April 14, 1865 – Failed Oilman turns Assassin
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
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 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 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 Company. Four 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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