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October 26, 1970 – Joe Roughneck Statue dedicated in Texas

petroleum history october 20

Texas Gov. Preston Smith in 1970 dedicated this “Joe Roughneck” in Boonsville. Photo courtesy Mike Price.

Governor Preston Smith of Texas dedicated a “Joe Roughneck” statue in Boonsville on the 20th anniversary of a giant natural gas field discovery there.

In 1950, the Lone Star Gas Company Vaught No. 1 well discovered the Boonsville field, which produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 20 years. By 2001 the field reached production of 3.1 trillion cubic feet of gas from 3,500 wells.

Joe Roughneck began life in the 1950s as a character in Lone Star Steel Company advertising. He was soon adopted by the industry. A bronze Joe Roughneck bust has been awarded since 1955 at the annual Chief Roughneck Award ceremony of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. A Joe Roughneck bronze bust, originally created by noted Texas artist Torg Thompson, continues to be awarded to each Chief Roughneck recipient.

In addition to the Boonsville monument, Joe’s rugged mug today sits atop three different Texas oilfield monuments:  Joinerville (1957), Conroe (1957) and Kilgore (1986). Learn more in Meet Joe Roughneck.

October 27, 1763 – Birth of the “Father of American Geology”

petroleum history october 27

“Map of the United States of America, Designed to Illustrate the Geological Memoir of Wm. Maclure, Esqr.” This 1818 version is more detailed than the first geological map he published in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton Library.

William Maclure, a Scottish-born American geologist and “stratigrapher,” was born in 1763. He created the earliest geological maps of North America in 1809.

After settling in the United States in 1797, Maclure explored the eastern part of North America to prepare the first geological map of the United States. His travels from Maine to Georgia in 1808 resulted in the first geological map of the new United States, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 1809.

“Here, in broad strokes, he identifies six different geological classes,” a  Princeton historian reported later. “Note that the chain of the Appalachian Mountains is correctly labeled as containing the most primitive, or oldest, rock.”

When Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemist, organized the American Geological Society in 1819, Maclure is elected its first president. Most geologists consider Maclure (1763-1840) the “Father of American Geology.” In the 1850s, Silliman’s son, also a Yale chemist, analyzed samples of  Pennsylvania “rock oil” for refining into kerosene. His report led to drilling America’s first oil well in 1859.

October 27, 1938 – DuPont names Petroleum Product “Nylon”

DuPont chemical company announced that “nylon” would be the name of its newly invented synthetic fiber yarn made from petroleum. Discovered in 1935 by Wallace Carothers at a DuPont research facility, nylon is considered the first commercially successful synthetic polymer.

Carothers, now known as the father of the science of man-made polymers, called the new polymer Nylon 6 because of the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contained six carbon atoms per molecule.

Nylon found widespread applications in consumer goods, including toothbrushes, fishing lines, luggage and lingerie, or in special uses such as surgical thread, parachutes, or pipes. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

October 28, 1868 – Explosive Technology praised

In Pennsylvania, the Titusville Morning Herald reported on the latest oilfield technology – the nitroglycerin torpedo. “It would be superfluous, at this late day, to speak of the merits of the Roberts Torpedo,” the 1868 newspaper article explained. “For the past three years, it has been a most successful operation, and has increased the production of oil in hundreds upon hundreds of oil wells to an extent which could hardly be overestimated.” Learn more in Shooters – a “Fracking” History.

October 27, 1923 – Lion Oil Refining Company founded in Arkansas

petroleum history October

Founded in 1923 in El Dorado, Arkansas, Lion Oil will operate about 2,000 service stations in the south in the 1950s. Photo courtesy Lion Oil.

Lion Oil Company was founded as the Lion Oil Refining Company in El Dorado, Arkansas, by Texan Thomas Harry Barton.

Barton earlier had organized the El Dorado Natural Gas Company and acquired a 2,000-barrel-a-day refinery in 1922. Thanks to production from the nearby Smackover oilfield, his newly formed Lion Oil Refining Company grew to 10,000 barrels a day capacity. The company acquired 58 oil wells producing 1.4 million barrels of oil by 1925.

A merger with Monsanto Chemical in 1955 brought the gradual disappearance of the familiar “Beauregard Lion” logo. Today, Lion Oil (an affiliate of Delek U.S. Holdings, Inc.) markets petroleum products, including gasolines, low-sulfur diesel, solvents, propanes and asphalt. Read more Arkansas history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

October 28, 1926 – Yates Field discovered in West Texas

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New technologies are renewing interest in the Yates field, discovered in 1926. Houston Chronicle photo.

The 26,400-acre Yates oilfield was discovered in a remote area of Pecos County, Texas, in the increasingly prolific Permian Basin.

Drilled in 1926 with a $15,000 cable-tool rig, the Ira Yates 1-A produced 450 barrels of oil a day from just under 1,000 feet. Prior to the discovery, Ira Yates had struggled to keep his ranch, located on the northern border of the Chihuahua Desert.

“Drought and predators nearly did him in” notes one account, until he convinced a San Angelo company to explore for oil west of the Pecos River.

The Yates wildcat well – completed by the Mid-Kansas and Transcontinental Oil Companies – was 30 miles from the nearest oil pipeline. A 55,000-barrel steel storage tank was under construction when four more Yates wells begin yielding an additional 12,000 barrels of oil daily. Ira Yates received an $18 million oil royalty check on his 67th birthday. Also see Alley Oop’s Oil Roots and Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded

Wallace Hardison, Lyman Stewart and Thomas Bard established the Union Oil Company of California in Santa Paula in 1890. Soon known as Unocal, the company moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1901. The original headquarters in Santa Paula, a California Historical Landmark, houses the California Oil Museum. An effort is underway to preserve Wallace Hardison’s masion, built in 1884. Unocal merged its upstream business with Chevron in 2005. 

October 17, 1917 – “Roaring Ranger” Oil Discovery 

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Eastland County, Texas, discoveries include oil wells near Cisco, where Conrad Hilton will witness the crowds of roughnecks – and buy his first hotel.

Ninety-nine years ago, a wildcat well between Abilene and Dallas brought a Texas oil boom that fueled Allied victory in World War I. The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well erupted oil about two miles south of the small farming community of Ranger. Petroleum companies had searched Eastland County with limited success since 1904.

Texas and Pacific Coal Company’s William Knox Gordon completed the discovery well at 3,432 feet deep. It initially produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day of quality, high gravity oil. Within 20 months the exploration company’s stock value jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share.

“Roaring Ranger” launched a drilling boom that extended to nearby towns. More gushers followed, some producing up to 10,000 barrels of oil every day. Ranger’s population grew from 1,000 to 30,000 – mostly men.

The petroleum proved essential in World War I. When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”

After the war, a young veteran – Conrad Hilton – visited Eastland County intending to buy a Texas bank. When his bank deal fell through, Hilton (at the Cisco train station ready to leave), noticed across the street a small motel with a long line of roughnecks waiting for a room. Hilton decided to buy his first hotel. Learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

October 17, 1973 – OPEC declares Oil Embargo

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implements what it calls “oil diplomacy” – prohibiting any nation that had supported Israel in its “Yom Kippur War” from buying any of the oil it sells.

The OPEC embargo brought an end to years of cheap gasoline, caused the New York Stock Exchange to drop by almost $100 billion, and created one of the worst recessions in U.S. history.

America’s low domestic reserves required annually importing almost 30 percent of the petroleum it needed. Dependence on foreign supplies peaked in 2005. In 2014, thanks to new technologies, the United States became the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

October 18, 2008 – Derrick dedicated in Discovery 1 Park

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Discovery 1 Park in Bartlesville includes a replica derrick on the original site of Oklahoma’s first oil well.

Discovery One Park in Bartlesville  – site of a renovated Nellie Johnstone No. 1, Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well – was dedicated with a reenactment of the dramatic moment that changed Oklahoma history.

Events included local roughneck reenactors bringing in the 84-foot derrick’s oil well with a water gusher. A similar cable-tool drilling rig thrilled spectators in 1897, when Jenny Cass, stepdaughter of Bartlesville founder George W. Keeler, was given the honor of “shooting” the oil well.

October 20, 1949 –  Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland

petroleum history october

No oil has yet been found in Maryland.

The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County – the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer N. Beachy well produced almost 500 Mcf of natural gas a day.

The wildcat discovery prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depletes the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has yet been found in Maryland

October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico

petroleum history october

New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service began soon after a 1921 discovery near Aztec. Major oil discoveries will follow in the southeast.

New Mexico’s natural gas industry was launched with the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.

The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. The crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado.

By Christmas, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. By 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove).

Read more about the state’s petroleum history in New Mexico Oil Discovery

October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom

petroeum history october

The “Big Dutch” No. 1 well, above, initially produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet in 1908. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek completed the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper.

Although the Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, the central Salt Creek dome received little attention until an Italian geologist recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

Drillers J.E. Stock, working for an English corporation known as the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled a well to 1,050 feet, where it produced 600 barrels a day.

More than 4,000 wells have since been drilled in the Salt Creek oilfield, producing from depths as shallow as 22 feet (in 1911). To increase production, water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection

petroleum history october

Photo of a “smart pig” used for testing pipelines courtesy of Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal.

Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds.

The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – now known as a “smart pig” – travels up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.

As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Today’s inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.

October 23, 1970 – Natural Gas fuels World Land Speed Record

petroleum history october

The Blue Flame will set a land speed record that will not be broken until 1997. Today, there are more than 120,000 vehicles on the road powered by natural gas.

Natural gas made a spectacular rocket fuel debut in 1970 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah as the Blue Flame set a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour – a record that will stand for 27 years.

A rocket motor combining liquefied natural gas and hydrogen peroxide powered the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame. The motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.

Sponsored by the American Gas Association and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. After building a 1967 record-setting rocket dragster, the X-1, they began the far more ambitious Blue Flame natural gas rocket car in 1968.

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The 38-foot Blue Flame’s natural gas-powered rocket motor could produce up to 58,000 horsepower.

Keller notes that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, American Gas Association executives saw the value of educating consumers. “The Blue Flame was really ‘green’ – it was fueled by clean-burning natural gas and hydrogen peroxide,” he explains. “It was the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”

Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. On the fourth Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


October 13, 1917 – U.S. Oil & Gas Association founded

The United States Oil & Gas Association (USOGA) was founded as the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association in Tulsa Oklahoma, six months after the United States joined World War I.

A group of leading independent producers, including Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland, Bill Skelly and Robert Kerr, established the association to increase U.S. petroleum supplies for the Allied forces. In 1919 the association formed the Oklahoma-Kansas Division (now the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association).

Today a lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., USOGA advocates industry views in policy debates, especially for states along the Gulf of Mexico. Read the rest of this entry »


October 3, 1930 – Giant Oilfield discovered on Daisy Bradford’s Farm

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Columbus “Dad” Joiner in 1930 discovered the East Texas oilfield, which remains the largest in the lower-48 states. Photo courtesy Jack Elder, The Glory Days.

With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, creditors and spectators watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 wildcat well was successfully shot with nitroglycine near Kilgore, Texas.

“All of East Texas waited expectantly while Columbus ‘Dad’ Joiner inched his way toward oil,” noted Jack Elder in The Glory Days. “Thousands crowded their way to the site of Daisy Bradford No. 3, hoping to be there when and if oil gushed from the well to wash away the misery of the Great Depression.” Read the rest of this entry »


September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well

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Thanks to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, California’s first refinery has been preserved, perhaps the oldest in the world. Photo courtesy Konrad Summers.

Although Charles Mentry’s California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells that showed promise, his first gusher arrived with the Pico No. 4 well on September 26, 1876. Drilling with a cable-tool rig powered by steam in an area known for its oil seeps, his well revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It was California’s first commercial oil well.

The Star Oil Works well, which initially produced 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, led to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery for making kerosene, axle grease and other lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations had a refining capacity of 150 barrels a day.

Today’s Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, can trace its beginning to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company. Read the rest of this entry »


September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well

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Mrs. Scott Heywood unveiled a marker as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee in 1951. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana.

W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill – completed a 7,000-barrel-a-day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings. Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 found oil at 1,700 feet, leading to the state’s first commercial oil production.

According to the Jennings Daily News, “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice.” Read the rest of this entry »


September 12, 1866 – First Oil Discovery in Texas

petroleum history September

Lyne Taliaferro Barret in 1859 leased about 280 acres east of Nacogdoches, Texas, near Oil Springs – an area known for oil seeps.

The Texas petroleum industry was born a few miles east of Nacogdoches when Lyne Taliaferro Barret and his Melrose Petroleum Oil Company completed the Lone Star State’s first commercial oil well.

The Confederate Army veteran’s No. 1 Isaac C. Skillern well – drilled in an area known as Oil Springs – found the newly prized resource at a depth of 106 feet. Barret’s well yielded a modest ten barrels per day; limited access to markets soon led to the company’s failure. The seemingly failed project laid dormant for nearly two decades – until other exploration companies found oil nearby.

The Nacogdoches field remained the oldest field in Texas for many decades. As late as 1941 it still recorded production of eight barrels a day from 40 wells. Some of the field’s wells produced well into the 1950s. Read more in First Lone Star Discovery  and visit Nacogdoches, “the oldest town in Texas.” Read the rest of this entry »


September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers test Electric Well Logging Tool

petroleum history september

Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger first tested a downhole electronic logging tool in 1927 – one year after founding Société de Prospection Électrique, the precursor of Schlumberger, the world’s first well logging company. Photo and image courtesy Schlumberger Ltd.

Petroleum exploration technology advanced in 1927 when an electric downhole well log was first applied near Pechelbronn, France. Brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger modified their surface system to operate vertically in a well.

petroleum history september

Conrad Schlumberger, using very basic equipment, in 1912 recorded the first map of equipotential curves near Caen, France.

Conrad Schlumberger had conceived the idea of using electrical measurements to map subsurface rock formations as early as 1912. After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers created an electric downhole well log.

Lowering their new tool into a well, they recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plot the results against depth – creating a well log of geologic formations. Read the rest of this entry »


August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom (and Bust) at Snake Hollow

About 300 petroleum companies sprang up near Pittsburgh within months of a major natural gas discovery – the “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Drilled near the Monongahela River, the discovery well produced more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. It prompted an exploration frenzy  that saw $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area.

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” the local newspaper later reported. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses.”

But excitement in the McKeesport natural gas field ended in just seven months. At the beginning of 1921, natural gas production had declined in 180 wells – and more than 440 exploratory wells were dry holes. Of the millions invested during the boom, only about $3 million came out. The field was soon described as “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.” Learn more in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh and the McKeesport Gas Company.

August 30, 2002 – Birth of ConocoPhillips Read the rest of this entry »


August 24, 1892 –  Gladys City Oil Company founded by “Prophet of Spindletop” 

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Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company discovered oil at Spindletop Hill in January 1901.

Patillo Higgins, who will become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop,” founds Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company .

Higgins, a self-taught geologist, and three partners lease 2,700 acres near Beaumont, Texas. He is convinced that an area known as “Big Hill” – Spindletop Hill – four miles south of Beaumont, contains oil. Almost all earth science experts say he is wrong.

Higgins had noticed oil and natural gas seeping on the hill while taking his Sunday school class on picnics. He later will oversee the planning of Gladys City, named for his favorite Sunday school student.

The new company, one of the earliest petroleum companies incorporated in Texas, drills wells at the Spindletop salt dome in 1893, 1895 and 1896. All are dry holes.

Although Higgins leaves his Gladys City venture in 1895, Capt. Anthony Lucas will strike the “Lucas Gusher” in January 1901 that forever changes the petroleum industry. The Spindletop oilfield will produce more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s oil fields combined. Read the rest of this entry »


August 15, 1945 – WW II Gasoline Rationing ends

World War II gasoline rationing officially ends in the United States. Since the beginning of gas rationing in December 1942, priority stickers and coupon books had been issued by the Office of Price Administration to conserve oil for the war effort. Most civilian automobiles carried “A” stickers – limiting them to four gallons of gas a week.

Higher priority stickers were issued to emergency vehicles. A national speed limit of 35 mph was also imposed to further constrain consumption. In addition to gasoline and fuel oil, wartime rationing included tires, food, clothing, shoes, and coffee.

August 16, 1861 – Oldest Producing Well

petroleum history August

Drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1861, the McClintock well today is pumped a few times a year to supply oil for souvenir bottles sold at the Drake Well Museum.

petroleum history August

Nearby is America’s first commercial oil well.

What will become the world’s oldest continuously producing oil well is completed in 1861 near Rouseville, Pennsylvania. The McClintock No. 1 well, reaching 620 feet deep into the Venango Third Sand, initially produces 50 barrels of oil a day. The well is 14 miles from Titusville, where America’s first commercial oil discovery was made in 1859. Read the rest of this entry »


August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography applied for First Time

petroleum history August 4

A sign and granite marker on I-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, commemorates the historic August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology.

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Scientists chose Oklahoma’s Arbuckle Mountains to test a new technology in 1921, seismic surveying, “because an entire geologic section from the Basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed.”

Thanks to pioneering research led by Dr. J.C. Karcher, an Oklahoma physicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section is measured near Ardmore in 1921.

“Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society of the geophysical method that records reflected seismic waves as they travel through the earth, helping to find oil-bearing formations.

“The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains the society. Read more in Exploring Seismic Waves. Read the rest of this entry »


August 2, 1938 – Selling Petroleum Bristles

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A 1938 Life magazine advertisement promotes nylon bristles.

Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, promotes its “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” – the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic nylon developed by DuPont chemists just three years earlier. Americans will soon be brushing their teeth with nylon bristle toothbrushes instead of hog bristles, declares the New York Times.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” notes a 1938 Weco Products advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with EXTON, a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”

Pricing its toothbrush at 50 cents, Weco Products guarantees “no bristle shedding.” Johnson & Johnson will introduce a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939. “Before this, the world relied on toothbrush bristles made from the neck hairs of wild pigs from Siberia, Poland and China,” notes the Royal Society of Chemistry. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

August 2. 1956 – First U.S. Interstate Highway Read the rest of this entry »


July 25, 1543 – First Report of Oil in New World

The first documented report of oil in the New World is made in 1543 west of the Sabine River in Texas when a storm forces ashore two boats of Spanish explorer Don Luis de Moscoso.

Moscoso had succeeded expedition leader Hernando de Soto, who died of fever after leading the first Europeans across the Mississippi River. Moscoso built seven brigs, sailed down the Mississippi and at the Gulf of Mexico, decided to sail west along the coast. A storm drove two of their brigs ashore and the others followed.

According to an account published in 1557, “the vessels came together in a creek where lay the two brigantines that preceded them, finding a scum the sea cast up, called copee, which is like pitch and used instead on shipping where that is not to be had, they paved the bottoms of their vessels with it.” Moscoso’s oil seep remained active as late as 1903. Learn more about natural oil seeps in Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”

July 27, 1918 – First Concrete Oil Tanker launched

petroleum history july 27

Rare image of the world’s first concrete oil tanker, the 98-foot-long “Socony” built for Standard Oil Company of New York.

America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, the Socony, is launched at its shipyard on Flushing Bay, New York, in 1918.

The reinforced concrete barge is 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam. Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the ship draws nine feet with a cargo of 370 tons. Read the rest of this entry »


July 19, 1957 – Oil discovered in Alaska Territory

Petroleum History July 13

Even the Anchorage Daily Times could not predict that oil production would someday account for more than 90 percent of Alaska’s general fund revenues.

The Alaska Territory’s first commercial oilfield is discovered in 1957 – two years before Alaska statehood.

Richfield Oil Company completes the discovery well Swanson River Unit No. 1 in the Cook Inlet Basin. The well yields 900 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 11,215 feet.

Richfield has leased more than 71,000 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now part of the 1.92 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

More Alaska discoveries follow and by June 1962 about 50 wells are producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day. Atlantic Richfield Company is better known today as ARCO. Read more about petroleum exploration in the 49th state in First Alaska Oil Well.

July 20, 1920 – Permian Basin revealed

The Permian Basin makes headlines in 1920 when a West Texas well finds oil about 2,750 feet deep. The W.H. Abrams No. 1 well is named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William Abrams, who owns the land and leases mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).

After “shooting” the well with nitroglycerine, a tall column of oil announces the discovery now known as West Columbia field. It is part of the Permian Basin, which proves to be 250 miles wide and 300 miles long with production ranging from depths from a few hundred feet to five miles. Read the rest of this entry »


July 11, 2008 – World Oil Price sets Historic High

petroleum history july 13

Although world crude oil prices tend to move together, variations in quality and location result in price differentials, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The price of oil reaches a record high of $147.27 a barrel, before dropping back to $145.08. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange had peaked at $145.29 a barrel eight days earlier.

As supply fears subside (despite speculation, concern about Iran, and demand from China and India competing for world oil supplies) oil prices fall to $36.51 a barrel on January 16, 2009. A 2016 survey of academic literature finds that “most major oil price fluctuations dating back to 1973 (the OPEC embargo) are largely explained by shifts in the demand for crude oil,” notes The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Read the rest of this entry »


July 4, 1906 – Louisiana conserves Natural Gas

Joining the growing number of U.S. states with producing oil and natural gas wells, Louisiana enacts conservation measures to prevent waste. The Louisiana State Legislature passes an act “to protect the natural gas fields of this state.”

The conservation law imposes penalties for “failure to cap out of control wells, doing injury to pipe lines, or wastefully burning natural gas from any well into the air.”

The measure is a result of lessons learned from Indiana and other early natural gas producing states. See Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

July 6, 1988 – North Sea Tragedy

petroleum history july 6

California-based Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha platform began operations in 1976.

An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea results in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the petroleum industry’s most deadly offshore disaster.

At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha – originally designed for oil production – was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. According to safety consultant Gary Karasek, “the initial explosion was caused by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve.” Read the rest of this entry »


June 28, 1967 – Hall of Petroleum opens in Washington, D.C.

petroleum history june

“Panorama of Petroleum” by Delbert Jackson, once greeted visitors to a Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. Today, the 13-foot by 56-foot mural is exhibited at Tulsa International Airport.

The Hall of Petroleum opens at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C. A vast number of exhibits feature exploration and production technology advancements up to 1967. Read the rest of this entry »


June 20, 1977 –  Oil flows in Trans-Alaska Pipeline

june 15 petoleum history

Construction of the 800-mile Alaskan pipeline began in March 1975.

After three years of construction, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline begins carrying oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez at Prince William Sound.

The oil arrives 38 days later, culminating the world’s largest privately funded construction project at the time. The 48-inch-diameter pipeline costs $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations. Its annual flow will account for about 20 percent of U.S. oil production. Tax revenues will earn Alaska $50 billion by 2002.

Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes. Anchor structures hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.” Read the rest of this entry »


June 13, 1917 –  Phillips Petroleum Company founded in Oklahoma

June 8 petroleum history

Brothers L.E. Phillips (left) and Frank Phillips established Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville in 1917. Photo courtesy ConocoPhillips.

Phillips Petroleum Company is founded in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, during the early months of America’s entry into World War I – when the price of oil climbs above $1 per barrel.

Brothers Frank and L. E. (Lee Eldas) Phillips consolidate their companies and begin operating with 27 employees, leases throughout Oklahoma and Kansas, and assets of $3 million. Assets grow to $103 million by 1924.

By 1927 Phillips Petroleum begins selling gasoline in Wichita, Kansas, the first of more than 10,000 service stations across the country. Read the rest of this entry »


June 6, 1944 – Secret Operations fuel WWII Victory

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Operation PLUTO’s spooled tubing will cross the English Channel to fuel Allied victory in WWII.

The D-Day invasion begins along 50 miles of fortified French coastline in Normandy. The logistics of supplying the beaches include two top-secret engineering triumphs: construction of artificial harbors followed by the laying pipelines across the English Channel.

Codenamed Mulberrys and using a design similar to today’s jack-up offshore rigs, the artificial harbors use barges with four retractable pylons to provide platforms to support floating causeways that extend to the beaches.

To fuel the advance into Nazi Germany, Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) will engineer pipelines wound onto giant floating “conundrums” designed to spool off when towed. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower acknowledges the significance of this oil pipeline engineering feat when he says, “Second in daring only to the Mulberry Harbours, was PLUTO.” Read more in PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II.

June 6, 1967 – First Oil Embargo attempt Read the rest of this entry »


May 30, 1911 – First  Indianapolis 500

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Although the 100-horsepower American Locomotive Company auto (19) won the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island in 1909 and 1910, it finished 33rd at the first Indy 500. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

petroleum history may 30

All of the cars except the winner had a mechanic to manually pump oil. More than 60,000 watched the first race.

The first Indianapolis 500 begins with a 40-car field; only a dozen will finish the 1911 test of endurance and automotive technology. The winner averages almost 75 mph. The race lasts about seven hours.

All the cars – except the No. 32 Marmon Wasp – have two seats. Drivers travel with “riding mechanics,” who manually pump oil. Read the rest of this entry »


May 23, 1937 – John D. Rockefeller Dies

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Rockefeller at age 87. Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University.

Almost 70 years after founding the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland (where he had attended high school from 1853 to 1855), John D. Rockefeller dies at age 97 in Florida – 40 years after retiring from his company.

Born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller formed his own company in 1859 – the same year of the first American oil well. In 1865 he took control of his first refinery, which would be the largest in the world in three years. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars by the time his fortune peaked at almost $900 million in 1912 ($21.3 billion in today’s dollars).

May 24, 1902 – Earliest Oil & Gas Journal published

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Norman Rockwell illustrated an ad for the Oil & Gas Journal in 1962. Image courtesy of PennWell Publishing.

In Beaumont, Texas, Holland Reavis founds the Oil Investors’ Journal on May 24, 1902. It will soon become today’s Oil & Gas Journal.

Early articles focus on complex financial issues facing operators and investors in the booming oilfield discovered the year before at Spindletop.

In 1910, Patrick C. Boyle acquires the Oil Investors’ Journal. He is a former oilfield scout for John D. Rockefeller and the publisher of the Oil City (Pennsylvania) Derrick newspaper.

Boyle renames his newly purchased publication the Oil & Gas Journal. He increases its frequency to weekly, and expands coverage to all petroleum industry operations. Read the rest of this entry »


May 16, 1934 – Stripper Well Association founded

The National Stripper Well Association is organized in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Stripper wells – marginally producing wells – make up about 80 percent of all U.S. wells and almost 20 percent of oil and natural gas production.

Stripper wells typically produce less than 15 barrels of oil a day or less than 90 thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas a day. According to the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, in 2013 the United States had an estimated 771,000 marginal wells in production – about 410,000 oil and 361,000 natural gas wells. Read the rest of this entry »


May 9, 1863 – Confederate Cavalry raids Oilfield

petroleum history may 9

Confederate Gen. William “Grumble” Jones

A brigade of Confederate cavalry attacks an oil town near the Ohio River in what will soon become West Virginia, destroying equipment and thousands of barrels of oil.

The Burning Springs oilfield is attacked by Confederate cavalry led by Gen. William “Grumble” Jones. The attack along the Kanawha River marks the first time an oilfield is targeted in war, according to West Virginia historian David McKain.

About 1,300 Confederate troopers attack Burning Springs, destroying cable-tool drilling rigs and 150,000 barrels of oil. In his report to Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Jones notes, “all the oil, the tanks, barrels, engines for pumping, engine-houses, and wagons – in a word, everything used for raising, holding, or sending it off was burned.” Read the rest of this entry »


May 3, 1870 – “Yellow Dog” Lantern with Two Spouts patented

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The 1870 “safety derrick lamp” will become known as a “yellow dog.”

Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, is awarded a patent for his “safety derrick lamp” – a two-wicked lantern that will be known in America’s early oilfields as the “yellow dog.”

Dillen’s lamp is designed “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places.” Read the rest of this entry »


April 25, 1865 – Civil War Veteran patents Explosive Technology

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Detail from the Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company stock certificate from April 1861.

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City receives the first of his many U.S. patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.” The invention uses controlled downhole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.”

Roberts torpedoes are filled with gunpowder, lowered into wells, and ignited by a weight dropped along a suspension wire to percussion caps. In later models, nitroglycerin replaces gunpowder. Before the well torpedo’s invention, many early wells in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia have produced only small amounts of oil for a short time.

The invention – patent no. 47,458 – is among the major technological achievements of the U.S. petroleum industry. With its exclusive patent licenses, the Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company charges up to $200 per torpedo “shoot” and a one-fifteenth royalty of the increased flow of oil. Seeking to avoid the Roberts Company fee, some oilmen secretly hire unlicensed practitioners who operate at night with their own devices – and “moonlighter” enters the American vocabulary.

For enhancing modern petroleum production, Halliburton and Stanolind companies will complete the first commercial hydraulic frack in March 1949 near Duncan, Oklahoma. Oil and natural gas production today rely on the technology. Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

April 27, 1966 – Ariel Corporation born in Ohio Basement Read the rest of this entry »


April 18, 1939 – Inventor patents Perforating Technology

Ira McCullough of Los Angeles patents his multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system. He explains the “object of my invention (is) to provide a device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well in which projectiles or perforating elements are shot through the casing and into the formation.”

This innovation of simultaneous firing at several levels in the borehole greatly enhances the flow of oil. McCullough’s device (patent no. 2155322) also includes a “disconnectable means” that – once the charges are lowered into the borehole – can render percussion inoperative as “a safeguard against accidental or inadvertent operation.”

In 1951 another inventor, Henry Mohaupt, will use World War II anti-tank technology to create a conically hollowed-out explosive for perforating wells. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

April 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Auto Read the rest of this entry »


April 11, 1957 – Oklahoma Independent William G. Skelly dies

petroleum history april 11

A Skelly service station is preserved inside Science City at Union Station, a Kansas City, Missouri, museum that opened in 1940.

William Grove Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil Company, and one of Oklahoma’s great oilmen, dies in Tulsa at age 78.

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on June 10, 1878, he began his petroleum career as a 15-year-old $2.50-a-day tool dresser (heating and sharpening cable-tool bits among other duties).

Skelly will incorporate Skelly Oil in Tulsa in 1919 and become one of the strongest independent oil producers – helping to make that small town the “Oil Capital of the World.” 

April 13, 1974 – Oklahoma Well sets World Depth Record Read the rest of this entry »


April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin

petroleum history april 4

After decades of expensive dry holes in North Dakota, an April 1951 wildcat well in a farmer’s wheat field revealed the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin.

After eight months of difficult drilling and snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovers oil in North Dakota – revealing the Williston Basin beneath Clarence Iverson’s farm near Tioga. Read the rest of this entry »


March 28, 1886 – Indiana Natural Gas Boom begins

A natural gas boom comes to Portland, Indiana, when the Eureka Gas and Oil Company finds gas at 700 feet. For a time, the state becomes the world’s leading natural gas producer.

The discovery comes just two months after a spectacular natural gas well about 100 miles to the northeast – the Great Karg Well of Findlay, Ohio. “Natural gas had previously been found in large quantities in western Pennsylvania and had revolutionized the iron, steel, and glass industries of Pittsburgh, as industrialists adapted their factories to use the natural gas in place of the more expensive coal,” notes historian James Glass of Ball State University. Read the rest of this entry »


March 23, 1858 – Seneca Oil Company founded


Seneca Oil Company drilled the first oil U.S. well in 1859. Image courtesy William R. Brice/Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Collection.

Investors from New Haven, Connecticut, organize the Seneca Oil Company with former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake a shareholder. They have purchased leases of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, America’s first oil company founded with partner George Bissell in 1854.

Bissell, who had originated the idea of using oil to produce kerosene, is excluded despite having studied oil seeps south of Titusville. “The New Haven men then put the final piece of their plan into place with the formation of a new company,” notes historian William Brice in Myth Legend Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.

Seneca Oil and Drake will complete the First American Oil Well in 1859 – thanks to knowledge gained from George Bissell’s Oil Seeps. Both Drake and Bissell will later be called the father of the U.S. petroleum industry.

March 24, 1989 – Supertanker Exxon Valdez grounds on Bligh Reef Read the rest of this entry »


March 14, 1909 – The Lake View Gusher

The Lake View well in California’s Midway-Sunset oilfield blows in at dawn.

petroleum history march 14

A monument near the West Kern Oil Museum in Taft, California, marks the site of a 1910 gusher that flowed out of control for 18 months.

“The San Joaquin Valley has had many gushers, starting with the Shamrock gusher in 1896 and continuing with the spectacular Midway Gusher in 1909,” notes The Lakeview Gusher website by San Joaquin geologists.

“But none of these wells came close to rivaling the Lakeview No. 1 which flowed, uncapped and untamed, at 18,000 barrels a day for 18 months in 1910 and 1911,” the geologists note. Read the rest of this entry »


March 7, 1902 – Oil discovered at Sour Lake, Texas

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“The resort town of Sour Lake, 20 miles northwest of Beaumont, was transformed into an oil boom town when a gusher was hit in 1902,” notes the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Adding to giant Texas oilfields, the Sour Lake oilfield is revealed a few miles from the world-famous Spindletop field discovered about one year earlier. Sour Lake becomes a boom town where many oil companies, including Texaco, will get their start.

Originally known as Sour Lake Springs because of its sulphurous spring water known for healing, the sulphur wells have attracted oilmen who believe oil may also be trapped. As the science of petroleum geology evolves, some experts have predicted a salt dome formation similar to that found by Pattillo Higgins, the Prophet of Spindletop.

Sour Lake’s 1902 discovery well is the second attempt of the Great Western Company. The well, drilled “north of the old hotel building,” penetrates 40 feet of oil sands before reaching a total depth of about 700 feet deep. Its oil gusher is the first of many bringing wealth to Hardin County, whose oilfield yields almost nine million barrels within a year. The Texas Company will make its first major strike at Sour Lake in 1903. Read more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.

March 11, 1829 – Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well Read the rest of this entry »


March 1, 1921 – Halliburton patents Cementing Technology

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Halliburton’s 1921 cementing process isolated down-hole zones and helped prevent collapse of casing.

Erle P. Halliburton patents his new oilfield technology – a “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells.”

After working in Boom Town Burkburnett, Texas, Halliburton has moved to the Healdton oilfield in Oklahoma. He establishes his New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in nearby Duncan 1919.

“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 1921 patent. Read the rest of this entry »


February 22, 1923 – First Carbon Black Factory in Texas 

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Early cars had white rubber tires until B.F. Goodrich discovered carbon black improved strength and durability. Above is a custom 1919 Pierce-Arrow. Photo courtesy Peter Valdes-Dapena.

Texas grants its first permit for a carbon black factory to J.W. Hassel & Associates in Stephens County. It has been discovered that carbon black dramatically increases the durability of rubber used in tires.

Modern carbon black, which looks like soot, is produced by controlled combustion of petroleum products, both oil and natural gas. It is used in rubber and plastic products, printing inks and coatings. Read the rest of this entry »


February 16, 1935 – States create Commission to Conserve Oil and Gas

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Renamed the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission in 1991, IOGCC has been headquartered in in Oklahoma City since the 1930s.

The Interstate Oil Compact Commission begins in Dallas with the writing of the “Interstate Compact to Preserve Oil and Gas.” The new organization will be headquartered in Oklahoma City following approval by Congress in August. Read the rest of this entry »


February 9, 2013 – NASA drills Wildcat Well on Red Planet

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Curiosity’s February 2013 first sample drilling hole is seen with a shallower test on the right. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL.

The the car-sized robotic rover Curiosity beams images back to NASA confirming it has drilled a well on the martian surface.

Curiosity’s No. 1 well in 2013 is “history’s first ever drilling and sampling into a pristine alien rock on the surface of another planet in our solar system,” according to an article at Universe Today.

While exploring the red planet’s Yellowknife Bay Basin, Curiosity has paused to drill a hole about .63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep. Read the rest of this entry »


February 1, 1868 – Oil Prices Weighed for First Time

In a practice that continues to this day, oil price quotations are based on specific gravity – the heaviness of a substance compared to that of water – in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

In the new oil regions, independent producers frequently meet to discuss business, sell shares of stock, argue prices, and enter into refining contracts that depended on the crude oil’s quality.

Before the Titusville Oil Exchange is established in 1871, producers would gather in convenient establishments, such as Titusville’s American Hotel or along Centre Street in Oil City – known as the “Curbside Exchange.” Read more End of Oil Exchanges.

American Petroleum Institute gravity, or API gravity, was adopted in 1921 and became the worldwide standard. Crude oil is classified as light, medium or heavy, according to its measured API gravity.

February 2, 1923 – First Anti-Knock Gas goes on Sale Read the rest of this entry »


January 25, 1930 – Independents form Texas Alliance

After meeting a week earlier at the Wichita Club in Wichita Falls to protest “the recent drastic price cut in crude oil, inaugurated by some of the major purchasing companies,” a group of 50 independent producers organize the North Texas Oil and Gas Association in 1930.

Membership dues are established at $100 for largest producers to $10 for producers of small quantities of oil. The association’s agenda includes fighting oilfield theft, supporting a tariff on imported oil, and common-carrier status of oil pipelines. Read the rest of this entry »


January 19, 1922 – USGS predicts America will run Out of Oil

The U.S. Geological Survey in 1922 predicts America’s oil supplies will run out in two decades. This is not the first or last false alarm. Warnings of petroleum shortages are made for most of the 20th century, according to geologist David Deming of the University of Oklahoma.

Deming cites a 1950 report, “A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scare,” documenting six similar claims prior to 1950 alone. Among them were: “The Model T Scare of 1916; the Gasless Sunday Scare of 1918; the John Bull Scare of 1920-1923; the Ickes Petroleum Reserves Scare of 1943-1944; and the Cold War Scares of 1946-1948.”

Oil shortage predictions began as early as 1879 – when Pennsylvania’s state geologist predicted only enough oil remained to keep America’s kerosene lamps burning for four years.

January 19, 1965 – Inventor patents Offshore “Underwater Manipulator” Read the rest of this entry »


petroleum history january

A downtown museum exhibits Borger’s oil heritage.

January 11, 1926 – “Ace” Borger discovers Oil in North Texas

Thousands will rush to the Texas Panhandle in 1926 after the Dixon Creek Oil and Refining Company brings in the Smith No. 1 well, which flows at 10,000 barrels a day in southern Hutchinson County.

A.P. “Ace” Borger of Tulsa, Oklahoma, quickly leases a 240-acre tract and by September his Borger oilfield has more than 800 producing wells, yielding 165,000 barrels a day. Borger himself will lay out streets for the town, which grows to a city of 15,000 in just 90 days.

Dedicated in 1977, the Hutchinson County Boom Town Museum in Borger today celebrates “Oil Boom Heritage” every March. Special exhibits, events and school tours occur throughout the celebration. Borger is 41 miles northeast of Amarillo.

January 12, 1904 – Henry Ford sets Speed Record Read the rest of this entry »


January 4, 1948 – Wildcatters make Deep Permian Basin Discovery

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Tom Slick Jr. helped Michael Benedum discover a deep Permian Basin oil and natural gas field. Image from February 16, 1948, LIFE magazine.

After years of frustration, exploration of the Permian Basin intensifies in 1948 when the Alford No. 1 is completed at a depth of 12,011 feet in the Ellenburger limestone about 50 miles southeast of Midland, Texas.

The Slick-Urschel Oil Company drills the well in partnership with “King of the Wildcatters” Michael L. Benedum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More than two decades earlier, another West Texas well, Santa-Rita No. 1, had produced oil from about 440 feet deep.

Although Benedum had drilled 10,000 feet in less than five months, it took seven months to penetrate another 384 feet of hard rock. Help came from Tom Slick Jr., the son of Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, who branched off the well using a “whipstock” and reached the limestone formation. Initially producing 900 barrels of oil a day, the Alford No. 1 also revealed a major natural gas field. Read the rest of this entry »


December 28, 1930 – Lou Della Crim’s Well reveals Size of East Texas Oilfield

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“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photo courtesy Neal Campbell, Words and Pictures.

petroleum history December

J. Malcolm Crim of Kilgore, Texas

Three days after Christmas in 1930, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim reveals the extent of the mighty East Texas oilfield.

Some say a gypsy predicted the oil discovery for J. Malcolm Crim. Others say it’s because his mother, Lou Della “Mama” Crim, was a pious woman.

For whatever reason, following the first discovery of oil in East Texas in early October, Malcolm Crim believes there is more to be found near Kilgore.

Crim ignores geologists who claim the Kilgore area is barren. On October 17 he begins drilling on land belonging to his mother. The well that produces a gusher on December 28 is named Lou Della Crim No. 1. Read the rest of this entry »


December 21, 1842 – Birth of a Boom Town “Aero View” Artist

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Thaddeus Fowler depicted Wichita Falls, Texas, probably in the fall of 1890. For a suitable fee, the artist included homes and business as insets. Source: Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.

Panoramic maps artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler is born  in Lowell, Massachusetts. Following the fortunes of America’s early petroleum industry, he will produce hundreds of unique maps of the earliest oilfield towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.

Fowler is one of the most prolific of dozens of bird’s-eye view artists who crisscrossed the country during the latter three decades of the nineteenth century, notes the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

 petroleum history december

More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified by the Library of Congress, including this detail of the booming oil town of Sistersville, West Virginia, published in 1896.

 petroleum history december

Oil City, Pennsylvania, prospered soon after America’s first commercial oil discovery in 1859 at nearby Titusville.

“He produced at least 17 views of different Texas cities in 1890 and 1891, but that output is dwarfed by his production of almost 250 views of Pennsylvania between 1872 and 1922,” explains the museum. Created without the use of observation balloons, they were marketed as “aero views.”

Fowler featured many of Pennsylvania’s oil earliest oilfield towns, including Titusville and Oil City – along with the booming oil community of Sistersville in the new state of West Virginia. He traveled through Oklahoma and North Texas in 1890 and 1891 similarly documenting such cities as Bartlesville, Tulsa and Wichita Falls. Learn more in Oil Town “Aero Views.”

December 22, 1875 – Grant seeks Asphalt for Pennsylvania Avenue

 petroleum history december

President Grant first directed that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad bitumen in 1876. Thirty-one years later, in 1907, asphalt distilled from petroleum repaved the pathway to the Capitol, above.

President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 urges Congress to repave Pennsylvania Avenue’s badly deteriorated plank boards with asphalt. Grant delivers to Congress a “Report of the Commissioners Created by the Act Authorizing the Repavement of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The project will cover 54,000 square yards. “Brooms, lutes, squeegees and tampers were used in what was a highly labor-intensive process.”

With work completed in the spring of 1877, the asphalt – obtained from a naturally occurring bitumen lake found on the island of Trinidad – will last more than 10 years.

In 1907, the road to the Capitol will be repaved again with new and far superior asphalt made from U.S. petroleum. By 2005, the Federal Highway Administration reports that more than 2.6 million miles of America’s roads are paved. See Asphalt Paves the Way.

December 22, 1903 – Carl Baker patents Improved Cable-Tool Drill Bit

 petroleum history december

Baker Tools founder Carl Baker in 1919.

Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker of Coalinga, California, patents 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 Baker-Hughes 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.”

Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” adds a local historian. He helps organize several small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.

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

By 1913 Baker organizes the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opens his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga in a building that today houses a museum.

“Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed and incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” concludes the Baker Museum. Baker Tools will become Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after a 1987 merger with Hughes Tool. A potential $34.6 billion merger with Halliburton is in progress.

December 22, 1975 – Birth of Strategic Petroleum Reserve

 petroleum history december

SPR storage facilities are connected to commercial pipeline networks and marine terminals. The Department of Energy’s St. James Terminal, above, is 30 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is established when President Gerald Ford signs the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975.

Today, the 695-million-barrel U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world.

In addition to creating SPR, the legislation mandates increasing automobile fuel efficiency through a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard mileage goal of 27.5 miles per gallon by 1985.

When the newly created Department of Energy assumes SPR management in 1977, it is generally believed that the very existence of a large, operational reserve of crude oil will deter future oil embargoes and discourage the use of oil as a weapon. SPR now includes five large underground caverns – naturally occurring salt domes near the U.S. Gulf Coast in both Louisiana and Texas.

December 26, 1905 – Patents will lead to Modern Metal Oil Drum

 petroleum history december

Nellie Bly was assigned a 1905 patent for the “Metal Barrel” by its inventor, Henry Wehrhahn, who worked at her Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.

Henry Wehrhahn of Brooklyn, New York, receives two 1905 patents that will lead to the modern 55-gallon steel drum. He assigns them to his employer, Nellie Bly of the Ironclad Manufacturing Company.

“My invention has for its object to provide a metal barrel which shall be simple and strong in construction and effective and durable in operation,” Wehrhahn notes in his patent for a flanged metal barrel with encircling hoops to better control when rolling.

A second patent – issued at the same time – provides a means for readily detaching and securing a lid.

A superintendent at Ironclad Manufacturing, Wehrhahn assigns his inventions to Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (Nellie Bly). She is the recent widow of the company’s founder; at age 30 in 1895 she had married the wealthy 70-year-old industrialist Robert Seaman.

Well-known as a reporter for the New York World (in 1889, the newspaper had sent a 25-year-old Bly on a steamboat trip around the world to mimic Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty days), Bly manufactures early versions of the Wehrhahn “Metal Barrel.” It will become the 55-gallon steel drum.

Wehrhahn moves on to become superintendent of Pressed Steel Tank Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Iron Clad Manufacturing eventually succumbs to debt, and Bly returns to newspaper reporting. She dies at age 57 in 1922. See Nellie Bly and the Oil Drum.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. On the fourth Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


December 14, 1981 – Minnesota Oil Search brings Dowsing Rods

Petroleum History December

Minnesota remains not among the 33 states with oil or natural gas production, according to the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

A dowser – using copper wires – claims to have located petroleum deposits in Nobles County, Minnesota, near the town of Ellsworth, according to a report from the Minneapolis Tribune.

The Tribune notes that a Murray County group has engaged a “Texas oilman and evangelist to lead a prayerful search for oil.”

Despite the lack of geological evidence, a few local investors pay $175,000 to drill a 1,145-foot well. It finds no indication of oil or natural gas.

The Minnesota Geological Survey reported in 1980 that of the 17 wells drilled “in suitable geologic settings,” none found commercial quantities of oil. By 1984, the Survey concluded that “the geologic conditions for significant deposits of oil and gas do not exist in Minnesota.”

December 17, 1884 –  Fighting Oilfield Fires with Cannons

petroleum history december

Especially in the Great Plains, frequent lightening strikes caused oil tank fires. This rare photograph is from the collection of the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.

“Oil fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” is the reporter’s catchy phrase in a New England magazine article in 1884.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country” – a firsthand account of the problem of lightning strikes in America’s oilfields.

MIT not only reports on the fiery results of an lightning strike, but also the practice of using Civil War cannons to fight such conflagrations.

Especially in the Great Plains, where new oil discoveries have begun following the Civil War, lightening strikes are igniting oil tanks.

It’s a technological challenge for the young petroleum industry, which learns that shooting cannon balls into the base of burning tanks allow oil to drain into a holding pit until fires die out.

The MIT article explains that “it is usually desirable to let (oil) out of the tank to burn on the ground in thin layers; so small cannon throwing a three inch solid shot are kept at various stations throughout the region for this purpose.” Read more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.

December 17, 1903 – Natural gas fuels  Wright Workshop

Petroleum history December

Powered by natural gas, a three-horsepower engine drives belts in the Wright workshop.

A homemade engine burning 50 octane gasoline for boat engines powers Wilbur and Orville Wright’s historic 59-second flight into aviation history at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

The brothers’ “mechanician” Charlie Taylor fabricated a 150-pound, 13-horsepower engine in their Dayton, Ohio, workshop. “We didn’t make any drawings,” Taylor later recalled.

The Wright brothers used Ohio natural gas to power their workshop. A “one lunger” (single cylinder) three-horsepower natural gas engine drove the overhead shaft and belts that turned a lathe, drill press – and a rudimentary wind tunnel.

Natural gas had reached the brothers’ printing business from Mercer County, about 50 miles northwest. Read about advances in high-octane aviation fuel in Flight of the Woolaroc.

December 17, 1910 – Oil and Helium found in Clay County, Texas

Although traces of oil had been found since 1904 in Clay county, Texas, a 1910 gusher reveals an oilfield to be named after one of America’s earliest petroleum boom towns, Petrolia, Pennsylvania.

The Dorthulia Dunn No. 1 gusher southeast of Wichita Falls, produces 700 barrels a day from a depth of 1,600 feet.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the field’s annual oil production will peak at 550,585 barrels in 1914. Production declines rapidly afterward – and discoveries at Electra and Burkburnett overshadow Petrolia. See Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

“Drilling continued, however, as the field turned out to hold the largest known reserve of natural gas in the state,” notes historian David Minor, who adds that gas pumped to nearby towns contained .1 percent helium. “In 1915 the United States Army built the first helium extraction plant in the country at Petrolia, and for several years the field was the sole source of helium for the country,” he explains in his article, Petrolia Oilfield.

December 18, 1929 – Oil Boom begins in Venice, California

JoAnn Cowens of Fullerton, California, has been painting oilfields since the 1960s. Her work preserves derricks long since removed.

The Ohio Oil Company (today’s Marathon Oil) brings in a wildcat well in Venice, California, east of the Grand Canal on the Marina Peninsula, two blocks from the ocean. The discovery well initially produces 3,000 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 6,199 feet.

Ohio Oil will receive a zoning variance permitting exploration within the city limits, which launches another California drilling boom.

In the 1960s, Fullerton-based artist JoAnn Cowans painted scenes of derricks in Venice, Marina del Rey and other oilfields before they were removed.  Her work today can be seen at Fullerton’s Muckenthaler Cultural Center through January 3, 2016.

In 2009 Cowans published a limited-edition book, Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans.

December 20, 1913 – “Prince of Petroleum” opens Tulsa Refinery

A circa 1924 painting of the Osage Nation Tribal Council House where Joshua Cosden bid $2 million for a 160-acre lease.

A refinery built by Joshua Cosden – who is soon known in Oklahoma as the “Prince of Petroleum” – goes on stream in in Tulsa. With a capacity of 30,000 barrels a day, the refinery is among the largest in the country in 1913. It continues operating today.

The refinery is Cosden’s second. It builds on his success in forming companies that acquire and transport oil to the refineries. In March 1924, he will pay $2 million for a single 160-acre Osage lease. Read about the famous lease auction in Million Dollar Elm.

Although Cosden makes another $15 million in the oilfields of West Texas, he will lose almost everything during the Great Depression. He dies at 59 in 1940. His Tulsa refinery continues as a part of the Dallas-based HollyFrontier Corporation.

December 20, 1951 – Oil discovered in Washington State

A short-lived oil discovery in Washington foretells the state’s production future. The Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well is completed near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County. It produces 35 barrels a day.

petroleum history december

Washington’s only commercial well yielded just 12,500 barrels of oil.

The well, which also produces 300,000 cubic feet of natural gas from a depth of 3,711 feet, is abandoned as non-commercial. But in 1967, Sunshine Mining Company reopens the Hawksworth well and deepens it to 4,532 feet in an effort to develop commercial production. With only minor shows of oil and natural gas, the well is shut in again.

Although 600 wells will be drilled in 24 counties by 2010, only one will produce commercial quantities of oil. It is completed by Sunshine Mining in 1959 about 600 yards north of the failed Hawksworth site.

That Sunshine well, Washington’s only commercial producer, is closed in 1961 after yielding 12,500 barrels of oil.

When it comes to drilling for oil, Washington state is far down on the list of places where petroleum companies wish to explore notes a a geologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

“We would probably be last, or next to last,” explains the expert. “The geology is too broken up and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California.”

For facts about the petroleum-producing states, see this website’s State Energy Education Contacts. Read about California petroleum geology in California Oil Seeps

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society is a 501 (c)-3 nonprofit energy education program dedicated to preserving U.S. petroleum history. Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. On the fourth Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in at 9:20 a.m. to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


December 9, 1921 – Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Leaded Gasoline invented

petroleum history december

Invented by General Motors scientists in 1921, tetraethyl leaded gasoline helped win World War II. Phillips Petroleum’s leaded aviation fuel came from high-quality oil found in Osage County, Oklahoma, oilfields.

Petroleum History December

Public health concerns will result in the phase-out of tetraethyl lead in gasoline beginning in 1976.

Petroleum History December

General Motors chemists Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering.

General Motors scientists discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead in 1921. American motorists are soon saying, “fill ‘er up with Ethyl.”

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonations of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. This shock frequently damaged the engine.

After five years of lab work to find an additive to eliminate pre-ignition “knock” problems of gasoline, G.M. researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead.

Their earlier experiments have examined properties of “knock suppressors” such as bromine, iodine and tin and compared these to new additives such as arsenic, sulfur, silicon and lead.

When they use tetraethyl lead (diluted to a ratio of one part per thousand) in their one-cylinder laboratory engine, knocking abruptly disappears.

Although the additive proves vital for winning World War II, tetraethyl lead’s danger to public health results in its phase-out beginning in 1976 and completed by 1986. Read more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.

December 10, 1844 – “Coal Oil Johnny” adopted

Petroleum History December

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele

The future “Coal Oil Johnny” is adopted as an infant by Culbertson and Sarah McClintock. John Steele is adopted along with his sister, Permelia, and brought home to the McClintock farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.

The petroleum boom prompted by Edwin Drake’s discovery 15 years later – America’s first commercial oil well – will lead to the widow McClintock making a fortune in royalties. She leaves the money to her only surviving child, Johnny, when she dies in a kitchen fire in 1864. At age 20, he inherits $24,500 – and $2,800 a day in royalties.

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele will earn his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that years later the New York Times will report: “In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known…he threw away $3 million ($45 million in 2013 dollars) in less than a year.”

Read his extraordinary oil patch tale in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.

December 10, 1955 – Life features Stella Dysart’s Uranium Well

Life magazine featured Stella Dysart in front of a drilling rig in 1955, soon after making a fortune from uranium after decades as of failure in petroleum drilling ventures.

Although Mrs. Stella Dysart has spent decades drilling dry holes in New Mexico, in 1955 a radioactive uranium sample from one of her wells makes her rich. She is 78 years old when the December 10 Life magazine features her picture with the caption:

“Wealthy landowner, Mrs. Stella Dysart, stands before abandoned oil rig which she set up on her property in a long vain search for oil. Now uranium is being mined there and Mrs. Dysart, swathed in mink, gets a plump royalty.”

Just three years earlier, Dysart had been $25,000 in debt when she met a New Mexico uranium prospector. Louis Lothman examined cuttings from one of her unsuccessful wells in McKinley County – and got impressive Geiger counter readings.

Lothman drilled more test wells, which confirmed the result. Mrs. Dysart owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore. Read more in Mrs. Dysart’s Uranium Well.

December 10, 1967 – Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear Fracturing

Petroleum History December

A September 1967 Popular Mechanics article describes how nuclear explosives would improve previous fracturing technologies, including gunpowder, dynamite and “forcing down liquids at high pressure.”

Petroleum History December

Scientists lower a 13-foot by 18-inches diameter nuclear warhead into a well in New Mexico. The 29-kiloton device is detonated on December 10, 1967.

Government scientists detonate an underground 29-kiloton nuclear warhead about 60 miles east of Farmington, New Mexico. It’s “fracking” late 1960s style.

The experiment is designed to test the feasibility of using nuclear explosions to stimulate release of natural gas trapped in dense shale deposits.

“Project Gasbuggy” includes experts from the Atomic Energy Commission, the Bureau of Mines and a natural gas company.

Near three low-production natural gas wells, the team drills to a depth of 4,240 feet and lowers a 13-foot by 18-inch diameter nuclear device into the borehole.

The experimental explosion is part a federal program created  in the late 1950s to explore possible uses of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes.

“Geologists had discovered years before that setting off explosives at the bottom of a well would shatter the surrounding rock and could stimulate the flow of oil and gas, explains historian Wade Nelson (see Shooters – A “Fracking” History).

“It was believed a nuclear device would simply provide a bigger bang for the buck than nitroglycerin, up to 3,500 quarts of which would be used in a single shot,” he adds.

The detonation creates a molten glass-lined cavern 160 feet wide and 333 feet tall that collapses within seconds. Although the well produces 295 million cubic feet of natural gas, the gas is radioactive and useless.

Learn more in Gasbuggy” tests Nuclear Fracking.

December 11, 1950 – Federal Offshore expands beyond Cannon Shot

After decades of controversy and a 1947 U.S. Supreme Court decision citing the federal government’s “paramount rights” out to and beyond the three nautical mile limit – an 18th century precedent based on the range of smooth-bore cannon.

The court issues a supplemental decree that prohibits any further offshore development without federal approval. The first Outer Continental Shelf lease sale held by the Bureau of Land Management and Geological Survey’s Conservation Division in 1954 earns the government almost $130 million from 417,221 leased acres.

Also see Offshore Petroleum History.

December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears

Petroleum History December

Ab early hybrid, this 1902 Porsche used a gas engine to generate electricity to power motors mounted on the front wheel hubs.

“The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” declares a 1905 article in the Horseless Age.

A monthly journal first published in 1895, the Horseless Age describes the earliest motor technologies, including the use of compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam, and diesel power – as well as hybrids.

As early as 1902, Ferdinand Porsche’s Mixte uses a small four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate electricity – but not to turn its wheels. The engine powers two three-horsepower electric motors mounted in the front wheel hubs that can achieve a top speed of 50 mph.

See more engine technologies in Cantankerous Combustion – First U.S. Auto Show.

December 13, 1931 – Oilfield discovered in Conroe, Texas

petroleum history december

The Conroe newspaper proclaimed in 1931, “Strake Well Comes In. Good for 10,000 Barrels Per Day.”

After many dry holes, independent oilman George Strake Sr. completes the South Texas Development Company No. 1 well eight miles southeast of Conroe, Texas, where he has leased 8,500 acres. By the end of 1932 the field has 60 wells producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil every day.

Disaster will strike the Conroe oilfield in 1933 when several wells collapse, ignite, and create a lake of oil. The crisis ends thanks to relief wells drilled by George Failing and his newly patented truck-mounted drilling rig. Read about him and other oilfield technologies in Technology and the Conroe Crater.

Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. On the fourth Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth visits Pennsylvania Boom Town

petroleum history november

Eloise Bridges played Lady Macbeth in 1865 for “stomping and screaming” roughnecks in Pithole, Pennsylvania’s infamous boom town. Pithole Visitors Center scale-model photo by David Jones.

petroleum history november

The darling of the Pithole stage, Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

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

petroleum history november

Henry Foster, “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” in the 1930s built the La Quinta Mansion in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. It is now part of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

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

petroleum history november

Gulf Refining Company’s decision to open the first service station (above) along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was no accident. By 1913 the boulevard had become known as “automobile row'” because of the high number of dealerships.

petroleum history november

Oil company maps are dominated by Gulf Refining Company, which is the only oil company to issue maps until about 1925.

“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.

petroleum history november

Lucy sought a Broadway gusher in 1960.

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

petroleum history november

An energy source (explosive charge, weight drop, vibration generator), creates waves reflecting from the top of bedrock to surface detectors.

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

petroleum history november

The Oklahoma City oilfield will add stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Production will rank eighth in the nation for the next 40 years – yielding more than 7.3 million barrels of oil.

petroleum history november

The 215,000 square-foot Oklahoma History Center and Research Center opened in 2005.

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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