobility” brought, the nation developed an elaborate system of law, commerce, and custom, adds the Smithsonian. Congress passed laws to rebuild roads as inventors improved production techniques. New businesses – gas stations, tire shops, garages – sprang up to supply drivers’ needs.

In 1901, the year of the great oilfield discovery at Spindletop Hill in Texas, New York became the first state to register automobiles; by 1918 all states required license plates. Created in 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association promoted the building of a paved highway from New York to California largely supported by donations from car-related businesses.

Petroleum history plays a small role in the Smithsonian museum’s “America on the Move” exhibit.

By 1930, 23 million cars were on the road, and more than half of American families owned a car. Many high schools began offering driver education classes.

A large exhibit area highlights the Smithsonian’s collection, including displays showing the history of the interstate highway system and images and artifacts from Route 66.

A section about “life on the open road” notes how in the 1920s new highways began to affect people’s lives: “Some Americans used highways to migrate.

Others earned a living on the road, or by its side, running businesses. Many Americans began to take to the highways for pleasure.”

Travelers often saw the highway as a symbol of independence and freedom – although they depended on government for the roads, and on businesses such as automobile and tire manufacturers, oil refiners, gas stations and roadside restaurants.

Route 66 & the Interstate System

Among the exhibits are images of Route 66, which was commissioned in 1926 and fully paved by the late 1930s.

A prominent Tulsa, Oklahoma, businessman – who also invested in the petroleum industry – is credited with creating the enduring (and international) popular identity of Route 66.

Cyrus Avery, a Pennsylvania native, saw the need for better roads, the exhibit notes. As chairman of the Oklahoma Highway Commission, he helped plan the system for numbered highways. His proposal for a highway from Chicago to Los Angeles along a southwestern route was approved and designated U.S. 66 in 1926.

Pennsylvania’s 160-mile turnpike opened in 1940.

Avery founded the U.S. 66 Highway Association and coined the route’s nickname, “Main Street of America.”

Another exhibit notes that after decades of debate, Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956 – and the interstate network was born.

The 41,000-mile system was designed to reach every city with a population of more than 100,000.

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940, it stretched 160 miles from Carlisle to Irwin. It would more than double in length by 1957. An historical marker notes creation of one of the earliest “service plazas,” now commonplace on all interstate highways. See Iowa 80 Trucking Museum.

The “limited access” design of the turnpike became the model for future superhighways – the U.S. interstate system. Almost completed by the 1990s, the total cost for the nation’s interstate system reached more than $100 billion.

The Route 66 exhibit includes the red Oklahoma “oil field service” truck owned by the Rufus Lillard Company of Shawnee with this note: “The 20th century oil industry employed increasingly large numbers of men in the oil fields: their number rose from 22,230 workers in 1902 to 93,205 in 1919.”

Even more people were employed building pipelines and working in refineries, corporate offices, and marketing. Despite the Depression, by the mid-1930s the U.S. petroleum industry employed some one million people.

Read about America’s first automobile show in 1900 in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in Cantankerous Combustion.  

Similar to today’s “American on the Move” hall, the the National Museum of American History once devoted space to the petroleum industry.

On June 28, 1967, the “Hall of Petroleum” opened. It including full-size cable-tool and rotary drilling rigs, pump jacks and other oilfield exhibits. The “Panorama of Petroleum,” a 56-foot-long mural by Delbert Jackson, welcomed thousands of visitors.

Read more in Smithsonian’s “Hall of Petroleum.”

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


Salt Creek, Wyoming, 1890

Although not the state’s first oil discovery, the Shannon No. 1 well at Salt Creek, Wyoming, of 1890 will lead to a major find in 1908 – and help launch the petroleum industry in the West.

In 1883, tales of a fabled “tar spring” may have inspired a wildcatter – Pennsylvanian Mike Murphy – to drill Wyoming’s first oil well.  A few years later, Civil War veteran Philip Martin Shannon will explore more of the Salt Creek oil seeps, revealing a 22,000-acre oilfield.

 The Salt Creek oilfield has produced more than 650 million barrels of oil over the last 100 years - and even more remains in the ground. Using advanced technologies, companies inject carbon dioxide into wells and the added pressure keeps oil flowing.

The Salt Creek oilfield has produced more than 650 million barrels of oil over the last 100 years – and even more remains in the ground.

In 1837, Washington Irving published The Adventures of Captain Bonneville: or, Scenes beyond the Rocky Mountains of the Far West.

Eastern readers were spellbound by Capt. Benjamin Bonneville’s four-year expedition, encounters with Indians, and detailed accounts of life on the fur-trapping trail.

In the unforgiving lands that would one day become the Wyoming Territory, Bonneville traveled down the Popo Agie River and in 1832 made note of a natural resource that would one day bring a new industry to the state of Wyoming:

“In this neighborhood, the captain made search for ‘the great Tar Spring,’ one of the wonders of the mountains, the medicinal properties of which he had heard extravagantly lauded by the trappers. Read the rest of this entry »


Formed by Harry F. Sinclair in 1916, Sinclair Oil Corporation is one of the oldest continuous names in the oil industry. The company will create a marketing icon whose popularity with children – and educational value – remains to this day.

Today known more correctly as Apatosaurus, in the 1960s this 70-foot “Dino” traveled more 10,000 miles through 25 states and 38 major cities – stopping at shopping centers and other venues where crowds of children were introduced to the wonders of prehistory, courtesy of Sinclair Oil.

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By 1920, Tulsa is home to 400 petroleum companies, two daily newspapers, seven banks, four telegraph companies – and more than 10,000 telephones.

On a chilly fall morning in 1905 – two years before Oklahoma becomes a state – oil is discovered on the Glenn farm south of Tulsa.

Soon, there are hundreds of wells producing so much oil that the land is called the “‘Glenn Pool,” now the Tulsa suburb Glenpool.

This November 22 discovery well will help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”

With daily production soon exceeding 120,000 barrels, Glenn Pool exceeds Tulsa County’s earlier “Red Fork Gusher” – and the giant Spindletop discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »


2009 “Rock Oil Tour” to Titusville, Pennsylvania

Titusville or Bust! Below are notes from a fun and educational August 21-22, 2009, “Rock Oil 2009 Tour” — courtesy of members of the National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics.

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Ed Jacobsen, once an oil company sales representative in the Chicago area, bought his first service station in the late 1960s. More than three decades and six stations later, he retired to his wife’s hometown of Three Lakes in the Northwoods region of upper Wisconsin. But Ed missed the world of service stations. He began visiting flea markets and garage sales.

Ed Jacobsen’s expertise — and love for “the world of service stations” — resulted in the July 2006 opening of Wisconsin’s Northwoods Petroleum Museum. On June 18, 2011, the museum drew nearly 2,000 people for the eighth annual Three Lakes Car Show, which included 110 vintage vehicles.

By 2006, as Ed’s petroleum-related memorabilia climbed above 2,700 items. He (and his wife) realized there was a looming storage problem — although he still maintained that technically, he was not a collector.

“Many collectors buy, sell or trade memorabilia to make money,” he says. “I believe in the educational value of these items – and preserving a history many people may have forgotten.” Read the rest of this entry »