Community petroleum museums exhibit American petroleum exploration heritage, which began in 1859. They also teach visitors about the modern energy business. State’s with extensive exploration and production histories often have many museums. Below is an A-Z listing of U.S. petroleum museums – including additional links for Oklahoma Petroleum Museums, Pennsylvania Petroleum Museums and Texas Petroleum Museums.
Museums exhibit technological and environmental advancements, discoveries, products – and local pioneers who created the industry that still fuels progress of the world’s economies Hundreds of volunteers (often retired, highly skilled industry professionals) are front-line energy educators for an industry that today more than ever needs an educated public. Visitors walk away from oil museums with a new appreciation for the science of geology, petroleum engineering, and chemistry. It’s much more than sharing stories about boom towns and dry holes.
This small but notable museum features a collection of rare fossils, including the vertebrae from a giant whale that once swam in the prehistoric seas that covered Choctaw County.
Visitors can see bottles of oil from Alabama’s first oil well, discovered in 1944 at Gilbertown. A one-room cabin, located on the west side of the Museum, is constructed from logs dating back to the mid-1840s that were salvaged from the first Choctaw County Courthouse at Barrytown.
“Officially opened to the public in 1986, the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources is situated in the midst of the historic Smackover oil field and one mile south of the oil rich town of Smackover.”
The Busey No. 1 well near El Dorado “blew-in with a gusty fury” on January 10, 1921. The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, one mile south of the oil-rich town of Smackover, is in the heart of the oilfields.
Surrounded by 20 acres of south Arkansas woodlands, the museum collects and exhibits oil – and brine – industrial history. It also documents a fascinating social history that accompanied the state’s oil boom of the 1920s.
An “Ancient Denvers” permanent exhibit features the geology beneath the city:
“From massive cliffs to jagged peaks to layer upon layer below the earth’s surface, rock formations hold tantalizing clues to hundreds of millions of years of geologic history along Colorado’s Front Range. These clues have revealed that over eons of time, the region has changed dramatically.”
Many clues to the region’s storied past were unearthed when the museum drilled a 2,256-foot-deep well through the rock layers beneath Kiowa, Colorado, in 1999.
From that core, layers representing Colorado’s ancient landscapes were brought back to the surface.”
“Money and volunteers, volunteers and money,” are the biggest challenges for the Illinois Oilfield Museum and Resource Center on the outskirts of Oblong, southeast of Effingham.
The Illinois Oilfield Museum and Resource Center celebrates regional and state-wide oil heritage and history, as well and look toward the future interpreting state-of-the-art petroleum science education and related environmental sciences.
Outdoor exhibits include a pump jack and a 52-foot wooden derrick commemorating the well that launched Crawford County’s first oil boom.
Oil in the Southern Illinois Oil Basin was discovered in the early 20th century — and brought great economic development to Illinois. Today, too few of the state’s residents are aware of the significant impact the industry has had over many decades.
Petroleum Planet, an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, explains: “Petroleum isn’t just a material – it’s a way of life.”
The Chicago museum’s oil exhibits emphasize a highly visual experience: “Greeted by a remote-operated underwater vehicle and multicolored tubes of bubbling crude oil, you’ll step into the exhibit as assume your role: a tiny hydrocarbon molecule in a vast pipeline. From there, you will embark on a journey through distillation and transportation control and the ‘pig pen,’ finally arriving at your destination as a finished product.”
The Wabash County Museum in Mt. Carmel is dedicated to preserving area history by presenting rotating exhibits about local industry – and oilfield worker families. “Oil has been important to the economy of Wabash County since 1912 when the first county well was drilled on the Lucy Courter lease,” the museum notes. “Oil had been discovered in Lawrence County, Illinois, and the same formations were producing in Wabash County. The discovery of oil at Griffin, Indiana, in 1938 led to an oil boom at Keensburg, in southern Wabash County in 1939.”
“The museum is located in front of the refinery, in the area previously occupied by The Shell Research Laboratory and in the former Diagnostic Lab. “Step back in time more than 75 years at the Shell History Museum in Roxana, Illinois. Featuring over 1,000 artifacts and growing, the museum offers a visual review of the refinery’s many changes and significant progress from its groundbreaking in 1917 to the present.”
Exhibits, photo displays and a special videotape tell the story of how the legacy of Shell’s Wood River Refinery unfolded over three-quarters of a century. It is a story of extraordinary achievements and remarkable dedication on the part of thousands of Shell people. Today’s Wood River Manufacturing Complex is a premier refinery serving the vast Midwest market. Located along Route 111 in Roxana, Illinois the Shell History Museum is open Wednesdays and Thursdays except holidays. There is no admission charge.
The Red Crown Mini-Museum is at the corner of 6th and South Streets in downtown Lafayette, Indiana, next to Tippecanoe County Library.
“The gas station was built by Standard Oil Company of Indiana in 1927-28 and had a one garage bay attached. It was built with glazed brick on all walls and red tile on the roof. In 1935-36 a second garage bay was added. It was in operation as a gas station until 1979, in 1985 the library bought the property for a future parking area.
In 1991, Don Stein, a local business man and auto collector offered to restore the gas station and was finished later that year.”
Trumps’ Texaco Museum “offers a nostalgic trip to the 1950s, when US 40 bustled with cross-country travelers. The museum is housed in an old service station, which was once the location of Tydol Gas Station.” Harold Trump ran the station until 1941.
The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum was a dream of Bill Moon, founder of the Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, just west of Davenport – and “the world’s largest truckstop.”
Moon had a passion for collecting antique trucks and other trucking memorabilia. Each of his trucks has a unique story to tell about America’s trucking industry. Many are rare and even one-of-a-kind. Educational films are shown in the trucking museum’s theater.
The museum encourages visits from schools. “It’s a great place for educators to enrich students’ learning,” notes the website. “Students can browse exhibits and view historic timelines to understand how trucking has changed over time.”
There are now more than 100 antique trucks in this Iowa museum’s collection. About 30 of these are usually on display — including a 1911 Walker Electric Model 43 that once delivered milk for Bowman Dairy of Chicago. In July 2011, the museum hosted a 100th birthday party for this rare electric truck.
Kansas Oil Museum
The Butler County Historical Center and Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado has a large collection of artifacts from the first “scientifically discovered” oil wells, which drew the new petroleum geologists who were learning about anticlines and traps and ancient sea beds.
Three million years ago the Mid-Continent was in the middle of an ocean.
The Kansas Oil Museum’s energy-education mission is to engage audiences of all ages in meaningful experiences by promoting interpretive programs and hands-on activities in an exciting, unique and entertaining atmosphere.
Programs are age-appropriate and provide a unique learning experience by bringing history out of the text books and placing it in front of the student.
In northwestern Kansas, the Hill City Oil Museum is 12 miles east of Morland. Located beneath an oil derrick on west Highway 24 in Hill City, the oil museum – built in 1958 – tells the story of petroleum from deep producing formations. I
The museum is operated by the Graham County Historical Society, which meets at 103 East Cherry, across the street from the county courthouse, in Hill City — and where more exhibits include a military artifacts, vintage clothing, quilts, photos of early-day-Graham County.
The museum creates a sense of Kansas life from the 1800s when Independence was called “Hay Town,” to the present. The museum’s permanent exhibits in 22 rooms tell stories of the early settler lifestyles — and the history of the area’s oil industry.
The museum documents the Pioneer, Sinclair and Arco oil companies. Displays include Sinclair and Arco advertising give-a-ways. Windows are from Hotel Chalmers, where oil companies had offices.
An old drafting table and drafting machine are exhibited, as are many artifacts and photographs. The museum, located in the Old Post Office Building at 8th and Myrtle streets, was placed on the State and National Register for Historic Sites in 1988.
Editor’s Note —The museum celebrates Sinclair’s Mid-Continent oilfield production and refining heritage. On display at a nearby Independence public park is Corythosaurus – one the surviving dinosaurs from Sinclair’s popular (10 million visitors) “Dinoland” exhibit at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. See our Petroleum Age article Dinosaur Fever.
Located on 10th Street in Great Bend, this museum — and energy education center — was founded in 1990 by a small but dedicated group of independent oilmen interested in preserving the region’s significant petroleum heritage.
The main building of the museum preserves rare documents, newspapers and photographs, displays phases of the industry’s Kansas development, including geology, drilling, well completion, production, refining, and products.
The building also houses a special hall of fame with biographies and pictures of inductees – including the museum’s founder, Danny Biggs (1936-2008), who was responsible for the educational exhibits.
Dedicated to his community, Biggs created and maintained unique scale models (popular with school children) and hundreds of artifacts that walk visitors through each step of petroleum exploration and production.
When natural gas was discovered near Paola. Kansas, the Miami County community shined brightly. By March 1886, “Paola was lighted with Gas” when a pipeline was completed from the Westfall farm to the town square.
By the next year, natural gas “grand illumination” arches were constructed across the four corners of the square, explains the Miami County Historical Museum. “On June 28, 1887, Paola celebrated its first Natural Gas Jubilee.
“Excursion trains brought nearly 2,000 people to town to witness the wonders of natural gas by visiting the Boon gas wells just east of town, attending an auction of new town lots (and) feasting on a free lunch provided by the townspeople.”
Although the natural has boom did not last long, Paola continues to celebrate its petroleum heritage.
In eastern Kansas, the Norman No. 1 Museum at Neodesha documents a November 28, 1892, discovery well – among the nation’s earliest.
The Kansas Historical Society says it is the first well to produce commercial quantities of oil west of the Mississippi River – and the first drilled in the vast Mid-Continent oilfield that covers parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
The Norman No. 1 Museum offers indoor and outdoor exhibits that include a replica wooden derrick located at First and Main streets in Neodesha. The Norman No. 1 well is a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Oil Patch Museum of the Russell County Historical Society exhibits Kansas petroleum heritage “that fuels man’s imagination as well as his machines — whether you are a youngster eager to explore a new subject or an experienced oil person looking to relive memories, you will catch the spirit of oil at the patch!”
The museum tells the story of the “Lucky Seven” and the drilling of Carrie Oswald No. 1, the 1923 discovery well in Russell County. Visitors can walk through an actual oil storage tank and study the geology, drilling and production and transportation exhibits.
The discovery of oil helped the entire northeastern Kansas region economically survive the Great Depression — and its impact is still felt today,” notes Dyrek Ayre of Hays. He has collected and restored historic photographs of the boom. Visit The Oswald Field. The Oil Patch Museum is located just north of Interstate 70 at the 184 exit.
The Stevens County Gas and Historical Museum — established on May 16, 1961 — preserves the heritage of the giant Hugoton Gas natural gas field and the development of Stevens County in far southwestern Kansas. A natural gas well drilled there in 1945 is still producing.
Well equipment is on display and the main museum building houses exhibits of early 1900 furnishings. Restored buildings nearby include the Santa Fe Hugoton Train Depot, an 1887 school house, one of the oldest homes in Hugoton, and an early day grocery store and barber shop. There is a “professional building” — a tribute to Hugoton’s past judges and lawyer — and the first jail house in Hugoton. An agricultural building, completed in 1995, offers extensive displays of farm equipment and implements.
Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum
Formerly known as Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City includes a 12,000-square- building near the community’s old railroad depot, donated by Kansas City Southern Railroad.
The museum is dedicated to the history and preservation of northwestern Louisiana’s natural resources, especially its rich oil history, including the nation’s earliest offshore wells drilled on nearby Caddo Lake.
Chevron donated the derrick and other oilfield equipment that help draw visitors to the museum, which is a 20-minute drive from Shreveport. Major exhibits include three historic boom town buildings — the depot, a bank, and a post office.
The museum is supported by state and the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Society, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the preservation of the region’s oil and other historical treasures.
Editor’s Note –The earliest manufacturing plant in Caddo Parish was in Gas Center outside Shreveport, where Purified Petroleum Products Co. of Louisiana patented a process for treating gasoline and kerosene. The earliest oil pipeline in the area was completed in 1910 by Standard Oil of Louisiana to its Baton Rouge refinery.
When in Shreveport, visit the Spring Street Historical Museum – and the nearby statue at 90 Market Street that commemorates an 1870 natural gas well.
In Morgan City, the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition is a non-profit corporation established for the purpose of educating the general public, and the next generation, on the significance of the offshore oil and gas industry and its affect on the local area, the state, the nation, and the world.
The offshore Mr. CharlieRig Museum is on Front Street in Morgan City — located on the historic Atchafalaya waterfront. The center occupies one of the oldest buildings in the Historic District, the Goldman Building, circa 1910. From 1954 to 1986 Mr. Charlie drilled hundreds of offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico — and was the first transportable, submersible drilling rig and an industry springboard to the current offshore rig technology.
Located in Dearborn, the Henry Ford Henry Ford Museum and the Benson Ford Research Center include exhibits and a large selection of photographs, historical expertise and unparalleled collections documenting the “American Experience.”
The research center holds the Ford Motor Company Historical Archives from 1903-1955, as well as a nationally significant collection of business records, automotive product literature and periodicals, manuscripts, photographs, prints, postcards, maps, trade catalogs, and other library and special collection material.
The complex is an nonprofit educational institution not affiliated with the Ford Motor Company or the Ford Foundation.
The Farmington Museum on East Main Street features “Dinosaurs to Drill Bits” — an energy education exhibit that tells the oil and natural gas story of the prolific San Juan Basin.
“Using the latest in technology this exhibit educates and entertains visitors about an amazing resource we use everyday. Experience the thrill of riding deep into the earth in search of oil on a simulated floor shaking adventure.
Learn what it takes to drill thousands of feet looking for black gold. Then discover how it’s transformed into consumer products.”
Pioneer Oil Museum of New York
The Pioneer Oil Museum of New York is located in the Village of Bolivar, Allegany County, in the heart of New York’s earliest producing area.
In November 1865, Job Moses and his Hall Farm Petroleum Co. found oil in Carrollton Township, Cattaraugus County. The Moses No. 1 well was drilled to 1,165 feet and had initial production of only seven barrels per day – but the well was on the edge of what would become the giant Bradford oilfield.
Although dairying and livestock are an important parts of the local economy, the region still produces very high quality oil – and is now experience a natural gas boom thanks to new horizontal drilling and production technologies for producing from the Marcellus Shale.
Geologists estimate that the Marcellus formation could contain between 168 trillion to 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The Pioneer Oil Museum of New York mission statement: Believing that knowledge and understanding of the local oil and gas industries are vital to the heritage of this area, the museum will preserve the history and legacy of these businesses — and act as a repository for significant artifacts used throughout Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties.
Born in Bombay, New York, in 1896, Howard P. Sears Sr. would begin his service station career selling oil as early automobiles became popular with consumers. He purchased his first gasoline delivery truck in 1923 and built his first bulk storage terminal near a railroad on South George Street in Rome, New York.
According to his son, Howard P. Sears Jr., in 1925 the H.P. Sears Oil Company was incorporated, By 1929 the elder Howard had built his first “new, modern gasoline filling station” in Utica. He would use the same basic design in 1930 for his second station (today’s museum) at George and Liberty streets in Rome. His third station was constructed in Ilion in 1933.
The Sears Service Station Museum is the only remaining station of the original design once in Utica and Ilion. On the walkway located each side of the building are a pair of restored Erie Clock face pumps, notes Howard Sears Jr., who dedicated the museum in 2006 — and accepted an award of merit from the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica. Visit the stations at 201 North George Street, Rome, New York.
“Whether you’re an avid museum visitor, a serious historical researcher, or just looking for an enjoyable time out, the Allen County Museum has something for everyone” — and the museum’s Elizabeth M. MacDonell Memorial Library offers extensive information for genealogists.
On May 19, 1885, oil was discovered in Lima at near a paper mill along the Ottawa River. News spread and Lima became a boom town. The Allen County Historical Society’s Allen County Museum exhibits this local petroleum history. The oil well at the paper mill of Benjamin Faurot was never profitable — but it was started the area’s industry. The Lima oilfield was, for a time, the largest in the nation.
The Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay collects and exhibits artifacts that illustrate the county’s history — from prehistoric times through the present — with a unique emphasis on a natural gas boom that brought prosperity to the community. The Mae Huston Local History Resource Center is an archive and research facility that houses sources related to local history topics.
A private oil, gas, car and truck museum in Shreve, Ohio, the Ken Miller Supply Museum has grown to be among the largest U.S. collections of oilfield tools, machinery, and photos — with both indoor and outdoor displays that bring the nation’s petroleum past to life.
Founded in 1959, Ken Miller Supply, Inc. was owned and operated by Ken and Lois Miller. “The oil and gas business has been good to us, so I wanted to give something back,” explained Ken Miller. His love for history “served as motivating factors in the acquisition and preservation of a fabulous collection of oilfield antiques.”
This group of collectors began with an idea for a club or social and fraternal society for people who like old oilfield engines. Members are known as “OAFS” — and as a policy there are no officers or lists of members. As a member, “you are free to use its name in any appropriate manner.”
An “Oil Boom” exhibit educates visitors to the Wood County Historical Center in Bowling Green. The center is located on the site of what was once the Wood County Infirmary, a large brick building that served as a home to the county’s poor, sick, orphaned, elderly, and mentally ill for over 100 years.
The first natural gas discovered in Wood County was found on the infirmary grounds in 1884 — and provided the natural gas that helped heat and light the home for many years. Today, a demonstration well pumps colored water that is channeled into two storage tanks.
The exhibit includes a derrick, steam boiler, an 1880s gas engine from Acme Sucker Rod Company of Toledo, Ohio, gear works from the AB Company in Findlay, and shackle rods that connect the pump jacks.
Oil and Gas Museum, Parkersburg
“Both oil and natural gas were discovered in western Virginia by the first explorers in the mid-1700s. George Washington acquired 250 acres in what is now West Virginia because it contained an oil and gas spring. This was in 1771, making the father of our country the first petroleum industry speculator.”
The Oil and Gas Museum in downtown Parkersburg is housed in an historic building first built in 1874. It was burned and then rebuilt in 1900. Exterior exhibits include gas engines used at Burning Springs, circa 1910, and made in Parkersburg by the Spence Machine Company. There is an 1859 wooden oil tank from the Petroleum oilfield.
On May 9, 1863, Burning Springs oilfield was destroyed by Confederate raiders lead by General “Grumble” Jones — making it the first of many oil fields destroyed in war. Thanks to Director David McKain, a museum annex and visitors center has been added at the historic Rathbone Well at Burning Springs.
The Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum preserves and promotes the social, cultural, and technological history of West Virginia’s coal and petroleum industries through the collection, preservation, research, and exhibition of historical objects and archival materials.
Since the 1930s, West Virginia University has collected historical artifacts and archival materials from the mining and petroleum industries. Located at the university’s Mineral Resources Building, the Watts Museum includes thousands of objects representing distinct eras in the coal and petroleum industries.
Among the museum’s permanent collection are mining and drilling artifacts, including flame safety lamps, mine rescue equipment, canary cages, and model oil derricks.
Ed Jacobsen, once a sales representative in the Chicago area for ENCO Oil Company (now ExxonMobil), once bought ailing service stations and returned them to health.
More than three decades later, retiring to his wife’s hometown of Three Lakes in the Northwoods region of upper Wisconsin, Ed missed “the world of service stations” so began visiting flea markets and garage sales. His memorabilia collection soon passed 2,700 items.
Wanting to share his collection — and needing a place to display it — Ed Jacobsen opened the Northwoods Petroleum Museum in 2006 on Highway 45 between Eagle River and Three Lakes. “I just love this stuff,” he says, noting his collection, which includes more than 50 gas pump globes, reflects a simpler time, when things were made to last.
Read more in the Wisconsin Petroleum Museum.
The Green River Valley Museum, 206 N. Front Street, Big Piney, began in 1990 thanks to the Big Piney Centennial Committee.
The building at various times has served as a town hall, fire station and jail. “The original structure burned in 1948, leaving the charred metal jail cell exposed to the elements. Having nowhere else to hold prisoners, law enforcement officers continued to use the cell to hold them until they could be moved to a more suitable location. When the building was rebuilt, it was constructed around the jail cell. The jail cell today is one of the museum’s most popular attractions.”
In July 2000, the top section of an old production derrick was moved from the natural gas field between Big Piney and LaBarge to Norris Park at the East end of town – as a tribute to the contributions made by the oil and gas industry to the community. The derrick first came to the area in 1955 from Casper.
Located in Thermopolis, northwest of Casper, the Hot Springs County Museum & Cultural Center includes a Petroleum Building with an “Oil and Gas: Wyoming’s Black Gold” collection of industry exhibits.
The presence of oil in the region was known throughout the 19th century. The “Great Tar Spring”, ten miles southeast of Lander, was used by Native Americans to provide liniment for their horses. Mountain men and pioneers traveling across the country used it as axle grease for their wagons.
The present Hot Springs County Museum is the outgrowth of the Hot Springs County Pioneer Association Museum, which first opened its doors on July 4, 1941. Founded to preserve the history of the region’s settlers,
The Salt Creek Museum in Midwest exhibits the Salt Creek oilfields from 1889 to the present, including oilfield workers, their families, and the history of the area.
Permanent exhibits include a doctor’s office that was in use from 1937 to 1993, school room, kitchen, barber shop, and household artifacts.
The museum holds a full set of Midwest Refining Company Books from 1920-1930, which detail the operations, according to Curator Pauline Schultz, who is writing a book about the Salt Creek Oil Field.
The Tate Geological Museum, founded in 1980 through a gift from Marion and Inez Tate, is located on the Casper College campus and a popular resource to the community: local schools and other groups come to the museum to add to their students learning experience. One of a small number of geology and paleontology museums in Wyoming, the Tate houses a collection of over 3,000 fossil and mineral specimens. Exhibits include a special core exhibit, “Wyoming Geologic Time.”
The Wyoming State Historical Society began in 1953 and provides direction and support for historical research and preservation in Wyoming. Made up of members across Wyoming, as well as from outside the borders, the society is open to any individual interested in history of Wyoming and the West.
Want to add a museum or update one? Know of another petroleum-related exhibit? Please contact the society.
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