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Surrounded by 20 acres of woodlands, the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, seven miles north of El Dorado – in equally historic Smackover – exhibits the state’s petroleum history.

When the Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well struck oil in 1921, it catapulted the population of nearby El Dorado, Arkansas, from 4,000 to 25,000.

“Twenty-two trains a day were soon running in and out of El Dorado,” noted the Arkansas Gazette.

An excited state legislature announced plans for a special railway excursion for lawmakers to visit the oil well in Union County.

Haroldson Lafayette Hunt arrived from Texas with $50. He joined the crowd of lease traders and speculators at the Garrett Hotel – where fortunes were being made and lost.

H.L. Hunt, who had borrowed the $50, got his start as an independent oil and natural gas producer in El Dorado. He will make his fortune a decade later in East Texas. See H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

EL Dorado Oilfield revealed

Located on a hill a little over a mile southwest of El Dorado, the derrick was plainly visible from the town, according to historians A. R. and R. B. Buckalew. Read the rest of this entry »

 

His 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” today remains on display in its original Texas oil patch community’s historic U.S. Postal Service building – now a museum.

Born in Memphis, Missouri, on February 22, 1898, Alexandre Hogue will become known for his paintings of southwestern scenes during the Great Depression – including murals of the 1930s petroleum industry. Read the rest of this entry »

 

“Michigan Oil & Gas History,” a 2005 Clarke Historical Library exhibit at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant.

In 1860, Michigan State Geologist Alexander Winchell reported that oil and natural gas deposits lay under Michigan’s surface.

First commercial production was at Port Huron, where twenty-two wells were drilled, beginning in 1886.
Total output was small. Michigan’s first oil boom was at Saginaw, where production began about 1925.

About three hundred wells were drilled here by 1927, when Muskegon’s “Discovery Well” drew oil men from all over the country to that field.

The Mt. Pleasant field, opened in 1928, helped make Michigan one of the leading oil producers of the eastern United States. Mount Pleasant became known as the “Oil Capital of Michigan.”

Efforts of the industry itself resulted in excellent state laws regulating petroleum output. Well depths ranged from one thousand to six thousand feet.

New wells are constantly opened as exploration continues. – 1961 Michigan historical marker.

Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, designed the petroleum history exhibit that creatively used documents and photographs to capture the attention of students.

Central Michigan University Oil Exhibit

In the summer of 2005, a special petroleum exhibit opened at Central Michigan University’s (CMU) Clarke Historical Library, Mount Pleasant.

“They work hard, take risks, prosper, and by and large benefit everybody,” noted Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, about oil and natural gas producers. “What I didn’t understand about the industry is that these people all know each other.”

The library told their story with an “Oil and Natural Gas in Michigan” exhibit.

The state’s abundant oil production comes as a surprise to many, said Boles, who put the exhibit together with the cooperation of the Michigan Oil & Gas Association and the Michigan Oil & Gas Producers Educational Foundation.

Jack Westbrook, retired managing editor of Michigan Oil & Gas News magazine, marshaled the resources and worked tirelessly to ensure success, Boles said. “In a very real sense, there would be no exhibit if it were not for Jack.”

The exhibit was designed to designed to pique a visitor’s curiosity – and be transportable. The region’s students learned that Mount Pleasant, home to CMU, had its own oil boom in 1928 and today is known as the historical center of Michigan’s oil industry.

They were surprised to learn that more than 57,000 oil and gas wells had been drilled in their state since 1925 – and that Michigan ranks 17th in nationwide oil production and 11th in natural gas.

More surprises awaited those students who looked more closely, Boles said.

“We’re about usage,” he explained. “Our profit is people coming in, using our resources, and hopefully learning something. We want our exhibits to prompt them to dig deeper.”

For example, students learn that after decades of dry holes or small oil discoveries, the Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well on January 7, 1957, revealed Michigan’s largest oil field, 29-miles-long.

Ferne Houseknecht had convinced her uncle, Clifford Perry, to take time between his other farm projects to drill the historic well. Read more in “Michigan’s ‘Golden Gulch’ of Oil.”

For the exhibit, Boles used just six walls and eleven cabinets to tell this and other stories, so careful planning was essential. He said that from the project’s outset, pursuit of community support, resources, and partners was essential.

Proudly showing off his homemade miniature cable tool rig in 1932, Earl “Red” Perry Jr., age 12, is the nephew of Cliff Perry – who will discover Michigan’s largest oil field on January 7, 1957.

The exhibit began with storyboarding and the interactive process of writing and rewriting proposed text. Large photo formats with understandable text dominated the walls, while display cases featured unique artifacts and documents.

Visitors discovered a rich oil history and learned of the complex environmental issues Michigan has successfully addressed.

The 1970s “Pigeon River State Forest” ecological controversy was presented – along with its innovative solution. In 1976, Michigan became the first state in the nation to earmark state revenue generated through mineral, including oil and gas, activity for acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive or public recreation lands.

According to Jack Westbrook, all 83 Michigan counties have benefited from the fund’s $635 million collected from oil and gas revenues – and other states followed Michigan’s example.

His book, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011: A 35 year Michigan investment heritage in Michigan’s public recreation future, is available at Amazon. See “Books & Artists.”

Visit the Clarke Historical Library.

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

 

In today’s oil patch, many community museums educate visitors about petroleum technologies – including early oilfield fire fighting. Especially in the Great Plains, where frequent lightning strikes once caused dangerous oil tank fires, one exhibit draws the attention of young and old alike. 

A cloud of black smoke marks the site of an early oil tank fire being fought with oilfield artillery as spectators look on. This rare photo is from the collection of the Butler County History Center & Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.

“Oil Fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” was the catchy phrase in an 1880s magazine article from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

“Lightning had struck the derrick, followed pipe connections into a nearby tank and ignited natural gas, which rises from freshly produced oil. Immediately following this blinding flash, the black smoke began to roll out.”

“A Thunder Storm in the Oil Country,” a December 17, 1884, first-person account in MIT’s The Tech magazine, described what happened next:

“Without stopping to watch the burning tank-house and derrick, we followed the oil to see where it would go. By some mischance the mouth of the ravine had been blocked up and the stream turned abruptly and spread out over the alluvial plain.

“Here, on a large smooth farm, were six iron storage tanks, about 80 feet in diameter and 25 feet high, each holding 30,000 barrels of oil. The burning oil spread with fearful rapidity over the level surface, and finally touched the sides of the nearest tank. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Students visit the Norman No. 1 Well Museum in Neodesha, Kansas, to learn about the November 28, 1892, gusher — and about their state’s modern petroleum industry. Oil or natural gas is produced in 89 of 105 counties.

After 22 days of drilling near Neodesha, Kansas, the Norman No. 1 well comes in.

This November 28, 1892, oil discovery is considered by many to be America’s first significant oil well west of the Mississippi River.

Beginning as just a four-barrel-a day producer from 832 feet deep, this Kansas discovery is the first to uncover production from the Mid-Continent region, which includes oil and natural gas fields extending into Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

“Norman No. 1 was the first oil well west of the Mississippi River to produce a commercial quantity of oil,” explains one historian. The first Kansas oil well was drilled in Miami County in 1860. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Phillips Petroleum Co. vice presidents L.E. Phillips and Clyde Alexander, pilot Arthur Goebel Jr., and legendary oilman Frank Phillips with the 1927 racing airplane – Woolaroc.

Phillips Petroleum Co. vice presidents L.E. Phillips and Clyde Alexander, pilot Arthur Goebel Jr., and legendary oilman Frank Phillips with the 1927 racing airplane – Woolaroc.

It was a foggy Tuesday morning, August 16, 1927, as eight airplanes prepared for takeoff before a crowd of more than 50,000 at the Oakland Airport in California.

Aviation history was about to be made with a race to Honolulu – thanks to a revolutionary petroleum product: Phillips Nu-Aviation Gasoline. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Exhibits in Luling’s restored 1885 mercantile store educate visitors about a 1922 oil discovery – and the modern petroleum industry.

Although nationally famous for its BBQ ribs and watermelon seed-spitting contest, Luling, Texas, still rises and falls with the fortune of its giant oilfield discovered more than a century ago.

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum Museum Director Carol Voigt was among those featured in a story by KVUE Television, the Austin affiliate of ABC.

The July 24, 2013, local news segment – “Oil boom in Luling sparks new interest in town” – also noted the historic oilfield’s return to prosperity thanks to horizontal drilling technology.

In 1924, just two years after its discovery, the Luling oilfield had almost 400 wells producing about 11 million barrels of oil. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Outside the Page Museum of Los Angeles, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured at the Rancho La Brea in Hancock Park. Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the pools are actually comprised of asphalt.

“Tar pits” form when crude oil seeps to the surface through fissures in the earth’s crust and part of the oil evaporates.

The La Brea “tar pits,” discovered on August 3, 1769, by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola, exemplify the many natural petroleum seeps of southern California.

“We proceeded for three hours on a good road; to the right were extensive swamps of bitumen which is called chapapote,” Franciscan friar Juan Crespi noted in a diary of the expedition.

“We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” he added.

Crespi – the first person to use the term bitumen – described the sticky pools in southern California where crude oil had been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Oil scouts like Justus McMullen often braved harsh winters (and sometimes armed guards) to visit well sites. Their intelligence debunked rumors and “demystified” reports about oil wells producing in early oil fields.

In the hard winter of 1888, famed 37-year-old “oil scout” Justus C. McMullen, succumbs to pneumonia – contracted while scouting production data from the Pittsburgh Manufacturers’ Gas Company’s well at Cannonsburg.

McMullen, publisher of the Bradford, Pennsylvania, “Petroleum Age” newspaper, already had contributed much to America’s early petroleum industry as a reliable oil field detective. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Since 1896, when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Bartlesville, many historic Oklahoma oilfields have been discovered: Glennpool, Cushing, Three Sands, Healdton, Oklahoma City and others – including 20 “giants.” Few have had the tremendous economic impact as the late 1920s oilfields of the greater Seminole area.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

Although natural gas had been discovered as early as 1922, the vast potential of the Hugoton-Panhandle field was not known until a 1927 well about 2,600 feet below the surface southwest of Hugoton.

Although natural gas had been discovered as early as 1922, the vast potential of the Hugoton-Panhandle field was not known until a 1927 well about 2,600 feet below the surface southwest of Hugoton.

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton is above a giant natural gas producing area (in red) that extends 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

A small museum sits above a giant natural gas field.

In far southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened on May 16, 1961. It educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America. Read the rest of this entry »

 

On May 12, 2007 - as part of statehood centennial celebrations – state-of-the-art petroleum museums opened in Ponca City and Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

A circa 1880s Continental Oil Company horse-drawn tank wagon welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma, which opened in 2007. Phillips Petroleum Company, once headquartered 70 miles east in Bartlesville, merged with Conoco in 2002.

The Conoco Museum tells the story of a petroleum company that began as a small kerosene distributor serving 19th century pioneer America.

The Conoco Museum tells the story of a petroleum company that began as a small kerosene distributor serving 19th century pioneer America.

“These museums reaffirm our Oklahoma roots,” proclaimed Jim Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, which built the Conoco Museum in Ponca City and the Phillips Museum in Bartlesville as “gifts to the people of Oklahoma, visitors to the state, and our employee and retiree populations around the world.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 »

 

With exhibits collected over five decades by Francis “F.T.” Sr., the Felty Outdoor Oil Museum of Burkburnett, Texas, displays machinery from the height of a 1918 North Texas oil boom. Portable cable-tool spudders are watched over by museum founder’s son, F.T. Felty, Jr., an independent oil and gas producer.

Francis “F.T.” Felty Jr., stands by a photograph of himself — playing on one of his father’s drilling rigs.

Three generations of the Felty family have kicked historic Burkburnett oil field mud from their boots.

The first, Francis “F.T.” Felty Sr., worked in Wichita County through the revival of a North Texas drilling boom during World War Two. Responding to the war’s steel shortages, he crisscrossed the oil patch in a truck – pulling used casings. It turned into a long career in the oil patch.

When the senior Felty moved from salvaging and began drilling in the 1970s, it was within sight of the historic 1918 Burkburnett discovery well. He had begun collecting old oil field equipment in the 1950s – and a lot of rocks, says his son, Francis “F.T.” Felty Jr., the owner of the F.T. Felty Operating Company Read the rest of this entry »

 

Building a community oil museum is not for the faint of heart.

“Money and volunteers, volunteers and money,” are the biggest challenges, according to John Larrabee, board president for the Illinois Oil Field Museum and Resource Center on the outskirts of his hometown of Oblong, Illinois.

The Illinois Oil Field Museum is located in Oblong, Illinois, on Highway 33, southeast of Effingham. First opened in 1961, the community museum moved into a new building in 2001 and today continues to add new exhibits.

“The first thing you have to have is a goal and the determination to keep at it, no matter what. Don’t give up, whatever happens,” Larrabee explained in a 2004 interview with historical society Contributing Editor Kris Wells.

It helps to know something about the oil business, said the third generation Illinois Basin oilman. “The museum began way back in 1961 with a fellow named Enos Bloom, Larrabee noted. “In those days, the city of Oblong provided and maintained a building that housed donated artifacts.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

The historic Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City — site of the society’s popular 2007 Energy Education Conference & Field Trip.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society hosts unique gatherings of energy education professionals — including state and national teacher workshop practitioners, petroleum museums directors, associations and oil and natural gas company representatives.

The May 31 to June 2, 2007,  Energy Education Conference & Field Trip in Oklahoma City brought together leading education experts. The Golden Driller statue in Tulsa was among the stops of a concluding field trip that followed panel discussions, classroom demonstrations, receptions and an awards banquet.

Read the rest of this entry »