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Archive for the 'Petroleum Technology' Category


Oil patch lore says the yellow dog lantern was so named because its two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Some say the lamp casts a dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

Jonathan Dillen’s lantern was “especially adapted for use in the oil regions…where the explosion of a lamp is attended with great danger by causing destructive conflagration and consequent loss of life and property.”

Rare is the community oil and natural gas museum that doesn’t have a “yellow dog” in its collection. The two-wicked lamp is an oilfield icon.

Some say that the unusual design originated with whaling ships – but neither the Nantucket nor New Bedford whaling museums can find any such evidence.

Railroad museums have collections of cast iron smudge pots, but nothing quite like these heavy, odd shaped, crude-oil burning lanterns once prevalent on petroleum fields from Pennsylvania to California.

Although many companies manufactured the iron or steel lamps, the yellow dog’s origins remain in the dark.

Oil patch lore says these lanterns were so named because their two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night.

Others say the lamps cast a dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

Inventor Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, was first to patent what became the yellow dog in 1870. Read the rest of this entry »


Inventor Henry Mohaupt used his World War II anti-tank weapon to develop a downhole bazooka technology for safely perforating petroleum well casings.

downhole bazooka

In 1951, Henry Mohaupt will apply for a U.S. patent for his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun,” based on World War II anti-tank technology he patented a decade earlier – a conically hollowed out explosive fired from bazookas.

Cement casing, a key oilfield technolgy developed in 1919 by Erle Halliburton’s New Method Oil Well Cementing Company, Duncan, Oklahoma, isolates wellbore zones and guards against collapse.

But far down the borehole, a newly completed well’s cemented casing stands between the petroleum company’s massive investment and the production of oil or gas.

In the early days of well “perforating” technology, a variety of mechanical means of penetrating casings were used. Read the rest of this entry »


Few remember the names of those who come in second – they often are relegated to the “also rans,” no matter how close to the finish. Petroleum history is the same.

Visitors to the scenic Allegheny National Forest Region on U.S. 62 near Tidioute, Pennsylvania, will discover this Warren County roadside marker.

Second-place finishers dwell in the fine print of history. Consider America’s first oil well.

Edwin L. Drake drilled his famous well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. As a result, each year the Drake Well Museum draws thousands of visitors from all over the world. The discovery’s sesquicentennial in 2009 was commemorated for a week in the “valley that changed the world.”

Although August 27, 1859, marks the date of America’s first commercial well drilled specifically for oil, August 31 – just four days later – is less known. It was on that day that a well was spudded by a young man named John Livingston Grandin.

This well, America’s second to be drilled for oil, will produce petroleum industry firsts, including:

♦ First Dry Hole
♦ First Well in Which Tools Stuck
♦ First Well in Which an                  Explosive Charge Was Used Read the rest of this entry »


making hole

Often used for drilling brine wells, a “spring-pole” well discovered oil in Appalachia. Steam-powered cable-tools drilled faster and deeper. Photo from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the Department of the Interior.

oil well drilling technology

The Chinese drilled with bamboo spring poles as early as 450 A.D.

Oil well drilling technology has evolved from the ancient spring pole to percussion cable-tools to the modern rotary rigs that can drill miles into the earth.

“A good cable-tool man is just about the most highly skilled worker you’ll find,” historian note.

“Besides having a feel for the job, knowing what’s going on thousands of feet under the ground just from the movement of the cable, he’s got to be something of a carpenter, a steam-fitter, an electrician, and a damned good mechanic.”

– From a 1939 interview in “Voices from the Oilfield” by Paul Lambert and Kenny Franks.

“A cable tool driller knows more knots and splices than any six sailors you can find,” Lambert and Franks added during the interview. Cable-tool rigs, powered by a steam engine and boiler, included the bullwheel and drilling cable – often high-quality manila rope.

oil well drilling technology

Standard cable-tool derricks stood 82 feet tall and were powered by a steam boiler and engine using a “walking beam” to alternately raise and lower drilling tools – which frequently had to be sharpened in a forge. Image from The Oil-Well Driller, 1905.

Drilling or “making hole” began long before oil or natural gas were anything more than flammable curiosities found seeping from the ground.

For centuries, digging by hand or shovel was the best technologies that existed to pry into the earth’s secrets. Oil seeps provided a balm for injuries. Natural gas seeps – when ignited – created folklore and places called “burning springs.” Read the rest of this entry »


seismic waves

A sign and marker commemorating the August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology is located on I-35 at a scenic turnout near Ardmore, Oklahoma, about halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

An earth science technology – reflection seismography – revolutionized petroleum exploration in the 1920s. Seismic waves soon led to oilfield discoveries worldwide. The technology evolved from efforts to locate enemy artillery during World War I.

seismic waves

A monument in Seminole, Oklahoma, commemorates the December 4, 1928, birth of reflection, a vital petroleum exploration technology.

Although the new way of finding petroleum reserves came from several competing post-war inventors, a 1921 experiment of an Oklahoma physicist stood out.

“Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” proclaims the Oklahoma Historical Society.

“This geophysical method records reflected seismic waves as they travel through the earth helping to find oil bearing formations,” the historical society notes on a granite monument northeast of Ardmore.

The technology has been responsible for discovering many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields, containing billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Read the rest of this entry »


The anticipated Halliburton and Baker Hughes merger unites more than a century of oilfield service technologies pioneered by three petroleum industry legends.

Today, these historic oil and gas industry companies market products and services in more than 80 countries – competing mainly with Schlumberger, a company founded in France in 1926.

All specialize in maximizing oil and natural gas production throughout the life of a reservoir.

Baker Hughes employs 62,000 while Halliburton Company reports a workforce of 80,000 dedicated to “locating hydrocarbons and managing geological data, to drilling and formation evaluation, well construction and completion, and optimizing production through the life of the field.”

Following the $34.6 billion merger – if approved by the U.S. Department of Justice – the combined energy service company’s shareholders should acknowledge the three genius entrepreneurs who made it possible long ago.

Erle P. Halliburton

Erle Palmer Halliburton moved to the booming Healdton oilfield in Oklahoma, in 1919 after working in Burkburnett, Texas. He established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan and experimented with technologies to improve oil well production.

 Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

One of the earliest self-propelled Halliburton cementing trucks includes a jet mixer at the rear of the truck. Halliburton photo courtesy E&P magazine.

Water intrusion hampered many wells, requiring time and expense for pumping out. Water, he noted in a 1920 patent application, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

Awarded a U.S. patent the next year for his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” the 28-year-old inventor was just beginning. The cementing innovation – at first resisted by some oilfield skeptics – isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

The city of Duncan, Oklahoma, dedicated a Halliburton statue in 1993.

Halliburton’s well cementing process revolutionized how oil and natural gas wells were completed. He went on to patent much of today’s cementing technology – including the jet mixer, the remixer and the float collar, guide shoe and plug system, bulk cementing, multiple-stage cementing, advanced pump technology and offshore cementing technology.

In 1938, Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company moved offshore with a barge-mounted unit cementing a well off the Louisiana coast. In 1949, Halliburton and Stanolind Oil Company completed a well near Duncan, Oklahoma – the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.

“Halliburton was ever the tinkerer. He owned nearly 50 patents,” notes William Pike, former editor-in-chief of E&P magazine. “Most are oilfield, and specifically cementing related, but the number includes patents for an airplane control, an opposed piston pump, a respirator, an airplane tire and a metallic suitcase.”

Pike adds that Halliburton’s only real service company competitor for decades was Carl Baker of Baker Oil Tools. Read more in Halliburton cements Wells.

R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

Baker Tools Company founder R.C. “Carl” Baker in 1919.

Baker International was founded by Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker Sr. of Coalinga, California, who among other inventions patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.

“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Coalinga historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”

Baker also patented a “Gas Trap for Oil Wells” in 1908, a “Pump-Plunger” in 1914, and a “Shoe Guide for Well Casings” in 1920.

Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” reports the Baker Museum. Baker organized small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.

After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through a well.

By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga.

The R.C. Baker Memorial Museum was the 1917 machine shop and office of Baker Casing Shoe. When Baker Tools headquarters moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, the building remained a company machine shop. It was donated by Baker to Coalinga in 1959 and opened as a museum in 1961.

Carl Baker Sr. died in 1957 at age 85 – after receiving more than 150 U.S. patents in his lifetime. “Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” notes the Coalinga museum.

Baker Tools became Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after the 1987 merger with Hughes Tool Company.

 The Houston, Texas, manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo couttesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

The Houston manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo courtesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

Howard R. Hughes Sr.

The Hughes Tool Company began in 1908 as the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company founded by Walter B. Sharp and Howard R. Hughes, Sr. “Fishtail” rotary drill bits became obsolete in 1909 when they introduced a dual-cone roller bit patented by Hughes.

The business partners developed a bit “designed to enable rotary drilling in harder, deeper formations than was possible with earlier fishtail bits,” according to a Hughes historian. They conducted secret tests on a drilling rig in Goose Creek, Texas.

Although several inventors tried to develop better rotary drill bit technologies, Sharp-Hughes Tool Company was the first to bring it to American oilfields. Drilling times fell dramatically, saving petroleum companies huge amounts of money.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1901 patent for a dual-cone drill bit.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers has noted that about the same time Hughes developed his bit, Granville A. Humason of Shreveport, Louisiana, patented the first cross-roller rock bit, the forerunner of the Reed cross-roller bit.

Biographers note that Hughes met Granville Humason in a Shreveport bar, where Humason sold his roller bit rights to Hughes for $150. The University of Texas’ Center for American History has a rare 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that chance meeting. Humason recalls he spent $50 of his sale proceeds at the bar during the balance of the evening.

After Sharp died in 1912, his widow Estelle Sharp sold her 50 percent share in the company to Hughes. It became Hughes Tool in 1915. Despite legal action between Hughes Tool and the Reed Roller Bit Company that occurred in the late 1920s, Hughes prevailed – and his oilfield service company prospered.

By 1934, Hughes Tool engineers design and patented the three-cone roller bit, an enduring design that remains much the same today. Hughes’ exclusive patent lasted until 1951, which allowed his Texas company to grow worldwide. More innovations (and mergers) would follow.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

A February 1914 advertisement for the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company in Fuel Oil Journal.

Frank Christensen and George Christensen had developed the earliest diamond bit in the 1941 and introduced diamond bits to oilfields in 1946, beginning with the Rangley field of Colorado. The long-lasting tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s.

After Baker International acquired Hughes Tool Company in 1987, Baker Hughes acquired the Eastman Christensen Company three years later. Eastman was a world leader in directional drilling.

When Howard Hughes Sr. died in 1924, he left three-quarters of his company to Howard Hughes Jr., then a student at Rice University. The younger Hughes added to the success of Hughes Tool while becoming one of the richest men in the world. His many legacies include founding Hughes Aircraft Company and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Learn more oilfield history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

Service Company Competition

A major competitor for any energy service company, today’s Schlumberger Limited can trace its roots to Caen, France. In 1912, brothers Conrad and Marcel began making geophysical measurements that recorded a map of equipotential curves (similar to contour lines on a map). Using very basic equipment, their field experiments led to invention of a downhole electronic “logging tool” in 1927.

After successfully developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers lowered another electric tool into a well. They record a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating first electric well log of geologic formations.


Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS.


oil well pumps

The founding of the Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company in 1902 will lead to creation of an oilfield icon known by many names — nodding donkey, grasshopper, horse-head, thirsty bird, etc.

In a valley in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, Edwin Drake discovered America’s first significant quantities of oil. For his oil well pump, he borrowed a common water well hand pump to retrieve the new resource from 69.5 feet.

As the American petroleum industry was born, it wasn’t long before necessity and ingenuity combined to find something more efficient for producing oil from a well.

Industry pioneers realized that by improving oil well pump efficiency they could extend the economic life of far deeper wells by years. The new resource will be refined to meet the phenomenal worldwide demand for an inexpensive lamp fuel: kerosene.


Ever since America’s earliest oil discoveries, dynamite or nitroglycerin detonations increased a well’s production. Hydraulic fracturing came in the 1949. 

Today’s hydraulic fracturing technologies can trace their roots to April 25, 1865, when Civil War veteran Col. Edward A. L. Roberts received the first of his many patents for an “exploding torpedo.”

hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing has been used to increase production on millions of oil and natural gas wells since 1949.

Read the rest of this entry »



From the petroleum industry’s earliest days, when tools stuck downhole, drilling stopped. Money and time evaporated. An oil well fishing expert took over.

“Fishing” Tools

The loss of a drilling tool down a well bore has caused trouble practically since the first commercial well in America.

The challenge of retrieving broken (and often expensive) equipment obstructing a well – “fishing” – has tormented oil and natural gas exploration companies since the first tool stuck irretrievably at 134 feet and ruined a Pennsylvania well.

It was just four days after the historic August 27, 1859, discovery by Edwin Drake along Oil Creek in Titusville, in the “valley that changed the world,” that a far less known driller got his iron chisel wedged tight.

John Grandin, who drilled his well using a simple spring pole and improvised his well fishing tools, not only lost his drill bit (an industry first), he ended up with the first dry hole in U.S. petroleum history. Read more about him in the First Dry Hole.

In those early days of the industry, the search for petroleum was less an earth science and more an art. Even as drilling technologies evolved from spring poles and cable tools to modern rotary rigs, downhole problems remained – especially as wells reached new depths.

The term fishing came from early percussion drilling using cable-tools. When the derrick’s Manila rope broke, a crewman lowered a hook and attempted to pull out the well’s heavy iron bit. More advance attachments followed.

The term fishing came from early percussion drilling using cable-tools. When the derrick’s manila rope or wire line rope broke, a crewman lowered a hook and attempted to pull out the well’s heavy iron bit. More advance attachments followed. Note the fishing tools to the left of the drill pipe.

Like its ancient predecessor the spring pole, early cable-tool rigs utilized percussion drilling, the repeated lifting and dropping of a heavy chisel using hemp ropes.

Drilling time and depth improved with the addition of steam power and tall, wooden derricks. But as the well got deeper, frequent stops were needed to bail out water and cuttings – and sharpen the wedged drill bit made of iron. Forges were often on the derrick floor.

Often tools would get jammed deep in the borehole. Perhaps the manila rope or wire line would break. A pipe connection might bend or break. The increasingly heavy downhole tool assemblies could no longer be lifted and dropped.

On the rig floor, fishing tools had to be lowered by a line into the well, armed at their end with spears, clamps and hooks. Sometimes a wood, wax and nails “impression block” was first lowered to get an idea of what lay downhole.

Boot Jacks, Die Nipples and Whipstocks

“Well fishing tools are constantly being improved and new ones introduced,” explains the author of A Handbook of the Petroleum Industry. David T. Day published volume one of his book in 1922.

Describing cable tool operations, he writes that the basic principle of well fishing tools often involved milled wedges – on a spear or in a cylinder – for recovering lost tubing or casing.

Hundreds of designs were patented, each designed to catch some tool or part that broken or lost in the borehole, writes Day. Although fishing tools could be improvised on site, many already were available to get the job done.

“Simpler types of fishing tools comprise horn sockets, corrugated friction sockets, rope grabs, rope spears, bit hooks, spuds, whipstocks, fluted wedges, rasps, bell sockets, rope knives, boot jacks, casing knives and die nipples.” notes Day.

Basic fishing tools include the spear and socket, each with milled edges. Using nails and wax, an impression block helps determine what is stuck downhole. Image from A Handbook of the Petroleum Industry, 1922.

Basic fishing tools include the spear and socket, each with milled edges. Using nails and wax, an impression block helps determine what is stuck downhole. Image from A Handbook of the Petroleum Industry, 1922.

These and other devices, when used with an auger stem in various combinations called jars, can secure a powerful upward stroke or “jar” and thus dislodge and recover the tool being sought, he explains.

“The jars, essentially and universally used in fishing with cable tools, consist off two heavy forged-steel links, interlocking as the links of a cable chain, but fitting together more snugly,” he adds.

“Many lost tools that cannot be recovered are drilled up or ‘side-tracked” (driven into or against the wall) and passed in drilling,” Day concludes. “Much depends upon the skill and patience of the driller.”

Once all well fishing tools failed, a final resort was a whipstock, which allowed the bit to angle off and actually bypass the fish but leaves the operator with a deviated hole, adds another historian. This was sometimes unpopular where wells were closely spaced.

By the early 1900s, rotary drilling introduced the hollow drill stem that enabled broken rock debris to be washed out of the borehole. It led to far deeper wells.

By the early 1900s, rotary drilling introduced the hollow drill stem that enabled broken rock debris to be washed out of the borehole. It led to far deeper wells.

As drilling with rotary rigs became more common in the early 1900s, fishing methods adapted.

“In rotary drilling, the only tools ordinarily used in the well are the drill pipe and bits,” Day writes in his 1922 book, adding that the rotary fishing tools, “were comparatively free from the complexities of cable-tool work.”

Most rotary fishing jobs were caused by “twist offs” (broken drill pipe), although the bit, drill coupling or tool joints may break or unscrew. As in cable-tool fishing, an impression block often was needed to determine the proper fishing tool.

However, even back then – and especially now with wells miles deep and often turned horizontally – when a downhole problem occurred, the well could be lost for good – like John Grandin’s spring pole well in 1859.

Although fishing technologies have made great advances, efficiently “making hole” remains as vital to an exploration company’s success today as it was more than 150 years ago.

Read more about the evolution of petroleum exploration in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

Deep Fishing in Oklahoma

The Anadarko Basin extends across western Oklahoma into the Texas Panhandle and into southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado. It includes the Hugoton-Panhandle field, the Union City field and the Elk City field and is among the most prolific natural gas producing areas in North America.

A granite monument at Third and Pioneer streets in Elk City, Oklahona, notes:

The Deep Anadarko Basin of Western Oklahoma is one of the most prolific gas provinces of North America. Wells drilled here have been among the world’s deepest.


A 1974 souvenir of the Bertha Roger No. 1 well, which sought natural gas almost six miles deep in Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin.

Until the 1960s, few companies could risk millions of dollars and push rotary rig drilling technology to reach beyond the 13,000-foot level in what geologists called “the deep gas play.”

The great expense and technological expertise necessary to complete ultra-deep natural gas wells at these depths made the Anadarko Basin “the domain of the major petroleum corporations,” explains Bobby Weaver, Oklahoma Historical Society.

GHK Company and partner Lone Star Producing Company believed ultra-deep wells in Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin could produce massive amounts of natural gas. They began drilling wells more than three miles deep in the late 1960s. South of Burns Flat in Washita County, their Bertha Rogers No.1 would reach almost six miles deep in 1974 – after a deep fishing trip.

Spudded in November 1972 and averaging about 60 feet per day, the Bertha Rogers was heading for the history books as the world’s deepest well at the time. After 16 months of drilling and almost six miles deep – the rotary rig drill stem sheared from the strain.

More than 4,100 feet of pipe and the massive drill bit were stuck downhole in what was then the deepest well in the world.

anadarko basin

An independent producer, in 2006 John West preserved artifacts in Anadarko Basin Museum of Natural History, now closed due to a lack of support.

It was March 1974 and the enormous investment of Lone Star Producing Company of Dallas, and partner GHK, was about to be lost.

GHK called a Houston fishing company.

Wilson Downhole Service Company sent its downhole fishing expert, Mack Ponder, to the rescue the multimillion dollar well. Many companies were pushing the edge of the envelope to drill deep enough.

Against all odds using the technology of 1970s – Ponder retrieved the pipe sections and drill bit from 30,019 feet deep. Drilling resumed at the site (about 12 miles west of Cordell).

Although the remarkable deep fishing achievement was celebrated, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 had to be completed at just 14,000 feet after striking molten sulfur at 31,441 feet. The equipment could not take the abuse at total depth. The well set a world record at the time – and today remains one of the deepest ever drilled.

In 1979 the No. 1 Sanders well near Sayre in Beckham County became Oklahoma’s deepest natural gas producer at 24,996 feet. Deep drilling today has returned in force to today’s Anadarko Basin.

“At the close of the twentieth century this vast Oklahoma region was the most prolific gas-producing area in the nation,” concludes Weaver, a Ph.D. oil patch story-teller. Also see Anadarko Basin in Depth.

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


Project Gasbuggy was the first in a series of Atomic Energy Commission downhole nuclear detonations to release natural gas trapped in shale. This was “fracking” late 1960s style.

Scientists lower a 13-foot by 18-inches diameter nuclear warhead into a well in New Mexico. The experimental 29-kiloton Project Gasbuggy device will be detonated at a depth of 4,240 feet. Los Alamos Lab photo.

The underground detonation was part of a bigger program begun in the late 1950s to explore peaceful uses of nuclear explosions.

In December 1967, government scientists – exploring the peacetime use of controlled atomic explosions – detonated Gasbuggy, a 29 kiloton nuclear device they had lowered into a natural gas well in rural New Mexico. The Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons.

Project Gasbuggy included experts from the Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. Bureau of Mines and El Paso Natural Gas Company.

Near three low-production natural gas wells, the team drilled to a depth of 4,240 feet – and lowered a 13-foot-long by 18-inch-wide nuclear device into the borehole. Read the rest of this entry »


 Two Texans sought the end of gushers at oil wells. In 1922, James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron filed a patent for the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer. 

“The object of our invention is to provide a device designed to be secured to the top of the casing while the drilling is being done and which will be adapted to be closed tightly about the drill stem when necessary,” they noted in their application, which was approved in January 1926. It revolutionized the petroleum industry.

blowout preventer

James Dean starred as a roughneck in the 1956 movie “Giant” – at the time “a sprawling epic” about a Texas rancher (Rock Hudson) and an oil gusher on his land. In fact, decades earlier two Texas wildcatters had invented a device that prevented most gushers.

Petroleum drilling technologies, among the most advanced of any industry, have evolved since 1859 – especially as wells have reached far deeper. In 1922, it took a Texas wildcatter’s experience and ingenuity to invent a device designed to stop gushers.

blowout preventer

Gushers like this famous one on Spindletop Hill, Texas, in 1901 were dramatic – but dangerous and wasteful.

The image of James Dean celebrating in a rain of oil may have been dramatic in 1956, but most oilfield gushers ended much earlier. By the time the movie “Giant” was made, the technology of well control and blowout prevention had been in place more than 30 years.

Perhaps the most famous high-pressure blowout occurred at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas.

On January 10, 1901, a three-man crew was drilling when a six-inch stream of oil and gas erupted 100 feet into the air. This oilfield would prove to be among the largest and most significant for a gasoline-hungry nation.

The Beaumont newspaper described the discovery well drilled by Anthony F. Lucas and Pattillo Higgins of the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company: “An Oil Geyser – Remarkable Phenomenon South of Beaumont – Gas Blows Pipe from Well and a Flow of Oil Equaled Nowhere Else on Earth.”

It took nine days and 500,000 barrels of oil before a shut off valve for the well (producing from a salt dome, as Lucas had predicted) could be affixed to the casing to stop the flow. At the time and for years to follow, images of gushers would attract investors.

blowout preventer

James Abercrombie invented the “ram-type” blowout preventer – using hydrostatic pistons to close on the drill stem and form a seal against the well pressure.

Learn more at the Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont. Read the rest of this entry »


Disaster in 1933 at a giant oil field near Conroe, Texas, brings together the inventor of a portable drilling rig and the father of directional drilling.

Two years earlier, veteran oilman George W. Strake Sr. had made a major discovery eight miles southeast of Conroe in December 1931. His wildcat well would prove historic in many ways.

Although the Conroe well’s producing sands proved to be dangerously gas-charged, shallow and unstable, the giant oil field – the third largest in the United States at the time – soon had 60 successful wells producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil a day.

The region north of Houston boomed as the Great Depression worsened.

Disaster came in January 1933 when one of the wells blew out and erupted into flame. The runaway well cratered – completely swallowing nearby drilling rigs. Read the rest of this entry »


Erle P. Halliburton received a 1921 patent for an improved method for cementing oil wells. It brought greater petroleum production and environmental safety.

cementing oil wells

An early Halliburton truck for cementing oil wells can be seen in the background of this circa 1920s photo with an unidentified company employee sitting in a Model T Ford. Photo courtesy Timothy Johnson.

When Halliburton received his patent for a “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” he helped revolutionize how an oil or natural gas well was completed for production.

cementing oil wells

Erle Halliburton’s well cementing process isolated down-hole production zones, prevented collapse of the casing – and helped secure the well throughout its producing life.

cementing oil wells

An Erle Halliburton statue was dedicated in 1993 in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Founded in 1920, Halliburton’s petroleum equipment and service company headquartered in Ardmore, Oklahoma, received many patents on its way to becoming dominant worldwide in extending the life of oil and natural gas wells.

After working in Burkburnett, Texas, in 1919, Erle Halliburton had moved to the booming Healdton oilfield near Ardmore, where he established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company.

“It is well known to those skilled in the art of oil well drilling that one of the greatest obstacles to successful development of oil bearing sands has been the encountering of liquid mud water and the like during and after the process of drilling the wells,” Halliburton notes in his June 26, 1920, patent application. Read the rest of this entry »


 The founder and president of the REDA Pump Company, Armais Arutunoff, once lived in this house at 1200 Cherokee Avenue - across from the home of Phillips Petroleum founder Frank Phillips, whose home today is a Bartlesville museum. Courtesy Kathryn Mann, Only in Bartlesville.

The founder and president of the Reda Pump Company, Armais Arutunoff, once lived in this house at 1200 Cherokee Avenue – across from Phillips Petroleum founder Frank Phillips, whose home today is a Bartlesville, Oklahoma, museum. Photo courtesy Kathryn Mann, Only in Bartlesville.

Armais Arutunoff will obtain 90 patents. Above, a 1934, patent for an improved submersible well pump – and “submersible electric cable and method for making same.” At right, a 1951 Reda Pump advertisement.

Today’s petroleum industry owes a lot to Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff.

With the help of a prominent Oklahoma oil company president, he built the first practical electric submersible pumps (ESPs) – and revolutionized production from America’s oilfields.

A 1936 Tulsa World article described his downhole pump as “an electric motor with the proportions of a slim fencepost which stands on its head at the bottom of a well and kicks oil to the surface with its feet.”

By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artifical lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump.

According to an October 2014 article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology, the first patent for an oil-related electric pump was issued in 1894 to Harry Pickett. His invention used a downhole rotary electric motor with “a Yankee screwdriver device to drive a plunger pump.”

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

More than two decades later, Robert Newcomb received a 1918 patent for his “electro-magnetic engine” driving a reciprocating plunger pump. “Heretofore, in very deep wells the rod that is connected to the piston, and generally known as the ‘sucker’ rod, very often breaks on account of its great length and strains imposed thereon in operating the piston,” notes Newcomb in his patent application.

Although several patents followed those of Picket and Newcomb, the Journal reports, “it was not until 1926 that the first patent for a commercial, operatable ESP was issued – to ESP piorneer Armais Arutunoff. The cable used to supply power to the bottomhole unit was also invented by Arutunoff.”

Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff

Arutunoff built his first ESP in 1916 in Germany, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Suspended by steel cables, it was dropped down the well casing into oil or water and turned on, creating a suction that would lift the liquid to the surface formation through pipes,” notes historian Dianna Everett.

After immigrating to the United States in 1923. In California, Arutunoff could not find financial support for manufacturing his pump design. He moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1928 at the urging of a new friend – Frank Phillips, head of Phillips Petroleum Company.

“With Phillips’s backing, he refined his pump for use in oil wells and first successfully demonstrated it in a well in Kansas,” says Everett. The device was manufactured by a small company that soon became Reda Pump.

The name Reda – Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff – was the cable address of the company that Arutunoff originally started in Germany. The inventor would move his family into a Bartlesville mansion across the street from Phillips.

A holder of more than 90 patents in the United States, Arutunoff was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1974. “Try as I may, I cannot perform services of such value to repay this wonderful country for granting me sanctuary and the blessings of freedom and citizenship,” he said at the time.

A modern ESP applies artificial lift by spinning the impellers on the pump shaft, putting pressure on the surrounding fluids and forcing them to the surface. It can lift more than 25,000 barrels of fluids per day. Courtesy Schlumberger.

A modern ESP applies artificial lift by spinning the impellers on the pump shaft, putting pressure on the surrounding fluids and forcing them to the surface. It can lift more than 25,000 barrels of fluids per day. Courtesy Schlumberger.

Arutunoff died in February 1978 in Bartlesville. At the end of the twentieth century, Reda was the world’s largest manufacturer of ESP systems. It is now part of Schlumberger.

Son of a Soap Maker

Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff was born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, part of the Russian Empire, on June 21, 1893. His home town, in the Caucasus Mountains between the Caspian and Black Sea, dated back to the 5th Century.

According to an online electrical submersible pump history at ESP Pump, his father was a soap manufacturer and his grandfather a fur trader. In his youth, Arutunoff lived in Erivan (now Yerevan) the capital of Armenia.

ESP Pump, which includes a profile of his extensive scientific career, says Arutunoff’s research convinced him that electrical transmission of power could be efficiently applied to oil drilling and improve the antiquated methods he saw in use in the early 1900s in Russia.

“To do this, a small, yet high horsepower electric motor was needed,” ESP Pump explains. “The limitation imposed by available casing sizes made it necessary that the motor be relatively small.”

However, a motor of small diameter would necessarily be too low in horsepower. “Such a motor would be inadequate for the job he had in mind so he studied the fundamental laws of electricity to find the basis for the answer to the question of how to build a higher horsepower motor exceedingly small in diameter,” explains ESP Power.

By 1916, Arutunoff was designing a centrifugal pump to be coupled to the motor for de-watering mines and ships. To develop enough power it was necessary the motor run at very high speeds. He successfully designed a centrifugal pump, small in diameter and with stages to achieve high discharge pressure.

“In his design, the motor was ingeniously installed below the pump to cool the motor with flow moving up the oil well casing, and the entire unit was suspended in the well on the discharge pipe,” ESP Pump says. “The motor, sealed from the well fluid, operated at high speed in an oil bath.”

Upside Down Well Motor

Although Arutunoff built the first centrifugal pump while living in Germany, he built the first submersible pump and motor in the United States while living in Los Angeles.

“Before coming to the U.S. he had formed a small company of his own, called Reda, to manufacture his idea for electric submersible motors,” notes ESP Pump. “He later settled in Germany and then came with his wife and one-year-old daughter to the United States to settle in Michigan, then Los Angeles.”

However, after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff could not find financial support for his down-hole production technology. Everyone he approached turned him down, saying the unit was “impossible under the laws of electronics.”

No one would consider his inventions until friends at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville encouraged him to form his own company there.

The Reda Company manufacturing plant in Bartlesville will cover nine acres and employ hundreds.

Arutunoff’s manufacturing plant in Bartlesville will cover nine acres, employing hundreds during the Great Depression.

In 1928 Arutunoff moved to Bartlesville, where formed Bart Manufacturing Company, which changed its same to the Reda Pump Company in 1930. He soon demonstrated a working model of an oilfield electric submersible pump.

One of his pump-and-motor devices was installed in an oil well in the El Dorado field near Burns, Kansas – the first equipment of its kinds to be used in a well. One reporter telegraphed his editor, “Please rush good pictures showing oil well motors that are upside down.”

By end of the 1930s Arutunoff’s company held dozens of patents for industrial equipment, leading to decades of success and even more patents. His “Electrodrill” aided scientists in penetrating the Antarctic ice cap for the first time in 1967.

“Arutunoff’s ESP oilfield technology quickly had a significant impact on the oil business,” concludes ESP Pump. “His pump was crucial to the successful production over the years of hundreds of thousands of oil wells.”

Also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield TechnologyVisit the Frank Phillips Home in Bartlesville.

Read more in an article about the Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.

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