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September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well

petroleum history september

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 Well 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 and 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.

September 26, 1933 – King Ranch Lease sets Record

petroleum history september

A 1933 King Ranch oil lease set a record.

Despite the reservations of Humble Oil and Refining Company President W.S. Parrish, geologist Wallace Pratt convinced the company to lease the million-acre King Ranch in Texas for almost $128,000 per year (plus a one-eighth royalty on any discovered oil).

The September 26, 1933, petroleum lease deal was the largest oil lease contract ever negotiated in the United States. Humble Oil and Refining, a Houston company founded in 1917, had drilled the King Ranch’s early “dusters.”

Subsequent leases from nearby ranches gave Humble Oil & Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. By 1947, Humble would be operating 390 producing oil wells on the King Ranch lease. ExxonMobil has regularly extended the Humble oil and natural gas lease agreement in effect since 1933. Learn more in Oil reigns at King Ranch.

September 26, 1943 – First Florida Oil well

The Humble Oil Company completed Florida’s first commercially successful oil well on September 26, 1943 – the Sunniland No. 1 – near a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

Humble Oil spent $1 million drilling to a depth of about 11,600 feet to complete the discovery well, located 12 miles south of Immokalee, near Big Cypress Preserve and the city of Naples.

Florida’s petroleum had eluded hundreds of wildcatters since 1901. By 1939, almost 80 dry holes had been drilled. Florida legislators – desperate for their state to become an oil producer and benefit from the tax revenue – offered a $50,000 bounty for the first oil discovery. Revealing the Sunniland oilfield brought more drilling, and by 1954 the field was producing 500,000 barrels of oil per year from 11 wells.

Texas-based Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state legislature, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. Humble later became ExxonMobil. Read more in First Florida Oil Well.

September 27, 1915 – Deadly Explosion in Ardmore, Oklahoma

petroleum history september

The 1915 accident will result in new gas transportation regulations.

Two years after discovery of the Healdton oilfield in Oklahoma, a September 27, 1915, railroad tank car of casing-head gasoline exploded in Ardmore.

The explosion at the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway depot destroyed most of downtown Ardmore. Casing-head gasoline from natural gas wells at the time was integral to Oklahoma’s petroleum development.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, after the disaster the Natural Gasoline Manufacturers Association advocated new regulations governing casing-head gas transportation. The Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway was found responsible for the explosion and paid 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million.

September 30, 2006 – Bronze Roughnecks dedicated at Signal Hill, California

petroleum history september

Signal Hill once had so many derricks people called it Porcupine Hill. The city of Long Beach is visible in the distance.

A statue “Tribute to the Roughnecks” was dedicated on September 30, 2006, near the Alamitos No. 1 well, which in 1921 revealed California’s prolific Long Beach oilfield. Twenty miles south of Los Angeles, the bronze statue commemorates the Signal Hill Oil boom.

More than one billion barrels of oil have been pumped from the Long Beach oilfield since its discovery. A plaque notes the monument serves, “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.”

October 1, 1908 – Ford produces First Model T

petroleum history september

Model T tires are white until 1910 – when the petroleum product carbon black is added to improve durability.

The first production Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit October 1, 1908.

Between 1908 and 1927, Ford built about 15 million Model T cars – fueled by inexpensive gasoline. It was great timing for the petroleum industry, which had seen demand for kerosene for lamps drop because of electric lighting.

New oilfield discoveries, including a 1901 massive find near Beaumont, Texas, soon met demand for what had been a refining byproduct: gasoline. See Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

October 1, 1920 – “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas joins Texas Rangers

petroleum history september

Downtown Kilgore, Texas, boasts the “World’s Richest Acre Park, where once stood the world’s greatest concentration of oil wells.” Library of Congress photo.

When Manuel T. Gonzaullas joined the Texas Rangers on October 1, 1920, many rowdy Texas boom towns would never be the same. He soon became known as “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas.

In East Texas, when the streets of downtown Kilgore sprouted oil derricks, the population grew from 700 to 10,000 in two weeks. With Depression-era petroleum discoveries multiplying, oil boom towns often attracted criminals. Riding a black stallion named Tony and sporting two pearl-handled .45 pistols, Gonzaullas soon earned a reputation for strictly enforcing the law. Learn more in “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger.

October 1, 1942 – Water Injection Project begins in East Texas

petroleum history september

The Texas Railroad Commission called the 1942 use of saltwater injection, “the greatest oil conservation project in history.”

The East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company on October 1, 1942, drilled the first salt water injection well in the 12-year-old East Texas oilfield near the towns of Tyler, Longview and Kilgore.

As early as 1929 the Federal Bureau of Mines had determined that injecting recovered saltwater into formations could increase reservoir pressures and oil production.

The Texas Railroad Commission created the East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company as a public utility operating in the historic oilfield.

In its first 13 years, the company gathered, treated, and re-injected about 1.5 billion barrels of saltwater, prompting the commission to proclaim saltwater injection as the greatest oil conservation project in history.

October 2, 1919 – Future “Mr. Tulsa” incorporates Skelly Oil

petroleum history september

Born near Pennsylvania’s early oilfields, independent oilman William Skelly’s company helped make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”

Skelly Oil Company incorporated in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with founder William Grove Skelly as president. He had been born in 1878 in Erie, Pennsylvania, where his father hauled oilfield equipment in a horse-drawn wagon.

Creating Skelly Oil Company was a result of Skelly’s earlier successes in the giant El Dorado oilfield east of Wichita, Kansas, and other petroleum industry ventures, including Midland Refining Company, which he founded in 1917.

Skelly Oil became one of the Mid-Continent’s most successful independents – producing almost nine million barrels of oil in 1929.

With Tulsa already famous worldwide – see Making Tulsa the Oil Capital – Skelly became known as “Mr. Tulsa” thanks to his support for many civic and charitable causes – and serving as president of Tulsa’s famous International Petroleum Exposition for 32 years until his death in 1957.


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.


September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well

petroleum history september

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.”

The discovery opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks. As the Jennings oilfield reached peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906, oil discoveries in northern Louisiana continued to expand the state’s new petroleum industry. Read more in First Louisiana Oil Well.

September 23, 1918 – Start of Wood River Refinery

petroleum history september

The Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the ConocoPhillips Refinery southeast of Roxana, Illinois.

Roxana Petroleum Company’s new Wood River (Illinois) facility began refining crude oil in 1918. The refinery processed more than two million barrels of Oklahoma petroleum in its first year of operation.

Roxana Petroleum Company was the 1912 creation of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which founded the American Gasoline Company in Seattle to distribute gasoline on the West Coast. Roxana Petroleum was established in Oklahoma to locate and produce the state’s high quality oil to be refined at the Wood River plant.

Today the largest refinery owned by ConocoPhillips, Wood River processes 300,000 barrels of oil a day. Visit the Wood River Refinery History Museum.

September 23, 1933 – Standard Oil of California Geologists visit Saudi Arabia

Invited by Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz, geologists from Standard Oil Company of California (later Chevron) arrived at the Port of Jubail in the Persian Gulf. Searching the desert for petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter,” they discovered a giant oilfield. The partnership between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil became known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), later joined by Texaco and other major U.S. companies.

September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology

petroleum history september

On September 24, 1951, Henry Mohaupt applied for a U.S. patent for his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun” – bringing to the oil patch his World War II anti-tank “bazooka” technology patented one decade earlier.

Call it a “downhole bazooka.” In 1951, war veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brought a key World War II anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry.

Mohaupt had been in charge of a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to direct and focus detonation energy ultimately produced a rocket grenade used in the bazooka.

After the war, the potential of these downhole rocket grenades  to facilitate flow from oil-bearing strata was recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The company employed Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

September 25, 1922 – First New Mexico Oil Well

petroleum history september

New Mexico has produced more than 5.5 billion barrels of oil since its September 1922 discovery well.

New Mexico’s first commercial oil well was drilled on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Shiprock by the Midwest Refining Company.

The Hogback No. 1 well produced 375 barrels of oil per day. Following the 1922 discovery, Midwest drilled eleven additional wells to establish the Hogback oilfield as a major producer of the San Juan Basin. Two years later, a pipeline to Farmington was completed and oil shipped by rail to Salt Lake City, Utah, for refining.

Production from the New Mexico oilfield encouraged further exploration, which led to discoveries in 1928 that brought prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs. Learn more in New Mexico Oil Discovery. 


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.


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.”

September 13, 1957 – First Hawaiian Refinery

petroleum history September

About 40 million barrels of oil are delivered by tanker each year to Hawaii and refined into gasoline, asphalt, diesel and more.

Standard Oil of California announced it would build the Territory of Hawaii’s first oil refinery, eight miles west of Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. According to a 1959 Popular Mechanics article, Standard originally had planned to import oil from the Middle East “by means of an unusual undersea submarine cable.”

Chevron USA, owner of the modern 54,000-barrel-per-day refinery, in April 2016 announced it would sell the facility and other associated Hawaiian downstream assets to Island Energy Services LLC.

September 13, 1975 – President Ford dedicates Petroleum Museum

petroleum history September

President Gerald Ford spoke at the Petroleum Museum’s 1975 opening in Midland, Texas. Photo courtesy Petroleum Museum.

President Gerald R. Ford addressed 400 guests at the 1975 dedication ceremony of the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, Library and Hall of Fame in Midland, Texas.

After touring the new museum, the president was presented with a bronze sculpture by artist Lester Fox called “Dressing the Bit.”  The presentation was made by Chairman Emil Rassman.

The museum,  established by 500 community leaders under the leadership of George Abell, today includes extensive geological, technical and cultural exhibits – and a rare collection of historic Chaparral racing cars, notes Director Kathy Shannon.

September 14, 1871 – President Grant visits Oil City

During a tour of the booming oil region of northwestern Pennsylvania, President Ulysses S. Grant visited Titusville, Petroleum Center and Oil City in the “valley that changed the world” following its August 1859 first U.S. commercial oil discovery. Grant ordered Pennsylvania Avenue paved with asphalt in 1875.

September 14, 1929 – West Texas Well will set Record

petroleum history September

New technologies have renewed interest in the Yates field, which has been producing continuously since the 1920s. Pecos County along covers more than 4,700 square miles. Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.

A West Texas well struck oil at a depth of 1,070 feet and produced an astounding 204,672 barrels of oil a day- the most productive well ever drilled up until that time. The Yates 30-A well initially produced 8,528 barrels of oil per hour.

The well in southeastern Pecos County was just a few hundred yards from the 1926 discovery well of the Yates field, the Ira G. Yates 1-A. First discovered in 1920, the Permian Basin’s huge size had been revealed in 1923 by the Santa Rita No. 1 well.

The latest well, operated by Transcontinental Oil and the Mid-Kansas Oil and Gas Company (then a subsidiary of Ohio Oil, now Marathon Oil) brought prosperity to Midland, Odessa and communities like Iraan (see  Alley Oop’s Oil Roots). In 1985 the Yates field produced its billionth barrel of oil.

September 14, 1960 – OPEC founded in Baghdad

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was created at the Baghdad Conference by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

The five founding members were later joined by nine others. Headquarters was in Geneva, Switzerland, prior to moving to Vienna, Austria, in September 1965.

OPEC’s objective “is to coordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers; an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry.”

September 15, 1886 – Indiana Natural Gas Boom brings Prosperity

petroleum history september

Believing they had unlimited natural gas from the Trenton field, Indiana cities erected “flambeaux” arches to attract industries.

The late 1880s discoveries of a new energy resource near the communities of Eaton and Portland ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom, which dramatically changed the state’s economy. It became known as the Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

Drilling for the newly formed Eaton Mining & Gas Company in Indiana, Civil War veteran Almeron Crannel found natural gas at 920 feet deep. With a two-inch pipe extended 18 feet above the derrick, the ignited gas flow produced a huge flame reportedly visible in Muncie 10 miles away. The well helped reveal a 5,120-square-mile oil and natural gas field.

The giant Trenton field as it would become known, spread over 17 Indiana counties. It was the largest natural gas field known in the world at the time. Within three years, more than 200 companies in Indiana were exploring, drilling, distributing and selling natural gas from more than 380 producing wells. Andrew Carnegie proclaimed natural gas used for making steel was replacing 10,000 tons of coal every day.

September 18, 1948 – Oil discovered in Utah

petroleum history september

Begun in 1948 in the giant Uinta Basin, Utah’s petroleum boom continues today thanks to giant reserves of coalbed methane gas.

J.L. “Mike” Dougan, president of the small independent Equity Oil Company, completed the state’s first commercial well in the Uinta Basin.

Dougan beat out larger and better financed competitors, including  Standard Oil of California, Pure Oil, Continental, and Union Oil.

Dougan’s discovery launched a deep-drilling boom in Utah.

Unlike the earlier attempts, Dougan drilled beyond the typical depth of 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet. His Ashley Valley No. 1 well, ten miles southeast of Vernal, produced 300 barrels a day from 4,152 feet.

By the end of 1948, eight more wells were drilled and development of the field followed. Production averaged just less than a million barrels a year from the approximately 30 wells in the field. Exploration companies began drilling 5,000 feet to 8,000 feet and even deeper into the Uinta Basin.

Today, Uinta Basin coalbed methane is considered one of the major producing areas in the nation. The basin is estimated to have up to 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in a region covering about 15,000 square miles. Learn more in First Utah Oil Well.


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


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.

Changes in subsurface resistance readings showed variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas. This technology breakthrough made Schlumberger the world’s first well logging oilfield service company.

September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Pump

petroleum history september

This 1916 Bowser gas pump was operated by a hand crank and a “clock face” dial to measure pumped gas. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

The modern gasoline-pump design was invented by Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to a  grocery store owner in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1885.

Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” the pump held 42 gallons. The pump used marble valves, a wooden plunger and a simple, upright faucet.

With the pump’s popular success at Jake Gumper’s Fort Wayne grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. Within a decade – as the automobile’s popularity grew – Bowser’s company adapted and became hugely successful.

By 1905 (the same year some claim the first gasoline station was built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a filling station.

The original Bowser gas pump was a square metal tank and wooden cabinet equipped with a suction pump operated by hand-stroke lever action. It included a hose attachment for dispensing gasoline directly into the automobile fuel tank.

With the addition of competing businesses such as Wayne Pump Company and Tokheim Oil Tank & Pump Company, the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, became known as the “Gas Pump Capital of the World.” Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

September 7, 1923 – Major Oilfield discovered at Dominguez Hills

petroleum history September

Maj. Frederick R. Burnham in his British Army uniform, 1901.

Maj. Frederick Russell Burnham discovered oil in Dominguez Hills, an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, California, in 1923. His well produced about 1,200 barrels of oil a day from 4,068 feet deep.

Maj. Burnham was a decorated soldier for the U.S. and British armies – where he was once known as “King of the Scouts.” His Burnham Exploration Company and partner Union Oil Company of California opened the Dominguez Hills oilfield, “a two-square mile, two-mile deep stack of eight producing zones,” notes one geologist.

The region was named for a Spanish soldier who in 1784 received a land grant for grazing cattle. “But family fortunes truly took off with discovery of oil in the 1920s, first in the Torrance area and then, most resoundingly, on Dominguez Hill itself, where productive wells functioned for a half century,” explains the California State University Dominguez Hills.

By 1933 Burnham Exploration and partner Union Oil Company of California paid more than $10 million to stockholders. Learn more California history in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

September 9, 1928 – Oklahoma regulates Oil Production

For the first time, a state regulatory body issued an order that governed oil production for the entire state.

The move was an effort to control excessive production from a host of newly discovered fields, including that summer’s greater Seminole oil boom. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission set the state’s oil production limit to 700,000 barrels daily and limits and production of new wildcat wells to 100 barrels a day.

The commission allocated 425,000 barrels a day for new fields like Seminole (the premier high-gravity oilfield) and 275,000 barrels a day for older fields. Learn more in Oklahoma Oil History.

September 10, 1879 – Chevron founded in California

petroleum history September

Founded in 1879, the Pacific Coast Oil Company (Chevron) promoted derricks at Pico Canyon – site of California’s first commercial oil discovery. Photo courtesy of Chevron Corp.

Chevron Corp. began in 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquired the California Star Oil Works, which has made the first major oil discovery in California.

As the future major oil company grew over the century, it’s downstream retail operations added more than a dozen service station logos – including Standard Oil Company of California’s red-white-and-blue chevron; the Texaco Company red star; the orange disc of Gulf Oil; and the Unocal 76 logo.

“We trace our beginnings to an 1876 oil discovery at Pico Canyon, north of Los Angeles, which led to the formation of the Pacific Coast Oil Company,” notes a company historian. See First California Oil Well.

“Driller Alex Mentry succeeded in striking oil in Pico No. 4, despite rattlesnakes, wasps, mud and underbrush,” he adds. This well launched California as an oil-producing state.

By 1880, Pacific Coast Oil built California’s largest refinery, with a capacity of 600 barrels a day, at Point Alameda on San Francisco Bay.

In 1906, Pacific Coast Oil became part of the Standard Oil empire until it was divested from its parent company in 1911. Standard Oil (California) became Socal in 1926. Chevron U.S.A. acquired Gulf Oil in 1984 and merged with Texaco in 2001.

In 2005 Chevron acquired another historic California oil company, Unocal, founded in Santa Paula in 1890. Visit the California Oil Museum located in Unocal’s original Santa Paula headquarters building.

September 11, 1866 – Distilling Kerosene in Vacuum leads to Major Oil Company

petroleum history September

Beginning in 1866, “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil” preserved and lubricated leather harnesses.

Carpenter and part-time inventor Matthew Ewing in 1866 patented a method of distilling kerosene in a vacuum to produce lubricants. His post-Civil War invention helped create Mobil Oil.

Three weeks after his patent, Ewing and partner Hiram Everest founded Vacuum Oil Company in Rochester, New York. Their first product was “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil,” extolled for its virtues as a leather conditioner and preserver.

After Ewing left the partnership, Everest continued to develop the unique vacuum-produced lubricant, finding popular success with the Vacuum Harness Oil. He initially distributed the improved lubricant in square containers previously used for canned oysters.

In 1880, Everest sold 75 percent of Vacuum Oil to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. More than half a century later, the vacuum-produced lubricants company evolved into Socony Mobil and then Mobil Oil before becoming ExxonMobil in a 1999 merger. Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.

Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of the month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS 2016, This Week in Petroleum History.


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

petroleum history august

An 1880s Continental Oil Company horse-drawn tank wagon welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum is 70 miles east in Bartlesville.

Almost 100 years after Frank and L.E. Phillips completed their first oil well and 128 years after Continental Oil delivered its first can of kerosene in a horse-drawn wagon, Phillips Petroleum Company and Conoco Inc. combined to face energy challenges of the 21st century.

The two successful companies joined their complementary strengths to create a new industry giant, ConocoPhillips. Each brought a history of innovation to a highly competitive world marketplace.

Although many people have forgotten the early business ventures that played roles in building today’s ConocoPhillips, historians (and two petroleum museums) remember companies like Anchor Oil & Gas, Transcontinental Oil & Transportation, 101 Ranch Oil, Marland Oil, Mutual Oil, and Continental Oil and Refining, to name just a few. In 2011, ConocoPhillips decided to separate its refining and marketing business into a stand-alone, publicly traded corporation. Phillips 66 debuted in May 2012 as an independent downstream energy company.

August 31, 1850 – San Francisco Utility incorporates to manufacture Gas

petroleum history august 31

San Francisco utility’s roots go back to August 1850.

The San Francisco Gas Company incorporated in 1850 to produce and distribute “manufactured gas” extracted from coal. Irish immigrants Peter and James Donahue and engineer Joseph Eastland will erect a coal gasification plant at San Francisco Bay to distill coal for manufacturing a gas for lighting. Their company, now part of Pacific Gas & Electric, illuminated its first “town gas” street lamps in 1852.

According to PG&E, over the next half-century, the company merged with competitors, ultimately concluding in the 1905 merger of San Francisco Gas and Electric and California Gas and Electric to form Pacific Gas and Electric Company. By 1915 there were almost 8,500 San Francisco street lamps – each hand lit and shut off every day. The last coal-gas lamp was extinguished in 1930. To learn more about early gas-light utility companies, see Con Ed – America’s Largest Utility.

August 31, 1859 – The First Dry Hole

petroleum history august 31

A spring-pole similar to the one above was used in 1859 to drill America’s first dry hole, which was deeper than the nearby Drake well. Photo from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the Department of the Interior.

Just four days after the first American oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, a series of far less known “firsts” were achieved by local entrepreneur John Grandin in August 1859.

Although Edwin L. Drake used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to drill his historic well, Grandin used the simpler, time-honored spring-pole “kick down” method for his well at nearby Gordon Run Creek. The well reached a depth of 134 feet – about 65 feet deeper than Drake’s – but produced no oil despite desperate attempts.

Not to be remembered as America’s second commercial oil discovery, Grandin’s August 1859 dry hole achieved other petroleum industry milestones. His drilling attempt would be credited with the first stuck tool, the first “shooting” of a well with black powder – and first well ruined by a failed shooting attempt. Learn more in First Dry Hole.

September 1, 1862 – Union taxes Manufactured Gas

Petroleum History august

Paying for the Civil War led to energy taxes.

In order to help fund the Civil War, a new federal tax took effect – up to 15 cents tax per thousand cubic feet of manufactured gas (coal gasified by heating).

Editors at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle soon accused the local gas company of passing on the tax, which “shifts from its shoulders its share of the burdens the war imposes and places it directly on their customers.”

“Not so,” replied the Brooklyn Gas Light Company. “We do not contemplate anything of the kind.” Still in need of revenue to fund the war, in 1864 the federal government will impose a $1 per barrel oil tax.

September 2, 2009 – Gulf of Mexico Depth Record

BP announced a major oil discovery 250 miles southeast of Houston in the Gulf of Mexico.

The 2009 Tiber Prospect – estimated to hold more than three billion barrels of oil – was drilled by the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon offshore rig. The discovery well set a world depth record by drilling 30,923 feet into seabed from a platform floating more than 4,130 feet above.

After being moved to a new site, the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sunk in April 2010, killing 11 and spilling almost five millions barrels of oil.

September 4, 1841 – Advance in Percussion Drilling Technology 

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An 1841 invention greatly increases drilling efficiency.

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris patented a “Rock Drill Jar” in 1841 – a drilling innovation he had begun experimenting with 10 years earlier.

“The mechanical success of cable tool drilling has greatly depended on a device called jars, invented by a spring pole driller, William Morris, in the salt well days of the 1830s,” explains petroleum historian Samuel T. Pees.

“Little is known about Morris except for his invention and that he listed Kanawha County (now in West Virginia) as his address,” he adds. “Later, using jars, the cable tool system was able to efficiently meet the demands of drilling wells for oil.”

The drilling innovation will help provide a growing number of settlers with much-needed salt for preserving food. Morris, using his experience as a brine well driller, patented his device, No. 2243 – a “manner of uniting augers to sinkers for boring artesian well.”

According to Pees, the upper link of the jars worked with the overlying sinker bar to perform an important function: causing the lower link to strike a strong blow to the underlying auger stem on the upstroke. This upward blow could dislodge the bit if it was stuck in the rock formation.

The Morris telescoping link apparatus increased efficiency of percussion drilling because it could “slacken off as the bit hit bottom and pick up the bit with a snap on the upstroke.” Cable-tool drilling technology evolved rapidly as drillers improved upon Morris’ patented jars. Cable-tool rigs and jars are still in use around the world. Learn more in Making Hole — Drilling Technology.

September 4, 1850 – Chicago Streets get Gas Light

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Coal gas llluminates Chicago in 1850.

The Chicago Gas Light & Coke Company delivered its first manufactured gas to customers in 1850. “The Gas Alight! – Wednesday marked an era in Chicago,” reports Gem of the Prairie.

“The gas pipes were filled, and the humming noise made by the escaping gas at the tops of the lamp-posts indicated that everything was all right,” the article continues about the gas manufactured from coal.

“Shortly afterward the fire was applied and brilliant torches flamed on both sides of Lake Street as far as the eye could see and wherever the posts were set.”

By 1855 nearly 78 miles of pipe had been installed and there were almost 2,000 manufactured-gas consumers in Chicago.


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.


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.

Texaco, Gulf, Mobile and Sun Oil companies will get their start thanks to Patillo Higgins’ confidence in the “Big Hill.” Learn more in Spindletop creates Modern Petroleum Industry.

August 24, 1923 – University of Texas receives Royalty Check

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Santa Rita No. 1 is preserved at the the University of Texas.

The University of Texas receives the first oil royalty payment ($516.53) three months after the Santa Rita No. 1 well discovers an oilfield on university-owned land in the Permian Basin.

After 21 months of difficult drilling, the Texon Oil and Land Company’s well had revealed the 4.5-square-mile Big Lake field. Within three years of the discovery, petroleum royalties endow the university with $4 million.

In 1958, the university moves the Santa Rita well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. A student newspaper describes the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

August 24, 1937 – Music Mountain Oil Discovery 

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Penn-Brad Museum and Historical Oil Well Park near Bradford, Pennsylvania.

No one has expected it, not even the Niagara Oil Company that drilled it, notes the Bradford Landmark Society about a 1937 gusher near Bradford, Pennsylvania, McKean County.

For the first time since oil strikes in the early days of the great Bradford field 70 years earlier, an exploratory well on Music Mountain erupts and reveals a new oilfield. The discovery is made at a depth of 1,630 feet with a cable-tool rig, deeper than earlier wells.

The producing formation lies beneath the older, highly prolific Bradford sands first discovered in the 1860s. The Pennsylvania region’s high-paraffin oil is still considered one of the highest grade natural lubricants in the world.

August 27, 1859 – U.S. Petroleum Industry begins

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Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, includes a replica of Edwin Drake’s cable-tool derrick and steam-engine house.

The modern American petroleum industry is born August 27, 1859, in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

The Seneca Oil Company’s highly speculative pursuit of oil is rewarded when Edwin L. Drake and his driller William Smith, a blacksmith, bring in America’s first commercial oil well at 69.5 feet near Oil Creek in Venango County. It produces 25 barrels a day.

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Edwin L. Drake drilled the first U.S. commercial well in 1859 for Seneca Oil Company of Connecticut.

Northwestern Pennsylvania in the 1850s is considered a wilderness by most Americans. When a group of New Haven, Connecticut, investors look for someone to drill in an area known for oil seeps, they turn to a former railroad conductor who has traveled there. It helps that Drake is allowed free passage on trains.

Although earlier “spring pole” and cable-tool drillers of brine wells have found small amounts of oil – an unwanted byproduct – Drake specifically drills for it. His investors want to refine the oil into a highly demanded new product, kerosene.

Drilling at Oil Creek, Drake pioneers new drilling technologies, including a method of driving an iron pipe down to protect the bore’s integrity. But after five months of financial setbacks and drilling problems, the locals begin calling the attempt “Drake’s Folly.” To improve his reputation, Connecticut investors address their letters to “Colonel” Edwin Drake.

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Ceiling paintings capture the industry’s earliest scenes inside the Titusville Trust Building, which opened in 1919. A seated Edwin Drake is flanked by men holding cable tools – symbols of early oil field technology.

On a hot summer day in 1859, Edwin Drake’s driller “Uncle Billy” Smith notices oil floating at the top of the pipe. The bit has reached what will become known as the First Venango Sand. To begin pumping the oil, Drake borrows a kitchen water pump.

August 27, 1959 – Stamp celebrates Petroleum Centennial

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Efforts for a 2009 anniversary stamp were unsuccessful.

“No official act could give me greater pleasure than to dedicate this stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the petroleum industry,” declares the keynote speaker in 1959.

U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield addresses a large crowd gathered for “Oil Centennial Day” in Titusville, Pennsylvania.During his introduction of the new four-cent commemorative postage stamp, he describes the vital role of petroleum in war and peace.

“”The American people have great reason to be indebted to this industry,” Summerfield proclaims. “It has supplied most of the power that has made the American standard of living possible.”

Fifty years later, the Postal Service Stamp Advisory Committee in 2009 rejected a stamp recognizing the 150th anniversary of the U.S. petroleum industry. At the same time it granted commemorative stamps for Kermit the Frog and nine Muppets. Learn more in the Centennial Oil Stamp Issue.


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


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

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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.

“This is the oldest well in the world that is still producing oil at its original depth,” notes the Oil Region Alliance for Business, Industry and Tourism, which promotes the well and other historic petroleum sites in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“Souvenir bottles of crude oil from McClintock Well No. 1 are available at the Drake Well Museum outside Titusville,” the Alliance adds. Donated to the state by Quaker State in 1995, today the McClintock well is pumped every other month, producing up to 10 barrels of oil. An historic marker today identifies the well, which is pumped by a 15-horsepower Reid engine next to a wooden tank – but “thousands of people pass it each year and don’t even know it’s there.”

August 16, 1927 – High-Octane Gas powers Air Race to Hawaii


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Several competitors will disappear over the Pacific during the 1927 Dole Air Race. The winning aircraft today is on display at the Woolaroc Ranch near Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

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L.E. Phillips, Clyde Alexander, pilot Arthur Goebel Jr., and Frank Phillips in front of the “Woolaroc,” which won the dangerous Dole air race in 1927.

High-octane aviation fuel developed by Phillips Petroleum Company powers a monoplane on a dangerous air race over the Pacific Ocean. With a crowd of 50,000 cheering them on in 1927, eight aircraft take off from the muddy Oakland, California, airfield.

Dole Pineapple Company has offered a $25,000 first prize for an airplane race from Oakland to Honolulu. Just three months earlier, Charles Lindbergh has made the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. Aviation fuel developed by Phillips Petroleum powers the “Woolaroc” monoplane in the air race.

A new Phillips fuel – Nu-Aviation Gasoline – is used for the 2,439-mile flight over the Pacific. The single-engine monoplane is christened Woolaroc, the name of Frank Phillips’ Bartlesville ranch and nature preserve. At Oakland’s airport, two of the fuel-heavy planes crash on takeoff. Five aircraft eventually head out over the Pacific. Only two make it to Hawaii. Read more in Flight of the Woolaroc.

August 17, 1785 – Oil found floating on Pennsylvania Creek

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Once lined with hundreds of wooden cable-tool derricks, Oil Creek today attracts hikers, canoeists, anglers – and tourists to the Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Two years after the end of the Revolutionary War, oil is reported floating on a creek in northwestern Pennsylvania. “Oil Creek has taken its name from an oil or bituminous matter being found floating on its surface,” notes a report by U.S. Army Gen. William Irvine.

“Many cures are attributed to this oil by the natives, and lately by some of the whites, particularly rheumatic pains and old ulcers,” Gen. Irvine writes in August 1785.

The general confirms an earlier Army survey reporting Oil Creek, “empties itself into the Allegheny River, issuing from a spring, on the top of which floats an oil, similar to what is called Barbados tar, and from which may be collected by one man several gallons in a day.”

Once lined with wooden cable-tool derricks and crowded with barges, Oil Creek today attracts trout fishermen to a state park with 7,000 acres for hiking, biking, cross-country and backpacking. Visit the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

On August 18, 2007 – Museum exhibits Meteor Crater Oil Discovery

petroleum history august

A meteorite hit Oklahoma 450 million years ago, producing a crater thousands of feet deep and eight miles wide.

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Oklahoma’s Ames Astrobleme Museum opened in 2007.

Ames, Oklahoma, celebrates the 2007 opening of the Astrobleme Museum, which describes a meteor’s impact – and how it led to a major discovery by independent producer Harold Hamm (450 million years later).

Located about 20 miles southwest of Enid, the Ames meteor crater is buried by about 9,000 feet of sediment, making it barely visible on the surface. Most geologists believed impact craters unlikely locations for petroleum.

Although wells have been drilled nearby, no one had attempted to reach deep into the hidden, eight-mile-wide Ames crater in Major County.

In 1991 Hamm’s Continental Resources drilled far deeper than usual for the area – about 10,000 feet – and found oil. He uncovered what will become one of the most prolific of the six oil-producing craters in the United States, producing 17.4 million barrels of oil and 79.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“The Ames Astrobleme is one of the most remarkable and studied geological features in the world because of its economic significance,” noted fellow Enid independent producer Lew Ward of Ward Petroleum.

The potential of drilling in impact craters soon got the attention of oil companies worldwide. Hamm funded construction of the unusual museum in Ames. Read more in Ames Astrobleme Museum.

August 19, 1957 – Washington Oil Discovery

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Surrounded by unsuccessful attempts, Washington’s only commercial oil well (red) was capped in 1961.

The first and only commercial oil well in the state of Washington is discovered by the Sunshine Mining Company. The Medina No. 1 well flows 223 barrels a day from a depth of 4,135 feet near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County.

Although a well drilled six years earlier produced 35 barrels a day, it was deemed noncommercial and abandoned. The Medina No. 1 well will produce 12,500 barrels before being capped in 1961.

“About 600 gas and oil wells have been drilled in Washington, but large-scale commercial production has never occurred,” explains a 2010 report from the Washington commissioner of public lands.

The state’s most recent production – from the Ocean City field – ceased in 1962, “and no oil or gas have been produced since that time,” the commissioner adds, noting that some companies are exploring for coalbed methane.


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


August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography applied for First Time

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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.

August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oil Fortunes of Luling, Texas

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The Central Oil Patch Museum of Luling, Texas, is a restored 1885 mercantile store near an oilfield a renowned psychic supposedly helped locate in 1922.

After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, Texas, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company brings in the Rafael Rios No. 1 well.

The August 1922 discovery reveals an oilfield that is 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years the field has almost 400 producing wells annually yielding 11 million barrels of oil.

Local lore proclaims that Edgar B. Davis, president of the exploration company, found the oil after consulting  a famous psychic.

The oil patch “reading” came from a then nationally known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.

Davis will sell his leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Cayce will claim success helping other wildcatters – but leaves the oil patch for good after forming his own company and drilling dry holes.

Luling today hosts an annual “Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off” and has “the best ribs in the country,” according to Reader’s Digest. Read more in Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.

August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Drill Bit

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Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, receives a patent in 1909 for a drill that “relates to boring drills, and particularly to roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”

“Fishtail” drill bits become obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patents the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit will lead to faster and deeper rotary drilling.

Historians note that several men are trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it is Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who make it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 bit patent, they establish the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.

“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” notes the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which on August 10, 2009, designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

“By chipping, crushing, and powdering hardrock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME adds. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.”

Hughes engineers will invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933. Frank and George Christensen will develop the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth comes into use in the early 1950s. Read Making Hole – Drilling Technology. 

August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oilmen organize

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Kentucky salt-well drillers found oil in 1829 – long before the 1919 oil well that launched a true oil boom.

Eastern Kentucky independent producers join the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association in Frankfort, where articles of incorporation are amended to create a state-wide organization – today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association.

A 1919 oil discovery near Pellville in Hancock County had touched off an oil boom in western Kentucky. Some historians credit the state with the first U.S. commercial oil well. See Kentucky’s Great American Well of 1829.

August 13, 1962 – Norman Rockwell illustrates Oil and Gas Journal 

petroleum history August

A Norman Rockwell illustration advertised a leading industry magazine.

petroleum history August

Norman Rockwell’s art commemorated the 1959 centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry.

The Oil and Gas Journal promotes itself with an illustration from artist Norman Rockwell captioned, “Where Oil Men Invest Their Valuable Reading Time.” For decades Rockwell’s renditions of American life and family brought him widespread popularity through magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

In addition to the illustrations for advertisements in the Oil and Gas Journal, in 1959 Rockwell provides artwork to the American Petroleum Institute, which sponsors a U.S. Postal Service first day of issue to commemorate the centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry. See Centennial Oil Stamp Issue.

Rockwell’s illustration includes the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.” His drawing depicts “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” notes a collector. Learn about another oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman.


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 to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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

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Missouri launches the U.S. interstate system after “inking a deal for work on U.S. Route 66.” I-44 today stretches across south central Missouri and is a major corridor linking the Midwest and the West Coast.

Missouri becomes the first state to award a contract with interstate construction funding authorized two months earlier by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Missouri highway commission signs the contract for work on the already historic Route 66.

The Highway-Aid Act provides 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways.” It makes it possible for states to afford construction of the network of national limited-access highways, which will eventually reach more than 40,000 miles.

Missouri has agreed to work on U.S. Route 66 – now Interstate 44. “There is no question that the creation of the interstate highway system has been the most significant development in the history of  transportation in the United States,” proclaim the state’s leaders. Read more in America on the Move.

August 3, 1769 – Rancho La Brea Asphalt Pits discovered

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

The La Brea – “the tar” – pits are discovered during a 1768 Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” notes the expedition’s Franciscan friar in his diary.

The friar, Juan Crespi, is the first person to use the term bitumen in describing these sticky pools in southern California – where crude oil has been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Native Americans have used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes.

Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the pools at Rancho La Brea are actually asphalt – not tar. The nearby Page Museum explains tar is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as peat, while asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules – petroleum. Learn more about California oil seeps in Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits. For a history of the asphalt, see Asphalt Paves the Way.

August 3, 1942 – War brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines

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The longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken led to construction of a 24-inch pipeline from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line as far as New York City.

War Emergency Pipelines, Inc., begins construction on the “Big Inch” line – the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken in the  United States.

Conceived to supply wartime fuel demands – and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of  Mexico, the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” lines are extolled as “The most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.”

With a goal of transporting 300,000 barrels of oil per day, the $95 million project calls for construction of a 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from  East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line (Little Big Inch) as far as New York and Philadelphia – more than 1,200 miles. The Trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long. Read Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.

August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”

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The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts an annual oilfield days car show.

The Crystal Oil Company completes its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. With an initial flow of up to 100 barrels of oil per day, the well reveals the Healdton field. In 1929, independent oilman Wirt Franklin will become the first president of  the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).

Throughout its development, Healdton is known as a “poor man’s field” because of its relatively shallow depth and consequent low cost  of drilling operations. The area attracts independent producers with limited financial backing to compete with the larger oil companies. By June 1914, about 90 percent of Healdton oilfield leases are held by independent producers. Among those establishing a financial base at Healdton are Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner and former Oklahoma governor Charles Haskell. Erle Halliburton will perfect his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.

August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires Alley Oop Comic Strip

Although the comic strip Alley Oop first appears on August 7, 1933, the caveman can trace his roots to the Permian Basin and a 1926 oil discovery. The West Texas oil town of Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) proclaims itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin.

Iraan first appeared as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combines names of the town-site owners, Ira and Ann Yates. As the Permian Basin boomed, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology. Read Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.

August 7, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter

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Oilfield firefighter Paul “Red” Adair in 1964. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

Famed oilfield well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair dies at age 89 in Houston. The son of a blacksmith, Adair was born in 1915 in Houston. He served with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II before working for Myron Kinley, an oilfield firefighting pioneer from California.

Adair, who founded the Red Adair Company in 1959, pioneered many new technologies for “wild well” control. Over the years his company gained control of about 2,000 dangerous well fires and blowouts – onshore and offshore – all over the world. His skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film Hellfighters, were tested in 1991 when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.

Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month to discuss petroleum history.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


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

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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.

“Bulk oil is carried in six center and two wing compartments, which have been oil-proofed by a special process,” explains the journal Cement and Engineering News. “Eight-inch cast iron pipe lines lead to each compartment and the oil pump is located on a concrete pump room aft.”

July 28, 1924 – Oil Scouts organize

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Oil Scouts helped keep speculators in check.

The National Oil Scouts Association of America (today the International Oil Scouts Association) files its charter in Austin, Texas. With a large number of landmen by 1940, it is renamed “National Oil Scouts and Landman’s Association” until landmen form their own association in 1955, today’s American Association of Professional Landmen.

Oil scouts have gathered field intelligence on drilling operations since the birth of the U.S. petroleum industry in 1859. They record details about the location, lease, depth of well, formations encountered, logs and other data, which may yield a competitive advantage.

James Tennent, author of The Oil Scouts – Reminiscences of the Night Riders of the Hemlocks, proclaimed in 1915 that scouts “saved the general trade thousands and millions by holding market manipulators in check.” Learn more in Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives.

July 28, 1977 – Prudhoe Bay Oil reaches Port of Valdez

The first barrel of oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield arrives at the Port of Valdez after a 38-day, 800-mile journey through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. By 2010, the 48-inch-wide pipeline will have carried about 16 billion barrels of oil. Learn more about this engineering feat in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.

July 29, 1918 – “World’s Wonder Oilfield” discovered in Burkburnett, Texas 

A detail from a circa 1919 "General view, Burkburnett oilfield" panoramic gelatin silver print (nine inches x 95 inches) courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A detail from the circa 1919 “General view, Burkburnett oilfield” panoramic gelatin silver print (9 inches x 95 inches) courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A wildcat well strikes oil on S.L. Fowler’s farm near a small North Texas community on the Red River. By June 1919 there are more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.”

The North Texas exploration frenzy will make Burkburnett famous  – two decades before “Boom Town,” the popular 1940 movie it will inspire.

The well is completed at the northeastern edge of Burkburnett, a small town founded in 1907 and originally called Nesterville. President Theodore Roosevelt renamed it after hunting wolf along the Red River with wealthy rancher Samuel Burk Burnett.

Once called “Fowler’s Folly” by some, the 1918 well brings an oil boom to Wichita County. Burkburnett’s population grows from 1,000 to 8,000. A line of derricks two-miles long greets visitors. Burkburnett – plus earlier discoveries in Electra in 1911 and Ranger in  1917 – make North Texas a leader in petroleum production, helping end oil shortages during World War I, and allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.”

At the time of the 1918 Burkburnett discovery well, Clark Gable is a 17-year-old roustabout working in oilfields near Bigheart, Oklahoma. In 1940 he will star in MGM’s popular movie “Boom Town,” which has been adapted from a 1939 article in Cosmopolitan magazine, “A Lady Comes to Burkburnett.” Learn more in “Boom Town” Burkburnett. Also see Sunshine State Oil & Refining Company.

July 29, 1957 – Eisenhower limits Oil Imports

As America’s reliance on foreign oil continues to grow – discouraging domestic production – President Dwight D. Eisenhower establishes a Voluntary Oil Import Program with import quotas by region. The intent is to ensure domestic petroleum supplies are available in case of national emergency.

Using a presidential proclamation two years later, Eisenhower replaces the voluntary program with a Mandatory Oil Import Program. By 1962 foreign oil imports are limited to 12.2 percent of U.S. production. The program continues until suspended by President Richard Nixon in 1973 as domestic oil production reaches new highs – and the Arab oil embargo begins.

August 1, 1872 – First Pennsylvania Natural Gas Pipeline

The first recorded large-scale delivery of natural gas by pipeline begins when gas is delivered to Titusville, Pennsylvania. A two-inch, wrought-iron pipeline carries the gas from a well five miles to the northeast.

The well’s high production – four million cubic feet of natural gas a day –  is the largest in the growing petroleum region.

The mayor of Titusville and the Keystone Gas & Water Company constructed the pipeline to deliver “the most powerful and voluminous  gas well on record” to more than 250 residential and commercial customers in Titusville.

Once an underestimated byproduct of the new petroleum industry, practical commercial use of natural gas will be introduced by George  Westinghouse for the Pittsburgh steel and glass industries, notes David Waples in his 2005 book, The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia.


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.


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.

Petroleum History July 13

The Permian Basin produces about 20 percent of America’s oil. Image courtesy Rigzone.

“As a crowd of 2,000 people looked on, a great eruption of oil, gas, water and smoke shot from the mouth of the well almost to the top of the derrick,” notes an historical marker in Westbrook, Texas.

“Locally, land that sold for 10 cents an acre in 1840 and $5 an acre in 1888 now brought $96,000 an acre for mineral rights, irrespective of surface values…the flow of oil money led to better schools, roads and general social conditions.”

Another West Texas discovery well in 1923 near Big Lake will bring an even greater drilling boom- and help establish the University of Texas (see Santa Rita taps Permian Basin). Today, about 60 major fields are located in the Permian Basin, which in 2013, accounted for 18 percent of total U.S. crude oil production. Also see New Mexico Oil Discovery.

July 21, 1935 – “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy strikes Oil

 petroleum history july 20

After discovering 11 Texas oilfields, Glenn McCarthy appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in 1950.

Glenn H. McCarthy strikes oil 50 miles east of Houston in 1935, extending the already prolific Anahuac field three miles. His well produces almost 600 barrels of oil a day. It is the first of many for a man who will become a leading independent producer – and builder of Houston’s famed Shamrock Hotel (its Emerald Room will rival Las Vegas with headliners like Frank Sinatra).

By 1945, McCarthy will have discovered 11 Texas oilfields while extending several others. He becomes known as “King of the Wildcatters” and “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy by 1950, when his estimated worth reaches $200 million ($2 billion today) and is featured in TIME magazine.

In addition to his McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, McCarthy eventually will own a gas company, a chemical company, a radio station, 14 newspapers, a magazine, two banks, and the Shell Building in Houston.

In 1946 McCarthy invests $21 million to build the Shamrock Hotel in Houston. He spends more than $1 million on the hotel’s 1949 opening day gala, dubbed “Houston’s biggest party.” Read more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.

July 22, 1933 – Phillips Petroleum sponsors Record Solo Flight

 petroleum history july 20

Thanks to a friendship with Frank Phillips, Wiley Post set altitude records — and was the first man to fly solo around the world.

Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, aviator Wiley Post lands his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae” in 1933. The former oil patch roughneck is the first man to fly solo around the world.

Post had worked in oilfields near Walters, Oklahoma, when he got his first plane ride with a barnstormer in 1919. Taking a break from oilfield work in the 1920s, Post joined Burrell Tibbs Flying Circus as a parachute jumper and was taught to fly by one of the circus pilots.

“In 1926 he returned to the oilfields, where he was injured the first day on the job, losing the sight in his left eye,” notes one biographer. Post’s trademark eye-patch resulted from working at a site near Seminole. When a metal splinter damaged his eye, he used $1,700 in compensation to buy his first airplane – and launch his aviation career.

Post developed a close relationship with Frank Phillips of the Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville. Phillips began sponsoring Post’s high-altitude experimental flights.

In fact, Phillips Petroleum Company produced aviation fuels before it produced automotive fuels. In the late 1920s Phillips also had sponsored another historic plane – the “Woolaroc” – in a dangerous air race across the Pacific. See Flight of the Woolaroc.

July 23, 1951 – Secretaries organize Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs

 petroleum history july 20

ADDC’s first convention took place in 1952 at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston.

The Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America is established in 1951 to promote petroleum industry education in the United States and Canada.

The articles of association are signed by presidents of clubs founded earlier in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston and Jackson, Mississippi. The combined membership of the four charter clubs is more than 800 women, mostly oil and gas company secretaries.

The association will promote “the education and professional development of individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries and to educate the general public about these industries,” notes the ADDC website, which adds that membership “has ebbed and flowed with the tides of the energy and allied industries.”

Today about 2,500 members affiliated with the energy and allied industries comprise the 56 clubs in the United States and Canada. The first ADDC newsletter was published in 1952 after a member won a contest for its name: The Oil and Gal Journal, which was changed to The Desk and Derrick Journal in 1987. Delegates at the 1988 convention opened membership to men. Read more in Desk and Derrick Educators.


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 to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), projects a rise in U.S. oil production and other liquid fuels between 2017 and 2040. America’s dependence on foreign oil has declined since peaking in 2005.

July 11, 2013 – Drop of Pitch drips After 69 Years

petroleum history july 13

Pitch (bitumen) is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon that flows very, very slowly.

Physicists at Trinity College Dublin photograph a falling drip of pitch – “one of the most anticipated drips in science,” according to the journal Nature. It is considered one of the longest-running laboratory investigations in the world.

Set up in 1944, the pitch-drop experiment demonstrates the high viscosity (low fluidity) of pitch — a natural hydrocarbon also known as bitumen or asphalt that appears to be solid at room temperature, but is flowing extremely slowly.

“The Trinity College team has estimated the viscosity of the pitch by monitoring the evolution of this one drop, and puts it in the region of two million times more viscous than honey, or 20 billion times the viscosity of water, ” the Nature article notes.

Also see Asphalt paves the Way and Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”

July 12, 1934 – The Start of “Clark Super 100”

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Incorporated in 1934, Emory Clark’s company will operate almost 1,500 gas stations by 1970.

Two years after paying $14 cash for a closed, one-pump gas station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Emory Clark incorporates what will become the Clark Oil & Refining Corporation.

Clark begins building a network of simplified and distinctive filling stations that focus on selling premium gasoline only – delivering “Super 100 Premium Gasoline.”

Clark’s marketing strategy is to omit many of the common services such as maintenance, engine repair, and tire changing. Sales reach $21.1 million in 1949, notes the Harvard Business School Baker Library.

By 1953 the company operates 158 service stations in the Midwest under the brand name “Clark Super 100. In September 1967 Clark purchases a large refinery at Wood River, Illinois, that can refine up to 31,000 barrels of oil a day .

By 1970, the company operates almost 1,500 gas stations and two refineries with combined capacity of almost 100,000 barrels a day.

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Retired Shell employees established the Wood River Refinery History Museum in 1986.

In 1981, the Clark family will sell their company holdings – which began with  Emory T. Clark’s $14 purchase – to Missouri-based Apex Oil for $483 million.

The modern Wood River refinery, about 15 miles north of St. Louis, today is capable of refining 360,000 barrels of oil a day, notes the Wood River Refinery History Museum in Roxana, Illinois, where exhibits trace the refinery’s history beginning in 1917.

July 14, 1863 – Diamond “Tool for Boring Rock”

French tunnel engineer Rodolphe Leschot in 1863 patents his “Tool for Boring Rock” – a ring of industrial-grade diamonds fixed on the end of a tubular drill rod and designed to cut a cylindrical core. Water pumped through the drill rod washes away cuttings and cools the bit.

Leschot’s system proves successful in drilling blast holes for tunneling Mount Cenis on the France-Italy border. By 1865, the use of diamond bits in oil well drilling is being examined in the petroleum regions of western Pennsylvania.

“It is not known if there is any connection between the 1865 experimental diamond core drilling in the Pennsylvania oil region and the Leschot blast hole drilling in France in 1863,” oil historian Samuel T. Pees of Meadville, Pennsylvania, noted in 2004.

Learn more about the oil region at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

July 14, 1891 – Rockefeller expands Oil Tank Car Empire

Petroleum History July 13

By 1904, Standard Oil’s tank car fleet had grown to 10,000.

John D. Rockefeller incorporates Union Tank Line Company in New Jersey in 1891. He transfers his fleet of several thousand oil tank cars to the Standard Oil Trust.

Rockefeller systematically acquires control of all but 200 of America’s 3,200 existing oil tank cars. By 1904, his rolling fleet of tank cars has grown to 10,000.

Union Tank Line Company ships only Standard Oil products until 1911, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision mandates dissolution of his trust.

The newly independent company changes its name to Union Tank Car Company – although its official rolling stock “reporting mark” retains Standard Oil’s UTL or UTLX. The company today manages a nationwide fleet of 80,000 cars.

Read more about the early days of transporting petroleum in Densmore Oil Tank Car.

July 16, 1926 – Greater Seminole Area Boom

petroleum history July 13

The Oklahoma Oil Museum preserves 1930s oil histories of Earlsboro, St. Louis, Bowlegs, Little River, Allen and Seminole.

Three years after a successful oil well near Bowlegs, Oklahoma, a gusher south of Seminole reveals the true potential of Seminole County. The Fixico No. 1. well penetrates the prolific Wilcox Sands formation at 4,073 feet.

The well, drilled by the R.F. Garland and Independent Oil Company, is among more than 50 Greater Seminole Area oil reservoirs discovered; six are giants that produce more than one million barrels of oil each.

By 1935 Oklahoma will become the largest supplier of oil in the world. Read more in Greater Seminole Oil Boom.

July 16, 1969 – Kerosene fuels Saturn V

A 19th century petroleum product makes America’s 1969 moon landing possible. Kerosene powers the first-stage rocket engines of the Saturn V when it launches the Apollo 11 mission on July 16. Four days later, astronaut Neil Armstrong will announce, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Petroleum History July 13

Powered by five first-stage engines fueled by “rocket grade” kerosene, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever built. Photos courtesy Nasa.

petroleum history July 13

Kerosene fueled the Saturn V – and most modern rocket engines.

During launch, five engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burn “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust.

Saturn’s rocket fuel is a highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1) that can trace its roots to the 1840s and “coal oil” for lamps. Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner began refining the fuel from coal in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax).

Refined from crude oil, kerosene’s ease of storage and stable properties will attract rocket scientists. RP-1 today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas and SpaceX rockets. Read more in Kerosene Rocket Fuel.


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 to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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.”

New offshore platform designs and operation engineering, evacuation technologies and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry. “It was a ground-breaking effort, with numerous detailed findings and 106 recommendations, which were readily accepted by industry.”

July 7, 1947 – Sid Richardson starts Foundation

petroleum history july

Sid Richardson’s friends included President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Independent producer Sid W. Richardson establishes a multimillion dollar foundation to benefit Texas hospitals and schools. One of the wealthiest men in the nation at the time (estimated worth of up to $800 million), Richardson had made oil discoveries as early as 1919 before struggling for more than a decade.

“In 1933, however, with a small investment and a friend with drilling know-how, he turned his oil business into a booming enterprise,” explains the Sid Richardson Foundation. A partner in Richardson and Bass, Oil Producers, he also served as president of Sid Richardson Gasoline Company in Kermit, Texas, Sid Richardson Carbon Company in Odessa, and Sid W. Richardson Inc., in Fort Worth.

“Mr. Sid” as he was called, “numbered among his friends Presidents to shoeshine boys,” notes the foundation. He also became an avid collector of paintings by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell that today are on permanent exhibit in Fort Worth in the Sid Richardson Museum, which is supported by the foundation.

July 8, 1937 – Ambitious Oil Pier approved

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War approves an ambitious plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil.

War Secretary Harry Woodring approves an application to drill near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Texaco thanks to a discovery at Sour Lake). The 60 acre lease is about eight miles east of High Island in Galveston County.

Humble Oil builds the experimental one-mile pier and erects three drilling rigs to search for oil; all three wells are dry holes. A hurricane will destroy the pier in 1938. Visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center on Galveston Island.

July 9, 1815 – Early Natural Gas Discovery

Natural gas is discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815). Earlier, a young George Washington had noted “burning springs” along the Kanawha River in his 1775 diary. Washington, who had surveyed western Virginia, was awarded tracts of the land in Wirt County, which in the 1860s would experience one of America’s earliest oil booms. Visit the Oil & Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz

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The father of L. Frank Baum, Benjamin Ward Baum, found great success in the early Pennsylvania oilfields – allowing young “Frankie” to launch an axle oil business before becoming a children’s book author.

The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offers lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”

L. Frank Baum – whose father has found great success in early Pennsylvania oilfields – serves as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which is still in operation. Reporting on the opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper notes that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The axle grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”

Baum’s connection to the petroleum industry began decades earlier when his father closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the oilfields. Although Baum will sell the axle oil business in 1900, one Oz historian – after researching company records at its current location in Rome, New York – proclaims the Tin Man can trace his roots to Baum’s Castorine. Read more in Oil in the Land of Oz.


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 to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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.

Visitors to what is today’s National Museum of American History (since 1980) are greeted by a 13-foot by 56-foot mural painted by artist Delbert Jackson, a Tulsa artist and illustrator.

Jackson has spent two years creating the painting, which portrays oil exploration, production, refining, and delivery. His “Panorama of Petroleum” serves as a key to the hall’s exhibit contents.

The hall’s main exhibits are prepared with “the best available technical advice to give the public some conception of the involved nature of the processes of finding and producing oil,” explains Philip W. Bishop, author of the exhibit’s 1967 catalog.

“If the hall can increase the public’s knowledge of and respect for the technical skill and know-how of those who make this energy available, it will have served its purpose,” he adds. When the “Hall of Petroleum” exhibit closes, the mural is put into storage for three decades. Read more in Smithsonian’s “Hall of Petroleum.

June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted

petroleum history june

By 2003 interstates reached almost 48,000 miles.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, becomes law.

Passed at the urging of President Dwight Eisenhower, the act provides 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways” – in case of the need to flee cities during a nuclear attack. Signed into law by President Eisenhower on June 29, 1956, the Act authorizes spending $25 billion through 1969 for construction of about 41,000 miles of interstates.

The original network of controlled-access highways is designed to reach every city with a population of more than 100,000. “Of all his domestic programs, Eisenhower’s favorite by far was the Interstate System,” notes biographer Stephen E. Ambrose.

June 30, 1864 – First Oil Tax funds Civil War

petroleum history june

Seeking ways to pay for the Civil War, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, featured prominently on the $1 “greenback,” advocated an oil tax.

The federal government taxes oil for the first time when it levies a $1 per barrel tax on production from Pennsylvania oilfields.

As early as 1862 – needing revenue to fund the Civil War – Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase has advocated a $6.30 tax per barrel on crude oil and $10.50 per barrel on refined products.

Angry oil producers rally against the tax in Titusville and Oil City, Pennsylvania – and send delegates to Washington, where they ultimately negotiate a tax of $1 per barrel.

Visit the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

July 1, 1919 – Top Oilmen join Mid-Continent Association

petroleum history june

Alf Landon, who helped found one of the oldest oil and gas associations in 1919, later served as Kansas governor. He was the 1936 Republican presidential candidate.

The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (today’s US Oil & Gas Association) establishes its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa. Members are a “who’s who” of top independent producers.

Kansas-Oklahoma members include Frank Phillips of Phillips Petroleum; E.W. Marland, whose company will become Conoco; W.G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil;  H.H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil; and Alf Landon, who will become governor of Kansas and the Republican presidential candidate in 1936.

Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company (later to be Oklahoma’s governor and U.S. Senator), is president of the Oklahoma-Kansas Division from 1935 through 1941.

July 1, 1922 – Oil Boom grows in Southern Arkansas

petroleum history june

Roughnecks photographed following the July 1, 1922, discovery of the Smackover (Richardson) field in Union County. Photo courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives.

First settled by French fur trappers in 1844, Smackover, Arkansas, has a population of just 90 people in 1922 when a wildcat well erupts oil.

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Smackover annually celebrates its petroleum heritage with an oil festival, which includes a drill bit toss, pipe tote and rod wrenching.

The well, drilled to 2,066 feet by sawmill owner Sidney Umsted, discovers the 25,000-acre Smackover field. Within six months, 1,000 wells have been drilled with a success rate of 92 percent.

The town’s population grows to 25,000 and its uncommon name quickly attains national attention. Read more in First Arkansas Oil Wells.

Nearby just a year and a half earlier, the first commercial oil well in Arkansas, the Busey-Armstrong No. 1, had revealed the El Dorado field and launched the state’s first drilling boom (and the career of a young H.L. Hunt).

Surrounded by 20 acres of woodlands between El Dorado and Smackover, the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources  preserves the state’s rich heritage. An annual “Smackover Oil Town Festival” has taken place every June since 1971.

July 1, 1924 – Halliburton founded in Oklahoma

petroleum history june

Today based in Houston, Halliburton’s roots are in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Erle P. Halliburton incorporates a new well servicing company in Duncan, Oklahoma. In 1921 he had received a patent for a cementing process that isolated down-hole production zones, prevented collapse of the casing, and greatly extended production from a well.

By 1926 the Halliburton Company will sell five cementing trucks to an English company in Burma on the way to becoming an international giant. In 1993, the city of Duncan dedicates an Erle Halliburton statue in Memorial Park.

Read more in Halliburton cements Wells.

July 1, 1938 – Major Illinois Oil Discovery

petroleum history june

The Illinois State Geological Survey has published a book about the state’s geology, including its producing counties (dark).

The Texas Company – later Texaco – strikes oil in Marion County near Salem, Illinois. By January 1939 the field is ranked seventh in U.S. daily production.

In just one year the Salem oilfield will produce more than 20 million barrels of oil. Standard derricks, including one today on display for tourists in Olney, Illinois, dotted the landscape during the oil boom years that started in 1938.

Natural gas production in Illinois began as early as 1853 when marsh or “drift gas” was produced from two water wells drilled near Champaign. See Illinois Oilfield Museum.

July 2, 1910 – Naval Petroleum Reserves established

petroleum history june

The U.S.S. Texas was the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers. Converted to burn fuel oil in 1926, the Texas served throughout World War II and is now is a floating museum in LaPorte, Texas.

As the U.S. Navy rapidly converts from coal to oil burning ships, President William Howard Taft establishes three Naval Petroleum Reserves in 1910.

National security concerns about an assured oil supply in the event of war or a national emergency has resulted in the Pickett Act of 1910, which authorizes the president to set aside large areas of potential oil-bearing lands in California and Wyoming as sources of fuel for the Navy.

President Taft notes in a December 1910 message to Congress:

“As a prospective large consumer of oil by reason of the increasing use of fuel oil by the Navy, the federal government is directly concerned both in encouraging rational development and at the same time insuring the longest possible life to the oil supply.”

Within 15 years, the properties that make up the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves include the three Naval Petroleum Reserves and three Naval Oil Shale Reserves. A Naval Petroleum Reserve Number Four on the north slope of Alaska is added in 1923.

The last American battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers, the U.S.S. Texas, is launched in 1912 and converted to oil-fired boilers in 1926. Sailors no longer had to shovel 2,900 tons of coal to fill the battleship’s bunkers. Read more in Petroleum and Sea Power. 

July 2, 1913 – “Dan Patch” brings End to Steam Trains

petroleum history june

The locomotive “Dan Patch,” considered by many to be the first commercially successful internal combustion engine locomotive in the United States.

While most locomotives are still steam-powered, General Electric lays claim to producing the first commercially successful internal combustion gasoline engine locomotive in the United States.

The Electric Line of Minnesota purchases Locomotive Number 100 for $34,500. Two General Motors 175-horsepower V-8 gasoline engines drive two 600-volt, direct current generators to propel the 57-ton locomotive to a top speed of 51 miles per hour.

This new gas-powered electric hybrid is named “Dan Patch” in honor of a famed race horse. In 1918, it is converted to streetcar operations by removal of its novel G.E. gas-electric system. By 1930, 600-horsepower diesel engines with G.E .generators will launch a new era of train travel – streamliners. See Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.


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


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

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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.”

The design also allows for pipeline movement caused by an earthquake. By 2009, the pipeline system will have carried almost 16 billion barrels of oil from the Prudhoe Bay field, which was discovered in 1968 by Atlantic Richfield and Exxon 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Read more in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.

June 21, 1893 – Submersible Pump Inventor born

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the electric submersible pump for oil wells, is born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, Russia. He will first develop an electrical centrifugal submersible pump in 1916.

However, after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff cannot find financial support for his down-hole oil production technology.

In 1928, with the help of his friend Frank Phillips, president of Phillips Petroleum, Arutunoff moves to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and establishes a manufacturing company. His REDA Pump Company manufactures pump and motor devices – and employs hundreds during the Great Depression.

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Arutunoff’s manufacturing plant in Bartlesville covered nine acres and employed hundreds during the Great Depression.

A 1936 Tulsa World newspaper describes his invention 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.”

The name REDA, which stands for Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff, was the cable address of the company he originally formed in Germany. REDA submersible pumping systems today are part of Schlumberger. Read more about Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff in Inventing the Submersible Pump.

June 23, 1921 – Signal Hill Discovery brings California Oil Boom

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Following the 1921 oil discovery, Signal Hill had so many derricks people called it Porcupine Hill.

A discovery at Signal Hill, California – one of the world’s most famous oil strikes – launches another southern California drilling boom.

When the Alamitos No. 1 well erupts “black gold” on June 23, 1921, it announces discovery of one of California’s many prolific oilfields. The natural gas pressure is so great that a gusher rises 114 feet. The well produces almost 600 barrels a day when it is completed two days later.

Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s oilfield 20 miles south of Los Angeles is producing almost 260,000 barrels of oil every day by 1923. Combined with the historic 1892 Los Angeles Oilfield discovery and the May 24, 1920, oilfield at Huntington Beach, southern California produces about one-fourth of the world’s oil.

Today, Signal Hill’s Discovery Well Park hosts a community center with historic photos and descriptions. A monument dedicated in 1952 serves “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here.” Learn more in Signal Hill Oil Boom.

June 23, 1947 – Continental Shelf

The U.S. Supreme Court rules on June 23, 1947, that California cannot claim rights to the continental shelf beyond three miles.

California and other coastal states litigation resulted from President Harry Truman’s 1945 Continental Shelf Proclamation, which placed control with the federal government.

The Supreme Court ruling affirms federal jurisdiction “with respect to the natural resources of the subsoil and seabed of the continental shelf.” Similar rulings affecting Louisiana and Texas are made in 1950.

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Traverse County, Minnesota.

June 24, 1937 – Trace of Oil found in Minnesota

Oil is discovered in Minnesota in June 1937. The wildcat well (Fee No. 1) in Traverse County produces three barrels a day from 864 feet.

The discovery prompts leasing, but no commercial quantities of oil are found. This reaffirms an 1889 report by state geologist Newton Winchell, who concluded that the geologic conditions for deposits of oil and natural gas do not exist in Minnesota.

Although Minnesota today ranks fourth in the nation in ethanol production capacity, its oil production peaked in the summer of 1937.

June 25, 1889 – First Oil Tanker catches Fire

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Rare photographs of the oil doomed tanker W.L. Hardison and Ventura pier courtesy the Museum of Ventura County.

The first oil tanker specifically constructed for that purpose, burns at its wharf in Ventura, California.

The Hardison & Stewart Oil Company, forerunner of Union Oil Company, commissioned the uniquely designed steam schooner W.L. Hardison.

The vessel offered an alternative to paying for railroad tank cars charging one dollar per barrel to reach markets in San Francisco.

With oil-fired steam boilers and supplemental sail, the wooden-hulled W.L. Hardison had been capable of shipping 6,500 barrels of oil below decks in specially constructed steel tanks.

The vessel’s steel tanks are later recovered and used at the company’s Santa Paula refinery. The Ventura
Pier remains a working wharf until 1936, when it becomes recreational. Today’s refurbished structure is 1,958 feet long – one of the longest in California.

The Museum of Ventura County houses over 150,000 resources pertaining to the history of Ventura County and outlying regions. Also visit the California Oil Museum in nearby Santa Paula – the museum’s main building is the original 1890 Union Oil Company headquarters.

June 25, 1901 – Red Fork Discovery will Boost Tulsa

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Tulsa, Oklahoma, begins its journey to becoming the “Oil Capital of the World” when the Sue A. Bland No. 1 well produces oil in 1901.

The future state of Oklahoma witnesses a second historic oil discovery in 1901. Four years earlier The Nellie Johnstone No, 1 well near Bartlesville was the first oil well in Indian Territory.

Still six years before statehood, two drillers from Pennsylvania make another discovery in the Creek Indian Nation on June 25.

Drillers John Wick and Jesse Heydrick drill their Sue A. Bland No. 1 well well near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. Bland, a Creek citizen, is the wife of the homestead owner. Although the well produces just 10 barrels of oil a day from 547 feet, it helps begin Tulsa’s journey to becoming “Oil Capital of the World.” Read more in Red Fork Gusher.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekly morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., E.T. On last Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls into the show. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


June 13, 1917 –  Phillips Petroleum Company founded in Oklahoma

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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.

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Museum Associate Shirley Patterson joined Phillips Petroleum in 1952.

In coming years the company makes a series of discoveries – and advances in petrochemicals. Phillips chemists are granted thousands of U.S. patents, including one in 1954 for Marlex, a high-density polyethylene.

Wham-O toy company is the first to buy the new plastic (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Phillips’ high-octane aviation fuel will play a key role in World War II as Phillips 66 gasoline becomes a popular advertising brand (see Flight of the Woolaroc.).

Phillips Petroleum merges with Conoco in 2002 to become ConocoPhillips. In May 2007, as part of statehood centennial celebrations, a Phillips Petroleum Company Museum opens in Bartlesville. See Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.

June 13, 1928 – Giant Oilfield found in New Mexico

The New Mexico petroleum industry is launched with the discovery of the Hobbs oilfield near the southeastern corner of the state. Drilling of the Midwest State No. 1 well – which began in late 1927 with a cable-tool rig – finds oil for the Midwest Refining Company.

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A June 1928 oilfield discovery brought decades of prosperity to Hobbs.

The well reveals the giant Hobbs petroleum field, later cited by the New Mexico Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources as “the most important single discovery of oil in New Mexico’s history.”

Drilling took time. Disaster struck at 1,500 feet when an engine house fire consumed the wooden derrick.

“Men with less vision would have given up, but not the drillers of Midwest,” notes Paige W. Christiansen in The Story of Oil in New Mexico.

Production from the Hobbs oil field draws crowds of investors, quickly transforming Hobbs from “sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits” to the fastest growing town in the United States. Read more in New Mexico Oil Discovery.

June 14, 1865 – First Edition of Pennsylvania Oil Region Newspaper

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The newspaper’s first edition in 1865 noted John Wilkes Booth’s interest in oil.

Pennsylvania’s oil region gets its first daily newspaper when William and Henry Bloss publish the their four-page broadsheet, the Titusville Morning Herald. Initial circulation is 300.

A story in the first edition includes a brief report about a failed oilman:

John Wilkes Booth purchased one-thirteenth interest in the territory in August 1864. We are credibly informed that this Homestead well in which Booth was interested was destroyed by fire on the day he assassinated President Lincoln.

The Titusville Herald remains in publication with daily circulation of more than 4,000. Read more of Booth’s failed oil patch career in Dramatic Oil Company.

June 15, 1954 – Mr. Charlie launched

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Beginning in 1954 and capable of drilling wells in water up to 40 feet in depth, “Mr. Charlie” was the first mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU). Photos courtesy Murphy Oil Corporation.

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Launched in 1954, Mr. Charlie’s column-stabilized design revolutionized the offshore industry.

The offshore barge drilling platform, Mr. Charlie leaves its shipyard in 1954 and goes to work for Shell Oil Company in a new oilfield in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Alden “Doc” LaBorde, a marine superintendent for Kerr-McGee in Morgan City, Louisiana, originally proposed building this first moveable, submersible drilling barge.

Despite Kerr-McGee being a leader in post- World War II offshore technology, including drilling the first oil well out of sight of land, the company decided against LaBorde’s idea. Fortunately, he found support from veteran oilman Charles H. Murphy Jr., who backed the project, which is soon named after Charles Murphy, Sr.

LaBorde formed the Ocean Drilling & Exploration Company and contracted with J. Ray McDermott Company to build Mr. Charlie. A 220 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 14 feet deep barge supports the drilling platform. The platform is 60 feet above the barge.

Mr. Charlie is the first mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) and a springboard for new offshore technologies for deeper wells. Described as an “independent island” and nearly totally self-sufficient with a crew of up to 58, Mr. Charlie drills hundreds of Gulf of Mexico wells for next 32 years before retiring in 1986.

Today, Mr. Charlie continues to serve the petroleum industry as a museum and training platform at the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition in Morgan City, Louisiana.

June 18, 1889 – Birth of Standard Oil Company of Indiana

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The Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, today owned by BP, remains the largest refinery in the United States.

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey incorporates a new subsidiary in Indiana in 1889. Standard Oil of Indiana will process oil at a growing refinery at Whiting, Indiana, southeast of Chicago.

By the mid-1890s, the Whiting refinery is the largest in the United States. It begins by producing axle grease for industrial machinery, paraffin wax for candles, and kerosene for home lighting.  When John D. Rockefeller is forced to break up his oil holdings in 1911, Standard Oil of Indiana emerges as an independent company. Its Amoco service stations begin opening in the 1950s.

Amoco merges with British Petroleum (BP) in 1998 – the largest foreign takeover of an American company up to that time. BP will close or rename its Amoco service stations in 2001. Read more refinery history in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

June 18, 1946 – Truman creates National Petroleum Council

The National Petroleum Council, a federally chartered advisory committee, is established in 1946 by President Harry Truman to make recommendations about oil and natural gas.

“President Truman stated in a letter to the Secretary of the Interior that he had been impressed by the contribution made through industry-government cooperation to the success of the World War II petroleum program,” notes the NPC.

Today 200 members are appointed by the Secretary of Energy. They “serve without compensation as representatives of their industry…not as representatives of their particular companies or affiliations.”


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.


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

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U.S. oil production offset a 1967 Middle East embargo.

One day after the “Six-Day War” begins in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Algeria pledge to stop supplying oil to nations friendly to Israel – the United States, Great Britain, and West Germany. A lack of uniformity in enforcing the embargo and increased U.S. production ends the embargo after just two months. A more disruptive embargo takes place in 1973.

June 6, 1976 – Oilman J. Paul Getty dies

With a fortune as high as $4 billion, J. Paul Getty dies at 83 at his country estate near London.

Getty, born into his father’s oil wealth from the Oil Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, made his first million in oil leasing by the time he was 23. “I started in September 1914, to buy leases in the so-called red-beds area of Oklahoma,” Getty is quoted in the New York Times.

“The surface was red dirt and it was considered impossible there was any oil there,” he added. “My father and I did not agree and we got many leases for very little money which later turned out to be rich leases.”

After World War II and contrary to conventional wisdom, Getty had bought oil rights in Saudi Arabia before becoming the richest man in the world. He established the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and left over $661 million of his estate to the museum.

June 9, 1894 – Water Well launches Texas Oil Industry

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Oil will transform Corsicana, Texas, from a small agricultural town to a petroleum and industrial center. Residents today annually celebrate their oil patch heritage with a”Derrick Days” festival.

The first major oilfield in Texas is discovered on 12th Street in Corsicana by a contractor hired by the city to drill a water well.

Although the 1894 well will eventually attract thousands and bring great prosperity, the city pays the contractor only half his $1,000 fee. His contract was for drilling a water well. Drilled with cable-tools, the well produces just 2.5 barrels a day from 1,035 feet deep, but nevertheless launches the Lone Star State’s first exploration and production boom.

By 1898 there are 287 producing wells in Corsicana, which becomes a center for technological innovation. One company begins manufacturing its newly patented rotary drilling machine. A “Corsicana rig” will drill the 1901 discovery well at Spindletop. Corsicana today hosts an annual Derrick Days and chilli cook-off. It is home to Wolf Brand Chili, established there in 1895 during the oil boom. Read more in First Texas Oil Boom.

June 11, 1816 – Manufactured Gas lights Baltimore Museum

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Lighted with manufactured gas, this Baltimore museum opened in 1814, the first building erected as a museum in the United States. Photo courtesy Maryland Historical Trust.

To impress Baltimore civic leaders, Rembrandt Peale illuminates a room in his Holliday Street Museum by burning manufactured gas, an illuminant distilled from coal, tar or wood. His 1816 display dazzles museum patrons with a “ring beset with gems of light.”

Within a week, the Baltimore city council approves Peale’s plan to light the city’s main streets. Peale and a group of investors found the Gas Light Company of Baltimore. “So was born the first gas company in the New World,” proclaims an historian at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.

“In 1816, the building became the fist public building in America to use gas lighting,” adds the Maryland Historical Trust. In 1855, the gas company completes a new manufacturing plant to distill gas from coal, an improvement over the former use of tar or wood. Learn more in Manufactured Gas for Lamps.

June 11, 1929 – Independent Producers organize

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Founded in 1929 with headquarters in Tulsa, IPAA today is based in Washington, D.C.

Wirt Franklin of Ardmore, Oklahoma, speaks on behalf of America’s independent producers at President Herbert Hoover’s Oil Conservation Conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Franklin opposes any commission that could restrict production – and allow an increase in importing foreign oil. “If this condition should be brought about,” proclaims Franklin, “it would mean the annihilation and destruction of the small producer of crude oil.”

Franklin will establish a new organization based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to defend the interests of small U.S. producing companies – the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which today represents companies that drill 90 percent of domestic oil and natural gas wells.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., Eastern Time. On last 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. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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.

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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.

Created to showcase the new sport of automobile racing, early races emphasize engine endurance. Ray Harroun, driver of the winning Marmon Wasp, later develops a kerosene carburetor. “Let the fuel people fight it out amongst themselves, I’ll have a car soon that will burn anything they send,” he declares. Gasoline powered less than 1,000 of all U.S. cars just a decade before the first Indy 500. Learn more at Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

Read about a record setting, natural gas fueled motor in Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

May 30, 1987 – Million Barrel Museum Opens in West Texas

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The Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot main attraction, originally built to store Permian Basin oil in 1928, became a water park for just one day in 1958.

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The West Texas community of Monahans boasts of an oil museum like no other.

The Million Barrel Museum opens in 1987 on a 14.5-acre site in Monahans, Texas. The museum’s main attraction is a large elliptical oil storage tank built in 1928 to store Permian Basin oil.

The experimental concrete tank – 525 feet by 422 feet – is designed to hold more than a million barrels of oil. The highly productive West Texas region lacks oil pipelines.

The tank’s 30 foot earthen walls slope at a 45 degree angle and are covered in concrete. It includes a roof made of California redwood.

Unfortunately, repeated efforts cannot stop oil from leaking at seams. Shell eventually abandons the giant structure, which will be patched and briefly become a water park in the 1950s – until it leaks again. Read Million Barrel Museum of Monahans.

June 1, 1860 – First U.S. Petroleum Book published

Less than a year after Edwin Drake’s historic discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Thomas Gale publishes an 80-page pamphlet many regard as the first book about America’s petroleum resources.

The 1860 Rock Oil, The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere describes the new fuel source for illumination.

“Those who have not seen it burn, may rest assured its light is no moonshine; but something nearer the clear, strong, brilliant light of day,” Gale writes. “In other words, rock oil emits a dainty light; the brightest and yet the cheapest in the world; a light fit for Kings and Royalists, and not unsuitable for Republicans and Democrats.”

June 1, 1940 – Dallas Artist depicts Texas Oil Patch

Artist Jerry Bywaters exhibits his newly completed Oil Field Girls in the Fine Arts Palace of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. His 1940 image of two young women framed in the booming West Texas oil patch becomes one of Bywaters’ best known works.

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Dallas artist Jerry Bywaters painted Oil Field Girls in 1940 for the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition. He titled its companion piece Oil Rig Workers (Roughnecks).

Almost 70 artists, including famed Mexican painter Diego Rivera, participate in the International Exposition’s Art in Action exhibition. Oil Field Girls will move on to the Dallas Museum of Art and eventually into the collection of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas.

“A canny mixture of reportage and editorial commentary, Oil Field Girls is a history painting that captures a surprisingly humane narrative of a specific time and place,” notes the museum. The oil-on-board painting’s companion piece, Oil Rig Workers (Roughnecks), also painted in 1940, is in a private collection.

June 3, 1979 – Campeche Oil Spill

The Ixtoc One, an exploratory well in the Bay of Campeche off the coast of Mexico, blows out in 1979. Although three million barrels of oil are spilled, its environmental impact is limited, according to an ecological study.

“Nature played the biggest role in attacking the slicks as they floated across the Gulf,” the 1981 report explains. “Ultraviolet light broke down the oil as it crept toward land. So did oil-eating microorganisms. Hot temperatures spurred evaporation.”

June 4, 1892 – Floods and Fires devastate Oil Region

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Titusville, Pennsylvania, residents used the “Colonel Drake Steam Pumper” during the great flood and fire of 1892. Photo courtesy the Drake Well Museum.

After weeks of heavy rain in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek Valley, a mill dam on Oil Creek bursts on June 4, 1892.

Torrents of water kill more than 100 people and destroys homes and businesses in Titusville and Oil City. The disaster is compounded when fire breaks out in Titusville.

“This city during the past twenty-four hours has been visited by one of the most appalling fires and overwhelming floods in the history of this country” reports the New York Times. Oil field photographer John A. Mather, whose studio and 16,000 glass-plate negatives are destroyed, documents the devastation.

When Mather dies in 1915, the Drake Well Memorial Association purchases the surviving negatives. Today, the Drake Well Museum preserves this rare record of America’s early petroleum industry.

June 4, 1872 – New York Chemist invents Petroleum Jelly

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Robert Chesebrough experimented to purify the paraffin-like goop that accumulated on oil well sucker rods. After receiving his 1872 patent for Vaseline, dozens of wagons distributed his product in New York City.

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Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline every day and lived to be 96. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

Robert A. Chesebrough patents “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he names Vaseline. His June 4, 1872, patent proclaims the virtues of this purified extract of petroleum distillation residue as a lubricant, hair treatment, and balm for chapped hands.

When the 22-year-old chemist visited the new Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865, he noted that drilling was often confounded by a waxy paraffin-like substance that clogged the wellhead.

The only virtue of this goopy “rod wax” was as an immediately available “first aid” for the abrasions, burns, and other wounds routinely afflicting the oil field drilling crews.

Chesebrough returned to New York, where he began working in his laboratory to purify the oil well goop, which he dubbed “petroleum jelly.” He experimented by inflicting minor cuts and burns on himself, then applying his new product.

Chesebrough’s female customers found that mixing lamp black with Vaseline made an impromptu mascara. It is said that in 1913, Miss Mabel Williams, while dating her future husband Chet Hewes, employed just such a concoction.

Read more Vaseline history – and how it will lead to the cosmetic giant Maybelline – in the Oil, Vaseline and Maybelline Cosmetics.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., ET. 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.


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.

In 1962, illustrator Norman Rockwell renders an advertisement for the Oil and Gas Journal. Today, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based PennWell Corporation publishes the magazine.

Today’s Derrick newspaper in Oil City, Pennsylvania, has been owned by the Boyle family for almost 130 years.

May 24, 1920 – Oil discovered South of Los Angeles

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Pictured here in 1926, the Huntington Beach field will produce more than one billion barrels of oil by 2000. Discovery Well Park today includes six acres with playgrounds. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

The Huntington Beach oilfield is discovered in California by the Standard Oil Company’s Huntington A-1 well. The beach town’s population grows from 1,500 to 5,000 within a month of the well drilled near Clay Avenue and Golden West Street.

By November 1921 the field has 59 producing wells with daily production of 16,500 barrels of oil. Development activities – and speculators – draw national attention to this expansion of the Los Angeles oilfield.

“The unscrupulous promotion of stock selling enterprises, without the necessary acreage or working capital to insure a reasonable return on investments, caused the withdrawal of considerable public support from the normally necessary function of wildcat drilling,” notes a 1922 report from the California State Mining Bureau.

In 1964, a total of 1,776 wells in Huntington Beach produces 16,095,564 barrels of oil, according to the Orange County Register. “But as oil production peaked, the pressure of explosive population growth began pushing the wells off land that had become more valuable as sites for housing.”

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons

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Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin will lead to Crayola crayons in 1903.

It is a petroleum product that will lead to colorful childhoods. Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith receive an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

Their 1891 refining process uses petroleum to produce a fine, soot-like substance intensely black – a better pigment than any other in use at the time.

The booming Pennsylvania oil  industry supplies the feedstock for the Easton-based Binney & Smith Company’s carbon black – which wins an award for its quality at the 1900 Paris Exposition. More innovations follow.

The company mixes carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker. It is promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named “Staonal,” which is still sold.

Today known as the Crayola company, Binney & Smith will produce its first box of eight crayons in 1903 – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown…and black. Read Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

May 26, 1934 – Diesel-Electric Power sets Train Speed Record

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Chicago World’s Fair visitors admire the stainless steel Burlington Zephyr, which helped save America’s railroad passenger industry. Two-stroke diesel-electric engines provided a four-fold power to weight gain. Photo from a Burlington Route Railroad 1934 postcard.

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During its “dawn to dusk” record-breaking run, the Zephyr burned only $16.72 worth of diesel fuel.

A new diesel-electric “streamliner,” the Burlington Zephyr, pulls into Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition after a nonstop 13 hour “dawn to dusk” run from Denver. The trip cuts traditional steam locomotive times by half.

Powered by one eight-cylinder diesel engine, the passenger train has traveled 1,015 miles. On its record-breaking run, Zephyr burns just $16.72 worth of diesel fuel. The same distance for a coal-burning train would cost $255.

It has been just 60 years since steam locomotives and the transcontinental railroad linked America’s coasts. Read more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.

May 28, 1923 – “Oil Well of the Century” taps Permian Basin in West Texas

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In 1958, the University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus, where it stands today. The student newspaper once described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

It takes 646 days of difficult cable-tool drilling before U.S. petroleum history is made in West Texas on May 28, 1923.

Near Big Lake, on the surrounding arid land once thought to be worthless, the Santa Rita No. 1 well strikes oil, discovers an oilfield – and reveals the vast Permian Basin.

Until now, experts have considered West Texas barren of oil.

Discovered after 21 months of drilling that averaged less than five feet a day, the Santa Rita – named for the patron saint of the impossible – will produce for seven decades.

Within three years of the discovery by Texon Oil and Land Company, petroleum royalties endow the University of Texas with $4 million. In 1999, Santa Rita No. 1 is named “Oil Well of the Century” by Texas Monthly. Read more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

May 29, 1940 – Nebraska’s First Oil Well

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Nebraska’s oil production, which began in 1940 in its most southeastern county, was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil in 2012, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

After more than a half century of dry holes, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well is completed in 1940 near Falls City in the southeastern corner of the state.

Eager to become an oil-producing state, the legislature has offered a $15,000 bonus for the first well to produce 50 barrels daily for two months.

Drilled by by Pawnee Royalty Company, the Bucholz No. 1 discovery well produces an average of more than 169 barrels a day in its first 60 days. Richardson County enjoys an oil boom. The well is about five miles east of a “vein of petroleum” first reported in 1883.

Today’s Nebraska petroleum production is largely in the southwestern panhandle – where a discovery well came in for 225 barrels of oil per day in 1949. Read more in First Nebraska Oil Well.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., Eastern Time. Executive Director Bruce Wells calls the fourth Wednesday of each month. Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website with a donation today. © 2016 AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


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.

May 16, 1961 – Gas Museum opens

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Stevens County’s natural gas museum in Hugoton, Kansas.

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opens in 1961 above a giant natural gas producing area that extends 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

The small museum in Hugoton educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America – the Hugoton field. A natural gas well drilled in 1945 is still producing at the museum. See Kansas Natural Gas Museum.

May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well shocks Pennsylvania Oil Prices

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In 1982 and again in 2007, a group of Cherry Grove volunteers rebuilt a derrick for their 646 Mystery Well, notes historian Walt Atwood.

A small Pennsylvania township discovers oil in 1882. When word spreads about the well’s true daily production, oil prices collapse in an industry less than 25 years old.

The 646 “Mystery Well” flows at a rate of 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Once a closely guarded secret, news of  the Jamestown Oil Company’s discovery sends shock waves through early oil market centers. More than 4.5 million barrels of oil are sold in one day at Pennsylvania’s three oil exchanges.

“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explains local historian Walt Atwood. For more than 130 years since the town has annually celebrated its Cherry Grove Mystery Well.

May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield brings Boom to Northwestern Ohio

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A circa 1909 post card promoting the petroleum prosperity of Lima, Ohio.

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio begins. Benjamin Faurot – drilling for natural gas – strikes oil instead. His discovery reveals the Lima oilfield, soon to be the largest in the world.

“Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of 1,252 feet,” notes the Allen County Museum Historical Society. He quickly organizes the Trenton Rock Oil Company.

By 1866, the Lima field is the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it’s considered to be the largest in the world. Among those attracted to Lima  is a progressive employer and future mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helps found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Read more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio and Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

May 19, 1942 – George E. Failing patents Portable Drilling Rig

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In 1931 George E. Failing mounted a  drilling rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck with an assembly to transfer power from the engine to the drill. Today his company operates a 350,000-square-foot plant in Enid, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy GEFCO.

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George Failing’s drilling rig – powered by its truck’s engine – will prove ideal for slanted wells.

A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, receives a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed.

“l designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing notes in his patent for a design he first built in 1931.

“This invention relates to drilling rigs, particularly to those employing a drill feeding mechanism for controlling pressure on the drill bit, and has for its principal object to provide a simple and readily operable connection between the feeding mechanism and the Kelly rod of the drilling string,” Failing explains.

“In 1931 he mounted an existing rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” notes Kathy Dickson of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Failing demonstrates his technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, where he works with H. John Eastman, today considered the father of directional drilling in the United States.

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A heritage center in Enid, Oklahoma, includes an early portable drilling rig designed by mechanical genius George E. Failing.

Failing’s rig can drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional steam-powered rotary rig takes about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth – see Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”  

Before World War II began, Failing also designed a drill “small enough to fit on a C-47 transport plane,” adds historian Dickson. “A Jeep engine could supply power to the drill.”

Failing’s portable rig design will benefit millions of people in developing countries by drilling water wells. Today the Enid-based GEFCO (George E. Failing Company) still manufactures portable drilling rigs. The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid displays a Failing rig.

May 20, 1930 – Doodlebuggers establish Society of Geophysicists

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A bronze statue dedicated in 2002, “The Doodlebugger,” welcomes visitors to the Society of Exploration Geophysicists headquarters in Tulsa. The name is a badge of honor for geophysical crews seeking oil.

The Society of Economic Geophysicists adopts a constitution and bylaws in Houston, Texas, on May 20, 1930. The organization will quickly become a leader in the science of petroleum exploration, today with 33,000 members.

In 1937 the society adopts the name by which it is known today, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, which fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”

SEG’s journal Geophysics appears in 1936 with articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic.

The journal even warns young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.

“Yesterday’s Doodlebuggers waded through knee-deep mud, battled the elements, and faced the hazards of the field,” explains SEG, noting  that today’s geoscientists keep up with rapidly changing technologies.

“The Doodlebugger” – a 10-foot, 600 pound bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia – is unveiled in SEG headquarters in 2002. O’Melia has experience in creating heroic oil patch figures. He sculpted a bronze “Oil Patch Warrior” dedicated in 1991 in Sherwood Forest. See Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., Eastern Time. On last Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


May 9, 1863 – Confederate Cavalry raids Oilfield

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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.”

According to McKain, who founded an Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, the wealth created by the region’s petroleum industry will help bring statehood for West Virginia in June 1863. Almost a century earlier, George Washington had acquired 250 acres in the region because it contained oil and natural gas seeps. Read more in Confederates attack Oilfield.

May 12, 2007 – ConocoPhillips opens Two Oklahoma Oil Museums

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Conoco, founded in 1875 as the Continental Oil and Transportation Company, delivered kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah. A circa 1880s horse-drawn tank wagon today welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum.

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

Two petroleum museums funded by ConocoPhillips open in Oklahoma as part of the state’s 2007 statehood centennial celebrations.

In Ponca City, the Conoco Museum educates visitors about the exploration and production history of the company, which was founded in 1875 in Utah as the Continental Oil and Transportation Company. Exhibits tell the story of the company’s development from a small distributor of coal, grease and kerosene serving 19th century pioneers into a global energy company.

Conoco merged with Oklahoma’s Marland Oil Company in 1929. Phillips Petroleum incorporated in 1917 and merged with Conoco in August 2002.

The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville exhibits its heritage developing high-octane gasolines and revolutionary plastic products like Marlex (see Petroleum Product Hoopla).

The museum also tells the stories of brothers Frank and L.E. Phillips. Beginning in 1905, they drilled 81 wells – without a single dry hole. Frank Phillips served as president of the company until 1938. Read more in Oklahoma’s Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.

May 14, 1953 –  Golder Driller welcomes Visitors to Petroleum Expo

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An official state monument since 1979, Tulsa’s giant roughneck stands 76 feet tall and weighs 430,000 pounds. Its right hand rests on a steel derrick from the Seminole oilfield.

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The original Golden Driller of 1953, left, proved so popular that a more permanent version (supported with steel rods) returned for the 1966 Petroleum Expo. Photos courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

The “Golden Driller” first appears at the International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 14, 1953.

Sponsored by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, the giant is temporarily erected again for the 1959 petroleum expo.

The big roughneck attracts so much attention that the company refurbishes and donates it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority. The giant is rebuilt in 1966.

Today, fully refurbished in the late 1970s, the Golden Driller – by now a 76-foot tall, 43,500 pound leading tourist attraction – is the largest freestanding statue in the world, according to city officials. Read more in Golden Driller of Tulsa.

May 14, 2004 – Petroleum Museum Opens in Oil City, Louisiana

The first public museum in Louisiana dedicated to the oil and gas industry opens May 14, 2004, in Oil City, 30 miles northwest of Shreveport.

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Chevron donated an oil derrick that stands beside the Louisiana State Oil Museum in Oil City, about a 20-minute drive from Shreveport.

The Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum, originally the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, includes the historic depot of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

The museum preserves the many Caddo Parish discoveries, which began in 1905, and the economic prosperity brought by the North Louisiana petroleum boom.

The museum documents the technology behind a 1911 well – the Ferry No. 1 – one of the nation’s earliest “offshore” oil wells It was completed on Caddo Lake, where production continues today.

Read more about the Louisiana Oil City Museum.

May 15, 1911 – Supreme Court orders Standard Oil Breakup

After reviewing 12,000 pages of court documents, Chief Justice Edward White issues the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion that mandates dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

The historic ruling, which will break Standard Oil into 34 separate companies, upholds an earlier Circuit Court decision that the John D. Rockefeller company’s practices violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Standard Oil is given six months to spin off its subsidiaries. Five years earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Justice Department launched 44 new anti-trust suits, prosecuting railroad, beef, tobacco, and other trusts.


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 Bruce Wells calls in to discuss petroleum history. Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


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.”

How the iron or steel lamp got its unusual name remains a mystery. Oil patch lore says the two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Others claim the lamps cast the shadow of a dog’s head on the derrick floor. Forest Oil, founded in 1916 in Bradford, Pennsylvania, will make the two-spouted lantern part of its logo in 1924. Learn more in Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

May 4, 1869 – Offshore Drilling Platform Design patented

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Although never constructed, Thomas Rowland’s 1869 offshore drilling platform with telescoping legs was ahead of its time.

The first U.S. patent for an offshore oil drilling rig is issued to Thomas Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.”

Many experts believe this remarkable 1869 patent will help inspire the beginning of offshore exploration. Rowland’s design for a fixed, working platform for drilling offshore to a depth of 50 feet presages modern offshore technologies.

Although his rig is designed to operate in shallow water, the anchored, four-legged tower resembles modern offshore fixed platforms. Rowland and his Continental Iron Works also will become a leader in petroleum storage tank design and construction. The Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize is instituted by the American Society of Civil Engineers at its annual meeting of 1882.

The earliest true offshore wells – completely out of sight from land – will not be drilled until 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico, as technologies advance after Rowland’s patent. See Offshore Rig Patent.

May 5, 1889 – Construction begins on Largest U.S. Refinery

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The Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, will be the company’s largest and most productive. Now owned by BP, it remains the largest U.S. refinery.

Seventeen miles east of downtown Chicago, Standard Oil Company begins construction of a 235-acre refinery complex on May 5, 1889. The refinery, using advanced processes introduced by John D. Rockefeller, will become the largest in the United States. Today owned by BP, it still is.

Using a newly patented method, the Whiting, Indiana, refinery processes sulfurous “sour crude” from the Lima, Ohio, oilfields – transported on Rockefeller-controlled railroads. The refinery is soon producing high-quality kerosene to meet the skyrocketing public demand for use in home lamps.

Although gasoline is at first a minor by-product, two brothers in Massachusetts will build a gasoline-powered horseless carriage soon after the refinery produces its first 125 railroad tank cars filled with kerosene.

May 5, 1907 – First Texas Natural Gas Well completed

The Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company claims the first commercial natural gas well in Texas when it completes its Lockridge No. 1 well near Petrolia. The company later places a granite marker at the site, a few miles northeast of Wichita Falls.

“This discovery marked the beginning of intensive development of the gas industry in Texas,” explains the Clayco Oil & Pipeline historical marker placed at the well site in the in the Henrietta-Petrolia field.

“Lone Star Gas Company built the Southwest’s first large-diameter, long-distance pipeline to transport gas from this gas field to Fort Worth & Dallas,” the marker adds.

May 7, 1920 – Erle Halliburton launches Cementing Company

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

Halliburton Company is founded as an oilfield well service and cementing company by Erle P. Halliburton. The Wilson, Oklahoma, company succeeds his New Method Oil Cementing Company formed a year earlier during the Burkburnett oil boom in North Texas.

The use of cement in drilling oil wells remains integral to the industry, because its injection into the well seals off water formations from the oil, protects the casing, and minimizes the danger of blowouts.

Halliburton’s company, which will reach global dimensions within his lifetime, in 1922 patents a new “jet-cement” mixer that increases the speed and quality of the mixing process. By the end of the year, 17 Halliburton trucks are cementing wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Halliburton introduced cement pumps powered by truck motors rather than steam from rig boilers and a device that allowed the testing of a formation without setting casing. Major advances in cementing technology soon follow. Halliburton is the first to offer self-contained cementing units operating under their own power. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

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High school baseball practice in Van, Texas.

May 8, 1918 – Shreveport Gassers go Extra Innings

As baseball becomes America’s favorite pastime, the Shreveport Gassers play 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game is called a tie. As U.S. petroleum discoveries grow, many new oilfield communities are fielding their own teams.

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (today known as Minor League Baseball) fields 96 teams, including the Okmulgee Drillers, Tulsa Oilers, Independence Producers, Beaumont Exporters, Corsicana Oil Citys, Wichita Falls Spudders and the Iola Gasbags. Read more in Oilfields of Dreams.

May 8, 1920 – Another Giant Oklahoma Oilfield discovered

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E.W. Marland built a refinery in Ponca City in 1918 and helped triple the town’s population. A decade later he built his mansion, now a museum. Fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers was a frequent guest.

Drilling for natural gas on a lease 20 miles east of Ponca City, Oklahoma, the Kay County Gas Company finds oil instead. A lot of oil. Marland Oil Refining Company soon assumes control of the Bertha Hickman No. 1 discovery well, which produces 680 barrels of oil in its first day alone.

This well opens the 20,000-acre Burbank oilfield. Producing companies agree to drill using 10-acre spacing for oil conservation purposes. The Burbank oilfield will produce between 20 million barrels and 31 million barrels annually for the next four years.

In addition to the Burbank field, E.W. Marland’s “Midas Touch” will lead to discovery of the nearby Tonkawa field. “As money flowed like the oil beneath, Marland invested the proceeds in the industry’s first research division, which developed seismography techniques and new drilling methods to discover even more oil,” reports the Ponca City News. Learn about this future governor by visiting the Marland Estate in Ponca City.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., Eastern Time. On last 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. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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

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Jim Buchwald with Ariel’s prototype compressor after it has completed a 10-hour run test. Photo courtesy Ariel.

After receiving a degree in mechanical engineering in 1954, former eighth-grade teacher Jim Buchwald founds Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio, 50 years ago today.

“With little money to pay for a facility to house the tools, a room in the basement of the Buchwald family home is cleaned up,” notes a company historian. “This room becomes the first Ariel machine shop, with an adjoining room functioning as Ariel’s first official engineering department.”

Buchwald buys a lathe, a small hand-cranked rotary table and a vertical drill for manufacturing valves. By 1968 he builds a prototype gas compressor that runs at the unprecedented speed of 1,800 RPM. Buchwald chooses the name “Ariel” after his 1948 Ariel Square Four Motorcycle.

April 30, 1955 – “Landmen” form Trade Association

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The American Association of Professional Landmen negotiates leases.

Today’s American Association of Professional Landmen is organized as a petroleum landmen trade association in Fort Worth, Texas.

Landmen research records to determine ownership, locate mineral and land owners and negotiate oil and natural gas leases, deals, trades and contracts as well as ensuring compliance with governmental regulations. AAPL has grown into an organization with about 12,000 members and 43 affiliated associations in the United States and Canada.

May 1, 1860 – West Virginia Oil Industry begins at Burning Springs

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Following the 1860 oil discovery at Burning Springs, Appalachian drillers applied cable-tool technologies pioneered by Edwin Drake the year before at Titusville, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy West Virginia Humanities Council.

Virginia’s petroleum industry begins on May 1, 1860, when John Castelli ‘‘Cass’’ Rathbone strikes oil near a stream called Burning Springs Run in Wirt County, in what today is West Virginia.

The Rathbone well reaches 303 feet and begins producing 100 barrels of oil a day. Cass partners with his brother John Valleau ‘‘Val’’ Rathbone as a major drilling boom begins – the first to take place outside Pennsylvania. By the end of 1860, more than 600 oil leases are registered in the county courthouse. Warehouses are built along the Little Kanawha River, which reaches the Ohio River at Parkersburg 27 miles away.

“These events truly mark the beginnings of the oil and gas industry in the United States,” says one West Virginia historian, adding that the wealth created by petroleum will help bring statehood during the Civil War. Soon after Union forces occupy most of western Virginia, pro-Union residents in Wirt and other counties in October 1861 vote to break away from the Confederate state. In May 1863 Confederate cavalry attacks Burning Springs, destroying equipment and thousands of barrels of oil. One month later West Virginia becomes America’s newest state.

May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair founds Sinclair Oil & Refining

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Today known more correctly as Apatosaurus, an updated 70-foot “Dino” will travel more 10,000 miles through 25 states and 38 major cities.

One hundred years ago today, Harry Ford Sinclair brings together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases – all acquired at bargain prices. He begins with $50 million in assets and borrows another $20 million to form Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produces six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million. The company’s petroleum refining capacity grows from from 45,000 barrels of oil a day in 1920 to 100,000 barrels of oil in 1926 to 150,000 barrels of oil in 1932.

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The first Sinclair “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago during the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. Sinclair published a special edition newspaper called Big News.

Destined to become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry, the company begins using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels in 1930. Children love it.

Millions of visitors will marvel at the green Jurassic giant in Sinclair’s “Dinoland” New York World’s Fair pavilion in 1934 – and again in 1964.

Today, Sinclair Oil Corporation operates two Wyoming refineries supplying gasoline, diesel and jet fuels through more than 1,000 miles of pipeline in the Rocky Mountains. A refinery near Rawlins is one of the longest-running industrial plants in the western United States. It produces 60,000 barrels of petroleum products per day. Read more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

May 1, 1931 – Regulating East Texas

The first proration order from the Texas Railroad Commission for the giant East Texas oilfield becomes effective on May 1, 1931. Too much production from discoveries following the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well one year earlier has driven down oil prices.

With  hundreds of wells producing  almost one million barrels per day, oil prices have fallen as low as 10 cents a barrel. The commission’s order – unpopular with independent producers and enforced by Texas Rangers – limits production to preserve the field and stabilize prices. Read more in H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

May 1, 2001 – Plaza honors Oil Pioneers

The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza – an outdoor educational exhibit area – is dedicated May 1, 2002, at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.

“The history of the state of Oklahoma is inextricably linked with the remarkable history of the oil industry,” proclaims then Conoco Chairman Archie Dunham. “The individuals identified here are true Oklahoma oil pioneers in that their endeavors were most significant in the development of the oil and gas industry in this very young state.”

Tom Slick, Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, is among those honored in the Conoco Plaza. Slick, a self-taught geologist and former landman, discovered the giant Cushing oilfield in 1912.


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.

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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

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Gasoline engines will take time to catch on with consumers.

American inventors Charles and Frank Duryea on April 19, 1892, test drive a gasoline powered automobile built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop.

Considered the first automobile regularly made for sale in the United States, the model will be produced – a total of 13 – by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers quickly follow the Duryea example.

In March 1896, the Duryea brothers will offer the first commercial automobile – the Duryea motor wagon. It is reported two months later that in New York City a motorist driving a Duryea hits a bicyclist. This is recorded as the nation’s first automobile traffic accident.

By the time of America’s first national automobile show in November 1900 at Madison Square Garden, of the 4,200 automobiles sold in the United States, gasoline powers less than 1,000. The most popular vehicles are powered by electricity, steam and gasoline…in that order.

See Cantankerous Combustion – First U.S. Auto Show.

April 20, 1875 – New Technology links Well Pumping

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America’s oilfield technologies advance in 1875 with this “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells” invented in Pennsylvania.

Pumping multiple wells with a single steam engine boosts efficiency in early oilfields when Albert Nickerson and Levi Streeter of Venango County, Pennsylvania, patent their “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells” on April 20, 1875. The new technology uses a system of linked and balanced walking beams to pump the oil wells.

“By an examination of the drawing it will be seen that the walking-beam to well No. l is lifting or raising fluid from the well. Well No. 3 is also lifting, while at the same time wells 2 and 4 are moving in an opposite direction, or plunging, and vice versa,” the inventors note in their patent (no.162,406).

The use of wooden or iron rods instead of rope and pulleys will make their system the forerunner of rod-line (or jerk line) systems that will operate well into the 20th century and remain icons of early oilfield production. Read more in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Techology.

April 20, 1892 – Los Angeles Oilfield brings Califorinia Boom

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Oil production continues today in downtown Los Angeles. Edward Doheny discovered the oilfield in 1892. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Culver City, California.

The giant Los Angeles oilfield is discovered when a struggling prospector, Edward L. Doheny, and his mining partner Charles A. Canfield drill into the tar seeps between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue.

The April 20, 1892, discovery well – near present-day Dodger Stadium – sets off California’s first oil boom by producing about 45 barrels a day.

Within two years, 80 wells are producing oil and by 1897 more than 500 wells are pumping. By 1895, Los Angeles City field produces about 750,000 barrels, more than half of the 1.2 million barrels produced in the entire state of California. In 1925, California supplied half of the world’s oil. Learn more in Discovering the Los Angeles Oilfield.

April 20, 2010 – Offshore Accident creates Major Gulf Oil Spill

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The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire killed 11 and injured 17 workers. USGS Photo.

In September 2009, the Deepwater Horizon had drilled the deepest well in history at 35,050 feet vertical depth in 4,130 feet of water.

At a new site at about 10 p.m. on April 20, 2010, an explosion occurs aboard the Gulf of Mexico drilling rig, which is completing a well in almost 6,000 feet of water 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Of the 126 men and women on board, 11 are killed and 17 injured. Destroyed by the explosion and fire, the semi-submersible rig sinks.

Uncontrolled oil production from the destroyed BP well causes a massive oil spill until capped in mid-July. Among others, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (known as the Minerals Management Service until June 2010) and the U.S. Coast Guard will investigate. A report on the accident is issued in January 2011 by National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

April 22, 1920 – Natural Gas Well leads to Arkansas Oil Discoveries

The first natural gas well in southern Arkansas is completed on April 22, 1920, two and a half miles southeast of El Dorado.

Drilled to almost 2,250 feet, the discovery well produces up to 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day – and shows signs of oil from the Nacatoch sands. A few days earlier, another well did not produce commercial quantities of oil. The first Arkansas oil well will erupt in 1921 when the Busey-Armstrong No. 1 launches the state’s petroleum industry. The Smackover oilfield will be found in 1922.

Read more Arkansas petroleum history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boomtowns.

April 22, 1926 – Lease Auctioneer and Indian Chief Statue dedicated

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Skedee, Oklahoma, has declined significantly since 1926, but its statue remains.

A statue commemorating the friendship between Colonel E.E. Walters and Osage Indian Chief Bacon Rind is dedicated in the chief’s hometown of Skedee, Oklahoma.

Beginning in 1912, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters (his real name) and the popular chief of the Osage Nation have raised millions of dollars from mineral lease sales.

Auctions have taken place beneath an elm tree at the Tribal Council House in nearby Pawhuska –  with crowds gathering to witness bidding from men like Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland and William Skelly. Read more in the Million Dollar Auctioneer.

April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum founded

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Magnolia Petroleum will adopt a “Flying Pegasus” logo in the 1930s.

The Magnolia Petroleum Company is founded on April 24, 1911, as an unincorporated joint-stock association – a consolidation of several companies, the first of which began by operating a small refinery in Corsicana, Texas, in 1898.

The Standard Oil Company of New York will begin acquiring Magnolia in 1925, notes the Texas State Historical Association. In 1931, when Standard Oil of New York and the Vacuum Oil Company merge to form Socony-Vacuum Oil Company. Magnolia becomes a leading affiliate of the new nationwide company.

Headquartered in its iconic Dallas skyscraper by the early 1930s, Magnolia operates in 20 states and employs 12,500 people. The company will adopt the Socony-Vacuum Oil (the future Mobil) red Pegasus logo, which begins rotating atop the Magnolia Building in 1934. Read more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.


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.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


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

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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

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

After 504 days and about $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reaches a total depth of 31,441 feet – stopped by liquid sulfur. Drilled in the heart of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, it is the deepest hole in world for several years and the deepest in the United States for three decades until finally exceeded in 2004.

Robert Hefner III’s GHK Company and partner Lone Star Producing Company believe immense natural gas reserves reside in the basin, which extends across West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Their first attempt begins in 1967 and takes two years to reach what at the time is a record depth, 24,473 feet.

The exploratory well finds plenty of natural gas, according to historian Robert Dorman, “but because of price controls, the sale of the gas could not cover the high cost of drilling so deeply – $6.5 million, as opposed to a few hundred thousand dollars for a conventional well.”

The high-tech drilling of Bertha Rogers No. 1 begins in November 1972, averaging about 60 feet per day. By April 1974, the bottom hole pressure and temperature reaches an estimated 24,850 pounds per square inch and 475 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. It takes eight hours for bottom hole cuttings to reach the surface almost six miles above.

Although no natural gas is produced at the record depth, Bertha Rogers is successfully competed as a natural gas discovery at 13,000 feet. The 1.3 million pounds of casing is the heaviest ever handled by any drilling rig in the history of the industry.

Bertha Rogers No. 1, “cost $7 million but yielded relatively little gas,” concludes historian Dorman. “Some observers classified it as an ultra-deep dry hole.” As drilling technologies emerge, “deep gas plays” will prove successful by the 1990s. Read more in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

April 14, 1865 – Dramatic Oil Company’s failed Oilman turns Assassin

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John Wilkes Booth visited the oil-boom town of Franklin, Pennsylvania. in January 1864. He purchased a 3.5-acre lease on the Fuller farm and drilled a well.

After failing to make his fortune in Pennsylvania oilfields, John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

Just one year earlier Booth had left his acting career to drill an oil well in booming Venango County. He and his friends form the Dramatic Oil Company.

In January 1864 Booth makes the first of several trips to Franklin, where he leases land on the Fuller farm on the east side of the Allegheny River. Although the Dramatic Oil Company’s well produces about 25 barrels of oil a day, Booth tries “shooting” it to increase production. When the well is ruined, he leaves the oil region in July 1864. Read more in Dramatic Oil Company.

April 15, 1897 – Birth of the Oklahoma Petroleum Industry

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A gusher highlighted the 2008 dedication of the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 replica derrick in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Discovery 1 Park.

A large crowd gathers at the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well near Bartlesville, in the Indian Territory that will become Oklahoma.

On April 15, 1897, independent oilman George Keeler’s stepdaughter drops a “go devil” down the well bore to set off a waiting canister of nitroglycerin – producing a gusher that heralds the beginning of Oklahoma’s petroleum industry.

As the discovery well for the giant Bartlesville-Dewey Field, the Nellie Johnstone No.1 ushers in the oil era for Oklahoma Territory. By the time of statehood in 1907, Oklahoma will lead the world in oil production.

In the ten years following the Nellie Johnstone discovery, Bartlesville’s population grows from 200 to over 4,000 while Oklahoma’s oil production will reach more than 43 million barrels annually.

Today, an replica 84-foot wooden derrick and a nearby education center help tell the story in Bartlesville’s Discovery 1 Park. Read more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

April 16, 1855 – Pennsylvania Rock Oil promises “Very Valuable Products”

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A report about oil’s potential as an illuminant will lead to the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company discovering America’s first commercial well.

A report from Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman Jr. says Pennsylvania “rock oil” can be distilled into a high-quality illuminating oil.

The New Haven, Connecticut, professor’s “Report on Rock Oil or Petroleum” of April 16, 1855, is an analysis of samples from Cherrytree Township, Venango County.

“Gentlemen,” Silliman writes to his clients – soon to be oilmen – “it appears to me that there is much ground for encouragement in the belief that your company have in their possession a raw material from which, by simple and not expensive processes, they may manufacture very valuable products.”

Silliman’s 1855 report will lead to the first U.S. commercial oil discovery at Titusville four years later. Read First American Oil Well.

April 16, 1920 – First Arkansas Oil Well

Col. Samuel S. Hunter of the Hunter Oil Company of Shreveport, Louisiana, completes the first oil well in Arkansas. His Hunter No. 1 well (also known as the Lester-Hamilton No. 1 after owners of the lease) has been drilled to 2,121 feet.

Although the well yields only small quantities of oil near in Ouachita County, the discovery leads to a January 1921 oil gusher – the S.T. Busey well – in the same field. These wells mark the beginning of oil production in Arkansas (see First Arkansas Oil Wells).

Colonel Hunter will later sell his original lease of 20,000 acres, including the non-commercial discovery well, to Standard Oil Company of Louisiana for more than $2.2 million.

April 17, 1919 – North Texas Oilfield Booms, Again

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The 1940 MGM movie resulted from oil discoveries decades earlier near Burkburnett, Texas, when future star Clark Gable was a 17-year-old roustabout in Bigheart, Oklahoma. Burkburnett Historical Society photo.

Yet another drilling boom arrives in Wichita County, Texas, when the Bob Waggoner No. 1 well erupts and produces in at 4,800 barrels a day.

Just one year earlier, a wildcat well on S.L. Fowler’s farm had brought thousands to the Red River border with Oklahoma. The county, which includes Wichita Falls, had been producing oil since 1912.

The latest well in what became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprises about 27 square miles on the former S. Burk Burnett Wild Horse Ranch. North Texas drilling booms will lead to a popular 1940 movie starring a former Oklahoma roughneck, Clark Gable. See “Boom Town” Burkburnett.


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 2016, This Week in Petroleum History.



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

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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.

About 30 million acres are under lease within two months of the discovery. The giant basin will prove to extend into Montana, South Dakota and Canada.

According to historian James Key, in March the well had reached 10,500 feet deep before a blizzard ended operations. After resuming drilling on April 4, 1951, the well was perforated from 11,630 feet to 11,640 feet  (using using shaped charges, four holes per foot).

Late that evening, “a new industry was born in North Dakota,” Key proclaims. “This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II.”

In 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey estimated undiscovered resources within the Williston Basin’s Bakken Formation alone could be as high as 3.65 billion barrels of oil and 1.85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. A May 2013 USGS estimate doubled those figures.

April 5, 1976 – Birth of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

President Gerald R. Ford signs the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976, which authorizes commercial development of the nation’s three Naval Petroleum Reserves to create a “strategic petroleum reserve.” The legislation is a result of the oil shortages created by the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74. Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1, the Elk Hills field in California, will produce its one billionth barrel of oil in 1992. Managed by the Department of Energy until privatized in 1998, Elk Hills generated more than $17 billion in profits for the U.S. Treasury.

April 7, 1902 – Texas Company founded during Spindletop Boom

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Founded in 1902 as the Texas Company, Texaco acquired California Petroleum Corp. in 1928 – becoming the first oil company to market in all 48 United States. Above, an exhibit at the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma.

Of hundreds of companies founded during the Spindletop drilling boom, the Texas Company is one of the few that rises to the top of the petroleum industry.

On April 7, 1902, Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan and Arnold Schlaet form the company in Beaumont to transport and refine oil from the booming oilfield. They build a kerosene refinery in Port Arthur.

A 1903 discovery – the Fee No. 3 well at nearby Sour Lake Springs – will flow at 5,000 barrels a day. It launches the company’s success in exploration and production operations.

The telegraph address of the Texas Company’s New York office is “Texaco” – a name soon applied to its products. In 1909 the company registers its first trademark, the original red star with a green capital letter “T” superimposed on it. By 1928 the company has more than 4,000 gasoline stations in 48 states. The Texas Company officially renames itself Texaco Inc. in 1959. Read more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.

April 7, 1966 – Cold War Accident tests New Offshore Technology

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The Navy’s CURV (Cable-Controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle) recovers a lost nuclear bomb from the Mediterranean in 1966 near Palomares, Spain.

A technology that will revolutionize offshore petroleum exploration and production is used to retrieve an atomic bomb. America’s first cable-controlled underwater research vehicle (CURV) attaches cables to recover the weapon lost in the Mediterranean Sea.

The bomb, which had been lost when a B-52 crashed off the coast of Spain in January, is safely hoisted from a depth of 2,850 feet. “It was located and fished up by the most fabulous array of underwater machines ever assembled,” reports Popular Science. During the Cold War, the Navy has developed deep-sea technologies that the offshore petroleum industry will adopt. See Swimming Socket Wrenches.

April 9, 1914 – Ohio Cities Gas Company

In Columbus, Ohio, Beman Dawes and Fletcher Heath form the Ohio Cities Gas Company on April 9, 1914. The company acquires Pennsylvania-based Pure Oil Company in 1917 and adopts the “Pure” name three years later.

Pure Oil becomes one of the 100 largest industrial corporations in the United States by 1965, when it is purchased by Union Oil Company of California, now a division of Chevron Corporation.

April 10, 1866 – Densmore Oil Tank Cars

Railroad oil tank cars become an oilfield innovation when James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, are granted a patent on April 10, 1866, for their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum,” which they developed a year earlier in the booming oil region.

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The Densmore Tank Car will briefly revolutionize the bulk transportation of oil to market. Hundreds of the tank cars were in use by 1866.

Using an Atlantic & Great Western Railroad flatcar, the brothers secured the large wooden tanks in order to ship oil in bulk  – “instead of in barrels, casks, or other vessels or packages, as is now universally done on railway cars.”

Their patent illustrates a simple but sturdy design for two wooden tanks on a typical railroad car. These early oil-tank cars will soon be replaced by the more familiar horizontal types. The brothers will leave the oil patch – and become leaders in development of the typewriter.

In 1875, Amos Densmore will assist Christopher Sholes to rearrange the “type writing machine” keyboard so that commonly used letters no longer collide and get stuck.

Amos Densmore’s “QWERTY” arrangement improves the 1868 invention. James Densmore’s oilfield financial success will lead to creation of the Densmore Typewriter Company. Read more in Densmore Oil Tank Cars.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., Eastern Time. On the last 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.


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.

The prolific Trenton limestone will be found in 17 Indiana counties across 5,120 square miles. The natural gas field becomes the largest in the world. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas. Read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

March 28, 1905 – Caddo-Pine Discovery

The Offenhauser No. 1 discovery well for the giant Caddo-Pine Island oilfield in Louisiana comes in at a depth of 1,556 feet.

Although the well yields only five barrels a day and is soon plugged and abandoned, more wells follow and the northern Louisiana oilfield is soon prolific.

To prevent the loss of natural gas through flaring, Louisiana passes its first conservation law in 1906. By 1918, annual production from the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield reaches 11 million barrels. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well and visit the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.

March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of the Petroleum Industry

Today is the birthday of Edwin Laurentine Drake (1819-1880), who will become the “father of the American petroleum industry” when he drills the first U.S. commercial oil well in the summer of 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania.

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Edwin L. Drake used a steam engine and cable-tool drilling rig to drill his famous well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. He also invented a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of the well bore.

Born in Greenville, New York, Drake will overcome many financial and technical obstacles to make his historic discovery.

Drake also will pioneer new drilling technologies, including using iron casing to isolate his well bore from nearby Oil Creek. Seeking oil for the Seneca Oil Company for refining into a new product (kerosene) his shallow well creates an industry.

“In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” reports a Pennsylvania State University historian. “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”

Drake will make his historic discovery on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet. Read more in Birth of the U.S. Petroleum Industry.

March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas

“Kerlyn Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country,” notes an Arkansas newspaper headline as the Barnett No. 1 well opens the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield. Drilling had been suspended by the Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) because of a recession and lack of backers, but company vice president and geologist Dean McGee persevered. He was rewarded with the giant Arkansas discovery at 7,646 feet. Read more in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

April 1, 1911 – First Well of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas”

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Founded in Wichita County in 1907, Electra was named after the daughter of leading citizen W.T. Waggoner. The rancher had complained about finding oil when drilling water wells for his cattle.

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Electra’s 2,800 residents host an annual Pump Jack Festival to celebrate their 1911 discovery well.

South of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launches an oil boom that will last decades.

“As news of the gusher spread through town, people thought it was an April Fools joke and didn’t take it seriously until they saw for themselves the plume of black oil spewing high into the sky,” reports Electra historian Bernadette Pruitt.

The well on cattleman William Waggoner’s lease settles into production of about 650 barrels per day from 1,628 feet. Hundreds of producing wells follow, leading to the Electra oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913. North Texas oil fever takes off again when “Roaring Ranger” erupts in 1917 in neighboring Eastland County. A third major discovery occurs at Burkburnett in 1918.

Thanks to dedicated community activists like Pruitt, Texas legislators in 2001 designate Electra the “Pump Jack Capital” of Texas. The Clayco No. 1 well centennial celebration in 2011 includes a parade and re-dedication of the well’s historic marker. Read Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

April 1, 1986 – Crude Oil Price hits Modern Low

World oil prices fall below $10 a barrel – a modern low for the petroleum industry.

Causes include excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession (increasing supplies with declining demand) and a U.S. petroleum industry heavily regulated by production or price controls.

“Saudi Arabia, tiring of cutting output to support prices, flooded the market,” reports Mark Shenk of Bloomberg News. “West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, tumbled 69 percent from $31.82 a barrel in November 1985 to $9.75 in April 1986.”

Oil prices recover by 1990 and set a record peak of $145 per barrel in July 2008 – before another price collapse to below $32 by the end of the year. Historic prices ranged between $2.50 and $3 from 1948 through the end of the 1960s. From the mid-1980s to September 2003, the inflation adjusted price of a barrel of oil was under $25 a barrel.

April 2, 1980 – President Carter signs Windfall Profit Tax

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President Jimmy Carter signs into law the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax.

One year after lifting price controls on oil, President Jimmy Carter signs the  Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax (WPT) into law. The controversial WPT imposes an excise tax on oil production.

“From 1980 to 1988, the nation levied a special tax on domestic oil production,” explains historian Joseph Thorndike. Policymakers, “imposed an excise levy on domestic oil production, taxing the difference between the market price of oil and a predetermined base price.”

The base price is derived from 1979 oil prices and requires annual adjustments for inflation. A remnant of President Richard Nixon’s general wage and price freeze of 1971 –  WPT is meant to limit increases in oil prices.

After eight years of the tax, domestic oil production falls to its lowest level in 20 years – increasing U.S. reliance on foreign oil. In August 1988, Congress decides to repeal the tax. “Few mourned its passing,” says Thorndike.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., Eastern Time. On the last 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. © 2016 This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS.


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

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Shown above being towed away from Bligh Reef, the Exxon Valdez had been traveling outside shipping lanes to avoid ice when it ran aground in March 1989. Photo courtesy Erik Hill, Anchorage Daily News.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker runs aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The accident, which comes after nearly 12 years of daily oil tanker passages through Prince William Sound, results in a massive oil spill.

Eight of the supertanker’s 11 oil cargo tanks are punctured. An estimated 260,000 barrels of oil spill, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline. With the captain not present on the bridge, an error in navigation by the third mate has grounded the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload.

Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely passed through Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times. A massive cleanup begins for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The infamous vessel is sold for scrap in 2012.

March 26, 2012 – Buddy joins East Texas Oil Museum

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Buddy greets visitors to “Boomtown, USA.” Photo courtesy East Texas Oil Museum.

The life-size animatronic rural electric lineman Buddy is officially welcomed to the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas.

After weeks of operational testing, the robot greets museum visitors with anecdotal monologues as they enter “Boomtown, USA,” 1930s exhibits of the East Texas Oilfield Discovery.

“It has drawn rave reviews by museum visitors from many states and numerous foreign countries,” notes museum founder Joe White, who retired in 2014.

One museum visitor describes Buddy as looking like Tommy Lee Jones dressed like Indiana Jones.

March 26, 1930 – “Wild Mary Sudik”

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Newsreel photographers will send film of the “Wild Mary Sudik” well to Hollywood, according to the Oklahoma History Center. Within a week, newsreels appear in theaters around the country.

What will become one of Oklahoma’s most famous wells strikes a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath Oklahoma City – and oil erupts skyward. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s Mary Sudik No. 1 well flows for 11 days before being brought under control.

The well, which produces 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, becomes a worldwide sensation known as “Wild Mary Sudik.”

The giant Oklahoma City oilfield discovery is featured in movie newsreels and on radio broadcasts. It is later learned that after drilling almost 6,500 feet, roughnecks had overlooked a dangerous pressure increase in the well.

“The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” notes one oil patch historian. “They didn’t know the Wilcox sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.” Read more in World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.

March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist invents Kerosene

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A Canadian commemorative stamp was issued in March 2000.

Canadian physician and chemist Abraham Gesner patents a process to distill bituminous shale and coal into kerosene.

“I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaims in his patent. Because his new lighting fluid has been extracted from coal, consumers call it “coal oil” as often as they call it kerosene.

When it is found that kerosene can also be distilled from crude oil, the U.S. petroleum exploration industry is launched. Thanks to booming Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio oilfields, inexpensive kerosene will become America’s main source of illumination until electricity arrives.

Gesner, today considered the father of Canada’s petroleum industry, had opened the Museum of Natural History in 1842. The New Brunswick Museum still houses one of Canada’s oldest geological collections, according to the Petroleum History Society.

March 27, 1975 – First Pipe laid for Trans-Alaskan Pipeline

With the laying of the first section of pipe, construction begins on the largest private construction project in American history at the time.

The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, including pumping stations, connecting pipelines, and the Valdez Marine Terminal, will cost $8 billion by the time it is completed in 1977.

Recognized as a landmark of engineering, the pipeline system’s 420-miles above ground segments are built in a zig-zag configuration to allow for pipe expansion and contraction. Read more in Trans-Alaska Pipeline 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 last Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in to discuss petroleum history.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


March 14, 1909 – The Lake View Gusher

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

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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.

The Lakeview No. 1 discovery, which becomes America’s most famous gusher after Spindletop Hill made headlines in 1901, is brought under control in October 1910. Invention of the blowout preventer in 1922 will greatly advance Ending Oil Gushers – BOP.

March 15, 1946 – Texas Producers associate

The Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO) is founded “to preserve the ability to explore and produce oil and natural gas and to promote the general welfare of its members.”

March 16, 1911 – Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark

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This 11-foot Pegasus in the lobby of the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture was originally displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair. It later attracted customers to a Mobil station in Casa Linda in East Dallas.

Among the most recognized corporate symbols in American history, the Pegasus logo is trademarked by Vacuum Oil  Company.

The winged-horse iconic logo begins its journey when a Vacuum Oil subsidiary receives the 1911 trademark in Cape Town, South Africa.

Based in Rochester, New York, Vacuum Oil has built a successful petroleum lubricants business around an 1869 refining patent long before gasoline is a branded product. The company produces the earliest petroleum-based lubricants for carriages and steam engines.

Although a red gargoyle advertises the company’s products in the early 20th century, the Pegasus trademark will prove to be a far more enduring image. In Greek mythology, Pegasus carried thunderbolts for Zeus.

By 1931 automobile demand has expanded the Vacuum Oil product lineup to include Mobilgas – later simplified to Mobil. When Standard Oil of New York and Vacuum Oil merge, the new company adopts the High-Flying Trademark, as does an affiliate, Magnolia Petroleum. In 1934, a neon Pegasus begins revolving atop Magnolia’s Dallas, Texas, headquarters. The 35-foot by 40-foot sign welcomes members of the American Petroleum Institute to their first convention.

March 16, 1914 – “Main Street” Oil Well completed

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Travelers have discovered an oil well on Main Street in Barnsdall, Oklahoma.

Later named by Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the “World’s Only Main Street Oil Well,” a 1914 well produces oil at 1,771 feet in Barnsdall, Oklahoma.

The Osage County town, originally called Bigheart for Osage Chief James Bigheart, is renamed in 1922 for Theodore Barnsdall, owner of Barnsdall Oil Company.

Barnsdall  has discovered nearby oilfields in 1916. In 1997 the well site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

March 17, 1890 – Sunoco begins in Ohio

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Sun Oil Company brands from 1894 to 1920 (top) and 1920 to 1954.

The Peoples Natural Gas Company, founded four years earlier by Joseph Pew and Edward Emerson to provide natural gas to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, expands to become the Sun Oil Company of Ohio.

At the turn of the century the company has acquired promising leases near Findlay and entered the business of “producing petroleum, rock and carbon oil, transporting and storing same, refining, purifying, manufacturing such oil and its various products.”

In 1920s, the company markets Sunoco Motor Oil and opens service stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Also see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.

March 17, 1923 – Wewoka Well reveals Seminole Field

The Betsy Foster No. 1 well, a 2,800-barrel-a-day gusher near Wewoka, the county seat of Seminole County, Oklahoma, will lead to a major Seminole area boom.

The discovery is followed by others in nearby Cromwell, Bethel (1924), Earlsboro and Seminole (1926) and other small towns south of Oklahoma City.

Thirty-nine separate oilfields are ultimately developed within a region centering on Seminole but also including parts of Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Hughes, and Pontotoc counties. Production will drive oil prices to as low as 17 cents a barrel. Read more in Greater Seminole Oil Boom.

March 17, 1949 – First Commercial Application of Hydraulic Fracturing

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The first commercial hydraulic fracturing job (above) took place in 1949 about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Halliburton.

Experts from Halliburton and Stanolind companies converge on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma, and perform the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.

A 1947 experimental well had fractured a natural gas field in Hugoton, Kansas, and proven the possibility of increased productivity.

The technique had been developed and patented by Stanolind (later known as Pan American Oil Company) and an exclusive license issued to Halliburton to perform the process. In 1953, the license was extended to all qualified service companies.

“Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” notes a Halliburton service company spokesman. “In the more than 60 years following those first treatments, more than two million frac treatments have been pumped with no documented case of any treatment polluting an aquifer – not one.”

The earliest attempts to increase a well’s petroleum production began in the 1860s. Read Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History.

In 1921, Erle Halliburton patented his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” which improved oil production while protecting the environment. See Halliburton cements Wells.

March 18, 1937 – Odorless Gas Explosion devastates East Texas School

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Roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield rushed to the school and searched for survivors throughout the night. Photo courtesy New London Museum.

With just minutes left in the school day, a natural gas explosion destroys the New London High School in Rusk County, Texas.

Odorless natural gas (residual gas also called casing gas) had leaked into the basement and ignited – with a force felt four miles away. Roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield rush to the disaster, as does a young reporter from Dallas, Walter Cronkite.

Despite desperate rescue efforts, 298 people are killed (dozens more later die of injuries).

The explosion’s source is found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked odorless natural gas that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. As a result of this disaster, Texas and other states soon pass laws requiring that natural gas be mixed with a malodorant to give early warning of a gas leak. Read more in New London Texas School Explosion.

March 20, 1919 – American Petroleum Institute founded

Tracing its roots to World War I – when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort – the American Petroleum Institute (API) is founded in New York City. API also develops industry-wide standards in 1924.

March 20, 1973 – Ghost Town listed in Historic Registry

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Northwestern Pennsylvania petroleum history tourists can walk the grassy paths of Pithole’s former streets and see early oilfield equipment, including antique steam boilers that powered cable-tool rigs.

The former oil boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Discovered with what one historian calls America’s first oil gusher, an 1865 well created an oil boom town for the young petroleum industry, which began in nearby Titusville in 1859. Pithole oil production will lead to construction of the first oil pipeline. Read more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.


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. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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

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Near Burksville, Kentucky, about 250 miles north of Nashville, the “salt well” produced about 50,000 barrels of oil in three weeks.

Boring for salt brine with a simple spring-pole device on a farm near Burkesville, Kentucky, Martin Beatty in 1829 finds an oilfield only 171 feet deep. Some historians consider this the first commercial oil well in North America.

Beatty, an experienced driller from Pennsylvania, has drilled brine wells to meet growing demand from settlers needing salt to preserve food. He bores his wells by percussion drilling – raising and dropping a chisel from a sapling, an ancient method for Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

According to historian Sheldon Baugh, prior to the Cumberland County oilfield discovery, Beatty first found oil in a McCreary County brine well in 1819. That well “provided very little of the useless stuff” and was soon forgotten. The historian then describes the scene of Beatty’s oil well of March 11, 1829:

On that day, well-driller Beatty bragged to bystanders “Today I’ll drill her into salt or else to Hell.” When the gusher erupted he apparently thought he’d succeeded in hitting “hell”! As the story goes “he ran off into the hills and didn’t come back,” quite terrorized by the situation. 

A later newspaper account reports Beatty’s well is neglected for years, “until it was discovered that the oil possessed valuable medicinal qualities. It has been bottled up in large quantities and is extensively sold in nearly all the states.”

Oil from Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well eventually finds its way to Pittsburgh, where Samuel Kier sells it as medicine until he starts refining kerosene from production of the First American Oil Well.

March 12, 1912 – Oklahoma’s “King of the Wildcatters”

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Independent oilman Tom Slick discovered some of Oklahoma largest oilfields.

Long before Cushing, Oklahoma, becomes the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” and trading hub for oil, its prolific oilfield is revealed by a wildcatter once called “Dry Hole Slick.”

On March 12, 1912, Thomas Baker Slick strikes a gusher with his Wheeler No. 1 well about 12 miles east of Cushing. It is the first well to reveal the soon famous Drumright-Cushing field midway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Knowing speculators will descend on Cushing when the word gets out, Slick posts guards at his well. As a competitor later complains, the oilman also has hired all the local drilling contractors. At its peak, Slick’s field will produce a 330,000 barrels of oil every day. The discovery well produces for the next 35 years.

After his success in Cushing, Slick begins an incredible 18-year streak of drilling successful wells. He becomes known as “King of the Wildcatters” prior to his death from a stroke in 1930 at the age 46.

Today, almost half a million oil and natural gas wells have been drilled since the First Oklahoma Oil Well near Bartlesville in 1897. Thomas Slick is among those industry leaders honored at the Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Read more about his oil patch career in Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters.

March 12, 1943 – Secret Mission sends Roughnecks to Sherwood Forest

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Volunteer roughnecks from two Oklahoma drilling companies will embark for England in 1943. Derrickman Herman Douthit will not return.

A top-secret team of 42 American drillers, derrickmen, roustabouts, and motormen board the troopship HMS Queen Elizabeth. They are volunteers from two Oklahoma companies, Noble Drilling and Fain-Porter Drilling.

Their mission is to drill wells in England’s Sherwood Forest and help relieve the crisis caused by German submarines sinking Allied oil tankers. Four rotary drilling rigs are shipped on separate transport ships. One of the ships is lost to a U-Boat attack.

With the future of Great Britain depending on petroleum supplies, the Americans will use Yankee ingenuity to drill an average of one well per week. Their secret work adds vital oil to fuel the British war effort. Read the little-known story of the Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.

March 12, 1968 – Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay Oilfield discovered

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Prudhoe Bay is the largest oilfield in North America, and it ranks among the 20 largest fields in the world. Map courtesy Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

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First development at Prudhoe Bay in 1969. Photo from the Atlantic Richfield Company collection.

Two hundred and fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield is discovered by Richfield Oil (ARCO) and Humble Oil Company (Exxon).

The Prudhoe Bay State No. 1 exploratory well arrives more than six decades after the First Alaska Oil Well. It follows Richfield Oil’s discovery of the Swanson River oilfield on the Kenai Peninsula in 1957. At more than 213,000 acres, the Prudhoe Bay field remains the largest oilfield in North America, surpassing the 140,000 acre East Texas Oilfield Discovery of October 1930.

Prudhoe Bay’s remote location prevents oil production beginning in earnest until 1977, after completion of the 800-mile the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The field’s production will exceed an average rate of one million barrels a day by March 1978, according to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It will peak in January 1987 at 1,627,036 barrels per day

March 13, 1974 – OPEC ends Oil Embargo

A five-month oil embargo against the United States is lifted by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel formed in 1960.

The embargo – imposed in response to America supplying the Israeli military during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War – is lifted after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiates an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Sinai.

The OPEC crisis had created gasoline shortages, prompting President Richard M. Nixon to propose and Congress approve voluntary rationing – and a ban of gasoline sales on Sundays.


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. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


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.

The new well cementing process isolates the various down-hole zones, guards against collapse of the casing and permits control of the well throughout its producing life. It also protects the environment.

The revolutionary patent notes that typical oil well production, hampered by water intrusion that requires time and expense for pumping out, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company and Stanolind Oil in March 1949 will apply the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing at a well near Duncan. Read more in Halliburton cements Wells.

March 2, 1922 – Oklahoma Oil Lease sells for $1 Million

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Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters (in striped shirt) was famous as “auctioneer of the Osage Nation.”

Under the broad crown of a giant elm next to the Osage Council House in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Skelly Oil and Phillips Petroleum Company jointly bid more than one million dollars for just a 160-acre tract of land.

The 1922 auction is Oklahoma’s first million dollar mineral lease. Beneath the shade of the Million Dollar Elm, leading independent producers such as Frank Phillips, Harry Sinclair, Bill Skelly, Jean Paul Getty and E.W. Marland are frequent bidders to lease this promising territory on the Osage Indian Reservation.

The Osage awarded a medal to their Million Dollar Auctioneer. Learn more Oklahoma oil history by visiting the Marland Estate and the Conoco Museum in Ponca City.

March 2, 1944 – WWII Pipeline delivers Gasoline

The first gasoline transported by the “Little Big Inch” pipeline arrives at Linden Station, New Jersey, from refineries near Houston and Beaumont, Texas. A second pipeline, the “Big Inch,” will soon deliver oil.

They are part of the “War Emergency Pipelines” project to send petroleum products to East Coast refineries without the threat of U-boats.

The “Little Big Inch” line can carry four products:  gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil and kerosene – each separated by solid rubber balls slightly smaller than the inside diameter of the 20-inch pipe. Read more in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.

March 3, 1879 – United States Geological Survey established

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is established when President Rutherford B. Hayes signs legislation that includes a brief section creating a new agency in the Department of the Interior.

The 1879 legislation results from a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which had been asked by Congress to provide a plan for surveying the territories of the United States.

The new agency’s mission includes “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain,” notes a USGS history.

Today based in Reston, Virginia, with a proposed budget of $1.2 billion for 2016, USGS employs about 10,000 scientists, technicians and support staff. It has the largest earth sciences library in the world.

March 3, 1886 – Natural Gas brings light to Paola, Kansas

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Paola, Kansas, residents annually celebrate their town’s natural gas heritage of the late 1880s.

Paola becomes the first town in Kansas to use natural gas commercially for illumination.

To promote the town’s natural gas discovery – and attract businesses from nearby Kansas City – four gas-fueled arches are erected in the town square. Pipes are laid for other illuminated displays. “Paola was lighted with Gas,” explains the Miami County Historical Museum. “The pipeline was completed from the Westfall farm to the square and a grand illumination was held.”

By the end of 1887, several Kansas flour mills are fueled by natural gas. But with little understanding of conservation, Paola’s gas wells run dry. Fortunately, more boom times arrive with oil discoveries. Read more in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent.

March 4, 1918 – West Virginia Well is World’s Deepest

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This West Virginia well was the world’s deepest in 1918, according to the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, which celebrated its centennial in 2015. Photo courtesy WVONGA.

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The Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Hope Natural Gas Company completes an oil well 7,386 feet deep on the Martha Goff farm in Harrison County, West Virginia.

The well northeast of Clarksburg is the world’s deepest at the time, notes the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association in A Century of Service, a 2015 book about the association’s founding and the state’s petroleum history.

The previous record had been 7,345 feet deep for a well in Germany. The title for world’s deepest well will move again in 1919 – to Marion County, West Virginia. Learn more West Virginia history in Confederates attack Oilfield and visit the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg.

March 4, 1933 – Oklahoma City Oilfield under Martial Law

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TIME featured Oklahoma Gov. William “Alfalfa” Murray in 1932, after he announced he would run for president.

Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declares martial law to enforce his proration regulations limiting production in the Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in December 1928 and one of the largest producing fields in the state.

Two years earlier, Murray had called a meeting of fellow governors from Texas, Kansas and New Mexico to create an Oil States Advisory Committee, “to study the present distressed condition of the petroleum industry.”

Elected in 1930, he is called “Alfalfa Bill” because of speeches urging farmers to plant alfalfa to restore nitrogen to the soil. The controversial politician is also known as the “Sage of Tishomingo.”

By the end of his administration, Murray will have called out the National Guard 47 times and declared martial law more than 30 times. His will be succeeded as Oklahoma governor by oilman E.W. Marland in 1935.


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.


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.

Automobile tires had been white until B.F. Goodrich Company in 1910 discovered that adding carbon black to the vulcanizing process improved strength and durability. An early Goodrich supplier was the Binney & Smith Company (read more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons). Today about 90 percent of all carbon black is used in tires and other rubber applications.

February 23, 1906 – Flaming Kansas Well brings Limelight

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Kansas oilfield workers struggled to extinguish this 1906 well at Caney. Photo courtesy Jeff Spencer.

A small town in southeastern Kansas finds itself making headlines when a natural gas well erupts into flames after a lightning strike. The 150-foot burning tower can be seen at night for 35 miles.

Drilled by the New York Oil and Gas Company, the well becomes a tourist attraction. Newspapers as far away as Los Angeles regularly update their readers as technologies of the day struggle to extinguish the highly pressurized well, “which defied the ingenuity of man to subdue its roaring flames.”

Postcards are printed of the Caney well, although nearby towns of Independence, Coffeyville and Bartlesville (in Indian Territory) all claim the attraction. It takes five weeks to smother the well using a specially designed hood. Read more about Caney’s famed oilfield in Kansas Gas Well Fire.

February 23, 1942 – Japanese Submarine shells California Refinery

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A Japanese postcard from World War II commemorates I-17 shelling the Ellwood refinery north of Santa Barbara. The brief bombardment caused West Coast invasion hysteria. Image courtesy John Geoghegan.

Less than three months after the start of World War II, a Japanese submarine attacks a refinery and oilfield near Los Angeles. The shelling causes little damage but leads to the largest mass sighting of UFOs ever in American history.

Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-17 fires armor-piercing shells at the Bankline Oil Company refinery in Ellwood City, California.

The shelling north of Santa Barbara continues for 20 minutes before I-17 escapes into the darkness. It is the first Axis attack on the continental United States of the war. Read more in Japanese Sub attacks Oilfield.

February 24, 1938 – First Nylon Bristle Toothbrush

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August 1938 Life magazine advertisement .

The Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” toothbrush goes on sale – the first to use synthetic nylon developed by DuPont chemists three years earlier.

Americans will soon brush their teeth with nylon bristle toothbrushes instead of hog bristles, declares the New York Times. These “Exton” toothbrushes are the first commercial use of the revolutionary petroleum product – nylon, which is a silky synthetic polymer (a basic plastic). Women’s stockings will soon follow.

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.

February 25, 1897 – “Golden Rule” Jones elected

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Among those who rushed to the Ohio oil boom, Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones founded the Acme Sucker Rod Company in 1892. Photo courtesy Bowling Green State University Archives.

Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, the founder of an early oilfield service company, is elected Mayor of Toledo, Ohio, on a progressive Republican ticket.

Jones, a 40-year veteran of the Pennsylvania oilfields, first earns his nickname in 1894 when he posts the biblical admonition at his newly formed Acme Sucker Rod Company.

Jones will introduce better wages, paid vacations, bonuses – and become an advocate for eight-hour workdays. He is elected Toledo’s mayor four times and serves until dying on the job in 1904. Read more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.

February 25, 1919 – Oregon enacts First Gasoline Tax

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A circa 1930s service station owner explained why his price of gasoline was 20 cents a gallon. Price of fishing worms undisclosed.

A state taxes gasoline for the first time. Oil is selling for about $2 per barrel when Oregon enacts the one-cent gasoline tax to be used for road construction and maintenance. Less than two months later, Colorado and New Mexico have followed Oregon’s example.

By 1929, every state has added a tax of up to three cents per gallon. Faced with $2.1 billion federal deficit and declining revenue, President Herbert Hoover adds another one-cent per gallon federal excise tax in 1932.

Today, the average state gasoline tax averages about 27 cents per gallon (varying from less than 10 cents to about 70 cents per gallon). The current federal excise tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has been unchanged since 1993.

February 25, 1926 – Wyatt Earp’s California Oil Wells

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Wyatt Earp invested in the booming oilfields of Kern County California.

Former lawman Wyatt Earp’s oil well investment north of Bakersfield, California, pays off with a 150-barrel-a-day producer. In his later years – long after his famous 1881 gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona – Earp has invested in the Kern River and Kern Front oilfields.

At age 75 – as he begins working on Hollywood movie deals – he turns over management of his California oil properties to his wife Josie’s sister. Disappointing results will later prompt Josie to write, “I was in hopes they would bring in a two or three hundred barrel well. But I must be satisfied as it could have been a duster, too.” Read about another famous westerner who explored the petroleum business in Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company.

February 28, 1935 – DuPont Chemist invents Nylon

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Invented in 1935, chemists knew it as Nylon 6 because the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contained 6 carbon atoms per molecule.

The world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – is discovered by a former Harvard professor working at a DuPont research laboratory. The revolutionary new polymer is a petroleum product.

After experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, professor Wallace Carothers creates a unique molecule chain – a plastic that stretches. The inventor has previously discovered neoprene rubber (commonly used in wet-suits) and made major contributions to understanding polymers – molecules composed in long chains.

Just 32 years old, Carothers creates the fibers when he forms a polymer chain using a new process to join individual molecules. Each molecule consists of 100 or more repeating units of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, strung in a chain.Although the company patents nylon in 1935, it is not officially announced to the public until 1938. The first commercial use of the new synthetic petroleum product is for toothbrushes, which go on sale the same year. But it’s women’s hosiery after World War II that will make the Delaware chemical company a fortune. Read more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.


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.


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

petroleum history february

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.

Representatives from Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas meet on September 12 to implement provisions to “conserve oil and gas by the prevention of physical waste thereof from any cause.” Oklahoma Gov. Ernest W. Marland  – who founded Marland Oil Company in 1921 – is elected first chairman.

“In 1935, six states took advantage of a constitutional right to ‘compact,’ or agree to work together, to resolve common issues,” notes IOGCC, which added the word gas to its name in 1991. “Faced with unregulated petroleum overproduction and the resulting waste, the states endorsed and Congress ratified a compact to take control of the issues.”

February 17, 1902 – Lufkin Industries founded in East Texas

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Founded in East Texas in 1902, Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company will manufacture the first counterbalanced oil pumps.

The Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company is founded in Lufkin, Texas, as a repair shop for railroad and sawmill machinery. When the pine region’s timber supplies begin to dwindle, the company discovers new opportunities in the newly burgeoning oilfields following the historic discovery at Spindletop Hill.

Inventor Walter C. Trout will be working for the East Texas company in 1925 when he sketches out his idea for what will become an oilfield icon known by many names – nodding donkey, grasshopper, horse-head, thirsty bird, and pump jack, among others.

By the end of 1925, a prototype of Trout’s revolutionary pumping unit is installed on a Humble Oil Company well near Hull, Texas.

“The well was perfectly balanced, but even with this result, it was such a funny looking, odd thing that it was subject to ridicule and criticism,” Trout explains.

Thanks to Walter Trout’s invention – the now familiar counterbalanced pumping unit – Lufkin Industries will sell more than 200,000 pump jacks of all sizes. General Electric acquires Lufkin for $3.3 billion in 2013, deciding to close the historic downtown foundry in 2015. Read about early oilfield production in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.

February 17, 1944 – First Alabama Oil Well

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Alabama’s major producing regions are in the west. Map courtesy Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Alabama’s first oilfield is discovered in Choctaw County when Texas oilman H.L. Hunt drills the No. 1 Jackson well. Hunt’s 1944 wildcat well reveals the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to this discovery, 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.

“Traces of petroleum in the form of natural gas were first discovered in Alabama in Morgan and Blount counties in the late 1880s, and by 1902, natural gas was being supplied to the cities of Huntsville and Hazel Green,” notes one historian, adding:

“In 1909, a small discovery by Eureka Oil and Gas at Fayette fueled that city’s streetlights for a time, but no natural gas was recovered anywhere in the state for several decades afterward.”

Hunt drilled in Choctaw County and discovered the Gilbertown oilfield in the Eutaw Sand at a depth of 3,700 feet, explains historian Alan Cockrell in Oil and Gas Industry in Alabama.

The field produces 15 million barrels of oil, “not a lot by modern standards but enough to make ‘oil fever’ spread rapidly.”

However, the search for another oilfield will lead to 11 years of dry holes, Cockrell notes. The 1955 oil discovery at Citronelle, a town above a geologic salt dome, finally launches a new drilling boom; five new Alabama oilfields are discovered by 1967. Mobil Oil Company drills Alabama’s first successful offshore natural gas well in 1981.

Today, geologists believe opportunities exist “in the hard shales of the deep Black Warrior Basin beneath Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the thick fractured shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties, ” Cockrell concludes. Read more about the career of the oilfield’s discoverer in East Texas Oilfield Discovery.

February 19, 1889 – Ohio acts to Conserve Natural Gas

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Map of Ohio oilfields (green) and natural gas fields (red/gold) in 2002, courtesy Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey.

The Ohio House of Representatives enacts a conservation measure, “an Act to prevent the wasting of Natural Gas and to Provide for the plugging of all abandoned wells,” and becomes one of the earliest states to legislate conservation.

Natural gas discoveries in the 1880s have revealed the Trenton Field extends across Indiana into western Ohio. With what they thought to be an unlimited supply of natural gas, communities have competed to attract manufacturing industries by burning “flambeaux” lights (read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom).

Ohio’s first commercial petroleum production had begun in 1860 in Washington County. With more than 275,000 wells drilled since then, Ohio today ranks fourth in the total wells drilled, following Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

February 20, 1959 – World’s First LNG Tanker arrives

After a three-week voyage from Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Methane Pioneer – the world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker – arrives at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England.

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The world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker is a converted World War II liberty freighter.

The vessel, a converted World War II liberty freighter, contains five, 7,000-barrel aluminum tanks supported by balsa wood and insulated with plywood and urethane.

The experimental vessel demonstrates that large quantities of liquefied natural gas can be transported safely across the ocean. The 340-foot Methane Pioneer, owned by the Comstock Liquid Methane Corporation, refrigerates its cargo to minus 285 degrees Fahrenheit. When vaporized, the LNG expands by the ratio of 600 to one.

The world’s first purpose-built commercial LNG carrier, the Methane Princess, will begin delivering LNG to the same Canvey Island port in 1964.

February 21, 1887 – Refining Process brings Riches to Rockefeller

Herman Frasch applies to patent his unique process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” The former Standard Oil chemist is quickly rehired by John D. Rockefeller.

Although earlier oilfields near Lima, Ohio, had produced a thick, sulfurous oil, Rockefeller had accumulated a 40-million-barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.” Standard Oil buys Frasch’s patent for a copper-oxide refining process to “sweeten” the oil. The desulfurized, odorless result multiplies its value, making Rockefeller a fortune.

Paid in Standard Oil shares and soon wealthy himself, Frasch moves to Louisiana and patents a process for mining sulfur by injecting superheated water into a 1,000-foot well. By 1911 he is known as the “Sulfur King.”


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.


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.

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Side view of Curiosity’s “rotary-percussion” drill bit, about 0.6 of an inch wide. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL.

Using a rotary-percussion drill bit at the end of its seven-foot robotic arm, the rover’s first off-world well drills into “a red slab of fine-grained sedimentary rock with hydrated mineral veins of calcium sulfate.”

Images from Curiosity making hole the day before show the one-ton robot’s drill site, which includes a test hole and the successful well. Curiosity has collected powdered rock samples through a tube that extends over most of the drill bit. It does not collect cores.

Curiosity adjusts its drilling technique to recover mineral samples. The six-wheeled rover spuds later wells using “low-percussion” to make sure the rock doesn’t shatter during drilling. Learn about terrestrial drilling history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

February 10, 1910 – Buena Vista Oilfield discovered in California

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Buena Vista oilfield will become Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 2 in 1912.

The Buena Vista oilfield is discovered in Kern County, California, in 1910 by Honolulu Oil Corporation.

The well is originally known as “Honolulu’s great gasser” until it is drilled deeper into oil-producing sands. Oil production averages between 3,000 barrels and 4,000 barrels of oil per day.

As the U.S. Navy converts its vessels from coal to oil, the Buena Vista field will become Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 2 in 1912. Learn more in Petroleum & Sea Power.

Steam injection operations help produce “heavy” (high viscosity) oil in California, the nation’s third largest producing state. Five of the 10 most productive U.S. oilfields are in California, mostly in Kern County. Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in First California Oil Well.

February 10, 1917  – Geologists bring Science to Oil Patch

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AAPG embraces a code that assures “the integrity, business ethics, personal honor, and professional conduct” of its membership.

Demand for oil is worldwide – but the science for finding it obscure – when the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) organizes as the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

About 90 geologists meet in 1917 at Henry Kendall College, now Tulsa University, and form an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.”

The association adopts its present name in 1918 and soon begins publishing a bimonthly scientific journal. AAPG’s peer-reviewed Bulletin includes papers written by leading geologists of the day.

By 1920, a petroleum industry trade magazine notes the association has grown in membership and “combats the fakers.” It praises AAPG’s professionalism while warning of “the large number of unscrupulous and inadequately prepared men who are attempting to do geological work.”

By 1953 AAPG membership exceeds 10,000 when a new headquarters building opens Tulsa. AAPG today reports more than 36,000 members in 126 countries. See AAPG – Geology Pros since 1917.

February 12, 1954 – First Oil Discovery in Nevada

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Nevada’s oil industry began in 1954.

After decades of dry holes (the first drilled 1,890 feet deep near Reno in 1907) Nevada becomes a oil producing state in 1954. Shell Oil Company’s second test of its Eagle Springs No. 1 well finds oil in Nevada.

This routine test becomes the discovery well for the Railroad Valley field – Nevada’s first major oilfield, which produces oil from an interval between 6,450 and 6,730 feet. Although the Eagle Springs oilfield eventually will produce 3.8 million barrels of oil, other Nevada oilfields prove hard to find.

The state’s second discovery resulting in commercial production finally arrives in 1976 when Northwest Exploration Company completes the Trap Spring No. I well in Railroad Valley, five miles west of the Eagle Springs Field. Read more in First Nevada Oil Well.

February 13, 1924 – Forest Oil’s “Yellow Dog” Logo

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Forest Oil’s logo features a two-wicked lantern once used on derricks.

An oil company originally founded in 1916 consolidates with four other independent petroleum companies to form the Forest Oil Corporation – an early developer of secondary recovery technology. For its logo, the company adopts an iconic oil patch lamp with two wicks.

Originally based in Bradford, Pennsylvania – home of the late 1800s “first billion dollar oilfield” in the United States – the Forest Oil logo features the lantern often seen on early wooden derricks.

Some believe the lantern’s name, “yellow dog,” comes from the two burning wicks resembling a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Read Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

February 12, 1987 – Texaco Fine upheld

A Texas court upholds a 1985 decision against Texaco for having initiated an illegal takeover of Getty Oil after Pennzoil had made a legally binding bid for the company. By the end of the year the companies will settle their historic $10.3 billion legal battle for $3 billion after Pennzoil agrees to drop its demand for interest.

Pennzoil Chairman Hugh Liedtke and Texaco Chairman James Kinnear will sign a settlement agreement “officially laying to rest their companies’ tumultuous three-year fight over the rights to Getty Oil,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The settlement pact is the cornerstone of a reorganization plan that dictates how Texaco will emerge from bankruptcy proceedings, a haven it had sought to stop Pennzoil from enforcing the largest court judgement ever awarded.

February 13, 1977 – Texas Ranger  “El Lobo Solo” dies

El Lobo Solo – The Lone Wolf – Texas Ranger Capt. Manuel T. Gonzaullas dies at 85 in Dallas. During much of the 1920s and 1930s he had tamed towns like Kilgore, once known as the most lawless town in Texas. Gonzaullas rode a black stallion named Tony and sported a pair of 1911 Colt .45s with his initials on the handles. Read more in Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger.


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. © Bruce Wells, AOGHS 2016, This Week in Petroleum History.


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

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“Ethyl” gasoline goes for the first time at this Dayton, Ohio, gas station. Photo courtesy Kettering/GMI Alumni Foundation.

“Ethyl,” the world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetra-ethyl lead compound, goes on sale. Discovered two years earlier by General Motors scientists, the vastly improved gasoline is sold at the Refiners Oil Company service station on South Main Street in Dayton, Ohio.

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” is the name applied to the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. In the 1950s, chemist Clair Patterson discovers the toxicity of tetra-ethyl lead and its phase out begins in 1976. Read more Ethyl Anti-Knock Gas.

February 3, 1868 – Oil Producers seek End of Civil War Tax

Oil Creek refiners meet in Petroleum Center, Pennsylvania, where they pass a resolution demanding that the Civil War’s one dollar a barrel “war tax” on refined petroleum products be repealed.

As early as 1862, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase advocated a $10.50 per barrel tax on refined petroleum products (about $145 in 2010 dollars).

Chase, responsible for the introduction of federal paper money (printed on green paper) during the Civil War, will not succeed with his massive petroleum tax, despite the Union’s need for revenue. Instead, a one-dollar excise tax is imposed in 1864.

February 4, 1910 – “Buffalo Bill,” Wyoming Oilman

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W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, center in black hat, and other investors at an oilfield on the Shoshone Anticline near Cody, Wyoming, around 1910. Photo courtesy the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extends beyond his world-famous Wild West Show. It reaches into the Wyoming oil patch.

Cody, who in 1896 founded the town that bears his name, in February 1910 buys shares in Shoshone Oil Company. It is not his first attempt to strike oil.

Cody and several partners, including Wyoming Rep. Frank Mondell, in 1902 began exploring near Cody. They drilled one 500-foot dry hole and run out of funds when a second well also fails to find oil.

In 1910 Cody and the congressman once again venture into the oil business by forming the Shoshone Oil Company. During a visit to New York City, “Buffalo Bill” carries pocket flasks of oil to interest investors. Some of Cody’s eastern friends call him, “Bill, the Oil King,” notes one historian, adding, “with what degree of seriousness we cannot know.”

Unfortunately for Shoshone Oil, the state’s major oil strikes will come south of Cody. The company’s drilling funds run out. Read more in Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company.

By the early 1920s, the Salt Creek oilfield in Natrona County becomes one of the most productive in the nation. See First Wyoming Oil Well.

February 5, 1873 – Moonlighter shoots Last Well

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Nitroglycerine could prove fatal to illegal oil well shooters – “moonlighters.”

Andrew Dalrymple and his wife are killed in a nitroglycerin explosion at his home on Dennis Run, Pennsylvania.

Dalrymple is alleged to have been “moonlighting” – illegal oil well shooting – in the Tidioute oilfield. Nitroglycerine was a powerful but dangerous means of fracturing (fracking) oil bearing strata to increase production. The technology had been patented, its use rigorously protected.

Pouring nitroglycerin was risky enough in the late 19th century oil patch. Doing it illegally at night made it more so. “The Dalrymple torpedo accident at Tidioute brings to light the fact that nitroglycerine, or other dangerous explosives, are used, stored and manipulated secretly in places little suspected by the general public,” reports the Titusville Morning Herald.

“A large amount of this dangerous material has lately been stolen from the various magazines throughout the country, ” the newspaper adds. “This species of theft is winked at by some parties, who are opposed to the Roberts torpedo patent.”

The modern term moonlighting comes from this practice of secretly avoiding licensing fees imposed on the use of Civil War veteran Col. E.A.L. Roberts’ patented technique. Read Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

February 7, 1817 –  Manufactured Gas lights First Public Street Lamp

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Baltimore Gas & Electric in 1997 dedicated a replica street lamp.

America’s first public street lamp fueled by gas illuminates the corner of Market and Lemon streets in Baltimore, Maryland. The Gas Light Company of Baltimore becomes the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company – distilling tar and wood to manufacture its gas.

Today, a monument to the first public gas street lamp in the United States stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street (once Market and Lemon). Dedicated in 1997, the lamp is a replica of its original design of February 1817.

Local inventor Rembrandt Peale first illuminated a room in his Holliday Street museum a year earlier, burning his artificial gas and dazzling local businessmen and socialites gathered there with a “ring beset with gems of light.”

“During a candlelit period in American history the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors,” notes a historian at the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E).

The gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore (BG&E’s precursor). Read more in Manufactured Gas for Lamps.


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.


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.

Decades later, when oil price volatility (falling below $12 a barrel in late 1998) forces many independents out of business, the association merges with the West Central Texas Oil and Gas Association to form the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

January 26, 1931 – Third Well confirms Massive East Texas Oilfield

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A circa 1960 photo of W.A. “Monty” Moncrief and his son “Tex” in Fort Worth’s Moncrief Building.

As the Great Depression worsens and East Texas farmers struggle to survive, a wildcat well many miles from two earlier discoveries will reveal the largest oilfield in the lower-48 states.

On January 26, 1931, Fort Worth, Texas, independent oilman W.A. “Monty” Moncrief and two partners complete the Lathrop No. 1 well. It produces 7,680 barrels of oil a day from 3,587 feet.

The well is 25 miles north of Rusk County’s already famous October 1930 Daisy Bradford No. 3 well drilled by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner. It is 15 miles north of the Lou Della Crim No. 1 well completed near Kilgore three days after Christmas.

January 28, 1969 – California Oil Spill brings Environmental Movement

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Since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, scientists have found that natural California oil seeps leak tons of petroleum each day.

After drilling 3,500 below the Pacific Ocean floor, a Union Oil Company drilling platform six miles off Santa Barbara suffers a blowout.

The accident spills up to 100,000 barrels of oil into the ocean with some reaching southern California’s beaches, including Summerland – where the U.S. offshore petroleum history began in 1896 with wells drilled from piers.

“Riggers began to retrieve the pipe in order to replace a drill bit when the mud used to maintain pressure became dangerously low. A natural gas blowout occurred,” explains a report by the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The well, which is controlled after 12 days, turns public opinion against offshore exploration and helps lead to establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970.

Scientists have since learned natural California oil seeps leak up to 25 tons of oil every day – and have done so for thousands of years. Offshore drilling has actually reduced natural seepage by relieving pressure. The Santa Barbara Channel remains one of the largest seeps in the world. Scientists note that daily seepage in the channel has been “significantly reduced by oil production.” Also see Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”

January 28, 1991 – Rig becomes Oklahoma Tourist attraction.

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Parker Rig No. 114 has welcomed visitors to Elk City, Oklahoma, since 1991.

Among the biggest drilling rigs in the world in the 1960s, the Parker Drilling Rig No. 114 is erected in a vacant lot in downtown Elk City, Oklahoma. The chamber of commerce hopes the rig, visible from Interstate 40 and Route 66, will draw tourists off the interstate and into town, notes NewsOK.

Originally designed to drill experimental wells for nuclear bomb tests, Parker Drilling modified the rig to drill conventional but record-breaking wells, some reaching four miles deep into the Anadarko Basin.

Since 1991 the 17-story structure has welcomed Elk City visitors next to the now shuttered Anadarko Museum of Natural History at 107 East 3rd (Old Route 66).

January 29,  1886 – Birth of Internal Combustion Automobile

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Karl Benz’s wife Bertha reportedly was the first person to drive his gas-powered motorwagen over a long distance – bringing worldwide attention and its first sales.

German mechanical engineer Karl Benz applies for a patent for his Benz Patent Motorwagen – a three-wheeler with a one-cylinder, four-stroke gasoline engine. His “Fahrzeug mit Gasmotorenbetrieb” (vehicle with gas engine operation) patent is recognized as the world’s first patent for a practical internal combustion engine powered car.

Although there had already been “auto-mobiles” powered by steam or electricity, Benz used the internal combustion engine as the drive system for a “self-mover,” notes a Mercedes Benz historian. “On January 29, 1886, he presented his stroke of genius at the Imperial Patent Office – the car was born. Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip.

The first U.S. auto show will take place in November 1900 in New York City.  America’s highways and travel history are on exhibit at the National Museum of American History’s America on the Move.

January 30, 1916 – Standard Oil promotes Internal Lubricant

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A 1916 Standard Oil advertisement joins earlier promoters of oil’s medicinal value.

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey takes out a full-page advertisement in the New York Sun extolling the virtues of “Nujol,” one of the company’s petroleum products. Nujol offers “Internal Lubrication as a Means to Health.”

Standard joins a long line of those finding oil’s medicinal qualities. Petroleum often replaced animal lard to heal a variety of ailments, including a balm for wounds.

In 1872, a young New York chemist patented his method for turning “petroleum jelly” into a balm he names Vaseline. Robert Chesebrough swallowed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96. Read more in the Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

January 31, 1888 – Death of a Pennsylvania Oil Scout

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Oil scouts like Justus McMullen of Bradford, Pennsylvania, often braved harsh winters to gather intelligence about oil wells.

In the hard winter of 1888, a famous oil scout dies. Thirty-seven-year-old Justus McMullen succumbs to pneumonia contracted while scouting production data from the Pittsburgh Manufacturers’ Gas Company’s well at Cannonsburg.

McMullen, publisher of the Bradford, Pennsylvania, Petroleum Age newspaper, contributed much to America’s early petroleum industry as a reliable oil patch detective. Sometimes known as “riders of the hemlock,” oilfield scouts debunked rumors, demystified well reports, and secured accurate information about oil production (or lack thereof) – despite armed guards sometimes at drilling sites. But even with such hard-earned information as McMullen’s, speculation at oil exchanges often disrupted early oil markets.

January 31, 1946 – Petroleum Club founded in Houston

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Founded in 1946, the Petroleum Club of Houston began meeting on the top floor of the Rice Hotel in 1951. In 1963 the club moved to the Humble (ExxonMobil) building where it remained five decades.

Texas independent producers found the Petroleum Club of Houston and elect R.E. “Bob” Smith its first president. In 1951 the group begins meeting on the top floor of the Rice Hotel in downtown Houston.

In coming decades the club will host countless energy industry events, weddings and lunchtime business meetings where deals are made on handshakes alone. The club includes a 21-foot-tall, eight-piece tapestry created to represent a geological cross-section of Texas.

With an increasing membership, in 1963 the club moves into the Exxon Mobil Building, where it occupies 45,000 square feet on floors 43 and 44 for more than 50  years before moving into the top floor of the nearby Total Plaza in 2015. Also read about Dallas Petroleum Club 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 to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


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”

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Howard Shatto Jr. will become known as “a world-respected innovator in the areas of dynamic positioning and remotely operated vehicles.”

Howard Shatto Jr. receives a 1965 patent for an “underwater manipulator with suction support device.” Shatto’s concept will lead to modern remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Today they are most widely used by the petroleum industry.

Shatto and others help make Shell Oil Company an early leader in offshore oilfield development technologies. Their early underwater robot technology can trace its roots to the late 1950s, when Hughes Aircraft Company developed a Manipulator Operated Robot – MOBOT – for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

Working on land, the robot performed in environments too radioactive for humans.

Beginning in 1960, Shell Oil began transforming the landlocked MOBOT into a marine robot – “basically a swimming socket wrench,” according to one engineer.

In his 1965 patent – one of many he will receive – Shatto explained how his robot could help install underwater production equipment at a depth greater than divers could safely work. Shatto also will become an innovator in dynamic positioning. Learn more in ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench.

January 20, 1886 – “Great Karg” Well erupts Natural Gas at Findlay, Ohio

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A plaque dedicated in 1937 in Findlay, Ohio, commemorates the state’s giant natural gas discovery of 1886.

The spectacular natural gas well – the Great Karg Well of Findlay, Ohio – comes in with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet per day.

The well’s pressure is so great that it cannot be controlled by the technology of the time. The gas will ignite and the flame becomes an Ohio tourist attraction that burns for four months.

Although Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay two years earlier by Findlay Natural Gas Company, the Karg well launches the state’s first major natural gas boom and brings many new industries.

Glass companies especially are “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” notes an historical marker at the Richardson Glass Works in Findlay. “They included eight window, two bottle, two chimney lamp, one light bulb, one novelty, and five tableware glass factories.”

By 1887, Findlay will become known as the “City of Light,” adds another  historical marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company – established the same year by the merger of five independent oil companies. In 1962 Ohio Oil Company will change its name to today’s Marathon Oil Company. Read about another early natural gas discovery in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

The Hancock Historical Museum of Findlay includes natural gas exhibits from the region and is less than two miles from the site of the famous well. The museum also houses permanent exhibits relating to Findlay Glass Company.

January 21, 1865 – Civil War Veteran demonstrates Oil Well “Torpedo”

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A Pennsylvania historical marker commemorates Colonel E.A.L. Roberts, a Civil War veteran who patented oil well “torpedoes.”

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts (1829-1881) conducts his first experiment to increase oil production by using an explosive charge deep in the well.

Roberts twice detonates eight pounds of black powder 465 feet deep in the bore of the Ladies Well on Watson’s Flats south of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

The “shooting” of the well increases daily production from a few barrels to more than 40 barrels. In 1866, the Titusville Morning Herald will report:

Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo.

The results have in many cases been astonishing. The torpedo, which is an iron case, containing an amount of powder varying from 15 pounds to 20 pounds, is lowered into the well, down to the spot, as near as can be ascertained, where it is necessary to explode it.

The downhole canister is exploded by means of a percussion cap on the torpedo, connected with the top of the shell by a wire.

Attached to the wire on the surface, the heavy shell, which will become known as a “go devil,” is dropped down the well where it impacts the cap and detonates the torpedo.

Modern well fracturing – or “fracking” – will evolve from Col. Roberts’ success. He will receive the first of his many patents for an “exploding torpedo” on April 25, 1865. By 1870, his torpedo technology – increasingly using nitroglycerin – becomes common. Read more about his revolutionary invention in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

January 22, 1861 – Pennsylvania Refinery produces Kerosene

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These stills of an 1880s refinery (the first in California) are preserved in Santa Clarita – perhaps the world’s oldest refinery. Photo by Konrad Summers.

The first multiple-still refinery is brought on-stream in the Pennsylvania oil region, one mile south of Titusville along Oil Creek.

The refinery uses stills to produce two grades of illuminating oil, white and the less the expensive yellow. Each barrel of oil yields about 20 gallons of kerosene.

William Barnsdall (driller of the first well to follow Edwin L. Drake’s 1859 discovery), James Parker, and W.H. Abbott build six stills for refining kerosene at a cost of about $15,000. Much of the equipment is purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny to Oil City, then up Oil Creek to the new refinery.

January 23, 1895 – Standard Oil seals Fate of Oil Exchanges

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The Oil City, Pennsylvania, Oil Exchange incorporated in 1874. By 1877, it was the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America.

The Standard Oil Company purchasing agency in Oil City, Pennsylvania, notifies independent producers it will only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” – and not “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”

Oil City’s exchange had become the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind New York and San Francisco. But with Standard Oil buying 90 percent of production and setting its own price for oil certificates, all other oil exchanges are soon closed. Read more in End of Oil Exchanges.

January 23, 1991 – Gulf War Oil Spill

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Al Ahmadi oilfield, Kuwait, 1991. Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos.

The world’s largest oil spill begins in the Persian Gulf when Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi forces open pipeline valves at oil terminals in Kuwait.

An estimated 11 million barrels of oil will cover an area reaching as far as 101 miles by 42 miles. The oil spill, which remains the largest in history, is five inches thick in some areas.

Iraqi soldiers also sabotage Kuwait’s main supertanker loading pier – and in February set about 600 Kuwaiti wells ablaze. It takes seven months to put out the fires.

January 24, 1895 – Pure Oil Company founded by Independent Producers

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Pure Oil Company began in 1895 when Pennsylvania oilmen united to fight Standard Oil. In 1926 Pure Oil moved into its new headquarters building in Chicago.

 petroleum history january 18

An Ohio firm will adopt the old Pennsylvania name.

Pure Oil Company is formed by Pennsylvania independent producers, refiners and pipeline operators. It will become a major Chicago-based oil company.

With its first headquarters in Pittsburgh, the company is organized to counter Standard Oil Company’s dominance. It is the second vertically integrated oil company – after Standard Oil.

Beginning in March 1896, Pure Oil markets illuminating oil by tank wagon in Philadelphia and New York – successfully competing with Standard’s monopoly.

The growing Ohio Cities Gas Company buys Pure Oil and in 1920 the Columbus, Ohio, firm adopts the original Pennsylvania name.

In 1926 Pure Oil moves its headquarters into a new Chicago skyscraper (once considered the tallest building outside of New York). Union Oil of California will purchase Pure Oil in 1965.


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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

petroleum history january

The Ford No. 999 used an 18.8 liter inline four-cylinder engine that produced up to 100 hp. Image courtesy Henry Ford Museum.

Seeking to prove his cars are built better than most, Henry Ford sets a speed record on a frozen Michigan lake in 1904.

At the time his Ford Motor Company is struggling to get financial backing for its first car, the Model T. It’s just four years after America’s first auto auto show.

Ford “bounces” his No. 999 Ford Arrow across the Lake St. Clair, which separates Michigan and Ontario, Canada, at a top speed of 91.37 mph.

“The No. 999, little more than a giant engine encased in a wood frame with a seat and a metal bar for steering, thundered across the lake,” reports a 2013 article in Downshift Autos. Ford will later report that it scared him so bad he never again wanted to climb into a racing car.

With news of his speed record spread around the country, his Detroit car company gets a boost at becoming one of the most successful automobile manufacturers in history. Read how liquified natural gas will lead to a 1970 speed record in Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

January 12, 1926 – Texans patent Ram-Type Blowout Preventer

petroleum history january

James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron invent the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer – ending many dangerous and wasteful oil gushers.

Seeking to end dangerous and wasteful oil gushers, James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron receive a patent for a hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer.

Oil and natural gas companies embrace the new technology, which the inventors will repeatedly improve in the 1930s.

Their concept uses rams – hydrostatic pistons – to close on the drill stem and form a seal against the well pressure.

“Once nearly a victim of a disastrous blowout himself, Abercrombie had taken his idea for a ram-type preventer to Cameron’s machine shop in Humble, Texas, where they worked out the details, starting with a sketch on the sawdust floor,” notes the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Read more in Ending Oil Gushers – BOP.

January 13, 1957 – Wham-O launches a New Petroleum Product

petroleum history january

Thanks to Phillips Petroleum, newly developed polyethylene plastics will be used to manufacture Frisbees. Detail from U.S. Patent No. 3,359,678. Image courtesy the Disc Golf Association, Watsonville, California.

The latest of a growing number of products made from plastic is born in California when Wham-O Manufacturing Company begins production of the Frisbee in 1957.

The toy originated in 1948 when a company called Partners in Plastic sold its “Flyin’ Saucers” for 25 cents each. In 1955 Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin’s Wham-O bought the rights to the flying toy.

Meanwhile, Phillips Petroleum introduced a high-density polyethylene under the brand name Marlex. Phillips executives had expected the product to be a big hit, but industrial customers didn’t know what to do with the new plastic. The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company found itself with warehouses full of Marlex – until the phenomenal demand for manufacturing Frisbees (and Hula Hoops in March 1958). Read more in Petroleum Product Hoopla. 

January 14, 1928 – “Dr. Seuss” begins Career at Standard Oil

petroleum history january

During the Great Depression, Theodore Geisel created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. He said the experience taught him “how to marry pictures with words.”

New York City’s Judge magazine includes its first cartoon drawn by Theodore Seuss Geisel – who will develop his skills as “Dr. Seuss” while working for Standard Oil Company.

In the 1928 cartoon that launches his career, Geisel draws a peculiar dragon trying to dodge Flit, a popular bug spray of the day.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” will become a common catchphrase. Flit is one of Standard Oil of New Jersey’s many consumer products derived from petroleum.

petroleum history january

Standard Oil advertising campaigns provided a steady income to Geisel and his wife throughout his early days experimenting with his drawings. Images courtesy Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego.

petroleum history january

Essolube is still a product of ExxonMobil.

For years to follow, hundreds of Geisel’s fanciful critters will populate Standard advertisements.

Throughout the hard years of the Great Depression, advertising campaigns for Esso gasolines, lubricating oil, and “Essomarine Oil and Greases,” provided steady income to Geisel and his wife.

“It wasn’t the greatest pay, but it covered my overhead so I could experiment with my drawings,” he said later.

Geisel will acknowledge that his experience working at Standard Oil, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.” The former Standard Oil advertising illustrator – who publishes How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1957 – will write more than 50 children’s books.

Read more in Seuss I am, an Oilman.

January 14, 1954 – Oilfield discovered in South Dakota

A Shell Oil Company wildcat well in Harding County, South Dakota, begins producing oil from about 9,300 feet and reveals the Buffalo oilfield. This single well will produce more than 341,000 barrels of oil over the next 50 years. Today, most South Dakota oil activity still takes place in Harding County. The Bakken shale formation (about two miles deep in western North Dakota) is not present in South Dakota.


Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS 2016, This Week in Petroleum History.


January 4, 1948 – Wildcatters make Deep Permian Basin Discovery

petroleum history january

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.

January 7, 1864 – Oil Discovery at Pithole Creek in Pennsylvania

petroleum history january

Today, visitors can walk the grassy paths of Pithole’s former streets.

The Pithole Creek oilfield is discovered in Pennsylvania. The United States Petroleum Company’s well reportedly has been located with a witch-hazel dowser. It initially produces 250 barrels of oil a day.

Pithole will make history as an early oil boom town for America’s young petroleum industry, which began in nearby Titusville in 1859. Pithole’s population will briefly reach 20,000 residents in “bars, brothels, hotels, theaters and retail stores.”

Many factors will fuel the Pithole boom, including Civil War veterans eager to invest in the reunited nation. Newspapers stories add to the oil fever – as does the fortunes of Johnny Steele described in the Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.” Visit the visitors center at today’s grassy expanse that is the ghost town of Pithole in Oil Creek State Park.

January 7, 1905 – Humble Oilfield Discovery leads to ExxonMobil

A major oil company will be born after C.E. Barrett discovers the Humble oilfield in Harris County, Texas. His Beatty No. 2 well launches another southeastern Texas oil boom four years after Spindletop launches the modern petroleum industry. The well produces 8,500 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 1,012 feet.

petroleum history january

The Humble oilfield will lead to a major oil company. An embossed postcard circa 1905 from the Postal Card & Novelty Company, courtesy the University of Houston Digital Library.

petroleum history january

Standard Oil of New Jersey will acquire a 50 percent interest in Humble in 1919.

The small town of Humble will grow from 700 to 20,000 in a few months as production from the field – the largest in Texas in 1905 – reaches almost 16 million barrels of oil.

The oilfield leads to the founding of the Humble Oil and Refining Company in 1911 by a group that includes Ross Sterling, a future governor of Texas.

“Production from several strata here exceeded the total for fabulous Spindletop by 1946,” notes a 1972 historical marker. “Known as the greatest salt dome field, Humble still produces and the town for which it was named continues to thrive.”

Humble Oil Company will consolidate operations with Standard Oil of New Jersey in 1919, eventually leading to Exxon, today’s ExxonMobil. Another nearby discovery at Sour Lake produces Texaco.

January 7, 1913 – “Cracking” helps fuel Automobile’s Popularity

petroleum history january

Thermal cracking doubled a refinery’s production of gasoline just as Americans demanded the fuel for new Fords and Oldsmobiles.

William Burton of the Standard Oil Company in Whiting, Indiana, receives a patent for a refining process that effectively doubles the amount of gasoline produced from each barrel of oil.

Because commercial (coal-fueled) electricity is being made available to more  homes and businesses, demand on the petroleum industry for kerosene has plummeted.

But consumer demand for gasoline is growing with the popularity – and affordability – of internal combustion automobiles. Burton’s innovation, called thermal cracking, is a key breakthrough, although his process will be superseded by catalytic cracking in 1937.

January 7, 1957 – Michigan Dairy Farmer’s Oilfield of Dreams

petroleum history january

A 1957 discovery well on Ferne Houseknecht’s dairy farm will uncover a 29-mile-long oilfield.

After two years of drilling, the Houseknecht No. 1 well discovers Michigan’s largest oilfield. The 3,576-foot-deep well in southwestern Michigan produces from the Black River formation of the Trenton zone.

Local lore says that the well’s namesake, Ferne Houseknecht, had been told by a spiritualist that there was oil under her farm. Houseknecht convinced her uncle, Clifford Perry, to drill a well one joint of pipe at a time between his other farm projects.

The Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well at “Rattlesnake Gulch” reveals a producing region 29 miles long and more than one mile wide. It prompts a drilling boom that ultimately leads to 734 wells that produce more than 150 million barrels of oil and 250 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“The story of the discovery well of Michigan’s only ‘giant’ oil field, using the worldwide definition of having produced more than 100 million barrels of oil from a single contiguous reservoir is the stuff of dreams, and of oilfield legends,” explains Michigan historian and author Jack Westbrook.

Read Michigan’s “Golden Gulch” of Oil.

January 9, 1862 – America exports Oil for the First Time

petroleum history january

Barrels of vinegar – “Vinegar Bitters” – at New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1870 would be similar to the 1861 loading of oil and kerosene barrels aboard the Elizabeth Watts at the Port of Philadelphia. Photo courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum.

America exports oil for the first time in 1862 when the brig Elizabeth Watts arrives at London’s Victoria dock after a six-week voyage from Philadelphia. The vessel carries 901 barrels of oil and 428 barrels of kerosene from northwestern Pennsylvania oilfields.

No ship has ever crossed the Atlantic bearing such a cargo. In America, anxious sailors had feared the vessel would explode before casting off on November 19, 1861. Within a year Philadelphia will export 239,000 barrels of oil – without the technology of railroad tank cars or “tanker” ships.

America becomes a net importer of oil in 1948 – increasingly dependent on supplies from the Middle East. U.S. oil exports will resume on December 31, 2015, when a tanker leaves Corpus Christi, Texas, bound for Italy. Read more about the Elizabeth Watts in America exports Oil.

January 10, 1870 – Rockefeller incorporates Standard Oil Company

Rockefeller will create the Standard Oil Trust in 1882 to preserve his petroleum empire.

Thirty-one years old, John D. Rockefeller and five partners form the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio.

Standard Oil immediately focuses on efficiency and growth. Instead of buying oil barrels, it buys tracts of oak timber, hauls the dried timber to Cleveland on its own wagons, and builds the barrels in its own cooperage. Standard’s cost per wooden barrel drops from $3 to less than $1.50. Also see History of the 42-Gallon Oil Barrel.

The company’s increasingly efficient refineries extract more kerosene per barrel of oil (there is no market for gasoline at the time). He begins building the giant Standard Oil Whiting Refinery near Chicago in 1889.

Along with adding new technologies, the company purchases properties through subsidiaries and uses local price-cutting to capture 90 percent of America’s refining capacity.

Rockefeller will continue his control over the domestic petroleum industry by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust on January 2, 1882. More legal maneuvering will preserve his empire until 1911.

January 10, 1901 – Spindletop Discovery launches Modern Petroleum Industry

january oil history

“Spindletop viewing her Gusher” by Aaron Arion – 1913, pastel on linen – was popular with oilmen staying at the Dixie Hotel in the Beaumont, Texas.

The modern oil and natural gas industry is born on a hill in southeastern Texas, when a wildcat well erupts on Spindletop Hill in Beaumont.

The discovery will change the future of American transportation and industry – and bring new technologies.

The Texas discovery will change the way people would live all over the world, proclaims Houston oilman and author Michel T. Halbouty in 1952. “It revived the industrial revolution…caused the United States to become a world power…(and) revolutionized transportation through the automobile industry.”

The southeastern Texas oil boom is welcomed. It comes just four months after the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history has devastated nearby Galveston.

The story of the Spindletop discovery well – which popularizes rotary drilling technology – begins in 1892 when the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company is formed by Patillo Higgins. He is convinced that the “Big Hill” four miles south of Beaumont has oil – despite conventional wisdom to the contrary. Read more in Prophet of Spindletop.

Higgins is no longer with the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing when the company hires former Croatian mining engineer Anthony F. Lucas. His 1901 “Lucas Gusher” uncovers an oilfield that produces 3.59 million barrels in its first year alone. Read more in Spindletop launches Modern Petroleum Industry.

January 10, 1919 – Standard Oil of California discovers Elk Hills Field

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Elk Hills in California’s San Joaquin Valley ranks among the most productive oilfields in the United States. Photo courtesy NASA.

The Elk Hills field in Kern County, California, is discovered by Standard Oil of California’s No. 1 Hay well at 2,500 feet on faulted anticlines.

“Elk Hills Oilfield in California’s San Joaquin Valley ranks among the most productive oilfields in the United States,” notes an earth observatory website of NASA.

The oilfield was embroiled in the early 1920s lease scandals  during the administration of President Warren Harding – Teapot Dome – and returned to the government management. Privatized again in the 1990s, Elk Hills yielded its billionth barrel of oil in 1992 – becoming the thirteenth oilfield in U.S. history to pass that milestone. The field continues to serve as a contingency source of oil for the U.S. Navy (Naval Petroleum Reserve One). Visit the “Black Gold” exhibit of the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield and at the West Kern Oil Museum in Taft.

January 10, 1921 – Oil Boom begins in El Dorado, Arkansas

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A major oil discovery brought prosperity to El Dorado, Arkansas, in the 1920s. Today, downtown merchants preserve the community’s petroleum past with an Oil Heritage Park on Main Street.

petroleum history january

H.L. Hunt launched his petroleum career in the crowded El Dorado, Arkansas, oilfield.

The Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well strikes oil and catapults the population of El Dorado, Arkansas, from 4,000 to 25,000. H.L. Hunt will soon arrive with a borrowed $50. He joins lease traders and speculators at the Garrett Hotel – where fortunes will be made and lost.

Located on a hill a little over a mile southwest of El Dorado, the derrick is plainly visible from town. A small crowd of eager spectators gathers at the well. “Suddenly, with a deafening roar, ‘a thick black column’ of gas and oil and water shot out of the well,” says one witness.

“Union County’s dream of oil had come true,” reports the local paper. “Busey No. 1, the ‘Discovery Well’ of the El Dorado Oil Field yielded 15,000,000 to 35,000,000 cubic feet of gas and from 3,000 to 10,000 barrels of oil and water a day.”

The 68-square-mile field will lead U.S. oil output in 1925 – with production reaching 70 million barrels. Read Arkansas Oil and Gas Boomtowns.

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

petroleum history December

“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.

His discovery well, which initially produces 20,000 barrels per day, indicates the East Texas oilfield is a giant. A month later and 15 miles to the north, the Lathrop No. 1, proves the oilfield extends more than 480 square miles. The population of Kilgore skyrockets from 700 to 10,000,

Lou Della Crim No. 1. Read more in Lou Della Crim Revealed.

December 30, 1854 – America’s First Petroleum Company incorporates

petroleum history December

America’s first oil company incorporated on December 30, 1854, in Albany. George Bissell wanted oil for a new product: kerosene.

America’s first oil company – the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company – incorporates.

George Bissell, Jonathan Eveleth and five other trustees incorporate the company in Albany, New York, capitalized at $250,000. Struggling to attract wealthy investors, the company reorganizes in September 1855.

The “Wall Street Panic” of 1857 renders control of the company to New Haven financier Robert Townsend, who incorporates the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in March 1858.

Oil is expected to be found near Oil Creek on the 105 acre Hibbard Farm in Venango County, Pennsylvania. Townsend hires an acquaintance, former railroad man Edwin L. Drake, to manage the drilling on the Hibbard Farm lease. Drilling proves expensive and time consuming and locals call the company’s investment “Drake’s Folly.”

But on August 27, 1859, Drake’s discovery well near Titusville marks the beginning of the American petroleum industry.

This Pennsylvania well launches the first U.S. oil company. Many others soon follow to likewise “raise, manufacture, procure and sell Rock Oil.” Read more in First American Oil Well.

December 31, 1954 – Dry Hole sets California Depth Record

petroleum history December

A January 1954 trade magazine noted the record depth reached by the Ohio Oil Company’s deep well in Kern County – a dry hole.

As deep drilling technologies continue to advance in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet is reached by the Ohio Oil Company in California.

The well is about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, in the San Joaquin Valley. At more than four miles deep, the well’s down-hole drilling technology is not up to the task and becomes stuck.

In a 1954 article about deep drilling technology, The Petroleum Engineer notes the Kern County well of the Ohio Oil Company sets a record despite being “halted by a fishing job” and ending up as a dry hole.

Another 1953 Kern County well drilled by Richfield Oil Corporation produces oil from 17,895 feet, according to the magazine. Nationally, the average cost for the nearly 100 wells drilled below 15,000 feet was about $550,000 per well.

More than 630  exploratory wells with a total footage of almost three million feet will be drilled in California during 1954.

Founded in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company in 1926 will discover the giant Yates oilfield in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and West Texas. The company will purchase its Yates field drilling partner, the Transcontinental Oil Company, acquiring the Marathon product name and the Greek runner trademark. Read more in Marathon of Ohio Oil.

January 2, 1866 – New Yorker designs Early Rotary Drill Bit

An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent is filed that for the first time includes the basic elements of modern rotary rigs and notes that its “peculiar construction is particularly adapted for boring deep wells.”

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Peter Sweeney’s innovative 1866 patent includes a roller bit using “rapid rotary motion,” which presages modern rotary drilling technologies.

Peter Sweeney of New York City is granted a patent (no. 51,902), which describes the basic elements of rotary rigs and improves upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart.

Sweeney’s patent includes a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

The drill-rod is hollow and connects with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.”

petroleum history December

A 1917 rotary rig in the Coalinga, California, oilfield. Courtesy of the Joaquin Valley Geology Organization.

Better than cable-tool technology, which raises and drops a heavy chisel-like bit, Sweeney claims his drilling apparatus may be used with advantage for making holes in rock, “in a horizontal, oblique, or vertical direction.”

Drilling operations can be continued without interruption, he adds, “with the exception of the time required for adding new sections to the drill rod as the depth of the hole increases. The dirt is discharged during the operation of boring and a clean hole is obtained into which the tubing can be introduced without difficulty.”

Perhaps even foreseeing the offshore exploration industry, Sweeney’s 1866 patent concludes with a note that “the apparatus can also be used with advantage for submarine operations.”

Oil patch drillers will improve upon Sweeney’s idea. A device is fitted to the rotary table that clamps around the drill pipe and turns. As this “kelly bushing” rotates, the pipe rotates – and with it the bit down hole. The torque of the rotary table is transmitted to the drill stem.

Thirty-five years after Sweeney’s patent, rotary drilling will revolutionize the petroleum industry when a 1901 discovery by Capt. Anthony Lucas launches a drilling boom at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas.

See Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

January 2, 1882 – Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust

petroleum history December

Legal maneuvering preserved Rockefeller’s petroleum empire until 1911.

John D. Rockefeller continues his control over the domestic petroleum industry by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust.

With Standard Oil Company exercising control of America’s petroleum industry though 40 producing, refining, and marketing affiliates in several states, Rockefeller reorganizes assets into the new trust.

The new Standard Oil Trust controls 14,000 miles of underground pipelines – and all of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s petroleum tank cars.

Samuel Dodd, a Standard Oil attorney, develops a structure by which stockholders in subordinate companies transfer their stock to nine trustees in exchange for participation in the trust’s aggregate earnings.

Since the trustees elect directors of the component companies, the Standard Oil Trust is an effective monopoly. Following enactment of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, an Ohio Supreme Court decision orders the trust to be dissolved in 1894.

With further legal maneuvering, the trust continues to operate from its headquarters in New York until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling finally breaks it up in 1911.

January 2, 1932 – Union “76” Brand

petroleum history December

Two million promotional “76” car antenna balls are given out in 1967 alone.

The Union Oil Company “76” brand is born with gas stations in western states. The orange circle with blue type logo is adopted in the 1940s.

The iconic spinning orb will debut at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, Washington. It proves so popular that millions of smaller versions are given away for car antennas over the next decade.

Today, the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is in the original Union Oil 1890 headquarters. The Union 76 brand is sold to Tosco Corporation in 1997. Phillips Petroleum Company acquires Tosco in 2001 and merges with to Conoco to become ConocoPhillips a year later.

A “Save the 76 Ball” campaign convinced ConocoPhillips in 2007 to preserve some of the marketing icons and donate others to museums. Visit the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation.  © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


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.


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


November 23, 1951 – First Superman Movie features “World’s Deepest Oil Well”

petroleum history november

Mole men emerge from an experimental oil well that “has broken into clear air” at beyond 32,700 feet deep.

petroleum history november

Deep drilling in 1951 produced mole men.

Public fear of the risk of drilling too deep highlights the theatrical release of “Superman and the Mole Men.”

The 1951 movie, which earns good reviews, features newspaper reporters Clark Kent (George Reeves) and Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) traveling on assignment to the fictional town of Silsby…“Home of the World’s Deepest Oil Well.”

The National Oil Company is making news at its “Havenhurst Experimental Number One” drilling site – the drill bit “has broken into clear air” at 32,742 feet.

“Good heavens, that’s practically to the center of the earth!” Lois exclaims. In fact, the deepest U.S. well in 1951 reached 20,521 feet.

Although the oilmen attempt to cap the well, small humanoid creatures emerge. The townspeople fear an invasion and panic ensues. It takes the compassion of Superman to calm the mob and return the mole men to the safety of the deep well.

In the end of the movie, the mole men ignite the well into flames, forever closing the connection between the two worlds.

Read about a real 31,441-foot-deep well in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

November 23, 1953 – World’s First LPG Ship

petroleum history november

The first vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks.

The first seagoing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) ship goes into service in 1953.

Warren Petroleum Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, sends the one-of-a-kind Natalie O. Warren from the Houston Ship Channel terminal at Norsworthy, Texas, to Newark, New Jersey.

The vessel has an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks – the equivalent of about 339,000 standard gas grill LP tanks. The ship is the former Cape Diamond dry-cargo freighter, converted over a five-month period by the Bethlehem Steelyard in Beaumont, Texas.

The experimental design will lead to new maritime construction standards for such vessels. After 14 years of successful service, the Natalie O. Warren is scrapped in Santander, Spain. Today’s LPG tankers can carry more than 18 times the capacity of the historic first vessel.

November 25, 1875 – Continental Oil brings Kerosene to the West

petroleum history november

Conoco began in 1875 as Continental Oil, delivering kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah.

Convinced that he can profit by purchasing bulk kerosene in cheaper eastern markets, Isaac Blake forms the Continental Oil and Transportation Company. He will soon bring Ohio kerosene to Ogden, Utah, for distribution.

Continental purchases two railroad tank cars – the first to be used west of the Mississippi River – and begins shipping kerosene from a Cleveland refinery. The company quickly grows, expanding into Colorado in 1876 and California in 1877.

Standard Oil Company absorbs Continental Oil in 1885. Following the 1911 breakup of Standard, Continental Oil will reemerge and continues today as ConocoPhillips. Read more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

November 27, 1940 – Gas by Edward Hopper exhibited in New York

petroleum history november

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) oil on canvas painting “Gas” of 1940 includes the flying Pegasus logo of Mobilgas. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Edward Hopper’s painting Gas is exhibited by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in 1940.

Hopper began the painting a month earlier. “Ed is about to start a canvas – an effect of night on a gasoline station,” noted his wife.

Critics praise Hopper’s work and suggest that Gas with its commonplace Mobilgas sign anticipates America’s Pop Art movement that comes a decade later.

The work – which includes the flying Pegasus logo of Mobilgas – is an amalgamation of gas stations around his home in Truro, Massachusetts. Fellow artist Charles Burchfield admired Hopper’s simple title for the painting, noting that a less discerning artist would have titled it “Gas Station” or “Gas Station Attendant.”

The Vacuum Oil Company trademarked the Pegasus logo in 1911 and by the 1930s was marketing Pegasus Motor Spirits an Mobiloil. Read about the Mobilgas iconic logo in Mobil’s High Flying Trademark.

November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies

petroleum history november

Emma Summers’ “genius for affairs” put her in control of the Los Angeles City oil fields.

Mrs. Emma Summers, once known as the “Oil Queen of California” dies at the age of 83 in Los Angeles.

Forty years earlier, the San Francisco Call newspaper described Mrs. Summers as “A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”

Summers graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano – but soon caught oil fever.

With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field just a year before, Summers invested $700 for half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s.

Summers’ first 14 oil wells came in as producers – and launched her dominance in the Los Angeles oil field. See Oil Queen of California.

November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well taps Mid-Continent Field

petroleum history november

A rare photograph of the 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, where it refined 500 barrels of oil per day – the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. From “Kansas Memory” collection of the Kansas Historical Society.

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Students visit the Norman No. 1 Well Museum in Neodesha to learn about the Kansas petroleum industry – where oil or natural gas today is produced in 89 of 105 counties.

The Norman No. 1 well erupts in 1892  in eastern Kansas – the first major oil well west of the Mississippi River.

Just 832 feet deep, the well reveals the vast Mid-Continent producing region, which includes five states.

Immediately following the discovery, a sample of the oil is sent to the more experienced oilmen of Pennsylvania.

“It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard, making the area the richest bed of prehistoric decay,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum.

Abandoned in 1919, the Norman No. 1, “remained overgrown along the banks of the Verdigris River until 1961 when a replica of the original derrick was erected on the old well site as a memorial,” notes the Kansas Historical Society, which adds the oil museum is “a fitting recognition of Norman No. 1’s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history.”

Today the well is a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Read more in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent.


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.


November 17, 1949 – Geological Survey begins Petroleum Survey

The U.S. Geological Survey embarks on a massive geological study of the United States in 1949. More than 70 geologists engage in intensive investigations covering 22 states and Alaska. Their mission is to define areas favorable for oil and natural gas exploration. Advancing technologies have since transformed USGS topographic mapping science from prints to digital data and on-line based applications.

November 19, 1927 – Birth of “Phillips 66” Gasoline

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Originally promoted as a dependable “winter gasoline,” by 1930, Phillips 66 gasoline is sold in 12 states.

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The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville opened in 2007.

After a decade as an exploration and production company, in 1927 Phillips Petroleum Company enters the highly competitive business of refining and retail gasoline distribution.

The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company introduces a new line of gasoline – “Phillips 66” – at its first service station, which opens in Wichita, Kansas.

The gasoline is named “Phillips 66” after it propels company officials down U.S. Highway 66 at 66 mph in route to a meeting at their Bartlesville, Oklahoma, headquarters.

Route 66 becomes the backbone of Phillips marketing plans for the new product – which boasts “controlled volatility,” the result of a higher-gravity mix of naphtha and natural gasoline.

Because the composition makes Phillips 66 gas easier to start in cold weather, advertisements entice motorists to try the “New Winter Gasoline.”

Acquisition of service stations adds 50 new retail outlets each month to the company. By 1930, Phillips 66 gasoline is sold at 6,750 outlets in 12 states. Read more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

November 21, 1925 – Magnolia Petroleum incorporates

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Magnolia will operate hundreds of service stations throughout southeastern states.

Formerly an unincorporated joint-stock association – with roots dating to an 1889 refinery in Corsicana, Texas – Magnolia Petroleum Company incorporates in 1925.

The original association has grown to provide multiple grades of refined oil products through more than 500 service stations in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Within one month, Standard Oil Company of New York purchases most of Magnolia Petroleum’s assets (December 1925) and operates it as a subsidiary.

Magnolia Oil Company merges with Socony Mobile Oil Company in 1959. The combined companies adopt the red Pegasus logo, which replaces the magnolia at service stations (read more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark).

Magnolia Petroleum ultimately becomes part of ExxonMobil.

November 22, 1878 –  Tidewater Pipe Company established

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Despite protests from teamsters, a 109-mile oil pipeline through the Allegheny Mountains revolutionized petroleum transportation technology. Photo courtesy explorepahistory.com.

The Tidewater Pipe Company is organized in Pennsylvania by Byron Benson. In 1879 his company will build the first oil pipeline to cross the Alleghenies from Coryville to the Philadelphia Reading Railroad 109 miles away in Williamsport.

This major technological achievement is considered by many as the first true oil pipeline in America, if not the world.

The difficult work – much of it done in winter using sleds to move pipe sections – bypasses Standard Oil Company’s dominance in transporting petroleum.

Tidewater makes an arrangement with Reading Railroad to haul the oil in tank cars to Philadelphia and New York.

In 1879, an 80-horsepower engine in Coryville will pump 250 barrels of oil from the Bradford oilfield across the mountains and into Williamsport.

By 1880, more than 80 percent of America’s oil consumption is fed by Pennsylvania oilfields, notes Floyd Hartman Jr., author of “Birth of Coryville’s Tidewater Pipe Line.”

November 22, 1905 – Discovery will make Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World”

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

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Tourists Dorothy Wells of Eufaula, Okla., and son Mark visit the Glen Pool discovery well monument, which was dedicated in 2008 in Black Gold Park.

Two years before Oklahoma becomes a state, oil is discovered south of Tulsa.

The 1905 Glen Pool (or Glenn Pool) discovery – the greatest oilfield in America at the time – will lead to Tulsa becoming the “Oil Capital of the World.”

With daily production soon exceeding 120,000 barrels, Glen Pool exceeds Tulsa County’s earlier Red Fork Gusher.

The find even tops the giant Spindletop Hill discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four years earlier.

The Ida Glenn No. 1 well is named for the Creek Indian woman from whom oilmen had leased 160 acres. The 1,450-foot-deep well reveals the 12-square-mile Glen Pool.

By the time of statehood in 1907,the oilfield has made Oklahoma America’s biggest oil producing state. The field today uses enhanced recovery technologies to continue to produce oil. In April 2008, a illuminating derrick monument was unveiled in Black Gold Park.

The community of Glenn Pool annually celebrates its petroleum heritage by hosting a Black Gold Days festival. Learn more in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.

November 22, 2003 – Smithsonian Museum features Transportation History

The “America On The Move” permanent exhibition opens at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

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Petroleum history plays a small role (a truck from Shawnee, Oklahoma) in the Smithsonian’s “America on the Move” exhibit.

“Get your kicks on 40 feet of Route 66, commute on the Chicago ‘L’ train, and marvel at the massive 199-ton, 92-foot-long ‘1401’ locomotive,” the Smithsonian notes on opening day of the $22 million renovation of the museum’s Hall of Transportation.

The “America on the Move” hall allows visitors “to travel back in time and experience transportation as it changed America,” adds the Smithsonian. “It encompasses nearly 26,000 square feet on the first floor of the museum, and includes 340 objects and 19 historic settings in chronological order.”

At the same museum in 1967, the Smithsonian’s “Hall of Petroleum” devoted an entire wing to drilling rigs, pipelines and pump jacks.


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.


November 10, 1854 – Oil Seeps lead to First U.S. Commercial Oil Well

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Thanks to George Bissell, Pennsylvania oil seeps or medicinal “Seneca Oil” will lead to Edwin Drake drilling for oil to refine into kerosene for lamps.

The stage is set for the start of America’s petroleum industry when a lumber company sells 105 acres along a creek with oil seeps.

The lumber firm Brewer, Watson & Company in 1854 sells land to George Bissell and his partner at the junction of the east and west branches of Oil Creek, southeast of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Bissell believes oil can be distilled to produce kerosene for lamps. He hires a friend who is a professor at Yale to conduct experiments. Benjamin Silliman Jr., a chemist and geologist, confirms his belief in the new resource.

Deciding to attempt to produce oil commercially, Bissell forms the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company – and hires Edwin Drake to drill America’s first well in 1859. Read more in George Bissell and Oil Seeps.

November 10, 1914 – Woodrow Wilson opens Houston Ship Channel

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The Houston Ship Channel on Buffalo Bayou leads upstream directly to Houston – where downtown can be seen at upper right. President Woodrow Wilson officially opened the newly dredged Houston Channel in 1914.

Dredged 25 feet deep in 1914, the Houston Ship Channel opens for ocean-going vessels.

President Woodrow Wilson salutes the occasion from his desk in the White House – reportedly by pushing an ivory button wired to a cannon in Houston.

The waterway – originally known as Buffalo Bayou – was “swampy, marshy and overgrown with dense vegetation,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“With the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901 and crops such as rice beginning to rival the dominant export crop of cotton, Houston’s ship channel needed the capacity to handle newer and larger vessels,” adds the Port Authority, which administers the channel. Read more in Houston Ship Channel opens in 1914.

November 11, 1884 – Birth of Consolidated Edison Company of New York

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“Bird’s-eye view” illustrates New York and Brooklyn in 1873. The Brooklyn Bridge is under construction at right. Prior to the 1884 merger, competing company work crews, “gas house gangs,” often tore up lines of rivals.

The largest U.S. gas utility company at the time is created in New York City when six gas-light companies merge to form the Consolidated Gas Company in 1884.

Today known as Consolidated Edison Company, “Con Edison” can trace its history six decades earlier to New York Gas Light Company, which received a charter from the state legislature in 1823.

“Like most early gas companies, New York Gas would focus its efforts on street lighting, in this case, supplementing or replacing the whale-oil lamps that were installed by the city beginning in the 1760s,” explains a Con Edison historian.

Prior to the 1884 merger, with six gas companies serving New York City, “the streets were constantly being torn up by one company or another installing or repairing their own mains – or removing those of a rival,” notes the company historian. Sometimes competing work crews would meet on the same street and brawl, giving rise to the term “gas house gangs.” Read more in History of Con Edison.

November 12, 1899 – Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory

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A laminated (though wrinkled) page from a newspaper published in 1899 was a school project done by one of Mrs. Alford’s descendants, according to the Penn-Brad Museum Oil Well Park and Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

The New York World profiles Mrs. Byron Alford – the “Only Woman in the World who Owns and Operates a Dynamite Factory.”

Alford’s dangerous oil patch business operates on five acres outside of Bradford, Pennsylvania, with a daily production of 3,000 pounds of “nitro-glycerine” and 6,000 pounds of dynamite. Local drillers need the explosives for “shooting” wells to boost production.

The newspaper reports that Mrs. Alford manufactures the volatile explosives in 12 separate buildings – all unpainted and made of wood. Read her story in Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory.

November 12, 1916 – Forest Oil Company formed

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Forest Oil’s “yellow dog” lamp logo originated in 1916.

Forest Oil Company incorporates and begins operations in the Bradford oil field of northwestern Pennsylvania. It adopts a distinctive “yellow dog” lamp with two wicks logo.

The company adopts a new technology: water-flooding (injecting water into oil-bearing formations) to stimulate production from wells considered depleted. Forest’s production increases from 38 barrels per day in 1916 to more than 10,000 barrels by the late 1920s.

In 1924, Forest Oil consolidates with the January Oil Company, Brown Seal Oil, Andrews Petroleum and Boyd Oil to form the Forest Oil Corp., today headquartered in Denver. Read more in Yellow Dog – Oil Field Lantern.

November 13, 1925 – Spindletop booms Again

More than two decades after its first oil boom, Spindletop, Texas, experiences a second boom when the Yount-Lee Oil Company strikes a 5,000-barrel-a-day oil well.

The discovery is south of the 1901 “Lucas Gusher,” according to the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont.

“Yount believed that there was much more oil at Spindletop, if flank wells could be drilled deep enough,” notes the museum website. He was right, and the McFaddin No. 2 began to produce oil from 2,518 feet deep on November 13, 1925. That evening a local radio station announced the discovery, which launched the second Spindletop drilling boom.

November 14, 1947 – First Offshore Oil Well Out of Sight of Land

The modern offshore oil and natural gas industry begins when an exploratory well strikes oil in the Gulf of Mexico – the first successful offshore oil well out of sight of land.

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America’s first offshore Gulf of Mexico drilling platform (above) is 10 miles off the Louisiana coast in 18 feet of water. Built by Brown & Root Company without comparable information on how strong to make the pilings, welds and jackets, the platform will withstand hurricane-force winds.

Brown & Root Company builds the 1947 freestanding platform 10 miles from shore for Kerr-McGee and partners Phillips Petroleum and Stanolind.

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The historic “Kermac 16” platform is included in a 1954 Bell Helicopter advertisement encouraging the use of helicopters for offshore transportation.

The unique freestanding offshore platform, “Kermac 16,” can withstand winds as high as 125 miles per hour.

Brown & Root builds the platform at a time when no equipment specifically designed for offshore drilling yet exists.

With $450,000 invested, Kerr-McGee brings in the well as a 960-barrel-a-day producer in about 20 feet of water off Louisiana’s gradually sloping Gulf of Mexico coast.

Kerr-McGee purchases World War II surplus utility freighters and materials to provide supplies, equipment, and crew quarters for the drilling site at Ship Shoal Block 32.

Sixteen 24-inch pilings sunk 104 feet into the ocean floor secure the 2,700 square foot wooden deck – which successfully withstands the biggest Category 5 hurricane of the 1947 season a week after spudding.

The historic “Kermac 16” produces 1.4 million barrels of oil and 307 million cubic feet of natural gas before being shut down in 1984. Learn more about U.S. offshore pioneers and technology in Offshore Oil History and Deep Sea Roughnecks.


 © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Gas Well roars Near Pittsburgh

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“Outlet of a Natural Gas Well, Near Pittsburgh,” notes Harper’s Weekly in 1885. “A sight that can be seen in no other city in the world.”

While drilling for oil in 1878, Michael and Obediah Haymaker’s well erupts with natural gas from a depth of almost 1,400 feet.

“Every  piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind. But instead of oil, we had  struck gas,” Michael Haymaker later recalls.

Eighteen miles east of Pittsburgh, the out-of-control well in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, produces an estimated 34 million cubic feet of natural gas daily – probably the largest natural gas well ever drilled up to that time.

Given the  technologies of the time, there is no way to cap the well and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities. The Haymaker well draws thousands of curious onlookers to a flaming torch that burns for 18 months, visible from miles away.

“Outlet of a natural gas well near Pittsburgh – a sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” notes Harper’s Weekly.

The Haymaker well, brought under control, will bring gas light to Pittsburgh and produce for years. Read more in Natural Gas Is King in Pittsburgh.

November 3, 1900 – New York City hosts First American Auto Show

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Above, the 1898 first American car ad. Automobile sales will reduce the 450,000 tons of horse manure annually deposited on New York City streets.

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Internal combustion engines at the 1900 National Automobile Show were primitive and noisy. The most popular “horseless carriage” is battery powered.

America’s first gathering of the latest automotive technologies attracts thousands to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The most popular models proved to be electric, steam and gasoline…in that order.

Manufacturers present 160 different vehicles and conduct driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that  encircles the exhibits.

About 48,000 visitors pay 50 cents each to witness autos driving up a 200-foot ramp to test hill-climbing power.

New Yorkers especially welcome the new models as a way to reduce the  estimated 450,000 tons of manure, 21 million gallons of urine, and 15,000 horse carcasses that have to be removed from  the city’s streets each year.

Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in 1900, less than a thousand are powered by gasoline. But within five years consumer preference thoroughly establishes the dominance of gasoline-powered automobiles that continues today.

Gasoline, once an unwanted byproduct of kerosene refining, cost only about 15 cents a gallon in 1900 and produced vast increases in engine horsepower. Despite the absence of “filling stations,” gasoline is readily available in a market where electric lights are making kerosene lamps obsolete. Read more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show and First Gas Pump and Service Station.

November 6, 1860 – Kerosene Refinery

Construction begins on the first multiple-still oil refinery in Pennsylvania. It’s one mile south of Titusville on the north bank of Oil Creek in the booming Pennsylvania oil region.

William Barnsdall, who drilled America’s second commercial oil well in 1859, builds six stills for refining kerosene.

The refinery costs Barnsdall and partners James Parker, and W.H. Abbott $15,000. Much of the equipment is purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City, then up Oil Creek to the site.

Finished in January 1861, the refinery produces two grades of illuminating oil – white and the less expensive yellow. Each barrel of oil yields about 20 gallons of kerosene.

November 7, 1965 – Jet Fuel powers New Speed Record

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A kerosene-gasoline blend powered the Green Monster’s F-104 jet engine.

Using high-octane jet fuel, Ohio drag racer Art Arfons sets the land-speed record at 576.553 miles per hour at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. His home-made Green Monster is powered by JP-4 fuel (a 50-50 kerosene-gasoline blend) in an afterburner-equipped F-104 Starfighter jet engine.

Between 1964 and 1965, referred to as “The Bonneville Jet Wars,” Arfons sets the record three times. On October 23, 1970, the Blue Flame – powered by liquefied natural gas – sets a new record of 630 mph that stands for 13 years. See The Blue Flame – Natural Gas Rocket Car.

November 8, 1880 – Death of Edwin Drake, Father of U.S. Petroleum Industry

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Edwin L. Drake is re-interred in 1902 at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Titusville, Pennsylvania – with a monument honoring his achievements. America’s first commercial oil well can be seen at the nearby the Drake Well Museum.

Edwin Laurentine Drake, today recognized as the founder of the American petroleum industry, dies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the age of 61. Drake drilled just three wells. His first, which found oil on August 27, 1859, and produced about 20 barrels a day, launched the modern energy industry.

Although the petroleum industry will bring economic prosperity to many, in 1863 Drake loses all his money in unwary oil speculation. By 1873 he is so ill and destitute that the Pennsylvania legislature votes him a $1,500 pension in recognition of his historic contributions. In 1880, Drake dies in relative obscurity in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Standard Oil executive Henry H. Rogers in 1899 commissions architect Charles Brigham and sculptor Charles Niehaus to design a monument to Drake, whose body is exhumed and brought to Titusville to be re-interred in Woodlawn Cemetery tomb in 1902.

“This was the beginning of the long overdue recognition for Drake. It took place in the valley where he made his great contribution to the oil industry,” notes historian Samuel Pees.

Drake and his second wife, Laura, are buried in front of the semi-circular monument. Read more about him in First American Oil Well. His historic well, drilled to 69.5 feet, is nearby at the Drake Well Museum.


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.

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