August 31, 1850 – San Francisco Utility incorporates to manufacture Gas
The San Francisco Gas Company is incorporated to produce and distribute manufactured gas extracted from coal. 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 for lighting. The company, now part of Pacific Gas & Electric, illuminates its first “town gas” street lamps in 1852.
According to PG&E, over the next half-century, the company merges with competitors, 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 – America’s First Dry Hole
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 would be credited with the first stuck tool, the first “shooting” of a well with black powder (and first well ruined by a failed shooting attempt). Read more in First Dry Hole.
September 1, 1862 – Union taxes Manufactured Gas
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, killing 11 and spilling almost five millions barrels of oil. The BP well is capped in mid-July.
September 4, 1841 – New Device advances Percussion Drilling Technology
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
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
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.
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 oilfield service company.
September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Pump
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 some claim the first gasoline station is built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” becomes 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.
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