April 25, 1865 – Civil War Veteran patents Explosive Technology
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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