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February 23, 1942 – WWII Refinery Attack brings Invasion Hysteria

february oil history

A February 1942 Japanese submarine’s shelling of a California refinery would cause little damage but create invasion hysteria in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Goleta Valley Historical Society.

february oil history

A Japanese attack on an oil refinery led to invasion fears – and a record number of UFO sightings.

At 7:15 p.m. on February 23, 1942, Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-17 begins firing shells at the Bankline Oil Company refinery in Ellwood City, California.

Less than three months after the start of World War II, the enemy shelling near Santa Barbara continues for 20 minutes before I-17 escapes into the darkness.

Damage from the submarine’s attack is minimal – but the incident creates invasion hysteria along the West Coast. A record number of UFO sightings will follow in what some newspapers call the “Battle of Los Angeles.”

A 1982 Parade magazine article suggests that Commander Kozo Nishino targeted the Bankline Refinery because of a prewar affront. While serving on an oil tanker docked near the refinery, and being given a courtesy tour of the facilities, the Japanese officer reportedly slipped and fell into a cactus – prompting laughter from his hosts. The Parade article claims the commander got his revenge by shelling the same refinery. Read more in WWII Sub attacks Oilfield.

February 25, 1897 – Sucker Rod Company Owner elected Mayor

february oil history

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 as a means to increase employment opportunities. Jones 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 Gas Tax

february oil history

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.

State taxes now vary from less than 10 cents per gallon to about 70 cents. Consumers pay an additional 18.4 cents for a federal excise tax (unchanged since October 1997), which mainly supports a highway trust fund.

February 25, 1926 – Wyatt Earp, Oilman

february oil history

Wyatt Earp’s investment in Kern County, California, results in a 1926 producing oil well.

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, the former lawman has invested in the Kern River and Kern Front oilfields.

At age 75 – as Earp begins focusing on his biography and movie ambitions – he turns management of his oilfield properties over to “Hattie” Lehnhardt, sister to his wife Josie. Disappointing results will later prompt Josie to write a family friend, “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 oil business in Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company.

February 26, 1866 – Eaton Mining & Gas joins Indiana Gas Boom

Eaton Mining & Gas Company is established in Eaton, Indiana, as rapidly growing natural gas production begins changing the state’s economy.

Recent discoveries in the giant Trenton field spread over 17 Indiana counties – about 5,120 square miles. At the time, it is the largest known natural gas field in the world.

Within three years, Eaton Mining & Gas Company is joined by more than 200 companies drilling for and producing natural gas. Natural gas is so plentiful that customers are charged by the month or year rather than using a meter.

By 1890, more than 100 new industries, including 21 new glass factories, have hired 10,000 workers in what becomes know as Indiana’s “Gas Belt.” To attract businesses, communities erect natural gas flambeaux torches – arches of perforated iron pipe – and let them burn day and night. Read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

February 28, 1935 – Chemist invents Nylon – World’s First Synthetic Fiber

The world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – is discovered by a former Harvard professor working at a DuPont Corporation research laboratory. The revolutionary polymer fiber comes from chemicals found in petroleum.

february oil history

During WW II, nylon was used as a substitute for silk in parachutes. Above is a DuPont 1948 advertisement.

Professor Wallace Carothers, after experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, creates a unique molecule chain. It stretches.

Carothers 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 fibers when he forms a polymer chain using a process in which individual molecules join together with water as a byproduct. 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 in New York City.

The first commercial use of this revolutionary petroleum product is for toothbrushes. The first nylon-bristle toothbrush goes on sale in February 1938.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” notes one advertisement. The “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” company guarantees “no bristle shedding.”

Americans are soon brushing their teeth with nylon fibers instead of hog bristles. But it’s women’s hosiery that will bring a fortune to the Delaware chemical company.

Read more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

March 1, 1921 – Halliburton patents Cementing Technology

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

february oil history

Erle Halliburton’s 1921 well cementing process isolates down-hole zones, guards against collapse of the casing – and permits control of the well throughout its producing life.

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

His 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 helps protect the environment.

The revolutionary patent explains that 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.”

See Halliburton cements Wells.

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February 17, 1902 – Lufkin Industries founded in East Texas

february oil history

Founded in 1902 as the Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company, some modern Lufkin Industries oilfield pumps use compressed air instead of heavy cast iron counterweights.

In Lufkin, Texas, the Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company is founded as a repair shop for railroad and sawmill machinery.

When the timber supplies in East Texas begin to dwindle and the sawmill business declines, the Lufkin Foundry & Machine Company discovers new opportunities in the newly burgeoning oilfields.

Inventor Walter C. Trout will be working for Lufkin in 1925 when he sketches out his idea for what will become an icon of oilfield success 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 pump 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.

february oil history

Large crowds turn out for the official lighting of Rudolph the Red Nosed Pumping Unit at Lufkin Mall. More than 1,000 Christmas lights decorate the 38-foot Mark 640 pump – and Santa’s sleigh. Photo courtesy the Lufkin Daily News.

Since Trout’s invention – the now familiar counterbalanced oilfield pumping unit – Lufkin Industries has sold more than 200,000 pump jacks of all sizes.

The largest employer in Lufkin, the service company today designs and manufactures oilfield equipment and power transmission products. It also operates a foundry producing up to 300 tons a day of castings for machine tools.

In June 2013, Lufkin shareholders approved a merger agreement with General Electric Company. Read more about getting oil out of the ground in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.

February 17, 1944 – H.L. Hunt discovers First Alabama Oilfield 

february oil history

Alabama’s major producing regions are in the west, including a coalbed methane region underlying Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties.

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.

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 Alan Cockrell in an article for the Encyclopedia of 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.

In 1981, Mobil Oil Company drills Alabama’s first successful offshore natural gas well in Mobile Bay. Onshore, geologists today believe new 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.

The Choctaw County Historical Museum in Gilbertown exhibits bottles of oil from the 1944 oil well. Read more about the career of the oilfield’s discoverer in H.L Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

February 19, 1889 – Ohio acts to Conserve Natural Gas

february oil history

More than 275,000 wells have been drilled in Ohio since 1860 – the fourth most of all producing states. Image courtesy OOGEEP.

The Ohio House of Representatives enacts the state’s first petroleum conservation measure – “an Act to prevent the wasting of Natural Gas and to Provide for the plugging of all abandoned wells.”

About 30 years earlier, the state’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.

By 2010, more than 1.1 billion barrels of oil and more than 8.52 trillion cubic feet of natural gas have been produced. Modern technologies now are finding success in eastern Ohio.

Ohio drilled 625 wells in 2012 and now has over 65,000 natural gas and oil wells producing in 49 of 88 counties. Similar to the Marcellus Shale boom in neighboring Pennsylvania, Ohio’s Utica Shale production has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and brought billions of dollars to the state, according to the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program.

February 20, 1959 – World’s First LNG Tanker arrives

After a three-week voyage, the Methane Pioneer – the world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker – arrives at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England, from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

february oil history

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, according to the Center for Energy Economics.

“This event demonstrated that large quantities of liquefied natural gas could be transported safely across the ocean,” notes the center, part of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas.

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.

February 22, 1898 – Depression Painter will capture Texas Oil Patch

february oil history

Alexandre Hogue’s 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” (Texas) vanished when the town’s post office was repainted. When rediscovered, it was restored as an exhibit at the Old Post Office Museum & Art Center, which opened in 1993.

Born in Memphis, Missouri, in 1898, Alexandre Hogue will become famous for his paintings of southwestern scenes during the Great Depression – including murals of the 1930s Texas petroleum industry.

Hogue grows up in Denton, Texas, and works as an illustrator for the Dallas Morning News before traveling to New York, where he works in advertising.

When President Franklin Roosevelt creates the New Deal Federal Arts Program, Hogue and others are commissioned to paint American history on the walls of public buildings. He soon produces murals in Dallas, Houston – and the post office in Graham, Texas.

Hogue’s 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham,” oil on canvas, remains on display in the North Texas oil patch community – a U.S. Postal Service building was completed in the town square in 1936. Read more in Oil Art of Graham, Texas.

February 22, 1923 – First Carbon Black Factory in Texas

february oil history

Early U.S. automobiles had white rubber tires until B.F. Goodrich discovered in 1910 that adding carbon black improved strength and durability.

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.

Often a black, finely divided pellet or powder, it is used in rubber and plastic products, printing inks and coatings.

Automobile tires are white until B.F. Goodrich Company in 1910 discovers that adding carbon black to the vulcanizing process dramatically improves strength and durability. Today about 90 percent of all carbon black is used in tires and other rubber applications. Also read how carbon black and oilfield paraffin leads to invention of Crayola crayons in the 1890s: Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons. 

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


February 9, 2013 – First Well drilled on Another Planet

february oil history

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

Curiosity beams images back to NASA confirming the car-sized robotic rover has drilled a wildcat 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.

february oil history

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 with a slurry of gray tailings surrounding them. Curiosity has collected powdered rock samples through a tube that extends over most of the drill bit. It does not collect cores.

Curiosity continues to drill wells and test mineral samples. This week the six-wheeled rover has spudded its latest well using a new “low-percussion” technique 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 Kern County, California

february oil history

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 ten most productive U.S. oilfields are in California, mostly in Kern County.

Five states and the Gulf of Mexico today supply more than 80 percent – or six million barrels per day – of the oil produced in the United States, reports the Energy Information Administration. Texas provides almost 35 percent of U.S. oil. The second-largest state producer is North Dakota with 12 percent of U.S. oil production, followed by California and Alaska at close to seven percent each and Oklahoma at four percent. The federal offshore Gulf of Mexico produces 17 percent.

Visit the West Kern Oil Museum in Bakersfield and the “Black Gold: The Oil Experience” exhibit at the Kern County Museum in Taft.

February 10, 1917  – Professional 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.” One article praises AAPG’s professionalism while warning of “the large number of unscrupulous and inadequately prepared men who are attempting to do geological work.”

The Oil Trade Journal praises AAPG for its efforts “to censor the great mass of inadequately prepared and sometimes unscrupulous reports on geological problems, which are wholly misleading to the industry. By 1953 membership exceeds 10,000 and 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 Major Oil Discovery in Nevada

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Nevada’s petroleum industry begins with the discovery of oil by Shell Oil’s Eagle Springs No. 1 well drilled in Railroad Valley in Nye County.

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 producer, according to the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, the well produces oil from a productive interval between 6,450 and 6,730 feet deep. Just more than a dozen wells in the Eagle Springs oilfield will produce 3.8 million barrels by 1987.

The state’s second discovery resulting in commercial production arrived in 1976, when Northwest Exploration Company completes the Trap Spring No. I well in Railroad Valley, five miles west of the Eagle Springs Field.

Since 1954, there have been about 50 million barrels of oil produced from 101 wells drilled within 15 different Nevada fields.

February 13, 1924 – Forest Oil incorporates with “Yellow Dog” Logo

february oil history

Forest Oil’s logo features the “Yellow Dog” – 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.

Today headquartered in Denver, Forest Oil Corporation and its subsidiaries engage in exploration, production and marketing.

February 13, 1977 – Texas Ranger  “El Lobo Solo” dies

february oil history

Texas Ranger Manuel Gonzaullas and his horse Tony brought order to 1930s East Texas.

Texas Ranger Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas dies in Dallas in 1977 at the age of 85. During much of the 1920s and 1930s, Captain Gonzaullas enforced the law in booming oilfield towns and along the Mexican border.

By 1930 – the year the massive East Texas oilfield is discovered near Kilgore – Gonzaullas already is well known as “El Lobo Solo,” the lone wolf.

“He was a soft-spoken man and his trigger finger was slightly bent,” famed oilman Watson Wise characterizes the lawman in a 1985 interview. Gonzaullas is credited with bringing order to the town of Kilgore, once known as the most lawless town in Texas.

“Crime may expect no quarter in Kilgore,” the Texas Ranger warned. “Gambling houses, slot machines, whiskey rings and dope peddlers might as well save the trouble of opening, because they will not be tolerated in any degree.”

See Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger.


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


February 2, 1923 – First Anti-Knock Gas goes on Sale

february 2 oil history

“Ethyl” gasoline goes for the first time at this Dayton, Ohio, gas station.

“Ethyl,” the world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetra-ethyl lead compound, goes on sale. Discovered just two years earlier by General Motors scientists, the 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. This shock often damages engines. In the 1950s, chemist Clair Patterson discovers the toxicity of tetra-ethyl lead and its phase out begins in 1976. See Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.

February 3, 1868 – Pennsylvania Oil Producers seek End of Civil War Tax

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Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, who during the Civil War created the first “greenbacks” as legal tender (with his image on them), at first attempted to charge oil producers a “war tax” of more than $10 per barrel.

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.

In 1868, with the war over and Pennsylvania’s oil region production greatly in excess of demand, Oil Creek refiners achieve their original goal when Congress passes a bill exempting petroleum and its products from taxation.

February 4, 1910 – W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, 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.

Perhaps inspired by the January 1901 oil gusher on Spindletop Hill, Texas, which had launched hundreds of independent oil companies, 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.

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A stock certificate for 2,500 shares valued at $1 per share issued to W. F. Cody by Shoshone Oil Company, Cody, Wyoming, on February 4, 1910. Image courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

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“Bill, the Oil King” stands at one of his wells.

In 1910 Cody and the congressman once again venture into the oil business by forming the Shoshone Oil Company. Cody buys 2,500 shares at $1 per share and files placer claims south of Cody. “Buffalo Bill” promotes his “Bonanza Oil District” to potential investors.

During a visit to New York City, the Wyoming oilman 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, all major oil strikes will come north and east of Cody. When the company’s drilling funds run out, “Wild Bill” again leaves the oil business. Read more in Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company.

Major oilfields will be discovered in Wyoming. 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 his Last Illegal Well

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Nitroglycerine could prove fatal to illegal oil well shooters – “moonlighters.”

Andrew J. Dalrymple is killed with his wife 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 oil field. 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 into today’s lexicon.

“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 fracking technique. Read Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

February 7, 1817 –  Manufactured Gas illuminates First Public 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.

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Baltimore Gas & Electric celebrated its 150th anniversary – and street lamp – in 1997.

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).

“Less than a year later, on February 7, 1817, the first public gas street lamp was lit in a ceremony one block south of City Hall,” notes BG&E. The city council speedily approves Peale’s plan to light the city’s streets.

Over coming decades, two miles of gas main are completed under Baltimore streets and the company shows its first profit. Metering replaces flat-rate billing, helping more residents afford lighting their home with gas.

By 1855, a new gas manufacturing plant is constructed where gas is distilled from coal – an improvement over the former “gasification” of tar or wood. Visit the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

February 8, 1836 – “Coal Gas” brightens Philadelphia

Forty-six lights burning manufactured “coal gas” are lit along Philadelphia’s Second Street by employees of the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works.

As Philadelphia becomes the nation’s center for finance and industry, the municipally owned gas distribution company fuels innovations.

By 1856, Philadelphia Gas completes construction of a gas tank at the company’s Point Breeze Plant in South Philadelphia. At the time it is the largest in the nation with a total holding capacity of 1.8 million cubic feet.

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A natural gas storage facility at Point Breeze in South Philadelphia, circa 1856. Photograph courtesy Philadelphia Gas Works.

When the American Centennial Exposition of 1876 displays the wonders of the age in agriculture, horticulture and machinery, gas cooking is showcased as a novelty. Sixty miles of pipe bring manufactured gas to the exhibition’s lamps.

The earliest commercial use of natural gas in a community, according to most historians, took place in Fredonia, New York, in 1825.

Natural gas was piped to several stores, shops and a mill from a downtown natural gas well drilled by William Hart, who some consider as the father of the natural gas industry.

Hart made three attempts at drilling, according to Lois Barris in her history of the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company, which incorporated in 1857.

“He left a broken drill in one shallow hole and abandoned a second site at a depth of forty feet because of the small volume of gas found,” she reports.

“In his third attempt, Mr. Hart found a good flow of gas at seventy feet,” Barris adds. “He then constructed a crude gasometer, covering it with a rough shed and proceeded to pipe and market the first natural gas sold in this country.”

Today in the United States, there are more than 900 public natural gas systems serving more than 70 million customers; the Philadelphia Gas Works is the largest. Learn more about the early natural gas industry in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.


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January 26, 1931 – Third Well confirms Giant East Texas Oilfield

january oil history

A circa 1960 photograph 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 ultimately reveals 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 deep.

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.

Moncrief (1895-1986), began his career in 1924 as a Fort Worth independent producer. He will make other major oil discoveries in coming decades and become a leading philanthropist. In 1958 the Moncrief family helps establish the Cancer Center as one of the nation’s first community radiation facilities. Read more in Moncrief makes East Texas History. 

January 28, 1969 – Santa Barbara 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 – and have for several hundred thousand years.

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 industry began in 1896 with wells drilled from piers.

See Offshore Petroleum History.

“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.

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Natural oil and gas seeps – producing tarballs – dominate the coastline of California in this 2010 U.S. Geological Survey map.

It will take oilfield workers 12 days to control the well by pumping chemical mud down the bore hole at a rate of 1,500 barrels an hour.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is established in December 1970. It joins other federal agencies regulating the industry as public opinion turns against offshore exploration.

Researchers have since learned that natural oil seeps from offshore California have leaked up to 25 tons of oil every day for the last several hundred thousand years. Offshore drilling can actually reduce natural seepage, because it relieves the pressure that drives oil and natural gas up from ocean floors.

Today the Santa Barbara Channel reportedly is still home to one of the largest seeps in the world, oozing about 10,000 gallons of oil and natural gas per day.

Scientists add that daily seepage in the northern Santa Barbara Channel has been “significantly reduced by oil production.”

Read more in Santa Barbara and Oil Seeps and Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”

January 29,  1886 – Birth of Internal Combustion Automobile

In 1888 Karl Benz's wife Bertha was the first person to drive his gas-powered motorwagen over a long distance.

In 1888, two years after Karl Benz applies for his patent, his wife Bertha is 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 automobile.

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.”

Benz’s remarkable engine – with a displacement of 0.954 of a liter – “anticipated elements still found in every internal combustion engine to this day: a crankshaft with balance weights, electric ignition and water cooling: enough to generate 0.55 kW and a top speed of 16 km/h, virtually corresponding to the power of a whole horse.”

Also read about the National Museum of American History exhibit, America on the Move.

January 30, 1916 – Standard Oil promotes Internal Lubricant

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 many petroleum-based products. Nujol offers “Internal Lubrication as a Means to Health.”

Standard joins an ancient line of those finding medicinal qualities in petroleum. Since people found medicinal solutions in natural oil seeps, petroleum has been used with to heal a variety of ailments, including covering wounds instead of using animal lard.

By  the 19th century, patent medicines and their “miraculous” curative claims have become part of American culture. In the 1840s, a popular “American Medicinal Oil” comes from naturally occurring petroleum seeps in Kentucky.

In 1872, a young New York chemist patents his method for turning “petroleum jelly” into a balm he names Vaseline. Robert Chesebrough will swallow a spoonful of Vaseline each day and live to be 96.

Read Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

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.

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 the next 50 years.

Following the sale of the ExxonMobil Building in 2013, the Petroleum Club leases the top floor of the nearby 1201 Louisiana building, also known as Total Plaza. Club leaders continue to raise funds for the project, which has brought in more than $4 million so far. Today with more than 1,200 members, the Petroleum Club of Houston will reopen on the 35th floor of Total Plaza in early 2015.

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.” See End of Oil Exchanges.

American Petroleum Institute gravity, or API gravity, was adopted in 1924 and became the worldwide standard. Crude oil is classified as light, medium or heavy, according to its measured API gravity.

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


January 19, 1922 – Geological Survey 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.

In a 2000 paper for the National Center for Policy Analysis, Deming cites a 1950 monograph by L.M. Fanning, “A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scare” that documents six similar claims prior to 1950 alone. Among them are:

“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; the Cold War Scare of 1946-1947; and the second Cold Winter Scare of 1947-1948.”

Deming notes that five years prior to the creation of USGS in 1879, the state geologist of Pennsylvania estimated that only enough oil remained to keep America’s kerosene lamps burning for four years.

January 19, 1965 – Inventor patents Offshore “Underwater Manipulator”

January oil history

Designs for a robot “underwater manipulator” in 1965 will lead to modern remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Today they are most widely used by the petroleum industry. Photo courtesy Oceaneering International.

Howard Shatto Jr. receives a 1965 patent for an “underwater manipulator with suction support device” – precursor to today’s modern remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

January oil history

Howard Shatto Jr. will patent many offshore technologies on his way to becoming “a world-respected innovator in the areas of dynamic positioning and remotely operated vehicles.”

Shatto and others help make Shell Oil Company an early leader in offshore oilfield development thanks to new offshore 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 underwater device particularly relates to the offshore petroleum industry.

“A recent development at offshore locations is the installation of large amount of underwater equipment used in producing oil fields and gas fields situated many miles from shore,” he says. “Many of the wells are being drilled in water up to 600 feet deep, a depth greater than divers can safely work.”

Shatto’s work will lead to designs for the first subsea wellheads for drilling and production using ROVs. He also will become a world-respected innovator in dynamic positioning.

Learn more in Swimming Socket Wrenches.

January 20, 1886 – “Great Karg” Well erupts Natural Gas at Findlay, Ohio

A plaque dedicated in 1937 in Findlay, Ohio, commemorates the state’s giant natural gas discovery of January 20, 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.

Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay two years earlier in 1884 by the Findlay Natural Gas Company, formed by Dr. Charles Oesterle.

However, the Karg well, then the largest in the world, 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 nearby historical marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company – established the same year by the merger of five small independent oil companies. After becoming an international exploration and production company, 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”

January oil history

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

January oil history

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

January oil history

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

 Al Ahmadi oilfield, Kuwait, in 1991, courtesy Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos.

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 (six years after an Ohio company adopted the name) Pure Oil moved into its majestic building headquarters at 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago.

January oil history

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.

January 25 1930 – Oil Producers found Today’s Texas Alliance of Energy Producers

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 formally organize the North Texas Oil and Gas Association on January 25, 1930.

 January oil history

Alliance Chairman Emeritus Townes Pressler (center) visits with Texas Railroad Commissioner candidates Wayne Christian (left) and Ryan Sitton during the 2014 Alliance Expo in Wichita Falls.

With P.B. Flynn elected the first president, membership dues are established ($100 for largest producers to $10 for producers of small quantities of crude oil). The new association’s agenda includes fighting oilfield theft, supporting a tariff on imported oil, prorationing, and common-carrier status of oil pipelines.

Seven decades later, 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.

With membership extending statewide since 2000, the Texas Alliance annually presents a Legends Merit Award honoring members who have “made a long-time contribution to the betterment of the industry, community and country,” according to President Alex Mills.

January oil history

The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, a state oil and gas association that traces its roots to 1930, today hosts an annual expo and meeting that includes equipment exhibits, technical seminars and an opening BBQ that feeds the first 2,000 attendees.


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


January 12, 1904 – Henry Ford sets Speed Record

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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 others, Henry Ford sets a speed record on a frozen lake in 1904. At the time his Ford Motor Company is struggling to get financial backing for its first car, the Model A.

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

january oil history

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

january oil history

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 two World War II veterans formed Partners in Plastic to sell their newly invented “Flyin’ Saucers” for 25 cents.

Wham-O bought the rights to the “flying toy” in 1955 – one year after Phillips Petroleum had introduced a high-density polyethylene under the brand name Marlex.

Although Phillips Petroleum executives expected the product to be a big hit, customers failed to materialize for the revolutionary plastic.

The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company found itself with warehouses full of Marlex – until the phenomenal demand for Wham-O Hula Hoop and Frisbee. Read more in Petroleum Product Hoopla. 

January 14, 1928 – “Dr. Seuss” begins Career as Standard Oil Ad Illustrator

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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.

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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.

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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 17, 1911 – North Texas Discovery will lead to Boom

january oil history

Named after rancher William Waggoner’s daughter, Electra annually celebrates its petroleum heritage. In 2001 Texas legislators designated it the “Pump Jack Capital” of Texas.

The Electra oilfield is revealed in North Texas with the first commercial oil discovery in Wichita County. Other 1911 discoveries will follow.

The Producers Oil Company well Waggoner No. 5 comes in at 50 barrels per day from a depth of 1,825 feet on land owned by rancher William T. Waggoner, who had previously found traces of oil while drilling for water.

“At first, there weren’t any cars, and about the only thing oil was good for was to help repel chicken house mites,” notes a Wichita County historian.

Although a small producer, the discovery brings new drilling to North Texas. A gusher three months later will send Electra’s fortunes skyward. The Clayco No. 1 well erupts on April 1, 1911. Read more in Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

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


January 7, 1905 – Humble Oilfield Discovery will lead 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 Texas oil boom four years after the discovery on Spindletop Hill. The well produces 8,500 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 1,012 feet.

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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.

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.

January 7, 1913 – “Cracking” fuels Automobile Popularity

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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 (No. 1049667) for his 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 America’s need for gasoline is growing with the popularity – and affordability – of internal combustion automobiles. Burton’s innovation, called thermal cracking, is a key breakthrough. His process will be superseded by catalytic cracking in 1937.

Learn more about the early auto industry in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

January 7, 1957 – Michigan Dairy Farmer’s Oilfield of Dreams

january oil history

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 8, 1864 – Oil Discovery at Pithole Creek in Pennsylvania

january oil history

Today, visitors can walk the grassy paths of Pithole’s former streets.

The Pithole Creek oilfield is discovered in Venango County, Pennsylvania, 150 years ago. The the United States Petroleum Company 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 fuel the Pithole oil boom, including Civil War veterans eager to invest in the reunited nation. Hundreds of newly-organized companies lease land wherever there was even a hint of oil along Oil Creek and Pithole Creek. Newspapers stories add to the frenzy – as did the fortunes of Johnny Steele. See the Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.” Visit Titusville’s Drake Well Museum, which maintains a visitors center at today’s grassy expanse that is the ghost town of Pithole in Oil Creek State Park.

January 9, 1862 – America exports Oil for the First Time

january oil history

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 will become a net importer of oil in 1948. Read more 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).

Along with adding new technologies, the company purchases properties through subsidiaries, co-opts competitors, 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.

Higgins, a one-armed mechanic and self-taught geologist, believes U.S. industries will soon switch fuels from coal to oil. 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 a skilled Croatian mining engineer to drill at Spindletop.

The 1901 discovery well is called the “Lucas Gusher” after Capt. Anthony F. Lucas, a former officer in the Austrian Navy. His giant oilfield produces 3.59 million barrels in its first year alone.

The Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont, Texas, tells the story of one of America’s greatest petroleum discoveries, the “Lucas Gusher” of 1901. The field will produce more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s oil fields combined.

Read more in Spindletop launches Modern Petroleum Industry. Until the “Lucas Gusher,” Texas had produced only minor amounts of oil, starting with a well in 1866 drilled by Lyne Taliaferro Barret near the East Texas town of Nacogdoches. See First Lone Star Discovery.

January 10, 1919 – Standard Oil of California finds Elk Hills Oilfield

january oil history

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 historic California field continues to serve as a contingency source of petroleum 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 – Major Oil Strike brings Boom to El Dorado, Arkansas

january oil history

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.

january oil history

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.

january oil history

The Hutchinson County Historical Museum in Borger exhibits the county’s heritage.

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

Dixon Creek Oil and Refining Company brings in the Smith No. 1 well flowing 10,000 barrels a day in southern Hutchinson County, Texas.

A. P. “Ace” Borger from Tulsa, Oklahoma, quickly secures a 240-acre tract and by September the Borger oilfield has 813 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 90 days.

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

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


December 30, 1854 – America’s First Petroleum Company incorporates

America's first oil company - the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York - incorporated on December 30, 1854, in Albany. George Bissell wanted oil for a new product: kerosene.

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 along 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 – Ohio Oil Company’s Dry Hole sets California Record

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 – Early Rotary Drilling Patent

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.”

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.”

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

Legal maneuvering preserved John D. Rockefeller's petroleum empire until 1911.

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

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 22, 1875 – Grant seeks Asphalt for Pennsylvania Avenue

December oil history

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

December oil history

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

December oil history

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 727-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 today includes five large underground caverns – naturally occurring salt domes near the U.S. Gulf Coast in both Louisiana and Texas.

December 23, 1927 – Bad Santa

Adding to the oil patch lore of Cisco, Texas – near the 1917 “Roaring Ranger” oilfield and the boom town where Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel – Santa Claus attempts an ill-fated bank robbery.

When a man disguised as Santa tries to rob the First National Bank two days before Christmas, a gun battle ensues, leaving more than a dozen wounded and eight dead before he is captured.

The “Santa Claus Bank Robber” later kills a guard while trying to escape. Recaptured, the boom town’s citizens hang him – twice, after the first rope breaks. See more Cisco history in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

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

December oil history

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. To learn more petroleum history, read History of the 42-Gallon Oil Barrel.

December 28, 1930 – Lou Della Crim’s Well helps define East Texas Oilfield

December oil history

“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.

December oil history

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.

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


December 17, 1884 –  Fighting Oilfield Fires with Cannons

December oil history

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.

December 17, 1903 – Natural gas fuels  Wright Workshop

December oil history

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 – Petrolia Oil Strike

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

The Dorthulia Dunn No. 1 gusher produces 700 barrels a day from a depth of 1,600 feet. Three years before the Petrolia oil gusher, the Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company claimed the first commercial natural gas well in Texas.

In addition to oil and natural gas, the field produced helium. In 1915 the U.S. Army built a helium extraction plant, at the time the country’s sole source of helium.

December 20, 1951 – First Oil Discovery in Washington State

Oil is discovered in Washington when an exploratory well in Grays Harbor County flows at 35 barrels a day. The Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company discovers the oil with its Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well near Ocean City, Washington.

December oil history

Washington’s only commercial well is plugged in 1961 after yielding only 12,500 barrels of oil.

The well flows at 35 barrels a day with 300,000 cubic feet of natural gas from a depth of 3,711 feet. It is soon abandoned as non-commercial.

Eight years later, in 1967, Sunshine Mining Company reopens the well and deepens it to 4,532 feet in an effort to develop commercial production – but with only intermittent shows of oil and natural gas, the well is shut in again.

Although 600 wells are drilled in 24 counties by 2010, only one produces commercial quantities of oil – the Medina No. 1, completed by Sunshine Mining in 1959. The well is about 600 yards north of the failed Hawksworth-State site.

That Sunshine well, Washington’s only commercial producer, is closed in 1961 after yielding just 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 newspaper in Bremerton, Washington, citing  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.

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

 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.

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.

December oil history

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.

December oil history

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’s Texas Bird’s-Eye Views exhibit.

His panoramic maps became a hugely popular cartographic form used to depict towns and cities in great detail. 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.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society is a 501 (c)-3 nonprofit energy education program dedicated to preserving U.S. petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation


December 8, 1931 – Abercrombie patents Improved Blow-Out Preventer

James Abercrombie’s improved blowout preventer will set a new standard for safe drilling during the Oklahoma City oilfield boom. His design uses rams – hydrostatic pistons – to close on the drill stem.

Drilling safety increases dramatically when James S. Abercrombie improves the Cameron Iron Works mechanically operated ram-type blowout preventer (BOP).

Abercrombie patents a “Fluid Pressure Operated Blow Out Preventer” designed to be operated instantaneously to prevent a blowout when an emergency arises.

This hydraulic design, patent No. 1,834,922 (reissued in 1933), sets a new standard in safe drilling operations.

The new BOP is first used during the Oklahoma City oilfield boom to help end dangerous and wasteful gushers. Abercrombie’s patent improves upon a 1926 ram-type device he and machinist Harry S. Cameron first sketched out on the sawdust floor of Cameron’s machine shop in Humble, Texas.

Read more in Ending Oil Gushers — BOP.

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

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

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

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

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonation 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 F. 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 during World War II, tetraethyl lead’s danger to public health is greatly underestimated. Phase-out of its use in gasoline begins in 1976 and is completed by 1986. In 1996, EPA Administrator Carol Browner declares, “The elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.”

Read more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.

December 10, 1844 – “Coal Oil Johnny” adopted

“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 more in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.


December 10, 1967 – Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear Fracturing

nuclear fracking

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.”

nuclear fracking

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.

Their 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 New Mexico historian Wade Nelson.

“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. The well produces 295 million cubic feet of radioactive gas. Learn more about other downhole bombs 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 yields $129.5 million from 417,221 acres.

Read about U.S. early offshore oil and natural gas technologies in Offshore Petroleum History.

December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears

nuclear fracking

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

nuclear fracking

George Strake Jr. accepted a 2010 “Houston Legends” award honoring his father, who discovered the Conroe oil field in 1931.

George Strake Sr. brings in the South Texas Development Company No. 1 well eight miles southeast of Conroe, Texas. By the end of 1932 the field has 60 wells producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil every day.

A 2010 “Houston Legends” event for Strake’s family is sponsored by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. Speakers acknowledge the oilman’s place in petroleum history for discovering the Conroe field, which by the time of his death in 1969 had produced half a billion barrels of oil.

Disaster will strike the field 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. Also see Technology and the Conroe Crater.

December 14, 1981 – Minnesota Oil Search gets Desperate

nuclear fracking

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 – but find no oil or natural gas.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Geological Survey reported in 1980 that of every 17 wells drilled in suitable geologic settings, 16 were dry holes and one noncommercial. By 1984, the survey concluded that “the geologic conditions for significant deposits of oil and gas do not exist in Minnesota.”

Minnesota remains one of the 17 U.S. states without petroleum production.

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 Pithole, Pennsylvania

Less than a year after Miss Eloise Bridges plays Lady Macbeth in 1865 for a "stomping and screaming" audience in Pithole, the oil drilling frenzy ends. Pennsylvania's infamous boom town will soon disappear. Pithole scale-model photo by David Jones.

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

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 one of the region’s most notorious oil boom towns.

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.

Murphy’s three-story 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, Pithole is a lush Pennsylvania countryside. Visit the Pithole Visitors Center.

December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized

Henry Foster, “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” will build the La Quinta Mansion in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, now part of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

With all 1,470,559 acres of Oklahoma’s Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry V. Foster organizes the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company from the Phoenix Oil and Osage Oil companies.

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 N. 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

“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.

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.

“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.”

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

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 offered free air and water – and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States.

“The first generally distributed oil company road maps are usually credited to Gulf,” says Harold Cramer in his Early Gulf Road Maps of Pennsylvania.

“The early years of oil company maps, circa 1915 to 1925, are dominated by Gulf as few other oil companies issued maps, and until about 1925 Gulf was the only oil company to issue maps annually,” Cramer notes.

The Gulf Refining Company was formed in 1901 by members of the Mellon family, along with other investors, as an expansion of the J. W. Guffey Petroleum Company formed earlier the same year – to exploit the Spindletop oil discovery in Texas.

Lucy seeks a 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, where she 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 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography

Geologic Resources

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 weaponology. 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

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.

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.

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

Henry V. 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 733,543,000 barrels of oil.

Development of the Oklahoma City field will add stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression – and lead to new industry regulations as more discoveries are made.

The Devon Energy Oil & Gas Park exhibits drilling technologies.

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.”

Today, visitors can watch newsreel film of the Mary Sudik No. 1 in the natural resources exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center. Also visit the center’s Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park on Northeast 23rd Street – just east of the state capitol.

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November 25, 1875 – Continental Oil brings Kerosene to the West

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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

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Edward Hopper’s 1940 painting “Gas” includes the flying Pegasus logo of Mobilgas. It precedes the Pop Art movement by a decade.

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

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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

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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.

The museums, built in a city park at the drilling site,  includes a replica wooden cable-tool derrick – “a fitting recognition of Norman No. 1’s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history,” concludes the Kansas Historical Society. Read more in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent.

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November 28, 1895 – America’s First Automobile Race

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J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles invented America’s first gas-powered automobile.

“At 8:55 a.m. on November 28, 1895, six motor cars left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54 mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back through the snow,” notes the Library of Congress.

Inventor J. Frank Duryea will receive $2,000 for winning America’s first auto race. His No. 5 takes just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 miles per hour.

The Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, awards $500 to a racing enthusiast who names the horseless vehicles “motocycles.”

The newspaper declares, “Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.” Also see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

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.

November 19, 1927 – Birth of “Phillips 66″ Gasoline

world oil capital

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, Oklahoma, opened in May 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.”

Aggressive acquisition of new 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. The company will ultimately become part of ExxonMobil.

November 22, 1878 –  Tidewater Pipe Company established

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The 109-mile pipeline through the Allegheny Mountains will revolutionize oil transportation technology. Photo courtesy

The Tidewater Pipe Company is organized in Pennsylvania by Byron Benson.

In 1879 the 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 Coreyville 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’s population reached almost 100,000 people. The booming oil town was home to 400 petroleum companies and four telegraph companies.

Two years before Oklahoma becomes a state, oil is discovered south of Tulsa.

The Glen Pool 1905 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 discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four years earlier.

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Tourists Dorothy Wells of Eufaula, Okla., and son Mark visit the Glen Pool discovery well monument in Black Gold Park.

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 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 23, 1951 – First Superman Movie features “World’s Deepest Oil Well”

world oil capital

Mole men emerge from an experimental oil well that “has broken into clear air” at 32,000 feet deep.

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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

world oil capital

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.

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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.

petroleum history november 10November 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.

America’s largest gas utility company 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 Con Ed – America’s Largest Utility.

November 12, 1899 – Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory

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. He was right, and the McFaddin No. 2 began to produce oil at 2,518 feet on November 13, 1925,” notes the museum website.

That evening Magnolia’s radio station announced the discovery and the second Spindletop boom began.

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.

November 15, 1906 – Justice Department seeks Standard Oil breakup

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An 1885 photograph of John D. Rockefeller.

Under Sherman Anti-Trust Act provisions, the U.S. Attorney General files suit to compel dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and its subsidiaries.

An 1892 court decision had previously ordered the Standard Oil Trust to be dissolved, but Standard Oil reorganized and continued to operate from headquarters in New York and later New Jersey.

The Justice Department will win this new suit, but John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirms the lower court’s decision on May 15, 1911, noting, “the combination and conspiracy in restraint of trade and its continued execution…monopolize a part of interstate and international commerce.”

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November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Gas Well roars in East of 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.

With no way to cap it and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities, the Haymaker well serves only to draw 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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Automobile sales will reduce the 450,000 tons of horse manure annually deposited on New York City streets. Above, the 1898 first American car ad.

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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.

Internal combustion engines at the 1900 National Automobile Show are primitive and noisy. The most popular auto is battery powered.

America’s first gathering of the latest automotive technologies attracts thousands to New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

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.

However, 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.

November 6, 1860 – Kerosene Refinery

Construction begins in 1860 on the first multiple-still refinery in the booming Pennsylvania oil region, one mile south of Titusville on the north bank of Oil Creek.


William Barnsdall (driller of the first well to follow Edwin L. Drake’s historic August 1859 discovery), James Parker, and W. H. Abbott build six stills for refining kerosene at a cost of $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 refinery site. Brought on stream 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

petroleum history november 3

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 oil wells – but his first, which found oil on Saturday, August 27, 1859, and produced about 20 barrels a day – launched the modern energy industry and transformed America’s future.

Although the petroleum industry will bring economic prosperity to many, in 1863 Drake loses all his money to 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.

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


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

petroleum history october 27

“Map of the United States of America, Designed to Illustrate the Geological Memoir of Wm. Maclure, Esqr.” A larger, more detailed 1818 version of the first geological map of the United States, originally published by Maclure in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton University Library.

Today is the birthday of William Maclure, a Scottish-born American geologist and “stratigrapher” who creates the earliest geological maps of North America.

After settling in the United States in 1797, Maclure explores the eastern part of North America to prepare the first geological map of the United States.

His travels from Maine to Georgia in 1808 result in the first geological map of the new United States, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 1809.

“Here, in broad strokes, he identifies six different geological classes: primitive rocks, transition, secondary, alluvial, old red sandstone, and salt/gypsum,” reports a Princeton historian. “Note that the chain of the Appalachian Mountains is correctly labeled as containing the most primitive, or oldest, rock.”

When Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemist, organizes the American Geological Society in 1819, Maclure is elected its first president. Silliman’s son, also a Yale chemist, in the 1850s will analyze Pennsylvania “rock oil” and help launch the American petroleum industry.

Most geologists consider Maclure (1763-1840) the “Father of American Geology.”

October 27, 1923 – Lion Oil founded in Arkansas

petroleum history october 27

Founded in 1923 in El Dorado, Arkansas, at its peak in the mid-1950s, Lion Oil will operate about 2,000 service stations in the south.

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

Barton earlier organized the El Dorado Natural Gas Company and acquired a 2,000-barrel-a-day refinery in 1922. Thanks to production from the nearby Smackover oilfield, his newly formed Lion Oil Refining Company grows to 10,000 barrels a day capacity.

By 1925, the company has acquired 58 oil wells producing 1.4 million barrels of oil. At its peak in the mid-1950s, Lion Oil operates about 2,000 service stations in the southern United States.

A merger with Monsanto Chemical in 1955 brings the gradual disappearance of the once familiar “Beauregard Lion” logo. Ownership of Lion Oil passes to Tosco Corporation in 1975 and Ergon Corporation in 1985. Read more Arkansas history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

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

petroleum history october 27

A 1940 New Yorker ad for the latest petroleum product.

A revolutionary petroleum product is revealed in 1938 when DuPont chemical company announces that “nylon” will be the name of its new synthetic fiber yarn.

Invented in 1935 by Wallace Carothers at a DuPont research facility, nylon is considered the first commercially successful synthetic polymer.

Carothers is viewed by many as the father of the science of man-made polymers. Chemists call the new polymer Nylon 6 because the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

Nylon is used for parachutes and many other vital products during World War II. It will find widespread applications in consumer goods, including toothbrushes, fishing lines, luggage and lingerie, or in special uses such as surgical thread, parachutes, or pipes.

Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

October 28, 1868 – Explosive Technology praised

In Pennsylvania, the Titusville Morning Herald reports on the latest oilfield technology – the nitroglycerin torpedo.

“It would be superfluous, at this late day, to speak of the merits of the Roberts Torpedo,” the 1868 newspaper article explains.

“For the past three years, it has been a most successful operation, and has increased the production of oil in hundreds upon hundreds of oil wells to an extent which could hardly be overestimated,” it adds.

Read more in Shooters – a “Fracking” History.

October 28, 1926 – Yates Field discovered in West Texas

petroleum history october 27

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

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

Drilled in 1926 sing a $15,000 cable-tool rig, the Ira G. Yates 1-A produces 450 barrels of oil a day from just under 1,000 feet.

Prior to the historic discovery, Yates had struggled to keep his ranch on the northern border of the Chihuahua Desert, notes a 2007 article in the Austin Chronicle.

“Drought and predators nearly did him in when Yates convinced a San Angelo company to explore for oil west of the Pecos River,” the article explains.

The Yates “rank wildcat” well – completed by the Mid-Kansas and Transcontinental Oil Companies – is 30 miles from the nearest oil pipeline at McCamey in Upton County. A 55,000-barrel steel storage tank and a pipeline to McCamey are under construction when four more producers begin yielding an additional 12,000 barrels of oil daily.

“The fourth test well blew a gusher that covered a tent city four miles away,” concludes the Chronicle article about the the West Texas town of Iraan. “On his 67th birthday, Yates was handed an $18 million oil royalty check.”

As the extent of the prolific Yates oilfield became known, boom town Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann), appeared. Yates and his wife, Anna, donated 152 acres of their 20,000-acre ranch for the town site on the Pecos River.

Today, the Permian Basin, 250 miles wide and 300 miles long across West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, remains a significant petroleum region, producing more than 270 million barrels of oil in 2010 and more than 280 million barrels in 2011. Learn more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

October 31, 1871 – Modern Refinery Method patented

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Henry Rogers patented a “method of distilling the commercial articles…entirely separated from the lubricating-oil and lamp-oil.”

Refining will evolve from an “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons.”

The 1871 invention presages many elements of modern refineries’ “fractionating” towers. It is a significant improvement over the earlier process of extracting kerosene by simple atmospheric distillation in kettle stills.

Henry Rogers of Brooklyn, New York, patents his “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons by repeated vaporization and condensation.”

“The apparatus which I use is, in many respects, similar to what is known as the column-still for distilling alcoholic spirits, but modified in all the details, so as to make it available for distilling oils,” he explains in his 1871 patent (No. 120539).

Rogers adds that “by my method of distilling the commercial articles known as benzine, gasoline, chimogen, rhigoline, carbon spirits and the like are products of perfectly uniform constitution, and these light products are entirely separated from the lubricating-oil and lamp-oil.”


October 31, 1902 — Batson Oilfield discovered

Oil is found at only 790 feet near Pine Bayou, one mile north of Batson, Texas. Initial production is 600 barrels a day. A second well in December produces 4,000 barrels from a depth of 1,000 feet. The area had first attracted interest when “signs” of oil were noticed.

petroleum history october 27

A former post office once housed the Oil Patch Museum in Batson, which today hosts an annual Oil Patch Festival.

“S. W. Pipkin and W. L. Douglas, who had no prior oil-industry experience, organized the Paraffine Oil Company with backing from a number of Beaumont businessmen,” notes the Texas State Historical Association.

“In late October 1903 Paraffine staked a location for a test, the No. 1 Fee, on evidence of paraffin dirt that Douglas found on the surface,” adds historian Julia Cauble Smith. “This was the first known use of paraffin dirt as a prospecting guide.”

Along with three other prolific salt-dome fields – Spindletop (1901), Sour Lake (1901) and Humble (1905) – Batson, “helped to establish the basis of the Texas oil industry when these shallow fields gave up the first Texas Gulf Coast oil,” Smith concludes about the oilfield 55 miles northeast of Houston. Visit Batson’s Oil Patch Museum.

October 31, 1930 – H. L. Hunt to make Historic Deal 

Judge Robert Brown of the Texas Fourth Judicial District places the properties of 70-year-old wildcatter Columbus  Marion “Dad” Joiner into receivership. His ruling will lead to an historic $1 million-plus property deal at the Baker Hotel in Dallas.

petroleum history october 27

In legal trouble, Columbus “Dad” Joiner, discoverer of the giant East Texas oilfield, will meet with H.L. Hunt at the Baker Hotel in Dallas — and sell 5,580 acres for $1.34 million.

It has been revealed that Joiner has oversold lease certificates to hopeful investors in Rusk County. His Daisy Bradford No. 3 gusher, discovery well for the massive East Texas oilfield, is immediately tied up in conflicting claims.

Joiner takes refuge from claimants and creditors in the Baker Hotel, where oilman Haroldson Lafayette (H. L.)  Hunt Jr. negotiates a $1.34 million deal with him for the Daisy Bradford well and 5,580 acres of leases, despite the certainty of litigation.

The Baker Hotel witnessed many oil deals. Its Peacock Terrace, which opened in 1925, was popular with movie stars and swing bands of the 1930s. The oil patch landmark was imploded 1980.

“In  seconds the grand hotel was in ruins. The site was cleared and in its place a modern skyscraper known as Bell Plaza stands. The dancing ceased, the party was over.” Read more in H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oil Field.

November 1, 1830 – Drilling Technology evolves

petroleum history october 27

Four-legged drilling derricks will become standard.

New Jersey inventor Levi Disbrow receives a reissued patent (No. 57) for his March 1825 design of a “Machine for Boring Artesian Wells.”

Disbrow’s system employs a mechanical drilling machine with a spring-expanded auger bit – and a four-legged derrick. Expanding auger bits in the borehole permit Disbrow to “bore a hole larger than the tube through which they are passed down.”

“It will be seen that wells on my system of boring and tubing can be sunk in quicksands, marshes, under water, and in other places where it would be very difficult to dig them, and that during the operation the influx of water from the top and sides of the well is prevented by my system of tight tubing,” Disbrow explains.

Having studied drilling methods in the West Virginia salt industry, Disbrow develops his system to drill for water. His most successful effort is a seven-inch diameter, 442-foot-deep water well at the corner of Broadway and Bleeker Street in New York City.

Disbrow’s patent is reissued in October 1843, as “Apparatus for Boring in Earth.” Also see Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

November 1, 1865 – First Railroad Oil Tank Car arrives 

petroleum history october 27

Densmore oil tanks cars of Pennsylvania.

James and Amos Densmore’s “oil tank car” railroad car arrives at the Miller Farm, four miles south of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

The brothers, who will patent this revolutionary technology, fill their first tank car with oil delivered by Samuel Van Syckle’s oil pipeline (another first) from the booming town of Pithole.

The Miller Farm’s 17 large storage tanks supply the Oil Creek Railroad, which connects to other rail lines in Corry and on to Pittsburgh, New York City, and other markets. The tank car design features two large, iron-banded wooden tanks on a flatcar. See Densmore Brothers Oil Tank Car.

petroleum history october 27

Today, the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad takes Pennsylvania tourists through Oil Creek State Park.

November 1, 1872 – Oilmen stop Production to Raise Prices

petroleum history october 27

Excess production and low prices united oil producers.

Oil prices rise $1.50 to $4.60 a barrel in Pennsylvania’s oil region in response to the Petroleum Producers Association’s 30-day shutdown of oil pumping operations one month earlier.

This is the first use of “shutdown days” to limit oil supplies delivered to kerosene refiners. Excessive production from America’s earliest oilfields has driven the price down to a low of $3.10 a barrel in September. Operators declare it cost more than that to produce the oil.

The 1872 Oil City Derrick newspaper reports “that a business producing three million dollars a month, employing 10,000 laboring men and fifty million dollars of capital, should be entirely suspended, dried up, stopped still as death by a mutual voluntary agreement, made and perfected by all parties interested, within a space of ten days – this is a statement that staggers belief – a spectacle that takes one’s breath away.”

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


October 20, 1861 – Oil Boom expands in Northwestern Pennsylvania

petroleum history october 20

Oil patch technologies evolved from those used for drilling brine wells.

Just after midnight, William Phillips – a salt well driller from the Pittsburgh area – brings in his second well on the Tarr farm of Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. It produces 4,000 barrels of oil a day from just 480 feet.

This early well taps into the Venango Third Sand’s highly pressurized oil, which flows into Oil Creek several days before being controlled. As new “oilmen” like Phillips develop production skills and technologies, pits are dug and wooden tanks assembled to accommodate the oil.

For a time, overproduction drives U.S. oil prices to 50 cents a barrel. The Phillips No. 2 well produces until 1871 and yields almost one million barrels of oil, a record that stands for 27 years.

October 20, 1949 –  Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland

petroleum history october 20

No oil has yet been found in Maryland.

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

The wildcat discovery prompts a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depletes the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produce natural gas, but overall production from the field is minimal.

By 1962 the site becomes part of a storage area for the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation. No oil has yet been found in Maryland

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

petroleum history october 20

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

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

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

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

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

October 23, 1908 – Petroleum Boom arrives West of Casper, Wyoming

petroleum history october 20

The Salt Creek oilfield produced about 650 million barrels of oil over the last 100 years – and even more remains in the ground, according to experts. Using advanced technologies, companies inject carbon dioxide into wells to keep oil flowing.

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

Although the Salt Creek area is known to be productive, the central Salt Creek dome receives little attention until Italian geologist Dr. Cesare Porro recommends drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

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

More than 4,000 wells have since been drilled in the Salt Creek oilfield, producing from depths as shallow as 22 feet (in 1911)  to 4,500 feet. The field has ten producing zones. To increase production, water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004. In 2007 alone, the field still produced almost three million barrels of oil.

Read more in First Wyoming Oil Well.

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

petroleum history october 20

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

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

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

As early as 1926, the U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” described as “particularly suitable for radio-graphing annular welds in relatively large diameter cylindrical structures.”

Today’s inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.

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

petroleum history october 20

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

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

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

Sponsored by the American Gas Association and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame springs from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. According to Keller, after building a 1967 record-setting rocket dragster, the X-1, they began the more ambitious Blue Flame project in 1968.

petroleum history october 20

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

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

Read Blue Flame – Natural Gas Rocket Car.

October 26, 1970 – Joe Roughneck Statue

petroleum history october 20

A “Joe Roughneck” memorial dedicated in 1970 in Boonsville, Texas, by Gov. Preston Smith.

In Boonsville, Texas, Governor Preston Smith dedicates a “Joe Roughneck” statue on the 20th anniversary of the Boonsville natural gas field’s discovery.

The field’s first well, Lone Star Gas Company’s B. P. Vaught No. 1, produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas in its first 20 years. By 2001 the field has produced 3.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from 3,500 wells in the field.

Although Joe Roughneck began life as a character in Lone Star Steel advertising, it was soon adopted by the industry at large. A bronze Joe Roughneck bust has been awarded since 1955 during an annual Chief Roughneck Award ceremony of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

The traditional Joe Roughneck bust – originally created by noted Texas artist Torg Thompson – continues to be presented to each Chief Roughneck recipient.

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

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


October 13, 1954 – First Arizona Oil Well

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Arizona produces oil only from Apache County.

Arizona becomes the 30th oil producing state when Shell Oil Company brings in the East Boundary Butte No. 2 well a mile south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation.

The October 1954 discovery well’s initial flow is small, just 2,200 cubic feet of natural gas and 11 barrels of oil per day from the Paradox Basin.

Apache County remains the only petroleum producing county in Arizona.

Of more than 1,000 oil and natural gas wells drilled in the state since 1954, almost 90 percent have been dry holes (2009 data).  The highest producing field, Dineh-Bi-Keyeh, produced 43,000 barrels of oil from 23 wells in 2009.

Nevertheless, more than 21 million barrels of oil have been produced since the first discovery, according to the Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates drilling and production of oil, natural gas, helium, carbon dioxide and geothermal resources.

October 14, 1929 – Oilfield Discovery East of Dallas

petroleum history october 13

This Van Zandt County museum east of Dallas is in a warehouse originally built in 1930 by the Pure Oil Company.

The discovery of oil in Van, Texas, by the Pure Oil Company creates an oil boom town 60 miles east of Dallas.

The Van oilfield produces from about 2,700 feet in a Woodbine sandstone.

By December 1929, three more wells have been drilled and construction started on a camp for oilfield workers.

By 1930, among “Cook Camp” buildings is the a sheet metal warehouse that today is the Van Area Oil and Historical Museum.

Pure Oil Company’s Jarman No. 1 discovery well initially produces 3,504 barrels of oil a day. By April 1930, the Van oilfield is producing 20,000 barrels a day, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Two 10-inch pipelines connect the field to refineries, one to the Pure refinery at Beaumont and the second, operated by Humble Oil, to the Standard Oil Company pipeline and Baton Rouge refinery.

Operators in the Van field adopt advanced production techniques – and it becomes the nation’s first field to be completely unitized, which improves production efficiency by consolidating operations into a single entity.

The Van Area Oil and Historical Museum opened in 1987 and exhibits reminders of East Texas oil boom days. Located east of Dallas and north of I-20, for 35 years Van has hosted an annual “Oil Festival and Van Oil Queen Pageant” every fall – and an “Oil Museum Lighting and Open House” in December.

October 16, 1865 – Pennsylvanian constructs First Oil Pipeline

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Van Syckel’s oil pipeline will launch a revolution, according to journalist Ida Tarbell.

Pipelines – and the technology to lay them – will revolutionize petroleum transportation in the early oil patch.

In Venango County, Pennsylvania, Samuel Van Syckel’s Oil Transportation Association puts into service a two-inch iron line linking the Frazier well to the Miller Farm Oil Creek Railroad Station – about five miles away.

With 15-foot welded joints and three 10-horsepower Reed and Cogswell steam pumps, the pipeline transports 80 barrels of oil per hour – the equivalent of 300 teamster wagons working for ten hours.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Tubing Company is laying a seven-mile, six-inch pipeline from Pithole Creek to the Island Well. With their livelihoods threatened, teamsters sabotage the pipeline, until armed guards intervene.

“The day that the Van Syckel pipe-line began to run oil a revolution began in the business. After the Drake well it is the most important event in the history of the Oil Regions,” notes Ida Tarbell in her History of the Standard Oil Company.

October 16, 1931 – Natural Gas Pipeline sets Record

petroleum history october 13

The 1931 natural gas pipeline extends 980 miles across three states.

America’s first long-distance, high-pressure natural gas pipeline goes into service, linking prolific Texas Panhandle gas fields to consumers in Chicago.

A. O. Smith Corporation has developed the technology of thin-walled longitudinal pipe and Continental Construction Corporation builds the 980-mile bolted flange pipeline for the Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America.

The $75 million project consumes 209,000 tons of A. O. Smith’s specially fabricated 24-inch diameter steel pipe (6,500 freight car loads) and requires 2,600 separate right-of-way leases. Texoma Natural Gas provides the gas to Chicago’s Peoples Gas Light & Coke Company.

October 17, 1917 – “Roaring Ranger” Oil Discovery fuels WWI Victory

petroleum history october 13

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

The J. H. McCleskey No. 1 well strikes oil at 3,432 feet, about a mile south of Ranger, Texas. Wildcatters had pursued oil with little success in Eastland County since 1904.

Texas and Pacific Coal Company’s William Knox Gordon and his driller Frank Champion bring in the well that produces 1,600 barrels a day of high gravity oil. Within 20 months the exploration company’s stock value goes from $30 a share to $1,250 a share.

The discovery well, 3,432 feet deep, launches a drilling boom at Ranger and nearby Cisco. The once quiet Eastland County farming communities fill with oilmen and entrepreneurs.

With oil selling for $2.60 a barrel, many “Roaring Ranger” wells flow at more than 10,000 barrels of oil a day. Ranger’s population alone grows to more than 25,000 and its four banks hold $5 million in deposits.

Meanwhile, the new oilfield’s massive production proves essential to America’s victory in World War I. When the armistice is signed in 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declares, “the Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”

After the war, a young Conrad Hilton visits Eastland County in 1920, intending to buy a Texas bank. He witnesses the Ranger oilfield boom towns.

When his bank deal falls through, Hilton (at the Cisco train station ready to leave), notices across the street a two-story red brick building called the Mobley Hotel. Seeing a long line of oilfield roughnecks waiting for a room, Hilton decides to buy his first hotel. Read more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

Today, Ranger annually celebrates a “Roaring Ranger Day Festival” in September. To learn more about other North Texas oil booms, read Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

October 17, 1973 – OPEC declares Oil Embargo

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

“The ensuing energy crisis marked the end of the era of cheap gasoline and caused the share value of the New York Stock Exchange to drop by $97 billion. This, in turn, ushered in one of the worst recessions the United States had ever seen,” notes

Even prior to the OPEC embargo, an American oil crisis was on the horizon because of low domestic reserves, the site adds. The country was importing about 27 percent of the crude petroleum it needed every year.

U.S. dependence on foreign supplies peaked in 2005. In 2014, thanks to hydraulic fracturing of shale resources, America has become the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas hydrocarbons, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

October 18, 2008 – Derrick dedicated in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Discovery 1 Park

petroleum history october 13

Discovery 1 Park in Bartlesville includes a replica derrick on the original site of the first commercial oil well drilled in what is now Oklahoma.

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

petroleum history october 13

A 2008 gusher re-enactment highlights the dedication of a new replica derrick in Bartlesville.

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

The 1948 presentation of the well to the city of Bartlesville appropriately noted:

Like the rush for Oklahoma land, the discovery of oil attracted both men and capital from far and near, these pioneers in petroleum development were as rugged and self-sufficient as those who settled the land.

Oklahoma’s two greatest industries, agriculture and petroleum, have developed largely hand in hand, and back of both developments are the pioneers, men of restless energy and unbounded faith.

The park’s first replica derrick was erected on the original site in 1948, but removed in 1962, according to the Bartlesville Area History Museum.

A new replica was erected in 1964. Attending that dedication was W.W. Keeler, grandson of Nellie Johnstone Cannon, daughter of William Johnstone and namesake of the original well.  Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

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


petroleum history october 6

A Kansas marker notes that the Stapleton No. 1 well was the first oil strike in the El Dorado oilfield, which became the center of what for a while was one of the largest oilfields in the world. The well was named for John Stapleton, who owned the Butler County land east of Wichita.

October 6, 1915 – Kansas Oilfield brings Mid-Continent Production

Cities Service Company discovers the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield east of Wichita, Kansas.

petroleum history october 6

A large collection of drilling rigs – and a recreated boom town – are featured at the Butler County Historical Center and Kansas Oil Museum.

Using scientific geological survey methodology for the first time, Cities Service had identified a promising anticline and leased 30,000 acres near the town of El Dorado in Butler County.

The Stapleton well’s first show of oil was at about 600 foot depth, but drilling continued to 2,500 feet into a pay zone yielding 175 barrels a day, prompting Gulf Oil, Standard Oil, and other companies to secure leases.

When the United States enters World War I, development of the field escalates and in 1918, the El Dorado field produces almost 29 million barrels of oil.

At that time, there were eight refineries in the vicinity of El Dorado and Augusta, notes historian Jay Price.

“The historic oil strike brought the refining business to El Dorado, where the largest refinery in Kansas still operates today,” he writes in El Dorado – Legacy of an Oil Boom. “Men such as Archibald Derby, John Vickers and William Skelly were drawn to the El Dorado oilfield, and established successful oil producing and refining companies as well as service station chains.”

petroleum history october 6

The Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado includes drilling and production equipment. Staff and volunteers explain how the modern industry works – while offering demonstrations of a cable-tool rig.

Today, the former Skelly Refinery, which became part of Getty, then Texaco, is now in operation as HollyFrontier refinery. It is the largest refinery in Kansas and the only one of the eight original area refineries still in operation.

The Stapleton No. 1 well, which produced until 1967, today is visited by tourists – as is the Kansas Oil Museum. The Butler County museum in El Dorado includes 20 acres of oil industry equipment exhibits, models of the region’s refinery history, and a recreated 1920s oil boom town’s main street.

October 7, 1859 – America’s First Oil Well catches Fire

Near Titusville, Pennsylvania, the wooden derrick and engine house of America’s first commercial oil well erupts into flames – perhaps America’s first oil well fire.

Drilled by “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake the previous August, the well had produced oil from just 69.5 feet deep. Working with his driller, William “Uncle Billy” Smith, Drake had used steam-powered cable-tool technology.

“The first oil well fire was started by ‘Uncle Billy,’ who went to inspect the oil in the vat with an open lamp, setting the gases alight,” notes historian Urja Davin. “It burned the derrick, all the stored oil, and the driller’s home.”

Drake will rebuild his derrick and engine house, including steam boiler and six-horse power engine. Read First Oil Well, First Oil Fire.

October 7, 1929 – Teapot Dome brings Jail Time for Interior Secretary

Secretary of Interior Albert B. Fall, begins serving a one-year sentence in New Mexico’s Santa Fe Penitentiary for taking a $100,000 bribe in the Teapot Dome scandal.

Almost 30,000 acres of public lands in Natrona County, Wyoming, had been established as a Naval Petroleum Reserve by President William Taft in 1910. In May 1921, President Warren G. Harding’s executive order gave Fall complete control of all Naval Reserves.

In 1922, without competitive bidding, Fall leased Teapot Dome fields to Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil Company and Elk Hills, California, fields to Edward Doheny. In Senate hearings, it emerged that cash was delivered to Fall in Washington, D.C. Although Fall was convicted for taking a bribe, Sinclair and Doheny were acquitted.

October 8, 1923 – Tulsa hosts First Oil Exposition

petroleum history october 6

Although still a tourists attraction, the 76-foot-tall Golden Driller arrived decades after Tulsa’s first International Petroleum Exposition in 1923.

Five thousand visitors brave torrents of rain for opening day of the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress in downtown Tulsa, an event that will return for decades.

More than 200 exhibitors display the most complete line of oil country goods ever assembled and it is midnight before the last guest leaves the grounds. In subsequent years, attendance grows to more than 120,000. Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth introduces the original Golden Driller of Tulsa at the exposition in 1953. The giant is rebuilt in 1966 as attendance peaks.

Economic shocks beginning with the 1973 OPEC oil embargo depress the petroleum industry and after 57 years, the International Petroleum Exposition ends in 1979.

October 12, 1905 – Petroleum brings Prosperity to North Louisiana

petroleum history october 6

In 1955, the Shreveport chamber of commerce dedicated a 40-foot monument at the state fairgrounds commemorating the 50th anniversary of the discovery.

Oil is discovered in Caddo Parish, creating a classic boom town in Oil City – and economic prosperity for northern Louisiana that lasts for decades.

The Caddo-Pine Island oilfield, about 20 miles northwest of Shreveport, includes more than 80,000 acres.

Five years later, another major discovery will extend the Caddo field by about 1.5 miles.

petroleum history october 6

Petroleum history is preserved at the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.

Formerly known as Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum tells the story of Oil City and Louisiana petroleum history using a collection of outdoor displays, and interactive exhibits.

Chevron donated a drilling rig now outside the main museum in Oil City. Read more in Louisiana Oil City Museum.

“This part of Louisiana, of course, was built on the oil and gas industry, and those visitors interested in the technical aspects of oilfield work will find the museum particularly appealing,” notes the museum’s website.

Next to an old train depot is a collection of oilfield machinery, rigs and equipment further illustrates the industry.

The state’s first oil discovery came in 1901 near Jennings. See First Louisiana Oil Well.

More petroleum exhibits can be found in Shreveport, where natural gas was discovered in 1870.  The American Well Works found it when digging a 961-foot water well for the Shreveport Ice Plant.

A night watchman reportedly struck a match to see if the wind he heard blowing from the drilling site would blow it out, but the escaping natural gas ignited.

The newly discovered gas was subsequently used to light the ice factory and became the state’s first commercial use of natural gas.

The Spring Street Historical Museum is housed in one of the oldest downtown buildings – Tally’s Bank, built in 1865. Nearby, at 90 Market Street, a statue commemorates Louisiana’s first commercial natural gas well.

Both museums note that the oil booms brought 25,000 people to the region – and some of the lawlessness that sometimes accompanies an economic boom. Historians note the influx of such famous outlaws as Tom Star and his gang from Oklahoma and Diamond Dick. Later, Bonnie and Clyde Barrow are said to have often slipped in and out of Oil City.

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


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

petroleum history september 29

Dedicated in 2006 at Signal Hill, California, a “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue by Cindy Jackson commemorates the men who brought petroleum wealth to the state following a 1921 oilfield discovery.

petroleum history september 29

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

A bronze statue, “Tribute to the Roughnecks,” is dedicated on Skyline Drive at Signal Hill, 20 miles south of Los Angeles.

Nearby is Discovery Well Park and the Alamitos No. 1 well, which in 1921 revealed California’s prolific Long Beach oilfield.

Once one of the world’s most famous gushers, more than one billion barrels of oil have been pumped from the Long Beach oilfield since the original strike. It still produces 1.5 million barrels of oil a year.

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.” Read more in Signal Hill Oil Boom.

October 1, 1908 – Ford produces First Model T

petroleum history september 29

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

The first production Model T Ford rolls off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit.

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

New oilfield discoveries, including a 1901 massive find near Beaumont, Texas, will meet new 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

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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 joins the Texas Rangers in 1920, many rowdy Texas oil boom towns will never be the same. He soon becomes known as “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas.

With Depression-era oil and gas discoveries multiplying, boom towns attract all kind of people, including the criminal element. In East Texas, when the streets of downtown Kilgore sprout oil derricks, the population grows from 700 to 10,000 in two weeks.

petroleum history september 29

Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas on his horse Tony. Image from Captain M. T. Gonzaullas Lone Wolf the Only Texas Ranger Captain of Spanish Descent.

The young Ranger, riding a black stallion named Tony and sporting two pearl-handled, silver-mounted .45 pistols, gains an oil patch reputation for strictly enforcing the law.

“Crime may expect no quarter in Kilgore,” proclaims Captain Gonzaullas. “Gambling houses, slot machines, whiskey rings and dope peddlers might as well save the trouble of opening, because they will not be tolerated in any degree.”

“He was a soft-spoken man and his trigger finger was slightly bent,” recalls independent oilman and philanthropist Watson Wise in a 1985 interview. “He always told me it was geared to that .45 of his.” Read more in “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger.

October 1, 1942 – Conservation Project begins in East Texas

petroleum history september 29

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

The East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company drills its first salt water injection well in the East Texas oilfield near the communities 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 creates the East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company as a public utility operating in the historic oilfield.

In its first 13 years, the company gathers, treats, and re-injects 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 Company

petroleum history september 29

Born near Pennsylvania’s early oilfields, independent oilman William Skelly’s company will help make Tulsa become known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”

Skelly Oil Company incorporates in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with founder William Grove Skelly as president.

Skelly was born in 1878 in Erie, Pennsylvania – where his father hauled oilfield equipment in a horse-drawn wagon.

Skelly Oil is built upon Skelly’s earlier success in the giant El Dorado oilfield east of Wichita, Kansas, and other successful ventures, including the Midland Refining Company he founded in 1917.

Skelly Oil will become 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 becomes known as “Mr. Tulsa.” He sponsors many civic and charitable causes – and serves as president of Tulsa’s famous International Petroleum Exposition for 32 years until his death in 1957.

October 3, 1930 – Discovery of the East Texas Oilfield

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Independent oilman Columbus “Dad” Joiner discovered the East Texas oilfield, which remains the largest in the lower-48 states.

With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, stockholders, creditors and spectators watching, Daisy Bradford No. 3 erupts near Kilgore, Texas.

Two months later, another wildcat well will strike oil about 10 miles to the north. A third well even farther north brings another large oil discovery. At first, the great distance between the three wells suggests they are separate fields.

Petroleum geologists are stunned when it becomes apparent these East Texas discoveries are from the same oil-producing formation (the Woodbine) that encompasses more than 140,000 acres.

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

The “Black Giant” has yielded more than five billion barrels – and is still producing. Read H.L Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

October 3, 1980 – East Texas Oil Museum opens in Kilgore

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The East Texas Oil Museum is “a tribute to the men and women who dared to dream as they pursued the fruits of free enterprise,” according to Joe White, who founded the museum in 1980 and retired in 2014.

Fifty years after the discovery of the East Texas oilfield, the East Texas Oil Museum opens in Kilgore – “a tribute to the independent oil producers and wildcatters, the men and women who dared to dream as they pursued the fruits of free enterprise,” notes Joe White, founding director.

Established with funding from the Hunt Oil Company, the museum at Kilgore College houses recreations of the boomtown atmosphere of the early 1930s in the largest oilfield inside the United States. Among the “Boomtown USA” exhibits is an “elevator ride” that takes visitors 3,800 feet below the earth’s surface, deep into an oil formation.

Near the East Texas Oil Museum on the Kilgore College campus is another attraction, the Rangerette Showcase and Museum.

The Kilgore museum, as well as ones in Beaumont and Galveston (and the region’s modern petroleum story) are featured in an educational booklet, American Oil & Gas Families, East Texas Independents.

October 4, 1917 – Discovery  of Montebello, California, Oilfield

The Montebello field in the Baldwin Hills of Southern California is discovered when Standard Oil of California’s Baldwin No. 3 oil well comes in with a flow of 7,500 barrels per day from an oil-rich sand at 3,755 feet. It will become one of the Los Angeles County’s top 10 and longest producing fields with 106 wells still producing 648,000 barrels of oil in 2008.

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


September 23, 1918 – Birth of Wood River Refinery in Illinois

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

North of St. Louis on the Mississippi River, Roxana Petroleum Company’s Wood River (Illinois) Refinery comes online in 1918. The refinery processes more than two million barrels of Oklahoma oil in its first year of operation.

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

Today, the Wood River Refinery is owned by ConocoPhillips and is the company’s largest, processing 300,000 barrels of oil a day. Visit the Wood River Refinery History Museum.

On September 24, 1951 – Well Perforation Patent uses Bazooka Technology

petroleum history september 22

On September 24, 1951, Henry Mohaupt applies 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 applies to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brings 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 is recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas.

The company employs Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe. Read more in Downhole Bazooka.

September 25, 1922 – First Oil Discovery in New Mexico

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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 is drilled on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Shiprock by the Midwest Refining Company.

Although the Hogback No. 1 well of September 1922 produces a modest 375 barrels per day, New Mexico has since produced more than 5.5 billion barrels of oil. The state today produces more than 80 million barrels from proven reserves of 866 million barrels (2012).

Following the 1922 discovery, Midwest drills eleven additional wells to establish the Hogback oilfield as a major producer of the San Juan Basin. Two years later, a pipeline to Farmington is completed and oil is shipped by rail to Salt Lake City, Utah, for refining. Still more discoveries come in southeastern New Mexico.

A 1928 oil strike will bring prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs, named for James Hobbs, who homesteaded there in 1907. Learn more in New Mexico Oil Discovery. 

September 26, 1876 – First Commercial Oil Well in California

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Santa Clarita acquired California’s first refinery as a gift from Chevron in 1997. Some believe it to be the oldest existing refinery in the world. Photo by Konrad Summers.

Although Charles A. Mentry of California Star Oil Works Company has drilled three wells that showed promise, his first “gusher” arrives with the Pico Well No. 4 well in 1876.

Drilling with a steam-powered cable-tool rig in an area known for its many oil seeps, the California Star Oil Works well reveals the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It is California’s first commercial well.

The well, which initially produces 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, will lead to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery, which produces kerosene and lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations have a capacity of 150 barrels a day.

Chevron can trace its beginnings to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company. Read more in First California Oil Well.

September 26, 1933 – King Ranch Lease sets Record

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The King Ranch oil lease sets a record.

Despite the reservations of W. S. Parrish, president of Humble Oil and Refining Company, geologist Wallace E. Pratt convinces the company to lease the million-acre King Ranch in Texas for $127,824 per year (plus a one-eighth royalty on any discovered oil).

At the time, this is the largest oil lease contract ever negotiated in the United States.

Subsequent leases from neighboring ranches will give Humble Oil & Refining Company nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River.

By 1947, Humble is operating 390 producing oil wells on the King Ranch lease. Today, ExxonMobil continues to extend the oil and natural gas lease agreement that has been in effect since 1933. Read more in Oil Reigns at King Ranch.

September 26, 1943 – First Sunshine State Oil Discovery

Humble Oil Company brings in Florida’s first commercially successful oil well in 1943 – the Sunniland No. 1 – near a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

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After spending about $1 million and reaching a depth of 11,626, Humble Oil Company brings in Sunniland No. 1 well on September 26, 1943 – Florida’s first producing oil well, above.

Humble Oil spends about $1 million drilling to a depth of 11,626 feet to bring in the discovery well, located 12 miles south of Immokalee, near present day Big Cypress Preserve and the city of Naples.

Florida’s oil had eluded hundreds of wildcatters since 1901. By 1939, almost 80 dry holes had been drilled. About this time, Florida legislators – desperate for their state to become an oil producer and benefit from the tax revenue – offer a $50,000 bounty for the first discovery.

The Humble discovery of the Sunniland oilfield sparks a flurry of lease purchases and wildcat wells. By 1954, the field is producing 500,000 barrels per year from eleven wells at average depths of 11,575 feet.

Texas-based Humble Oil accepts the $50,000 prize offered by the Sunshine State, adds $10,000 – and donates the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. Humble will later become Exxon, now ExxonMobil. Read more in First Florida Oil Well.

September 27, 1915 – Explosion in Ardmore, Oklahoma

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The 1915 accident will result in new gas transportation regulations.

Two years after Healdton oilfield’s 1913 discovery in Oklahoma, a railroad tank car of casing-head gasoline explodes in Ardmore.

The exploring at the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway depot destroys most of downtown Ardmore. Casing-head gasoline, which comes 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 advocates new regulations governing casing-head gas transportation. The Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway is found responsible for the explosion and pays 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million.

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


September 15, 1886 – Indiana Natural Gas Boom brings Prosperity

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Believing they have unlimited natural gas resources from the Trenton Field, many Indiana communities erected rows of “flambeaux” arches to attract new industries.

petroleum history september 15

In 1885, Andrew Carnegie said natural gas used for making steel replaced 10,000 tons of coal a day.

The late 1880s discoveries of natural gas in Eaton and Portland ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom, which would dramatically change the state’s economy. It becomes known as the “Indiana Gas Boom.”

Drilling for the newly formed Eaton Mining & Gas Company in Indiana, Civil War veteran Almeron Crannel finds a strong flow of natural gas at 922 feet.

With a two-inch pipe extended 18 feet above the derrick, the flow of natural gas produces a huge flame, reportedly visible in Muncie ten miles away. The well helps reveal a 5,120-square-mile oil and natural gas field.

The giant Trenton Field as it would become known, spreads over 17 Indiana counties. It is the largest natural gas field known in the world at the time. Within three years, more than 200 companies in Indiana are exploring, drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas from more than 380 producing wells.

The Indianapolis News reports, “It’s a poor town that can’t muster enough money for a gas well.”

Read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

September 18, 1948 – Oil discovered in Utah’s Uinta Basin

petroleum history september 15

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, completes the state’s first commercial well in the Uinta Basin.

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

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

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

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

Today, the Uinta Basin’s coalbed methane in Utah and Colorado 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. Read more in Utah Uinta Basin Oil Discovery.

September 21, 1901 – First Commercial Oil Discovery in Louisiana

Nine months after the giant discovery at Spindletop Hill, Texas, oil is discovered 90 miles to the east in Louisiana.

W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to making strikes at Spindletop – brings in a 7,000-barrel-a-day well. Louisiana’s discovery well is on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings.

Although the Jules Clements No. 1 is on only a 1/32 of an acre lease, it marks the state’s first commercial oil production and opens the prolific Jennings Field, which Heywood develops by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks.

Heywood’s discovery finds oil at 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors have sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. Read more in First Louisiana Oil Well.

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


September 9, 1855 – Birthday of Man who discovered Oil at Spindletop

 petroleum history September 8

Dedicated in 1941 and moved to the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in 1977, a 50-foot granite monument commemorates the Lucas gusher.

Born Anton Lucic in Split, Croatia, Anthony Francis Lucas in 1875 receives an engineering degree at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria.

Lucic reaches the rank of captain in the Austrian navy before coming to America, where he becomes a citizen in 1885. He changes his name to Lucas and works in Washington, D.C., as a mining engineer and geologist.

Later, while developing salt mines in Louisiana, Lucas learns of Pattillo Higgins and his unlikely search for oil on Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas (see Prophet of Spindletop).

Lucas takes over the drilling effort and on January 10, 1901, discovers the giant oil field. This is the first discovery of the prolific salt dome structures along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The “Lucas gusher” will lead to hundreds of new companies. Read more in Spindletop creates Modern Petroleum Industry.


September 9, 1928 – Oklahoma governs Oil Production

For the first time, a state regulatory body issues a proration order that governs oil production for an entire state.

To control excessive production from newly discovered oil fields, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission sets the state’s oil production limit to 700,000 barrels daily and limits “production of new wildcat wells to 100 barrels a day.”

The commission allocates 425,000 barrels a day for newly discovered fields such as the Greater Seminole (the premier high-gravity U.S. oil field in 1928) and 275,000 barrels a day for older oil fields.

September 10, 1879 – Chevron begins in Southern California

petroleum history September 8

Chevron’s predecessor incorporated in 1879 in San Francisco. Its logo included wooden derricks set among mountains at Pico Canyon – site of California’s first commercial oil discovery. Photo courtesy of Chevron.

Chevron begins when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquires the California Star Oil Works, which has made the first major oil discovery in California.

As the future major oil corporation grows over the next 130 years it will add more than a dozen service station logos – including Standard Oil Company of California’s chevron; the Texaco’s 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.

“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) would become Socal in 1926. Chevron U.S.A. formed in 1977, 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 – Turning Kerosene into a “Vacuum Harness Oil”

petroleum history September 8

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

Carpenter and part-time inventor Matthew P. Ewing patents a method of distilling kerosene in a vacuum to produce lubricants.

Three weeks later, with partner Hiram Bond Everest, he founds Vacuum Oil Company in Rochester, New York. Their first product is “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil,” extolled for its virtues as a leather conditioner and preserver.

Ewing leaves the partnership, but Everest continues to develop his unique vacuum-produced lubricants such as a Vacuum Harness Oil – which he initially distributes in square containers previously used for canned oysters.

The company prospers with the production of heavy lubricating oils. In 1880, Everest sells 75 percent of Vacuum Oil to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil for $200,000. More than half a century later, the vacuum-produced lubricants company will become Socony Mobil Oil. Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.

September 12, 1866 – First Oil Discovery in Texas

petroleum history September 8

In 1859, Lyne Taliaferro Barret leased 279 acres east of Nacogdoches, Texas, near Oil Springs – an area known for oil seeps. Following the Civil War, the former Confederate soldier drilled the Lone Star State’s first commercial oil well in 1866.

The Texas petroleum industry is born 13 miles east of Nacogdoches when Lyne Taliaferro Barret and his Melrose Petroleum Oil Company bring in the state’s first commercial oil well.

The Confederate veteran’s No. 1 Isaac C. Skillern well – drilled in an area known as Oil Springs – finds the newly prized resource at a depth of 106 feet.

Barret’s well yields a modest ten barrels per day, but limited access to markets soon leads to the company’s failure.

The seemingly failed project lays dormant for nearly two decades – until new wildcat drilling companies find oil nearby.

The Nacogdoches field remains the first and oldest field in Texas and as late as 1941 still recorded production of eight barrels a day from 40 wells. Some of the field’s wells produced 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 8

Today, about 40 million barrels of oil are delivered by tanker to Hawaii every year and refined into a host of products, including gasoline, jet fuel, asphalt, diesel and more.

Standard Oil of California announces it will build the Territory of Hawaii’s first oil refinery, eight miles west of Pearl Harbor.

According to a 1959 Popular Mechanics article, Standard originally planned to import oil from the Middle East “by means of an unusual undersea submarine cable.”

Today, the plant is a modern 54,000 barrel per day refinery owned by Chevron, which in March 2010 determined that despite low utilization rates and poor refining margins, the 200-employee refinery would remain open. Hawaii’s one other refinery is nearby – Tesoro Corporation’s 95,000-barrels-per-day facility.

September 13, 1975 – President Ford dedicates Petroleum Museum

petroleum history September 8

The Petroleum Museum in Midland includes a large collection of equipment relating to the Permian Basin.

petroleum history September 8

President Gerald R. Ford was the keynote speaker at the Petroleum Museum’s 1975 opening.

President Gerald R. Ford addresses 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 is presented with a bronze sculpture by artist Lester Fox called “Dressing the Bit.”  The presentation is made by Chairman of the Board of Executors Emil G. Rassman.

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

petroleum history September 8

From the presidential papers of President Ford, the concluding comments from his speech at the Midland, Texas, museum.

“Every visit to The Petroleum Museum is an opportunity to experience the fun side of science firsthand,” Shannon says. “Our spectacular exhibit wings offer remarkable insight into the scientific and technological world around us, from the age when dinosaurs roamed the Permian Basin to the wild oil boom in West Texas!”

In early 2011, Chevron celebrated the production of five billion barrels of Permian Basin oil in West Texas – and company officials announced a donation of $1 million, evenly divided between Christmas in Action of Odessa and Midland’s Permian Basin Petroleum Museum.

September 14, 1929 – Permian Basin’s Yates Well sets Record

petroleum history September 8

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

In Pecos County, a  West Texas oil well comes in at a depth of 1,070 feet – and becomes the most productive well ever drilled at that time.

The Yates 30-A well produces a record 8,528 barrels of oil per hour – an astounding 204,672 barrels per day.

The historic Permian Basin well is located just a few hundred yards from the discovery well for the historic Yates Field – the Ira G. Yates 1-A well. It is operated by Transcontinental Oil and the Mid-Kansas Oil and Gas Company (then a subsidiary of Ohio Oil, now Marathon).

Production from the Yates oil field peaks in 1929 at more than 41 million barrels of oil. The field, which produced its billionth barrel of oil in 1985, is still supplying Texas refineries.

September 14, 1960 – OPEC founded in Baghdad

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

The five founding members are later joined by nine others. Headquarters is 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.”

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


September 1, 1862 – Union taxes Manufactured Gas

Petroleum History September 1

Paying for the Civil War brings new energy taxes.

To help fund the Civil War, new federal taxes take effect – up to 15 cents tax per thousand cubic feet of manufactured gas (coal gasified by heating). The battle of Antietam is just weeks away.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorials accuse 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,” replies 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 imposes a $1 per barrel oil tax.

September 2, 2009 – Gulf of Mexico Discovery sets Depth Record

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

The 2009 Tiber Prospect is estimated to hold more than three billion barrels of oil. The discovery well – drilled by the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon offshore rig – sets the world oil well depth record by drilling 30,923 feet into seabed from a platform floating 4,132 feet above.

Moved to a new site, the Deepwater Horizon will explode and sink in April 2010, creating an oil spill until the BP well is capped in mid-July.

September 4, 1841 – New Device advances Percussion Drilling Technology

Petroleum History September 1

An 1841 invention greatly increases drilling efficiency.

Early drilling technology advances when William Morris patents a “Rock Drill Jar” in 1841 – a drilling innovation he began 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, patents 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 greatly increases the efficiency of percussion drilling because it would “slacken off as the bit hit bottom and pick up the bit with a snap on the upstroke.”

Cable-tool drilling technology will evolve rapidly as drillers improve upon Morris’ patented jars. Today, 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

Petroleum History September 1

Coal gas llluminates Chicago in 1850.

The Chicago Gas Light & Coke Company delivers 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 have been installed and there are almost 2,000 manufactured-gas consumers in Chicago.


September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers invent Electric Well Logging

In 1927, the Schlumberger brothers add a vital tool for for petroleum exploration and production – downhole electronic logging.

A technology that will revolutionize the search for oil and natural gas – an electric downhole well log – is first applied near Pechelbronn, France. Brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger adapt their surface system to operate vertically in the late 1920s.

Petroleum History September 1

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

After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers will produce an electric downhole well log.

Lowering their new tool into a well, they record 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 show variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas. From this well-logging beginning, Schlumberger will become a leading worldwide oil field service company.

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

Gas pumps with dials were followed by calibrated glass cylinders, notes a 1955 Popular Science article. Meter pumps using a small glass globe with a turbine inside replaced the measuring cylinder.

Petroleum History September 1

This 1916 S. F. Bowser Company gasoline pump operated by a hand crank. A “clock face” dial let the consumer know how much gas had been pumped. Smithsonian photo.

The modern gasoline-pump design is invented by Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sells his first pump to a  grocery store 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 holds 42 gallons. The pump uses marble valves, a wooden plunger and an upright faucet.

With the pump’s popular success at Jake Gumper’s Fort Wayne grocery store, Bowser forms the S. F. Bowser Company and patents his invention in 1887.

Within a decade – as the automobile’s popularity grows – Bowser’s company adapts and becomes hugely successful.

By 1905 (the same year the world’s first gasoline station is built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S. F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” is soon known to motorists as a “filling station.”

The original Bowser pump consists of a square metal tank with a wooden cabinet equipped with a suction pump operated by hand-stroke lever action. It includes 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, becomes the gas pump capital of the world. Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.


September 7, 1923 – Dominguez Hills Oil Discovery 

Petroleum History September 1

Frederick Burnham

In an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County known as Dominguez Hills, independent oilman Frederick Russell Burnham brings in an oil well at a depth of 4,068 feet.

The 1,193 barrel per day producer for Burnham Exploration and partner Union Oil Company of California opens the Dominguez Hills oil field – a two-square mile, two-mile deep stack of eight producing zones.

“Family fortunes truly took off with the discovery of oil in the 1920s,” notes one historian. “First in the Torrance area and then, most resoundingly, on Dominguez Hill itself, where productive wells functioned for a half century.”

More than $10 million is paid to Burnham Exploration stockholders by 1933.

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


August 27, 1859 – Pennsylvania Oil Well launches U.S. Petroleum Industry

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Young visitors to the Drake Well Museum along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, can explore a replica of Edwin Drake’s cable-tool derrick and steam-engine house among other outdoor exhibits.

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 the first commercial oil well at 69.5 feet near Oil Creek in Venango County. It produces 25 barrels a day.

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.

Finally, on a hot summer day in 1859, Edwin Drake’s driller “Uncle Billy” Smith notices oil floating at the top of the pipe. The derrick’s percussion drill bit has reached what will become known as the First Venango Sand. Drake borrows a common water pump from nearby a Titusville kitchen.

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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.

Now on the grounds of the Drake Well Museum, Drake’s drilling site includes a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark that records: “The drilling of this oil well, by Edwin L. Drake in 1859, is the event recognized as marking the modern phase of the petroleum industry…Few events in history have so transformed the face of civilization.” Read more in First American Oil Well.

August 27, 1959 – Stamp commemorates Petroleum Industry 100th Anniversary

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“A reminder of what can be achieved by the combination of free enterprise and the vision and courage and effort of dedicated men.”

“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 rejects requests for a stamp recognizing the 150th anniversary of the U.S. petroleum industry (after granting commemorative stamps for Kermit the Frog and nine other Muppets).

Read more in the Centennial Oil Stamp Issue.

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

About 300 petroleum companies spring up not far from Pittsburgh within months of a natural gas discovery – the “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

The discovery well, drilled by S. J. Brendel and David Foster near the Monongahela River, blows in at more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. It prompts an exploration frenzy that sees $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area.

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

The excitement ends in seven months. By the beginning of 1921, production is declining in 180 producing wells – and more than 440 wells are dry holes. Of the millions invested during the boom, only about $3 million comes out. The McKeesport natural gas field is reported as “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.” Read more about the field’s history in McKeesport Gas Company.

August 31, 1850 – “Town Gas” Company forms in San Francisco

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This San Francisco utility company’s roots go back to 1850.

The San Francisco Gas Company is incorporated to produce and distribute manufactured gas extracted from coal. It is now part of Pacific Gas & Electric.

In 1850, Irish immigrant Peter Donahue, his brother James and engineer Joseph Eastland build their coal gasification plant on San Francisco Bay. Their plant distills coal, manufacturing a gas suitable for lighting. The company illuminates its first “town gas” street lamps in 1852.

According to PG&E, “over the next half-century, the company merges with rival energy pioneers and competitors to form new companies, ultimately concluding in the merger of the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company and the California Gas and Electric Corporation to form Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1905.”

By 1915 there are almost 8,500 San Francisco street lamps – each hand lit and shut off every day. The last coal-gas lamp is extinguished in 1930. To learn more about early gas-light utility companies, see Con Ed – America’s Largest Utility.

August 31, 1859 – The Oil and Natural Gas Industry’s First Dry Hole

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John Grandin used a spring-pole to drill deeper than the famous Drake well of 1859, but found no oil. Spring-pole photo from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the Department of the Interior.

Just four days after America’s first commercial oil discovery at Titusville, Pennsylvania, a series of far less known “firsts” are achieved by local entrepreneur John Grandin.

Although Edwin Drake has used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to find oil at 69.5 feet, Grandin uses the simpler, time-honored spring-pole “kick down” method for his well at nearby Gordon Run Creek. The well reaches a depth of 134 feet – but produces no oil despite desperate attempts.

Not to be remembered as America’s second commercial oil discovery, Grandin’s dry hole brings other petroleum industry milestones. His drilling attempt could 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).

A 1959 historic marker at Tidioute, Pennsylvania, notes: “At oil spring across river at this point J. L. Grandin began second well drilled specifically for oil, August 1859, after Drake’s success. It was dry, showing risks involved in oil drilling.”

Read more in The First Dry Hole.

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


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

petroleum history, august 18 - august 24

The Ames Astrobleme Museum features all-weather video panels describing the impact crater’s geological significance. Astrobleme means “wound from a missile.”

Ames, Oklahoma, celebrates the 2007 opening of the Astrobleme Museum, which describes a meteor’s impact – and how it will lead to a major discovery by independent oilman 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. At the time, most geologists believe impact craters unlikely locations for petroleum. Hamm thinks otherwise.

Although wells have been drilled nearby, no one has attempted to reach deep into the hidden, eight-mile-wide Ames crater. In 1991 Hamm’s Continental Resources drills deeper than usual for the area – about 10,000 feet – and strikes oil. He uncovers what will become one of the most prolific U.S. craters (there are six), producing 17.4 million barrels of oil and 79.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The potential of impact craters quickly seizes the attention of Oklahoma oil companies, according to geologists. Deep wells in the Sooner Trend produce exceptional amounts of oil and natural gas. Hamm will help fund the 2007 museum in Ames. Read more in Ames Astrobleme Museum.

August 19, 1909 – Butter from Oil, Milk from Kerosene?

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Newspapers make fun of Standard Oil Trust as its breakup nears.

As public opinion turns against monopolies, especially following Ida Tarbell’s 1904 book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, the oil company becomes a target for humorists.

“The Standard Oil Company has decided to drive the cow and the dairyman out of business,” declares a fanciful story from New Jersey in August 1909. “Its skilled chemists have discovered a process whereby they can make gilt-edge butter as a byproduct of crude petroleum.”

Another reporter writes that Standard Oil chemists claim they “can convert kerosene into sweet milk.” The U.S. Supreme Court will rule in 1911 that Standard Oil must be broken into smaller companies.

August 19, 1957 – Oil found in Washington State

petroleum history, august 18 - august 24

Surrounded by unsuccessful attempts, Washington’s first and only commercial oil well (red) will produce 12,500 barrels before being 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.

August 24, 1892 –  “Prophet of Spindletop”  founds Petroleum Company

petroleum history, august 18 - august 24

Following a series of dry holes, Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company will strike oil at Spindletop Hill in January 1901.

Patillo Higgins will become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop” a decade after founding the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company in August 1892.

Higgins, a self-taught geologist, and three partners lease 2,700 acres near Beaumont in Jefferson County, Texas.

He is convinced that an area known as “Big Hill” – Spindletop Hill – four miles south of Beaumont, contains oil. Most experts disagree.

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

His 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 field produces 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.”

Read more in Prophet of Spindletop and Spindletop creates Modern Petroleum Industry.

August 24, 1923 – U.T. gets First Santa Rita Royalty Check

petroleum history, august 18 - august 24

The original Santa Rita No. 1 equipment is now a permanent exhibit in the Austin.

The University of Texas receives the first oil royalty payment ($516.53) three months after a gusher on university-owned land in the Permian Basin.

After 21 months of difficult drilling, the Texon Oil and Land Company’s Santa Rita No. 1 well has 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 board of regents moves the Santa Rita well’s walking beam and other equipment to be displayed on the Austin campus. A student newspaper describes the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

Read more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

August 24, 1937 – Oil Discovery on Music Mountain

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The Penn-Brad Museum and Historical Oil Well Park is three miles south of Bradford, Pennsylvania.

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

Most experts did not believe oil existed there, adds the society, “and certainly not the oil field workers who thought they were drilling a routine exploratory well.”

For the first time since oil strikes in the early days of the Bradford field 70 years earlier, an exploratory well on Music Mountain erupts and reveals a new oil field. The discovery, made with a cable-tool rig at 1,629 feet, is deeper than previous 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.

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


August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oilmen organize

petroleum history August 11 - August 17

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

A group of eastern Kentucky oilmen 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 11 - August 17

A Norman Rockwell illustration advertised a leading industry magazine.

petroleum history August 11 - August 17

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.

Rockwell’s illustration includes the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.”

The Rockwell illustration depicts “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” notes one collector.

Learn about another oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman.

August 15, 1945 – WW II Gasoline Rationing ends

petroleum history August 11 - August 17

Only four gallons a week were allowed during WWII.

World War II gasoline rationing ends in the United States.

Since the beginning of rationing in December 1942, priority stickers and coupon books had been issued by the Office of Price Administration to conserve petroleum for the war effort. Most civilian automobiles carried “A” stickers – limiting them to four gallons 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 – Future World’s Oldest Producing Oil Well

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The McClintock Well No. 1 well site is one stop during a 2009 field trip of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. The 1861 well is pumped a few times a year – supplying souvenir bottles sold at the Drake Well Museum in nearby Titusville, Pennsylvania.

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Nearby is America’s first commercial oil well, drilled by Edwin L. Drake.

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 about 14 miles from Titusville, where the first U.S. commercial oil well produced from 69.5 feet deep 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 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.

Although a Pennsylvania historic marker today identifies the oldest producing well, which includes a small pump jack, a 15-horsepower Reid engine and wooden tank, “thousands of people pass it each year and don’t even know it’s there.”

August 16, 1927 – Phillips Aviation Gasoline powers Air Race to Hawaii

petroleum history August 11 - August 17

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.

High-octane aviation fuel developed by Phillips Petroleum 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, airport field at about noon.

Advanced engine and aircraft technologies are transforming the future of flying. Just three months earlier, Charles Lindbergh has completed the first solo trans-Atlantic flight on May 21, 1927.

Aviation history is about to be made again in August – thanks to a revolutionary petroleum product, Phillips Nu-Aviation Gasoline. The high-octane aviation fuel developed by Phillips Petroleum powers the “Woolaroc” monoplane in the air race.

Dole Pineapple Company has offered a $25,000 first prize for an airplane race from Oakland to Honolulu. Barnstormer and Hollywood stunt pilot Arthur Goebel Jr. finds a sponsor and friend in Frank Phillips, president of Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Phillips Petroleum is a pioneer in early in aviation fuel research and has developed high-gravity gasoline for the first U.S. mail-carrying airplanes after World War I.

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Phillips Petroleum’s L. E. Phillips and Clyde Alexander, pilot Arthur Goebel Jr., and Frank Phillips in front of the “Woolaroc.”

Phillips Petroleum is producing aviation fuels before producing automotive fuels. 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.

Aviation fuel technology is still in its infancy in 1927. Although Nu-Aviation Gasoline and the winning flight will make history at the air race, the achievement comes with a price.

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 – Reports confirm an Oil Spring at 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.

“Oil Creek has taken its name from an oil or bituminous matter being found floating on its surface,” notes a report on Pennsylvania by 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,” he writes. The 1785 report – 74 years before America’s first commercial oil well along the same creek – follows an earlier survey by Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

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Susan Beates, Drake Well Museum curator and historian, explains early drilling technology – the spring pole.

Gen. Lincoln reported in 1783 that 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 canoeists and trout fishermen – and a state park offers 7,000 acres for hiking, biking, cross-country and backpacking.

The historic creek in “the valley that changed the world” also has a replica wooden derrick of the first U.S. commercial oil well at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

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


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

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The Healdton Oil Museum tells the story of petroleum development in Carter County and life in the bustling oil towns.

The Crystal Oil Company brings in the Wirt Franklin No. 1 well about 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. With an initial flow of up to  100 barrels of oil per day, it reveals the Healdton field.

The August 1913 opening of the Healdton oil field sets in motion one of Oklahoma’s greatest oil booms. Wirt Franklin will become the first president of  the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA)  in 1929.

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.

Healdton attracts independent oilmen with limited financial backing to compete with the larger oil companies.

By June of 1914, 90 percent of Healdton oil field leases are held by independents. Of the 120 companies operating in the field, only three are major companies.

By the end of the year, 255 wells are producing 65,000 barrels per day. The low cost of drilling in the Healdton field will attract a large number of Oklahoma oil and natural gas producers.

Among oilmen establishing a financial base at Healdton are Lloyd Noble, Robert A. Hefner and former Oklahoma governor Charles N. Haskell. Erle Halliburton will perfect his method of oil well cementing in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.

August 7, 1933 – Alley Oop’s Permian Basin Roots

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A 1995 postage stamp commemorates “Alley Oop” by Victor Hamlin, a cartoonist from the Yates oil field company town of Iraan, Texas.

“Alley Oop” appears for the first time in 1933 when former Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reporter Victor Hamlin publishes the caveman as a syndicated daily cartoon in Iowa’s Des Moines Register.

The comic strip, which will run in more than 800 newspapers nationwide, can trace its roots to the Permian Basin. The West Texas oil town of Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) proclaims itself as Hamlin’s inspiration.

Iraan first appeared as a company town following the discovery of the prolific Yates oil field. The town’s name combines names of the townsite owners, Ira and Ann Yates.

Discovered in October 1926 in southeastern Pecos County, the Yates field will bring prosperity to Midland, Odessa and other communities by producing more than 40 million barrels in just three years.

According to historian Mike Hanlon, the cartoonist came up with the idea for “Alley Oop” while working in the oil patch. As Iraan boomed in the late 1920s, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company making site maps.

“He could watch dinosaur bones being removed by the steam shovels and scrapers as they cleared the sites for drilling, wells, and pumps,” Hanlon claims, adding that Hamlin developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology.

The biggest roughnecking days are over in Iraan by 1960 – when the band The Hollywood Argyles sings Alley Oop is “the toughest man there is alive.”

Today, tourists visit the Alley Oop Museum and R.V. Park on the northwest edge of Iraan. Thanks to improved recovery techniques, oil production from Yates oil wells continues – and the field is estimated to have one billion barrels of recoverable oil remaining.

August 7, 2004 – Death of a “Hellfighter”

Famed oil field well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair dies at age 89 in Houston.

Adair, who founded the Red Adair Company in 1959, pioneered 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 army.

August 9, 1921 – First Reflection Seismograph recorded in Oklahoma

petroleum history August 4 - August 10

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.”

petroleum history August 4 - August 10

Illustration of an energy source (explosive charge, weight drop, vibration generator or other source), that produces seismic wave paths reflecting from the bedrock to detectors (or geophones) on the surface – courtesy Geologic Resources.

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 Reflection Seismography.

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

petroleum history August 4 - August 10

The Central Oil Patch Museum of Luling, Texas, is a restored 1885 mercantile store.

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 oil field that is 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years the oil field has 391 producing wells and yields about 11 million barrels annually.

Local lore proclaims that Edgar B. Davis, president of the company, found the oil after consulting  a famous psychic. The oil patch “reading” came from a then popular clairvoyant, Edgar Cayce.

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

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

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

petroleum history August 4 - August 10

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.”

petroleum history August 4 - August 10Rotary drilling is revolutionized when Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patents the twin-cone roller bit consisting of two interlocking cones.

Petroleum historians note several men who were trying to improve on drill bit technologies at the time, but it was Hughes who made it happen.

Granville A. Humason, for example, developed a cross-roller bit before a chance meeting with Hughes in Shreveport, Louisiana – where he sold the rights to Hughes.

Hughes biographers report that Hughes first met Humason in a Shreveport bar – where Humason sold his roller bit rights to Hughes for $150.

The University of Texas’ Center for American History has a rare 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that historic meeting. On the tape, Humason recalls that he spent $50 of his $150 sale proceeds celebrating at the bar.

After receiving his 1909 patent, Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp establish the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture and market the twin-cone roller bit. Hughes engineers will invent the 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. 

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


July 28, 1924 – Oil Scouts form Association

petroleum history July 28 - August 3

Oil field Scouts began as detectives seeking the truth about new wells, which helped keep speculators in check.

The National Oil Scouts Association of America – today the International Oil Scouts Association (IOSA- files its charter in Austin, Texas, bringing new standards to the oil field profession.

Since the birth of the U.S. petroleum industry in 1859, oil scouts have gathered field intelligence on drilling operations – including often sensitive information about the operator.

Scouts gather 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.”

Read more in Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives.

July 29, 1918 – Burkburnett becomes a North Texas Boom Town

petroleum history July 28 - August 3

“Burkburnett was a sleepy farm town that transformed into a ‘Boom Town’ as a result of the North Texas oil boom in 1918,” explains the Burkburnett Historical Society. A 1940 MGM movie stars a former roustabout.

A wildcat well strikes oil in July 1918 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 motion picture it will inspire.

The well is completed at the northeastern edge of Burkburnett, which was  founded in 1907 and named by President Theodore Roosevelt, who two years earlier hunted wolf along the Red River with rancher Burkburnett. Read the rest of this entry »


July 21, 1935 – “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy makes his First Oil Strike

Glenn H. McCarthy strikes oil in southeastern Texas in 1935, extending the Anahuac field three miles to the north.

The well, which produces 588 barrels of oil a day, is the first of many for a man who will become a colorful independent producer – and builder of Houston’s Shamrock Hotel. The hotel’s Emerald Room will rival Las Vegas with headliners like Frank Sinatra, Burns and Allen and Sophie Tucker.

McCarthy will strike oil 38 eight times by 1942, according to the Handbook of Texas Online’s Anahuac Field. Read the rest of this entry »


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

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

An 1863 patent drawing for a diamond bit.

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, its use in oil well drilling is being examined in the oil 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,” notes oil historian Samuel T. Pees.

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 14 - July 20

By 1904, Rockefeller’s oil tank car fleet has 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 fleet 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 rolling stock “reporting mark” remains UTL or UTLX to this day. The company manages a U. S. fleet of 61,000 cars.

Also read about the Densmore Brothers Oil Tank Car.

July 16, 1926 – Start of the Greater Seminole Area Oil Boom

A 1926 discovery well near Seminole, Oklahoma, reveals the true potential of an oil producing formation, the Wilcox sands.

The well also launches a drilling boom that will help make Oklahoma one of today’s leading producing states.

The Fixico No. 1 well penetrates the prolific Wilcox sands at 4,073 feet. By 1935, the oil field around Seminole will become the largest supplier of oil in the world.

More than 60 petroleum reservoirs are found in 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma – and six are giants that produce more than million barrels of oil each.

The greater Seminole area – several 1920s Oklahoma oil fields – will swing the United States’ oil reserves from scarcity to surplus. The Fixico well is among five Seminole-area oil reservoirs discovered by 1927.

Volunteers operate the Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole and are involved in local preservation and educational projects.

Prior to the oil boom period, the area had been one of the poorest economic areas in Oklahoma.

“Under such stress, the prospect of finding oil should occasion both excitement and hope since the prospect of leasing land might provide the necessary funds with which the hard-pressed farmer could pay off his mortgage,” notes one historian.

At its height, the Seminole City oil field alone will account for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production. Read more in “Greater Seminole Oil Boom.”

July 16, 1969 – Kerosene fuels Saturn V for Apollo 11 Moon Mission

Four days after the Saturn V rocket launches Apollo 11 toward the moon on July 16, astronaut Neil Armstrong will announce, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” A 19th century petroleum product – kerosene – has made the 1969 moon landing possible.

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

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

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

In 1926, Robert Goddard used gasoline to fuel the first liquid-fuel rocket, seen here in its launch stand.

During launch, five powerful 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 highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or Refined Petroleum-1) which, while conforming to stringent performance specifications, is essentially the same “coal oil” invented in the 1840s.

Canadian physician and geologist Abraham Gesner first refined the revolutionary fuel for lamps in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax).

The Apollo 11 landing crowns liquid rocket fuel research in America dating back to Robert H. Goddard and his 1914 “Rocket Apparatus” powered by gasoline.

In March 1926, Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket from his aunt’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. His rocket was powered by liquid oxygen and gasoline.

"Rocket grade" kerosene fueled the Saturn V - and today's rockets.

Kerosene fueled the Saturn V – and today’s latest rocket engines.

Although gasoline will be replaced with other propellants, including the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen used in the space shuttle’s external tank, RP-1 kerosene continues to fuel spaceflight.

Cheaper, easily stored at room temperature, and far less of an explosive hazard, the 19th century petroleum product today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas, Delta II, Antares and latest SpaceX rockets.

Last launched in 1972, the Saturn V remains the most powerful rocket ever built.

July 19, 1957 – Major Oil discovery in Alaska Territory

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

The U.S. Congress views the discovery as the foundation for a secure economic base in Alaska. Statehood is granted two years later.

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

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

Richfield has leased 71,680 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now the 1.92 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

More Alaska discoveries will 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.

A decade later, the discovery of the giant Prudhoe Bay field on Alaska’s North Slope will make Alaska a world-class oil and natural gas producer – a status reaffirmed in 1969 with the discovery of the nearby Kuparuk field, the second largest in North America after Prudhoe Bay.

The U.S. Congress viewed the 1957 discovery “as the foundation for a secure economic base in Alaska, and statehood was granted two years later,” explains the Alaska Resources Council.

“Oil production currently accounts for approximately 93 percent of Alaska’s unrestricted general fund revenues, or $8.86 billion in fiscal year 2012,” notes the Council. Four of the ten largest U.S. oil fields are on the North Slope.

July 20, 1920 – West Texas Well reveals the Permian Basin

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

The Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas, includes a large collection of equipment relating to the Permian Basin, revealed in 1920 by the W. H. Abrams No. 1 well.

The mighty Permian Basin is discovered in 1920 by a West Texas wildcat well at a depth of 2,745 feet. The W. H. Abrams No. 1 well is named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William H. Abrams, who owns the land and leases mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).

At 7:45 p.m. – after a shot of nitroglycerine – a jet of oil and natural gas 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.

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

The Permian Basin produces 17 percent of America’s oil, about 327 million barrels per year, and contains an estimated 22 percent of proven U.S. oil reserves. 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 roadside marker in Westbrook, Texas.

“Three pipelines were laid at once to draw the oil to earthen tanks, filled by powerful steam pumps with over 20,000 barrels daily,” notes a 1977 historical marker one mile north of the community of West Columbia.

“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. See Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

According to the Energy Information Administration, the Permian Basin today is the nation’s most prolific oil producing area. Six formations within the basin have provided the bulk of Permian’s 60 percent increase in oil output since 2007.

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.

Largely as a result of this growth, crude oil production from Permian Basin counties has exceeded production from the federal offshore Gulf of Mexico region since March 2013, explains the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This make the Permian the largest oil producing region in the United States.

Visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland.

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


July 8, 1937 – Gulf of Mexico Drilling Pier

Petroleum History, July 7 - July 13

The future Exxon, Humble Oil Company was founded in 1911 in Humble, Texas.

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 Hines Woodring approves the 1937 application to drill near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company.

The 60-acre lease is about eight miles east of Galveston County’s High Island. Humble Oil builds the pier into the Gulf and erects three drilling rigs to search for oil above what geologist describe as a shallow salt dome. 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 Read the rest of this entry »


June 30, 1864 – First Oil Tax helps fund the Civil War

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

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

As early as 1862 – needing revenue to fund the Civil War – Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase had 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 negotiated the tax of $1 per barrel.

Visit the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

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

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Alf Landon is among the independent producers who formed one of the oldest U.S. petroleum associations in 1919. Landon will serve as Kansas governor and be the Republican presidential candidate in 1936.

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

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 later be 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. Read the rest of this entry »


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

petroleum history june

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 on June 25.

Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s oil field 20 miles south of Los Angeles is producing almost 260,000 barrels of oil every day by 1923.

Combined with the historic 1892 Los Angels Oil Field discovery and the May 24, 1920, oil field 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.

petroleum history june

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

 petroleum history june

Built in 1872 for steamships, the Ventura pier was a working wharf until 1936, when it became a recreational pier. Today’s refurbished structure is 1,958 feet long – one of the longest in California.

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.

Loss of the schooner strains Hardison & Stewart Oil Company finances; it will be 11 years before company launches a replacement tanker, the Santa Paula.

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

petroleum history june

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.

June 28, 1967 – Hall of Petroleum opens in Smithsonian Museum

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 will become today’s National Museum of American History in 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 Hall of Petroleum.

June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, becomes law. It 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. The 41,000-mile system is designed to reach every city with a population of more than 100,000.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History, June 23 – June 29.


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

BP closed or renamed all of its Amoco service stations in 2001.

BP closed or renamed its Amoco service stations in 2001.

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey incorporates a new subsidiary in Indiana on June 18, 1889. Standard Oil Company of Indiana will process oil at a refinery at Whiting, Indiana, southeast of Chicago.

By the mid-1890s, the Whiting refinery is the largest in the United States. It produces axle grease for industrial machinery, paraffin wax for candles, and kerosene for home lighting. 

In 1911, when John D. Rockefeller is forced to break up his oil holdings, Standard Oil of Indiana emerges as an independent company. It takes over the American Oil Company.

Amoco brand service stations begin opening in the late 1950s. Amoco merges with British Petroleum (BP) in 1998 – the largest foreign takeover of an American company up to that time.

Read more about Chicago’s 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 about 200 members are appointed by the Secretary of Energy. NPC members, “serve without compensation as representatives of their industry or associated interests as a whole, not as representatives of their particular companies or affiliations.” NPC held its 123rd meeting on July 16, 2013, in Washington, D.C., chaired by James T. Hackett, former chairman of Anadarko Corporation, Houston.

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


Alyeska Pipeline Service Company formed in 1970 to design, build and operate the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. The pipeline today is recognized as a landmark engineering feat and remains essential to Alaska’s economy.

Construction of the 789-mile Alaskan Pipeline began in March 1975.

After three years of construction, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline begins carrying oil 789 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Prince William Sound on June 20, 1977.

The oil arrives 38 days later, culminating the world’s largest privately funded construction project at the time.

A deciding vote in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Spiro Agnew had passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act on July 17, 1973.

The 48-inch-diameter pipeline system 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, 700 to 1,800 feet apart, 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 Trans-Alaska Pipeline system was largest private construction project in American history. The 789-mile-long pipeline cost $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline system was largest private construction project in American history. The 789-mile-long pipeline cost $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations.

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 (ARCO) and Exxon 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Read about other historic pipelines in Big Inch Pipelines of WW II.

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, on June 21. 1893. 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.

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

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 21, 1932 – Oklahoma “Hot Oil” Controversy

Located on 18 acres, the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City includes the Devon Energy Park.

Thirty National Guardsmen march into the Oklahoma City oil field when Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray takes control of production by creating a proration board he controls.

In March 1933, Murray declares martial law to enforce his regulations limiting the field’s oil production – and prevent the sale or transport of oil produced in excess of the quota, often referred to as “hot oil.”

The controversy ends in April 1933 when the Oklahoma Legislature passes House Bill 481, giving the Oklahoma Corporate Commission authority to enforce its rules – and taking away much of Governor Murray’s power to regulate the industry.

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


June 9, 1894 – Corsicana Water Well launches Texas Petroleum Industry

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 oil field 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 discovery well at Spindletop in 1901. 

Did you know Corsicana also is the home of “Wolf Brand” chili? Read more in Corsicana launches Texas Petroleum Industry.
Read the rest of this entry »


June 3, 1979 – Oil Spill in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche

The Ixtoc One, an exploratory well in 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.”

Federic, a category-four hurricane in 1979, also helped disperse the oil.

June 4, 1892 – Floods and Fires devastate Oil Region

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

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, 1825 – Illuminating Lafayette’s visit to Fredonia, New York

A marker dedicated in 1925 in Fredonia, New York, celebrates a questionable natural gas claim that has been frequently repeated.

A marker dedicated in 1925 in Fredonia, New York, celebrates a questionable natural gas claim frequently repeated.

On a visit to America, Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette, visits Fredonia, New York, in 1825. When the French general arrives by stagecoach at 2 a.m., he is surprised to find the town brilliantly illuminated. Local lore – and a stone marker dedicated in 1925 – proclaims natural gas lighted his visit.

But there is no record that substantiates this claim. Descriptions from those traveling with the general reported windows full of candles and even a burning barrel of pitch.

William Hart, the Fredonia gunsmith credited with America’s first commercial natural gas well, apparently drilled his well just after Lafayette’s visit, according city records of August 1825.

Hart found shale at depth of 27 feet and then drilled a 1.5 inch bore-hole to reach natural gas at 70 feet. Using lead pipes, he supplied gas to Abell’s Inn and later expanded to 30 burners for Fredonia homes and businesses. Visit the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar.

June 4, 1872 – New York Chemist invents Petroleum Jelly, patents Vaseline

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.

Robert  Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96 years old. The Drake Well Museum includes a collection of his products.

Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96. The Drake Well Museum includes a collection of his petroleum products.

Robert A. Chesebrough patents “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he names Vaseline. His 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 Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

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

June 6, 1967 – First Oil Embargo attempt

One day after the Six-Day War begins, 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 two months.

June 6, 1976 – Billionaire Oilman J. Paul Getty dies

J. Paul Getty (1892-1976)

With a fortune as high as $4 billion, J. Paul Getty dies at 83 at his country estate near London.  Getty was born into his father’s oil wealth from the Minnehoma Oil Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and 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 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.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History, June 2 – June 8.


May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons

Adding to popular products like carbon-black based "Staonal" markers, Binney and Smith Company will introduce its first box of eight "Crayola" crayons in 1903

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

Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith receive an patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

Their 1891 refining process produces 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 a quality award at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Binney & Smith 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 Crayola, 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

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

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 – cutting traditional steam locomotive time 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 have linked America’s coasts. Read more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.

May 27, 1933 – Giant Green Sinclair Dinosaur debuts in Chicago

Refurbished for the road, Sinclair’s iconic 70-foot “Dino” traveled more 10,000 miles through 25 states and 38 major cities after the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.

“Dino” will become an icon of successful marketing. It again draws crowds at the 1936 Texas Centennial and the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

The Sinclair Oil Corporation trademark Brontosaurus (now known as Apatosaurus) debuts at Chicago’s Century of Progress International Exposition in 1933.

This giant, soon known as “Dino,” and his prehistoric dinosaur companions are favorites with thousands of world’s fair visitors.

Sinclair’s exhibit draws crowds again at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and the 1939 New York World’s Fair as Dino becomes a marketing icon.

Refurbished, the 70-foot-long fiberglass green giant and his eight companions – including a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex – will return for another New York World’s Fair in 1964-1965.

Today, the Independence, Kansas, Historical Museum and Art Center exhibits Sinclair Oil’s Mid-Continent production and refining heritage. A nearby park includes one of the original dinosaurs. Read Dinosaur Fever — Sinclair’s Icon.

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

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

Nebraska's 2012 oil production was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil, about 6,886 barrels per day, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

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.

May 30, 1911 – First  Indianapolis 500 Winner drives Alone

All of the cars except the winner had a mechanic to manually pump oil.

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

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. Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in America just a decade before the first Indy 500,  gasoline powered less than 1,000. Learn more at Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

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

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

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 – 522 feet by 426 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.

With the help of local teachers and historians, construction of the Million Barrel Museum began in 1986 – as part of the Ward County sesquicentennial. Read Million Barrel Museum of Monahans.

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

Reprinted in 2006, “Rock Oil” is available from the Oil Region Alliance in Oil City, Pennsylvania.

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 petroleum.

The 1860 Rock Oil, The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere describes the new, revolutionary 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.”

In 1952, the Ethyl Corporation of New York republishes the book, noting “this first book about petroleum following the Drake well was written to satisfy public desire for more information about rock oil, its origin, geology, production, costs, uses, history, prospects; invaluable eyewitness descriptions of early oil wells.”

June 1, 1909 – Howard Hughes Sr. tests Twin-Cone Drill Bit

Howard Hughes Sr. introduced the twin-cone roller bit in 1909.

Howard Hughes Sr. introduced the twin-cone roller bit in 1909.

Drilling near Goose Creek, Texas, a crew of workers watch as Hughes demonstrates his new creation – a dual-cone roller rock bit that will ultimately allow oilmen around the world to tap into previously unreachable oil reserves.

“In the early morning hours of June 1, 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. packed a secret invention into the trunk of his car and drove off into the Texas plains,” notes Gwen Wright of the PBS program History Detectives. The drilling site was near Galveston Bay.

The bit used in rotary drilling at the time, called a fishtail, was “nearly worthless when it hit hard rock.”

The innovation of the Hughes dual-cone bit changed everything – and created many Texas millionaires, explains Don Clutterbuck, one of the PBS show’s sources.

“When the Hughes twin-cones hit hard rock, they kept turning, their dozens (166 on each cone) of sharp teeth grinding through the hard stone,” Clutterbuck says. Howard Hughes filed his drill bit invention with the U.S. Patent Office in 1908 and on August 10, 1909, is granted patent number 930,759.

Read more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

June 1, 1940 – Dallas Artist exhibits West 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 a West Texas oilfield becomes one of Bywaters’ best known works.

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.

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


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

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

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

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio begins on May 19, 1885. 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 Historical Society. He quickly organizes the Trenton Rock Oil Company.

 Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones founded the Acme Sucker Rod Company in 1892. Photo courtesy Bowling Green State University Archives.

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.

“The ensuing rush brought speculators who drilled hundreds of wells in the Trenton Rock (Lima) oilfield that stretched from Mercer County north through the Wood County in Ohio and west to Indiana,” the society adds.

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.

“The great enterprise of piping oil from the Lima fields to Chicago manufacturing establishments is now, in this year of 1888, being undertaken by the Standard Oil Company, who practically control all the oil territory around Lima,” notes one reporter at the time, adding that the pipeline will be about 210 miles long.

Lima oil will light the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

“Production from the Ohio portion of the Lima-Indiana field reach its peak in 1896, when more than 20 million barrels were brought out of the ground,” reports the society, which in 2006 placed an historical marker near the Faurot well at the North Street crossing of the Ottawa River in Lima.

“Though short-lived, the oil rush brought an influx of people, pipelines, refineries, and businesses, giving a powerful impetus to the growth of northwest Ohio,” the society concludes.

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), according to the Bowling Green State University Archives.

A progressive politician and future mayor of Toledo, Jones also founds the Acme Sucker Rod Company to manufacture drilling equipment in 1892. “Every man who is willing to work has a right to live. Divide the day and give him a chance,” Jones proclaims. Read more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.

May 19, 1942 – Oklahoma Inventor patents Drilling Rig Design

George E. Failings revolutionary portable drilling rig - powered by its truck's engine - will provide ideal for shallow and slanted wells.

George Failing’s revolutionary portable drilling rig – powered by its truck’s engine – will provide ideal for shallow and slanted wells.

A pioneer in new oilfield technology, George Everett Failing receives a U.S. patent on May 19, 1942, 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 application.

“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 1930 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.

The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid includes a drilling rig mounted on a Ford truck created by oil patch mechanical genius George E. Failing.

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. Read more in Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”

Failing’s portable drilling trucks will revolutionize drilling worldwide – including in developing countries for drilling water wells. Today the Enid, Oklahoma-based GEFCO (George E. Failing Company) remains a leading designer and manufacturer of portable drilling rigs.

Among the petroleum exhibits at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid is a Failing rig.

May 20, 1930 – Professional “Doodlebuggers” launch Geophysical Society 


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.

SEG today has 33,000 members in 138 countries.

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.

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, which first appears in 1936, includes articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The lead article warns young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.

“This is the first time that the term ‘doodle-bug’ was applied to scientific methods, particularly if they had no scientific validity,” explain the authors of Geophysics in the Affairs of Men.

“Twenty years later, it was a badge of honor to be known as a doodlebugger, i.e., the field personnel of geophysical crews,” notes the 1982 book by Charles C. Bates, T. F. Gaskell and  R. B. Rice.

“Still later, the term was applied to everyone who worked in exploration geophysics,” add the authors.

“Yesterday’s Doodlebuggers waded through knee-deep mud, battled the elements, and faced the hazards of the field,” adds the SEG website. SEG notes that today’s geoscientists face even more challenges, including keeping up with rapid technological advances.

 Wireless technology has replaced cables for today's Doodlebuggers.

Wireless technology has replaced cables for a new generation of Doodlebuggers.

SEG today has more than 33,000 members in 138 countries, “with the purpose of advancing geophysics today and inspiring geoscientists for tomorrow.”

“The Doodlebugger” – a bronze statue by sculptor Jay O’Melia – is unveiled in SEG headquarters on May 2, 2002. The statue stands almost 10 feet tall and weighs more than 600 pounds.

O’Melia has experience in creating heroic oil patch figures. He sculpted a bronze “Oil Patch Warrior” dedicated in 1991 in Sherwood Forest. A seven-foot roughneck honors Americans who drilled more than 100 wells there during World War II.

A twin statue of O’Melia’s “Oil Patch Warrior” is dedicated in 2001 in Ardmore, Oklahoma – where many of the U.S. roughnecks volunteered for the secret project.

Read more in Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.”

May 23, 1937 – John D. Rockefeller dies in Florida

John Rockefeller, 1839-1937

Almost 70 years after founding Standard Oil Company in Ohio – and 40 years after retiring from the company in 1897 – John D. Rockefeller dies in Ormond Beach, Florida, at age 97. His fortune peaked in 1912 at almost $900 million.

Born July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller attends high school in Cleveland, Ohio, from 1853 to 1855 – and at age 16 he becomes an assistant bookkeeper with a produce shipping company.

Rockefeller forms his own company in 1859 – the same year oil is discovered in western Pennsylvania – and studies the oil refining business. In 1865, at the age of 24, he takes control of his first refinery. It will be the largest in the world in three years.

After retiring decades later, Rockefeller uses his unprecedented wealth to fund endeavors such as the University of Chicago, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, General Education Board (now the Rockefeller Foundation), the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, and Spelman College in Atlanta.

May 24, 1902 – First Edition of Future Oil & Gas Journal

A Norman Rockwell illustration promoted a 1902 Oil & Gas Journal. Image courtesy of PennWell Publishing, Tulsa.

A Norman Rockwell illustration promoted 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 a 1962 advertisement for the Oil and Gas Journal. Today, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based PennWell Corporation publishes the popular industry magazine.

Today’s Derrick newspaper in Oil City has been owned by the Boyle family for almost 130 years. After the oil boom of nearby Pithole, Boyle was 39 when he purchased the newspaper in 1885.

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


May 12, 2007 – ConocoPhillips opens Museums in Ponca City and Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Conoco was founded in 1875 as Continental Oil Company, delivering kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah. A circa 1880s Continental Oil Company horse-drawn tank wagon welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

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

Thanks to ConocoPhillips, two new petroleum museums open in Oklahoma as part of the state’s 2007 statehood centennial celebrations.

In Ponca City, the state-of-the-art Conoco Museum includes five exhibit areas showing the exploration and production history of Conoco, which was founded in 1875 in Utah as the Continental Oil Company.

Exhibits tell the story of the company’s development from a small kerosene distributor serving 19th century pioneers into a diversified global energy company.

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

The Phillips museum in Bartlesville exhibits company heritage in gasoline research, revolutionary plastic products – and how the company survived an intense series of corporate battles.

Of course, the museum also tells the stories of legendary oilmen Frank and L.E. Phillips. Beginning in 1905, the brothers 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 –  Giant Roughneck welcomes Visitors to International Petroleum Expo


Designated a state monument in 1979, Tulsa’s giant roughneck stands 76 feet all. Although it had no Golden Driller statue in 1923, the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress helped make the city famous as the “Oil Capital of the World.”

The first Golden Driller, left, appeared at the 1953 International Petroleum Expo. In 1966, Mid-Continent Supply Company constructed a permanent version with steel rods to withstand up to 200 mph winds. Photos courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

 An American Oil & Gas Historical Society energy education conference in 2007 included a field trip to petroleum museums in Seminole, Drumright and Tulsa - with a stop at the Golden Driller.

An American Oil & Gas Historical Society conference included a field trip to museums in Seminole, Drumright and Tulsa – with a stop at the Golden Driller.

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.

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 in 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 has launched 44 new anti-trust suits, prosecuting railroad, beef, tobacco, and other trusts.

May 16, 1934 – “Stripper Well” Association founded

Marginally producing wells account for almost 20 percent of U.S. petroleum.

The National Stripper Well Association is organized in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1934.

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. A stripper well produces 10 barrels of oil or 60 thousand cubic feet of natural gas per day or less.

Stripper oil or natural gas can be found in 29 states, from Alabama to Wyoming. Texas leads the nation with more than 132,000 stripper oil wells and more than 46,000 marginally producing natural gas wells.

May 16, 1961 – Natural Gas Museum opens in Kansas

The Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum includes the Santa Fe Train Depot 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 museum in Hugoton educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America – the Hugoton. A natural gas well drilled in 1945 is still producing at the museum.

Read more in Kansas Natural Gas Museum.

May 17, 1882 – Pennsylvania 646 Mystery Well brings Oil Price Plunge

“Come join us on June 22, 2014, for the 132nd anniversary of the great 1882 oil excitement in Cherry Grove,” says Walt Atwood.

A Warren County, Pennsylvania, township oil discovery will devastate oil prices.

Beginning on May 17, 1882, 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 well sends shock waves through early oil market centers.

“The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” notes historian Paul H. Giddens. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”

As oil prices fall to less than 50 cents per barrel, hundreds of derricks appear at Cherry Grove, which has celebrated the discovery every summer for 131 years. Read more in Cherry Grove Mystery Well.

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


May 5, 1889 – Standard Oil begins Construction of Largest U.S. Refinery

The Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana will be the company's largest and most productive.

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 on a 235-acre refinery complex on May 5, 1889.

The new refinery, using advanced processes introduced by John D. Rockefeller, will become the largest in the United States.

Using a newly patented method, the 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.

Charles and Frank Duryea sell the first commercial automobile in the United States in 1896 – the Duryea motor wagon. More than 4,000 automobiles are sold in the United States by 1900. See Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

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

May 5, 1907 – First Commercial Natural Gas Well in Texas

Although unlisted in the Texas Historical Commission Atlas, Clayco Oil & Pipeline's stone marker is on Texas Highway 148 just south of Petrolia.

Unlisted in the Texas Historical Commission Atlas, the Clayco Oil & Pipeline stone marker can be sighted on Texas Highway 148 just south of Petrolia.

The Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company claims the first commercial natural gas well in Texas when it completes its Lockridge No. 1 well near Petrolia on May 5, 1907.

The company 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 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. “Service to both cities started in 1920.”

The marker also proclaims that the first North Texas oil was drilled half a mile to the east on August 1, 1901, by J.W. Lockridge when drilling for water. “From this field the north Texas and southern Oklahoma oil development started,” the inscription concludes.

May 7, 1920 – Erle Halliburton launches Cementing Company

Innovative oilfield technologies of the 1920s include Halliburton Company trucks with “jet cement” mixers. Photograph courtesy Hart’s E&P magazine.

Halliburton 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 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.

“Despite his success, Halliburton continued to tinker with technology,” notes one historian. 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 also ensued,” explains William Pike. Halliburton was the first to offer self-contained cementing units operating under their own power.

Pike adds that in 1949 Halliburton and Stanolind Oil Company made oilfield history with the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing to increase oil and gas production. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

May 8, 1920 – Oklahoma’s Giant Burbank Oilfield discovered

In 1918, E.W. Marland built an oil refinery in Ponca City - and tripled the town's population. He built his mansion there in 1928.

E.W. Marland built a refinery in Ponca City in 1918 and help 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.

As required by a lease agreement, Marland Oil Refining Company assumes control of the May 8, 1920, Bertha Hickman No. 1 discovery well, which produces 680 barrels of oil in its first day.

This discovery 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 giant Burbank field, E.W. Marland’s “Midas Touch” will bring in one well after another, including the nearby Tonkawa field, according to the Ponca City News.

“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 newspaper.

Learn more about E.W. Marland, a future Oklahoma governor, and his company at the Marland Estate Museum in Ponca City. His company will be absorbed by Continental Oil Company – Conoco – in 1928.

May 9, 1863 – Confederate Cavalry raids Oilfield

Confederate Gen. William “Grumble” Jones

Confederate raiders attack an early oil town near the Ohio River in what will soon become West Virginia. They burn equipment and thousands of barrels of oil.

The Burning Springs oilfield is destroyed on May 9, 1863, by Confederate cavalry led by Gen. William “Grumble” Jones. It marks the first oilfield destroyed in war, says historian David McKain, who founded an oil and gas museum in nearby Parkersburg.

When Gen. Jones and his 1,300 Confederate troopers attack Burning Springs, they destroy cable-tools and 150,000 barrels of oil.

In his report to Gen. Robert E. Lee, 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, the wealth created by the region’s petroleum industry will help bring statehood for West Virginia. Read more in Confederates attack Oilfield.

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


April 30, 1955 – “Landmen” form Trade Association

The American Association of Petroleum Landmen locates mineral owners and negotiates leases.

The American Association of Petroleum Landmen (AAPL) is organized in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 30, 1955.

A key part of the petroleum industry, 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 in Wirt County

An early technology for drilling brine wells - the “spring-pole” - discovered oil in Burning Springs, Virginia, in 1860. Soon, steam-powered cable-tools with wooden derricks will drill deeper.

An early technology for drilling brine wells – the “spring-pole” – discovered oil in Burning Springs, Virginia, in 1860. Soon, steam-powered cable-tools with wooden derricks will drill much deeper.

Using their frontier experience of drilling brine wells, two brothers launch West Virginia’s petroleum industry on May 1, 1860.

Searching for oil in Wirt County, in what was then Virginia, Cass Rathbone uses a spring-pole to drill a well near a stream called Burning Springs Run.

The Rathbone well reaches 303 feet – and begins producing 100 barrels of oil a day. He partners with his brother Val 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 and a jetty are built along the Little Kanawha River, which flows into the Ohio River at Parkersburg, about 27 miles to the northwest.

“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 40 more other counties in October 1861 vote to break away from the Confederate state.

In perhaps the first raid on a petroleum site, in May 1863 Confederate cavalry attacks Burning Springs, destroying equipment and thousands of barrels of oil. One month later – on June 20 – West Virginia becomes America’s newest oil-producing state.

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

In 1916, Harry F. Sinclair establishes Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation with five small refineries and untested production leases. Sinclair's first super-fuel is marketed in 1926. The "HC" initials stands for "Houston Concentrate," but some advertising men prefer the term "High Compression."

In 1916, Harry F. Sinclair establishes Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation with five small refineries and untested production leases. Sinclair’s first super-fuel is marketed in 1926. The “HC” initials stand for “Houston Concentrate,” but some advertising men prefer the term “High Compression.”

With $50 million in assets, Harry Ford Sinclair borrows another $20 million and forms Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation on May 1, 1916.

Sinclair brings together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases – all acquired at bargain prices.

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.

Sinclair’s refining capacity grows from from 45,000 barrels a day in 1920 to 100,000 barrels in 1926 to 150,000 barrels 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.

See Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

Today, Sinclair operates two Wyoming refineries that supply 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.

May 1, 1931 – Regulating East Texas

A Kilgore, Texas, museum preserves oil history.

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 oil prices to historic lows.

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.

Today, the “Black Giant” oilfield has yielded more than five billion barrels – and is still producing. It remains the largest and most prolific oil reservoir ever discovered in the contiguous United States.

Read more in H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

May 1, 2001 – Plaza honors Oklahoma Petroleum Pioneers

“King of the Wildcatters” Tom Slick is among those honored.

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,” noted then Conoco Chairman Archie W. 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, discovered the giant Cushing oilfield in 1912.

May 4, 1869 – Patent issued for First Offshore Drilling Rig

Although it will never be constructed as originally designed, Thomas Rowland’s offshore platform with its four telescoping legs is an 1869 technological marvel.

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

Many experts believe this remarkable May 4, 1869, patent is the beginning of the offshore oil and natural gas industry. 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.

See An 1869 Offshore Patent.

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.

Modern offshore petroleum platforms include conventional fixed platforms; vertically moored tension leg platforms; spar platforms; semi-submersibles; floating production, storage, and offloading facilities; and sub-sea completion and host facilities. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The first submerged oil wells in salt water are drilled in 1896 from piers in a part of the Summerland oilfield that extends under the Santa Barbara Channel in California. Oil wells also are drilled from platforms built on Caddo Lake, Louisiana, in 1911.

To learn more, read Offshore Petroleum History.

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


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

Learning about the petroleum industry inspired a watercolor oilfield art show by fifth-graders in Bradley, Arkansas.

The southwestern Arkansas petroleum industry has inspired fifth-grade watercolor exhibits.

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 2,247 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.

By 1925, a young oilman named Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt has acquired substantial holdings in the El Dorado and Smackover fields. In 1930 he will discover the largest oilfield in the United States less than 175 miles away in Kilgore, Texas.

Read more in H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

Today, the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum in Smackover includes indoor and outdoor exhibits explaining petroleum exploration and production.

Established in May 1986 as the Arkansas Oil and Brine Museum, the museum educates young people about southwestern Arkansas production. Watercolor paintings displayed in the Bradley High School auditorium include works of talented fourth and fifth-graders.

The museum, part of an Arkansas state park, maintains a five-acre Oil Park with operating examples of oilfield technologies from the 1920s to today.

According to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Washington, D.C., 27 of the 75 counties in Arkansas now have producing oil or natural gas wells, .

By January 2011, more than 40, 840 wells have been drilled in the state since 1921 – with 15,073 “dry holes,” IPAA notes in its annual Oil and Gas Producing Industry in Your State.

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

April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum Company founded in Texas

Magnolia Petroleum, now part of the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, adopted the Pegasus trademark in 1931 and added it to its headquarters - the Magnolia Petroleum building, completed in 1922 as the first Dallas skyscraper.

Magnolia Petroleum, after joining the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, adopted the Pegasus trademark in 1931 and added it to its headquarters – the Magnolia Petroleum building, completed in 1922 as the first Dallas skyscraper. Photo courtesy Dallas Public Library.

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 employ 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.

April 25, 1865 – Civil War Veteran patents Explosive Technology

Established in 1865, The Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company would have a lengthy a monopoly on all types of torpedoes used in the petroleum industry. The company stock certificate is worth almost $300 to collectors.

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City on April 25, 1865, receives the first of his many patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.”

This revolutionary invention uses controlled downhole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.”

Roberts also will receive a patent for what becomes known as the “Roberts Torpedo” – an early “fracking” technology for petroleum 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 the term “moonlighter” enters the American lexicon.

The first commercial “Frack” takes place in 1949 east of Duncan, Oklahoma. By 1988, the technology will have been applied nearly one million times.

For enhancing modern petroleum production, Halliburton and Stanolind companies will complete the first commercial hydraulic frack in March 1949 a few miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma. Oil and natural gas production today rely on the technology.

“Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” says a Halliburton service company spokesman.

Learn more about Col. Roberts – including leading a charge at the Battle of Fredericksburg – and production technologies in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

April 26, 1947 – Petroleum Industry promotes Oil on Radio

Founded in 1919 in New York City, the American Petroleum Institute will move its headquarters to Washington, D.C., a decade later.

For the first time since its establishment in 1919, the American Petroleum Institute launches a national advertising campaign on April 26, 1947.

“The theme of the drive is that the petroleum industry is a modern and progressive one, and is now turning out the best products in its history,” notes Billboard magazine.

“Radio this week struck real pay dirt as a ‘Gusher’ will come mainly from expansion of current air time on spot local or regional levels by the thousands of petroleum and related corporations.”

API, representing the largest U.S. petroleum companies, issues “recommended practices to promote the use of safe equipment and proven engineering.”

“This Week in Petroleum History” is now featured on Wednesday mornings during a live weekday radio program, Exploring Energy, which also can be heard online. See Radio Show features Oil History.


April 14, 1865 – Failed Oilman turns Assassin

John Wilkes Booth’s dreams of Pennsylvania oil wealth ended in July 1864.

After failing as an oilman in the booming Pennsylvania oilfields, John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Just one year earlier Booth left the stage to drill an oil well in Venango County.

In January 1864, Booth made the first of several trips to Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he purchased a 3.5-acre lease on the Fuller farm. Maps of the day show the three-acre strip of land on the farm, about one mile south of Franklin and on the east side of the Allegheny River.

Booth’s “Dramatic Oil Company” Wilhelmina No. 1 well will find oil – but the bore hole collapses when he and his partners try to increase production using dynamite.

As a partner’s son recalled, “the well was ‘shot’ with explosives to increase production. Instead of accomplishing that, the blast utterly ruined the hole and the well.”

Read more in The Dramatic Oil Company.

April 14, 1922 – Two Texans patent Blowout Preventer

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 file a patent for a hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer on April 14, 1922.

Oil and natural gas companies embrace the new technology.

The revolutionary 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.

In 2003 the society recognized the invention as an “Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.”

Abercrombie had started in the oilfields as a roustabout in 1908 and by 1920 owned several rigs in south Texas. He met Harry Cameron in a machine shop, and the two soon became friends and business partners.

Cameron and Abercrombie worked out their invention’s details using simple, rugged parts. When installed on a wellhead, the rams could be closed off, allowing full control of pressure during drilling and production. Their 1922 blowout preventer – BOP – can withstand pressures of up to 3,000 psi – an industry record at the time.

Read more in Ending Oil Gushers – BOP.

April 15, 1897 – Birth of the Oklahoma Petroleum Industry

A re-enactment of the moment that changed Oklahoma history highlighted the 2008 dedication of the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 replica derrick in Bartlesville’s Discovery 1 Park.

A large crowd gathers at the Cudahy Oil Company’s 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 oil and natural gas 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 grew from 200 to over 4,000 while Oklahoma’s oil production grew from 1,000 barrels to over 43 million barrels annually.

Today, a 184-foot derrick and education center, renovated in 2008, tells the story in Bartlesville’s Discovery 1 Park.

Read more about the Sooner State’s first commercial oil well in Discovering Oklahoma Oil.

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

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.”

According to Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power , Silliman’s report banishes any doubt about the potential new uses for “rock oil” and is a turning point in establishing the modern petroleum industry.

Silliman’s conclusions attract investors to George Bissell and a fledgling Pennsylvania Rock Oil CompanyFour years later, Edwin L. Drake will reward investors with the first U.S. commercial oil well near Titusville. Refineries will begin producing a new, highly sought product – Kerosene.

See Birth of the U.S. Petroleum Industry.

April 18, 1939 – Patent issued for Gun Perforator

“A device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well” is designed by Ira J. McCullough of Los Angeles. His April 18, 1939, invention fires downhole projectiles to increase a well’s production.

McCullough receives two patents for his multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system. The innovations, a technology that simultaneously fires charges at several depths, improves well production.

“It is the object of my invention to provide a device for perforating a well after the casing has been installed in the well in which there is plurality of projectiles, each of which is adapted to be propelled by the burning of a separate charge of powder,” McCullough reports.

Learn more about perforating wells in Downhole Bazooka.

April 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Auto

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.”

April 20, 1875 – New Technology links Well Pumping

Oilfield technology advances in 1875 with this “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells.”

Pumping multiple wells with a single steam engine boosts efficiency in early oilfields when Albert Nickerson and Levi Streeter of 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.

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.

April 20, 1893 – Discovery of the Los Angeles Oilfield brings Economic Boom

Downtown L.A. well sites highlight field trips organized by the Center for Land Use Interpretation: “Urban Crude: The Oil Fields of the Los Angeles Basin.”

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, 1893, 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.

“Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption.”

By 1895, Los Angeles City field produces about 750,000 barrels, over half of the 1.2 million barrels produced in the entire state of California. In 1925, California supplied half of the world’s oil.

More than nine billion barrels of oil have been produced in the Los Angeles area. There are still more than 30,000 active wells pumping around 230 million barrels of oil a year, making Los Angeles County the second most productive oil county in California (Kern County is number one).

“Los Angeles is located directly above huge oil reserves and is home to a lucrative and active oil industry, an industry that prefers to remain largely hidden and unknown,” notes an article from the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

Learn more in Discovering the Los Angeles Oilfield.

April 20, 2010 – Deepwater Horizon Accident creates Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

The National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will issue its report in 2011.

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 detailed report on the accident is issued in January 2011 by National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

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


April 7, 1902 – Texas Company founded as Spindletop Booms

A circa 1930s Texaco station is among the indoor exhibits featured at the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma.

A circa 1930s Texaco station is among the indoor exhibits featured at the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma.

According to one business historian, the most significant company started during the Spindletop oil boom was the Texas Company.

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. 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 – Offshore Cold War

Today primarily used by the offshore petroleum industry, America’s first cable-controlled underwater research vehicle (CURV) attaches cables to recover a nuclear bomb lost in the Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 1966.

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

The 70-kiloton bomb, lost when a U.S. Air Force 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. 

CURV was designed in 1961 to retrieve Navy torpedoes from beyond depths of  250 feet – the limit to which hard-hat divers of the day could descend. During the Cold War, the Navy has developed deep-sea technologies that the offshore petroleum industry will adopt.

See Swimming Socket Wrenches.

The first successfully use of an early tethered robot took place in 1962 at a well off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.

Read more in Deep Sea Roughnecks.

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 Brothers patent First Railroad Oil Tank Car

Brothers Amos and James Densmore designed and built the first successful railroad tank cars used in the Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865.

Brothers Amos and James Densmore designed and built the first successful railroad tank cars used in the Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865.

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.

The Densmore Tank Car will revolutionize the bulk transportation of crude oil to market. Hundreds of 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 be gradually be replaced by the more familiar horizontal types beginning in 1868. The Densmore brothers will leave the oil patch – and become leaders in development of the typewriter.

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

The “QWERTY” arrangement improves the 1868 invention. James Densmore’s oilfield financial success will lead to creation of the Densmore Typewriter Company.

Read Densmore Brothers Oil Tank Car.

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

A Skelly service station is preserved at an indoor exhibit in 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 the age of 78 on April 11, 1957.

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on June 10, 1878, Skelly began his petroleum career as a 15-year-old, $2.50-a-day tool dresser (tool dressers sharpened cable-tool bits among other duties on the floor of wooden derricks).

“Oil booms in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois made Skelly decide that it was time for him to become an independent producer,” explains historian Ken Anderson.

“He sought backing for money to buy leases and to drill for oil, and later moved southwest,” adds Anderson. “He first went to Texas but found a greener pasture in the El Dorado Field in Kansas, which had opened in 1916.”

Skelly incorporates Skelly Oil in Tulsa in 1919 and becomes one of the strongest independent oil companies – helping make that small town the “Oil Capital of the World,” Anderson notes in an article for the Oklahoma Historical Society.

“Over the years Skelly became the champion and leader of numerous civic, educational, and charitable causes in Tulsa. He spent many hours in Washington, D.C., and in Oklahoma City representing the petroleum industry,” Anderson concludes.

Skelly served as president of the International Petroleum Exposition from 1925 until his death, and in 1928 he founded Tulsa’s Spartan School of Aeronautics.

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


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

The April 1, 1911, well brought prosperity to Electra, Texas, where citizens celebrated the discovery’s centennial.

Just 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 lasts for 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,” notes one Electra historian. “That day secured Electra’s place in the history books as being one of the most significant oil discoveries in the nation.”

The oil well on cattleman William T. Waggoner’s lease settled into production of about 650 barrels per day from 1,628 feet. Hundreds of producing wells will follow, reaching the oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913.

Thanks to dedicated community activists, Texas legislators designated Electra as the “Pump Jack Capital” of Texas in 2001. Restoration of the historic Grand Theatre – built in 1919 – is underway as a citywide project.

In 2011, the Electra Clayco No. 1 centennial celebration included a parade and  re-dedication ceremony of the well’s historic marker. Read more in Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

April 1, 1986 – 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. The record peak will be $145 per barrel in July 2008 – before a price collapse to below $32 by the end of the year.

Prices had ranged between $2.50 and $3.00 from 1948 through the end of the 1960s. From the mid-1980s to September 2003, the inflation adjusted price of a barrel of oil on NYMEX was under $25 a barrel, according to Wikipedia. Oil first reached $100 per barrel in November 2007.

April 2, 1980 – President Carter signs 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.

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

“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.

However, “the windfall profits tax has nothing to do, in fact, with profits,” observed the Washington Post in 1979. “It is an excise tax – that is, a tax on each barrel of oil produced.”

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.

April 4, 1951 – Williston Basin Well

On the Clarence Iverson farm, near Tioga, North Dakota, the Amerada Petroleum Corporation brings in the discovery well for the Williston Basin, which stretches from North and South Dakota into Canada.

Earlier, almost two dozen previous exploratory wells had been expensive dry holes.

Although the company’s 1951 wildcat drilling attempt was earlier regarded with great skepticism, about 30 million acres are under lease just two months after the historic discovery, North Dakota’s first major find. By 2008, the Williston Basin (475 miles long and 300 miles wide) will have produced more than five billion barrels of oil.

A 1951 well in North Dakota discovers the Williston Basin, an area that includes South Dakota, Montana and two Canadian provinces. Experts predict up to 4.3 billion barrels of oil to be found in the Bakken Shale.

Snowstorms originally delayed drilling on Iverson’s farm, notes historian James Key.

Drilling resumed from 10, 500 feet on April 4, 1951, and at about 9:30 p.m., “a new industry was born in North Dakota,” Key declares.

“This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II,” explains Key, adding that although the Williston Basin is named after Williston, North Dakota, it was first exposed in 1912.

The first producing oil well in the Bakken Shale will be drilled within five miles of the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well. Production comes mainly from a few vertical wells – until the 1980s when horizontal technology became available.

“Only recently after the intensive application of horizontal wells combined with hydraulic fracturing technology did production really take off,” notes a 2008 article in the Oil Drum.

Occupying about 200,000 square miles within the Williston Basin, the oil shale of the Bakken formation may be the largest domestic oil resource since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, according to some experts.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated 3 billion barrels to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in the U.S. portion of the Bakken, elevating it to a “world-class” formation.

Read more in First North Dakota Oil Well.

April 5, 1860 – Early Oil Well predicts Pennsylvania Prosperity

Discoveries near the Allegheny River and Oil Creek will establish America’s earliest petroleum companies.

Inspired by Edwin Drake’s 1859 success at Titusville, Pennsylvania, a newly formed company strikes oil near the Allegheny River at Oil City.

Five partners (William Phillips, William Frew, Charles Lockhart, John Vanausdall and A. V. Kipp) have formed one of America’s first petroleum companies – as “oil fever” attracts thousands of investors to Venango County.

After drilling more than twice as deep as Drake’s well – considered the first U.S. commercial well – their attempt produces oil from 197 feet.

The well, named Albion, produces 42 barrels in its first day, worth $882 (more than $21,000 in 2010 dollars). Within the month, the Phillips, Frew & Company’s first shipment of 60 barrels heads downriver on barges for the waiting Pittsburgh market – and kerosene refineries.

April 5, 1976 – President Ford opens Development of Naval Petroleum Reserves

The OPEC oil embargo began in October 1973.

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, an effort for “regaining energy independence for the United States,” is a result of the oil shortages created by the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-74. “The naval petroleum reserves had special importance when they were established over 50 years ago to guarantee an adequate supply of oil for the U.S. Navy,” notes President Ford.

“Today, the reserves have even greater importance to the whole nation because they can help reduce our dependence on imported oil and help stem the outflow of American dollars and jobs,” he adds.

When in full production, the three naval petroleum reserves in California and Wyoming provide more than 300,000 barrels of oil per day. The Elk Hills field will produce its one billionth barrel of oil in 1992, becoming only the thirteenth oilfield in the nation’s history to reach that milestone.

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


March 24, 1989 – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Field studies continue to examine the Exxon supertanker’s disastrous grounding on Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989.

After nearly a dozen years of daily tanker passages through Prince William Sound, Alaska, the 987-foot-long Exxon Valdez runs aground on Bligh Reef.

Eight of the super-tanker’s 11 oil cargo tanks are punctured. An estimated 260,000 barrels of oil are spilled, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline.

“The vessel came to rest facing roughly southwest, perched across its middle on a pinnacle of Bligh Reef,” notes a report by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission.

“Computations aboard the Exxon Valdez showed that 5.8 million gallons had gushed out of the tanker in the first three and a quarter hours,” the report explains.

Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely transited Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times during the previous 12 years. Weather conditions – 33 degrees with a light rain – and the remote location will add to the disaster, adds the Oil Commission. The spill occurs at 12:04 a.m. local time.

Exxon will launch a massive cleanup effort that includes more than 11,000 Alaskan residents and Exxon and contractor personnel. Read more in Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

March 26, 1930 – “Wild Mary Sudik” makes Worldwide Headlines

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 will flow 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.”

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. When the Mary Sudik is brought under control, crews will recover 200,000 barrels of oil from pits and ponds.

The giant discovery is featured in newsreels and on radio, according to an audio program of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. The program’s narrator notes that after drilling to 6,471 feet, the roughnecks overlook a dangerous pressure increase in the well.

“The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” he explains. “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.”

On April 6, Floyd Gibbons of NBC Radio – who broadcast regular reports about the well – announces that after two unsuccessful attempts, the well is closed with a two-ton “overshot” cap.

With the well was brought under control, drilling continued in Oklahoma City. But the prolific, high-pressure of the Wilcox sands formation continues to challenge drillers and the technologies of the day. Read more in World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.

March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist invents Kerosene

Abraham Gesner

Canadian chemist Abraham Gesner patents a process to distill bituminous shale and cannel 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 was extracted from coal, consumers called it “coal oil” as often as they called it kerosene.

When it is found that kerosene can also be distilled from crude oil, it becomes America’s principle source of illumination until commercial electricity arrives.

March 27, 1975 – Work begins on Alaskan Pipeline

The Alaskan Pipeline system’s 420-miles above ground segments are built in a zig-zag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe.

Construction begins on the largest private construction project in American history – the 789-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline system.

Oil from the Prudhoe Bay field will begin flowing to the ice-free port of Valdez at four miles an hour through the 48-inch-wide pipe in June 1977.

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.

The design also allows for pipeline movement caused by an earthquake.

Specially designed vertical supports were placed in drilled holes or driven into the ground, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

Anchor structures, 700 to 1,800 feet apart, hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two each, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.”

By 2009, the pipeline – which cost $8 billion to construct, including terminal and pump stations – will have carried almost 16 billion barrels of oil. Read about other historic pipelines in WW II Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines.

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.

“Flambeaux” street lighting promotes natural gas use for industry. An economic boom came to central Indiana thanks to a discovery at 700 feet in the Trenton limestone formation.

By April 1887, five miles of pipe supplies natural gas to offices, residences – and 50 large torches or “flambeaux” for street lighting.

The “Trenton Field” as it would become known, spread over 17 Indiana counties and 5,120 square miles. It was the largest natural gas field known in the world. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas.

Indiana is among the earliest states to legislate conservation when in 1891 it passes an act forbidding the burning of natural gas in the wasteful flambeaux lights.

Read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

March 28, 1905 – Caddo-Pine Oil 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 – after drilling through a productive natural gas zone.

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 venting, Louisiana passes its first conservation law in 1906. By 1918, annual production from the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield reaches 11 million barrels.

Learn more by visiting 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 petroleum industry” when he drills America’s first commercial oil well in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania.

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 Pennsylvania State University’s Urja Davé in her 2008 Edwin Drake and the Oil Well Drill Pipe.

The article quotes a story in The Daily Picayune (New Orleans), which reported that “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”

On Saturday afternoon on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet, the drill bit had dropped into a crevice, notes one Drake expert. Late the following afternoon the oilman’s driller, “Uncle Billy” Smith, visited the site “and noticed a very dark liquid floating on top of the water in the hole.”

“Drake’s Folly,” as it was known to the local population, was not such a folly after all. So began the modern petroleum industry.

Edwin Drake, who died on November 9, 1880, is buried in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where a monument – including a bronze statue – is dedicated on October 4, 1901. The monument is refurbished and rededicated in 2011.

“Drake is known as the ‘father of the petroleum industry’ because the technology he devised revolutionized how crude oil was produced and launched the large-scale petroleum industry,” explains William Brice, Ph.D., author of the 2009 book Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.

“Even though the use of petroleum dates back to the first human civilizations, the events of that Saturday afternoon along the banks of Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania, provided the spark that propelled the petroleum industry toward the future,” explains Brice.

Drake will die in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on November 9, 1880. He is buried in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where a monument – including a bronze statue “The Driller” by Charles Henry Niehaus – is dedicated on October 4, 1901.

The original tools that Drake used can be found at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville. Visitors can see a replica of the oilman’s derrick and 1859 engine house. Also available is a DVD of the museum’s three orientation films: “Born in Freedom: The Story of Colonel Drake” – produced by the American Petroleum Institute in 1954 and starring Vincent Price, “Oil! The Power of Pennsylvania Petroleum” and “Pithole USA.” Read more in Birth of the U.S. Petroleum Industry.

March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas

A museum one mile south of the oil town of Smackover.

“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.

Visit the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover.

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March 17, 1890 – Birth of Sun Oil Company of Ohio

Discoveries in the 1890s will create the Sun Oil Company.

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

The company acquires promising leases near Findlay and enters the business of “producing petroleum, rock and carbon oil; transporting and storing same; refining, purifying, manufacturing such oil and its various products.”

In 1920, Sun opens its first service station in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and then another in Toledo, Ohio. The name changes to Sun Oil Company in 1922 “to better identify the company with its business.”

March 17, 1923 – Wewoka Well leads to Greater Seminole Field

The Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole includes a diorama, maintained by volunteers, of communities that became boom towns in the 1930s. The Greater Seminole Area includes seven of Oklahoma’s 20 “giant” oilfields — Earlsboro, St. Louis, Seminole, Bowlegs, Little River, Allen, and Seminole City.

The Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole includes a diorama, maintained by volunteers, of communities that became boom towns in the 1930s. The Greater Seminole Area includes seven of Oklahoma’s 20 “giant” oilfields — Earlsboro, St. Louis, Seminole, Bowlegs, Little River, Allen, and Seminole City.

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 the Seminole Boom.

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

Thirty-nine separate oilfields are ultimately developed within a region centering on Seminole but also including parts of Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Hughes, and Pontotoc counties.

When over production drives oil prices to as low as 17 cents a barrel, operators meet to discuss voluntary proration, well spacing, and production control. The name Greater Seminole Field – suggested by Paul Hedrick, oil editor of the Tulsa World – is adopted in the summer of 1926. Read more in Greater Seminole Oil Boom.

March 17, 1949 – First Commercial Application of Hydraulic Fracturing

Above, the site 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma, that performed the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing in 1949.

A team of petroleum production experts converges on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma – to perform the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.

Later the same day, Halliburton and Stanolind company personnel successfully fracture another well near Holliday, Texas.

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.

According to a Halliburton service company spokesman, “Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique, and Halliburton has led the industry in developing and applying fracturing technology.”

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.”

A 1947 experimental well, fractured in a natural gas field in Hugoton, Kansas, had proven the possibility of increased productivity by hydraulic fracturing. Two decades earlier, on March 1, 1921, Erle P. Halliburton (1892-1957), a native of Duncan, patents a remarkable “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” which improves oil production while protecting the environment. See Halliburton cements Wells.

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

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

Roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield rushed to the school after the March 18, 1937, explosion – and searched for survivors throughout the night.

With just minutes left in the school day – and 500 students and 40 teachers inside the building – a natural gas explosion destroys the New London High School in Rusk County, Texas.

Odorless natural gas has leaked into the basement and ignited – with a force felt even four miles away. Roughnecks rush in from the nearby East Texas oilfield to save their children.

Despite rescue efforts, 298 people are killed (dozens more later die of injuries).

The cause of the school explosion is found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked unscented 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

Founded in New York City, the American Petroleum Institute will relocate to Washington, D.C.

Tracing its roots to World War I – when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together for the war effort – the American Petroleum Institute (API) is founded in New York City.

By 1920, API is issuing weekly statistics, beginning with crude oil production. API also develops and publishes industry-wide standards in 1924. As the only trade association representing key segments of the oil and natural gas industry, from exploration to refining and sales, API reports will expand to include oil product stocks, refinery runs and other data.

API moves its headquarters to Washington, D.C., in 1929. It today maintains standards and recommended practices to promote the use of safe equipment and proven engineering practices – and has produced more than 600 technical standards covering all aspects of the oil and natural gas industry.

March 20, 1973 – Pennsylvania Boom Town listed in Historic Registry

Managed by the Drake Well Museum, the Pithole Visitors Center includes a diorama of the vanished boomtown.

The former oil boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Discovered in January 1865, the Pithole Creek field creates a massive – although short lived – oil boom town for the young petroleum industry, which began in nearby Titusville in 1859.

Pithole’s first well produced a 250-barrel-a-day gusher. As the news spread through Venango County, “everyone came to the Pithole area to try their luck,” notes one historian.

Many more successful wells are drilled, and Pithole City springs up around them. By May of 1865, the town is home to 15,000 people, 57 hotels, many homes, shops, and a daily newspaper. It has the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania – handling 5,500 pieces of mail a day.

“Many factors fueled the Pithole oil boom,” explains an article at by historians at Scripophily, a company that buys and sells historic stock certificates.

Today, visitors can walk the grassy paths of Pithole’s former streets. Volunteers “mow the streets” on the Venango County hillside.

“The end of the Civil War found the country flooded with paper currency whose holders were anxious to invest and make more money. Thousands of soldiers had been discharged from the army,” notes the article.

Many veterans wanted jobs, others wanted to make a fortune quickly after having spent long months on army pay. “The speculative bubble of 1864 and 1865 was at its peak,” the article reports.

“Hundreds of newly-organized companies were ready to lease or buy land wherever there was even a promise of oil.

Fired by these circumstances, the Pithole Creek became spectacular,” concludes the article.

Today, a visitors’ center added in 1975 is maintained by the Drake Well Museum. The center contains exhibits, including a scale model of the city at its peak and a small theater. Volunteers “mow the streets” on the hillside so that tourists can stroll where the petroleum boom town once flourished.

Among the oil region’s early – and most infamous – investors was John Wilkes Booth. Learn more in the Dramatic Oil Company.

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


March 11, 1829 – Kentucky Salt Driller strikes “Great American Well”

An 1829 Kentucky well – drilled seeking salt water – produced oil later bottled and sold as medicine. A state geology survey map preserves the Cumberland County discovery.

Boring for salt brine with a simple spring-pole device on a farm near Burkesville, Kentucky, Martin Beatty finds an oilfield at just 171 feet deep.

For his March 1829 oil gusher – decades before petroleum is searched for in northwestern Pennsylvania – Beatty drills his Cumberland County well with a spring pole made from a strong sapling.

“The salt borers were greatly disappointed,” adds an 1847 account of the discovery.

“The well was neglected for several 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.”

The “Great American Well” reportedly produced 50,000 barrels of oil that “ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Samuel Kier either sold it as medicine or refined it into lamp oil.”

Records “documenting the first commercially operated oil well in the United States” are preserved at the University of Kentucky. Edwin L. Drake is credited with launching the American petroleum industry in August 1859 at Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Learn more in “Kentucky’s Great American Well.”

Independent producer Thomas Slick, who discovered a major Oklahoma oilfield on March 12, 1912.

March 12, 1912 – Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters

Thomas “Dry Hole” Slick brings in the Wheeler No. 1 well about 12 miles east of Cushing, Oklahoma – the discovery well for the prolific Drumright-Cushing oilfield.

The well produces for the next 35 years. At its peak, the oilfield will produce 330,000 barrels of oil a day. Knowing that oilmen and speculators will descend on Cushing when the word gets out, Slick posts guards at his well.

After his success in Cushing, Slick begins an incredible 18-year streak of drilling successful wells. By 1930 in the Oklahoma City field alone, he drills 45 wells with the capacity to produce 200,000 barrels of oil daily.

Today, more than 470,400 oil and natural gas wells have been drilled since Oklahoma’s first well near Bartlesville on April 15, 1879. Slick is among those honored at the Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

Read more about Tom Slick in Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters.

March 12, 1943 – WW II Secret Mission sends U.S. Roughnecks to England

The 42 volunteers from Noble Drilling and Fain-Porter Drilling companies pictured before they embarked for England in 1943.

The 42 volunteers from Noble Drilling and Fain-Porter Drilling companies pictured before they embarked for England in 1943.

A top-secret team of 42 American drillers, derrickmen, roustabouts, and motormen board the troopship HMS Queen Elizabeth. Their mission is to drill oil wells in England and help relieve the crisis caused by German submarines sinking Allied tankers.

Four rotary drilling rigs are shipped separately – with one of the ships going down from a submarine attack. With the future of Great Britain depending on petroleum supplies, the oilmen use innovative methods to drill an average of one well per week. Read the little-known story of the Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.

March 12, 1968 – Prudhoe Bay Discovery Well

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 Atlantic Richfield and Exxon.

Production of about 1.5 million barrels per day from the 25-billion-barrel oilfield will not begin until June 20, 1977, when the 789-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline is completed.

For more than three decades Alaskan North Slope oilfields produces about 20 percent of the domestic oil used in the United States. 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 discovered in 1930.

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 crisis created gasoline shortages. President Richard Nixon proposed and Congress approved voluntary rationing – and a ban of gasoline sales on Sundays.

March 14, 1909 – California’s Lake View Gusher sets Record

The Lake View well near Maricopa in California’s Midway-Sunset oilfield blows in at dawn — and flows until September 1911.

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 by San Joaquin Geology Service.

“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.

Oil flows from the well as and hundreds of men work night and day to control it. The Lakeview No. 1 discovery, which becomes America’s most famous gusher, is brought under control in October 1910 by a massive embankment built around the well.

“When this embankment reached a height of twenty feet, it created an oil pool over the crater that was deep enough to reduce the oil flow from a rushing column to a gurgling spout,” the Geology Service explains. The famous well dies out when the bottom of the crater collapses in September 1911.

Although Lakeview No. 1 produces 9.4 million barrels during the 544 days it flowed, more than half evaporates or seeps back into the ground. Invention of the blowout preventer in 1922 will greatly reduce catastrophic oilfield gushers.

See the article, Ending Oil Gushers – BOP.

March 15, 1946 – TIPRO founded

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 – A High-Flying Petroleum Trademark

More than 70 years old, this 11-foot Pegasus dominates the lobby of the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. The winged logo was originally displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair – and later atop a Mobil gas station in Casa Linda in East Dallas.

The certificate from Cape Town, South Africa, notes that the “Vacuum Oil Company of South Africa Limited” is named “as proprietor of the Trade Mark represented above.”

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

The winged-horse icon 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 horse-drawn carriages and steam engines.

Although a stylized  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 – a winged horse – carried thunderbolts for Zeus.

By 1931  automobile demand has expanded the Vacuum Oil product lineup to include Pegasus Spirits and  Mobilgas – later simplified to Mobil. When Standard Oil of New York and Vacuum Oil merge, the new company adopts the trademark, as does an affiliate, Magnolia Petroleum.

In 1934, a neon Pegasus begins rotating atop Magnolia’s Dallas, Texas, headquarters. The 35-foot by 40-foot sign welcomes members of the American Petroleum Institute to their first convention in Dallas.

Read more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.

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

A registered historic site greets Main Street visitors in Barnsdall, Osage County, Oklahoma.

“The World’s Only Main Street Well” is completed at a depth of 1,1771 feet in Barnsdall, Oklahoma. Ripley’s Believe It or Not will designate Barnsdall well the world’s only oil well in the middle of a town’s Main Street. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Located in Osage County and originally named Bigheart, for the Osage Chief James Bigheart, Barnsdall is renamed in 1922 for Theodore Newton Barnsdall, owner of Barnsdall Oil Company, who discovered a nearby oilfield in 1916.

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


March 3, 1879 – United States Geological Survey established

John Wesley Powell served as the director of the Geological Survey from 1881 to 1894.

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 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 that would secure “the best possible results at the least possible cost.”

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,” according to a USGS history.

Although the federal government owns more than 1.2 billion acres of land, only 200 million acres have been surveyed.

Clarence King is the first Geological Survey director, but its second, John Wesley Powell, is more famous. Powell, who lost an arm in the Civil War, proclaims in 1886 that “a government cannot do any scientific work of more value to the people at large than by causing the construction of proper topographic maps of the county.”

March 3, 1886 – Natural Gas brings light to Paola, Kansas

When a pipeline reaches town square in 1886, “flambeaux” lights are used to attract new businesses. Paola annually celebrates its gas heritage.

Paola becomes the first town in Kansas to use natural gas commercially for illumination.

An oil well drilled in a school yard just a few years later is the first west of the Mississippi, adds a Miami County representative.

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, Paola flour mills are fueled by natural gas and a glass manufacturing factory is constructed.

“Paola has the cheapest fuel in Kansas,” the town promoted itself at the time. “Natural gas is superior to anything for convenience and cheapness, and we have it in immense volume, sufficient to supply all the manufactories that can crowd into the county. We earnestly invite inspection and comparison.”

However, with little understanding of conservation and natural gas production techniques, the town wells are soon exhausted. As visions of new manufacturing industries fade away, the gas boom’s heritage remains as oil discoveries renew interest in Miami County.

“Around the square, you can see the reproduction Wellsbach gas street lanterns that match the originals from 1882, when Paola was the first town west of the Mississippi to be completely illuminated with gas lighting,” notes Janet McRae, director of economic development.

“The first oil well west of the Mississippi River was discovered near the Lykins school site in 1888,” McRae adds. “Once a refinery was built to handle the oil, Paola became a regular stop on the Kansas City-Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad.”

For more natural gas history, see the Indiana Natural Gas Boom. Read more Kansas petroleum history in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent.

March 4, 1918 – West Virginia Well sets World Depth Record

The deepest well in the world in 1918, the Martha Goff well reached 7,386 feet eight miles northeast of Clarksburg, West Virginia.

The deepest well in the world in 1918, the Martha Goff well reached 7,386 feet eight miles northeast of Clarksburg, West Virginia.

On the Martha Goff farm in Harrison County, West Virginia, the Hope Natural Gas Company drills to 7,386 feet and brings the world’s deepest well record to America. Until then, the deepest well had been drilled to 7,345 feet near Czuehon, Germany.

A March 1974 well set a world record while drilling in Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, about 12 miles west of Cordell. The Bertha Rogers No. 1 drilled almost six miles into Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin before the drill bit stuck. Visit the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

March 4, 1933 – Oklahoma City Oilfield under Martial Law

Oklahoma Governor “Alfalfa Bill” Murray is featured on the February 29, 1932, cover of TIME magazine.

Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declares martial law to enforce his proration regulations limiting production in the Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered on December 4, 1928 – and one of the largest producing fields in the state.

Two years earlier, Murray 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 and to make recommendations for uniform legislation looking to the relief of said industry and the conservation of oil and gas.”

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 successor, famed oilman E.W. Marland, will establish the Interstate Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Oklahoma City in 1935.

March 5, 1963 – Polyethylene Invention leads to Patent of Popular “Hoop Toy”

“Extruded tubing is desirable because it may be economically fabricated in continuous lengths,” Arthur Melin notes in his patent application, describing a hoop with an outside diameter of 31 to 37 inches. “The use of plastic gives both economy and strength.”

Arthur “Spud” Melin receives a U.S. patent for his “Hoop Toy.”

A hit since going on sale in 1958, his toy – the Hula Hoop – joins the Frisbee as a popular product made from a new plastic developed by an Oklahoma oil company.

Phillips chemists invent high-density polyethylene in 1951.

“I have invented a toy which is economical to fabricate and affords physical benefits to users,” he explains in his patent application.

To make Hula Hoops and Frisbees, Melin and his Wham-O Company partner Richard Kerr have chosen Marlex, a new plastic developed by two chemists at Phillips Petroleum Company.

Paul Hogan and Robert Banks – whom had been researching gasoline additives – invented the world’s first high-density polyethylene at the company’s Bartlesville lab in 1951. As Hogan recalls, he was standing outside the laboratory when Banks came out saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got something new coming in our kettle that we’ve never seen before.”

Although Phillips begins promoting Marlex in 1954, manufacturers show little interest in the plastic. The transition from research lab to mass production proves more difficult than marketing executives anticipated. Marlex customers fail to materialize – until Wham-O.

Thanks to the Hula Hoop fad,  plastic companies in Titusville, Pennsylvania – birthplace of the U.S. petroleum industry – will work overtime to meet demand for the petroleum product. Today, Oil Creek Plastics Inc. still extrudes the “Hoop Toy,” patent no. 3,079,728.

Read more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.

March 7, 1902 – Another Texas Gusher, Sour Lake Springs 

A Texaco monument marks the site where in 1903 the Fee No. 3 well flowed at 5,000 barrels a day, resulting in “the Texas Company exercising its option on the Sour Lake Springs property.”

The Texas community of Sour Lake becomes a boom town in its own right about one year after the giant 1901 discovery at nearby Spindletop Hill.

Originally known as Sour Lake Springs – because of its sulfurous spring water known for its healing – the sulfur will lead oilmen to predict oil may be trapped similar to the Spindletop field, which produces from a salt dome.

The Great Western Oil Company completes a test well in November 1901 that encounters “hot salt water impregnated with sulfur between 800 and 850 feet…and four oil sands about 10 feet thick at a depth of approximately 1,040 feet.”

Great Western drills a second well “north of the old hotel building” in the vicinity of earlier shallow wells, according to Charles Albert Warner in his book Texas Oil & Gas Since 1543.

“This well secured gusher production at a depth of approximately 683 feet on March 7, 1902. The well penetrated 40 feet of oil sand,” Warner notes. “The flow of oil was accompanied by a considerable amount of loose sand, and it was necessary to close the well in from time to time and bail out the sand, after which the well would respond with excellent flows.”

Although the boom will be short-lived as Texas discoveries continue, Sour Lake today promotes itself as the birthplace of the Texas Company, which will become Texaco. Visit the Texas Energy Museum in Beaumont.

March 7, 1926 – Seminole City Discovery in Oklahoma

The Greater Seminole Area includes seven of Oklahoma’s 20 giant oilfields — Earlsboro, St. Louis, Seminole, Bowlegs, Little River, Allen, and Seminole City. The Oil Museum in Seminole includes a diorama maintained by volunteers that features many of the boom towns of the 1930s.

The Seminole City oilfield, which will lead to a series of discoveries revealing the Greater Seminole Area, is found by the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company.

The discovery is followed by a successful well drilled by the Amerada Petroleum Company. Then the biggest discovery, the Fixico No. 1 well, strikes oil in the Wilcox Sand formation on July 16, 1926, producing 1,500 barrels of oil a day – and starting the Greater Seminole oil boom.

At its height, the Seminole City oilfield accounts for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production. By 1935, sixty petroleum reservoirs are discovered in the Greater Seminole Area – 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma. Six of its reservoirs are “giants,” producing more than one-million barrels of oil each.

Oklahoma’s massive production will glut oil markets and result in a price collapse to as low as 15 cents per barrel – forcing the state to step in and limit production.

“Thus, the conservation movement, as far as the oil industry is concerned, started in Oklahoma and largely in the greater Seminole areas,” concludes author Louise Welsh in A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field.

Visit the Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole. Read First Oklahoma Oil Well.

March 9, 1975 – Trans-Alaska Pipeline Construction begins

After almost three years of construction, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline will carry oil from Prudhoe Bay to Prince William Sound.

Work begins on the largest private construction project in American history – the 789 mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system.

In June 1977, oil from the Prudhoe Bay field will begin flowing to the ice-free port of Valdez at four miles an hour through the 48-inch pipe. By 2009, the pipeline will have carried almost 16 billion barrels of oil.

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


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

September 9, 1855 – Birthday of Man who discovered Spindletop

Born Anton Lucic in Split, Croatia, Anthony Francis Lucas in 1875 receives an engineering degree at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria. He then reaches the rank of captain in the Austrian navy before coming to America, where he becomes a citizen in 1885. He changes his name to Lucas and works in Washington, D.C., as a mining engineer and geologist. Read the rest of this entry »


July 22, 1933 – Phillips Petroleum sponsors Solo Flight

Record-setting pilot Wiley Post was once an oilfield roughneck near Seminole, Oklahoma.

Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, famed aviator Wiley Post lands his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae” and becomes the first man to fly solo around the world.

Post had developed a close relationship with Frank Phillips, founder of the Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Phillips paid for Post’s high-altitude experimental flights. Five years earlier Phillips had sponsored the winning plane – the Woolaroc – in a dangerous air race from across the Pacific.

Post’s trademark eye-patch resulted from his days working in oilfields near Seminole, Oklahoma. When a metal splinter damaged his eye in 1926, Post used $1,700 in compensation to buy his first airplane – and launch his famed aviation career. Read the rest of this entry »


June 11, 1929 – Independent Producers organize

Founded in 1929 with headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 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 domestic 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, producing 68 percent of U.S. oil and 82 percent of its natural gas.

June 13, 1917 –  Phillips Petroleum founded in Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Phillips Petroleum Company is founded in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, during the early months of World War I – when the price of oil climbs above $1 per barrel. Read the rest of this entry »