Updated May 13, 2013
Oil patch postings about petroleum heritage. Share your stories, news and events. Read Today in Petroleum History updates.
On May 14, 2004, the first public museum in Louisiana dedicated to the petroleum industry opens in Oil City, 30 miles northwest of 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 oil and natural gas discoveries – and the economic prosperity brought by a North Louisiana petroleum boom.
With the first oil wells drilled in the early 1900s, by 1910 almost 25,000 people are working in and around Oil City, which becomes the first “wildcat town” in the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas region.
Confederates attack an early oil town in what will soon become West Virginia, destroying equipment and thousands of barrels of oil.
The Burning Springs oilfield is destroyed by Confederate raiders led by General William “Grumble” Jones – “making it the first of many oilfields destroyed in war,” notes the founder of an oil and natural gas museum in Parkersburg.
Almost a century earlier, George Washington had acquired 250 acres in the region because it contained oil and natural gas seeps.
“This was in 1771, making the father of our country the first petroleum industry speculator,” notes David McKain, author of Where It All Began, a history of the West Virginia petroleum industry.
On May 4, 1869, the first U.S. patent for an offshore oil drilling rig is issued to Thomas Fitch Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.” Many believe this patent is the beginning of the modern offshore oil and natural gas industry.
Rowland’s 1869 patent – for a fixed, working platform for drilling offshore to a depth of almost 50 feet – is just ten years after Edwin Drake has made the nation’s first commercial oil discovery in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
In April 1865, Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City receives the first of his many patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells” – to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.
A year later, Roberts will receive a patent for what becomes known as the “Roberts Torpedo,” which uses nitroglycerin detonations as the “fracking” technology for increasing well production.
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 fee, some oilmen secretly hire unlicensed practitioners who operate at night with their own devices – and the term moonlighter enters the American lexicon.
The giant Los Angeles oilfield is discovered on April 20, 1893, when a struggling prospector, Ed Doheny, and his mining partner Charles Canfield drill into the tar seeps between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue.
The 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.
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).
Railroad oil tank cars become an oilfield innovation on April 10, 1866, when James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, are granted a patent for their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum.”
“The first functional railway oil tank car was invented and constructed in 1865 by James and Amos Densmore at nearby Miller Farm along Oil Creek,” explains an historical marker near Titusville.
“It consisted of two wooden tanks placed on a flat railway car; each tank held 40-45 barrels of crude oil,” the marker, on Route 8, continues.
“A successful test shipment was sent in September 1865 to New York City. By 1866, hundreds of tank cars were in use. The Densmore Tank Car revolutionized the bulk transportation of crude oil to market.”
One year after lifting price controls on oil, on April 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signs the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax (WPT) into law. The controversial WPT imposes an excise tax on oil production.
The tax is meant to limit increases in oil prices. However, the Washington Post notes, “the windfall profits tax has nothing to do, in fact, with profits. It is an excise tax – that is, a tax on each barrel of oil produced.”
The tax – a remnant of President Richard Nixon’s general wage and price freeze of 1971 – is meant to limit increases in oil prices. Congress repeals WPT in 1988 – after domestic oil production falls to its lowest level in 20 years.
March 29, 1819, 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.
Drake will use a steam engine and cable-tool drilling rig to drill his historic well. He also invents a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of the well bore. He will overcome many financial and technical obstacles to make his oil discovery at 69.5 feet. He also will pioneer new drilling technologies, including using iron casing to isolate his well bore from nearby Oil Creek.
“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 one oil patch historian.
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 March 20, 1919 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.
On March 17, 1949, a team of experts converge on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma – and make history by performing the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.
The technique had been developed and patented by Stanolind and an exclusive license issued to Halliburton to perform the process. Today, 2.5 million fracture treatments have been performed worldwide, according to a 2010 article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology.
“Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” claims one service company executive. “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.”
The Seminole City oilfield, which will lead to a series of discoveries revealing the Greater Seminole Area, is discovered March 7, 1926, 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 in July, producing 1,500 barrels of oil a day – and starting the Greater Seminole oil boom.
The Greater Seminole Area includes six of Oklahoma’s 20 “giant” oilfields – Earlsboro, St. Louis, Seminole, Bowlegs, Little River, Allen, and Seminole City.
At its height, the Seminole City oilfield accounts for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production.
A revolutionary oilfield technology comes from Erle P. Halliburton when he patents a “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells” on March 1, 1921.
Halliburton’s patent (No. 1,369,891) 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.”
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 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 patent application.
On February 20, 1959, 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.
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 at the University of Texas.
“This event demonstrated that large quantities of liquefied natural gas could be transported safely across the ocean.”
After years of “dry holes,” Alabama’s first oilfield is discovered in Choctaw County on February 17, 1944. Texas oilman H.L. Hunt drills the No. 1 Jackson well — and discovers the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to finding this oilfield, 350 noncommercial wells have 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’s well in Choctaw County discovers the Gilbertown oilfield in the Eutaw Sand at a depth of 3,700 feet. Today, Alabama’s major producing regions are in the west, including a coalbed methane region underlying Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties.
As early 20th century worldwide demand for oil grew – but the science for finding it remained obscure – a small group of geologists organized the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).
Beginning as the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about 90 geologists gathered at Henry Kendall College, now Tulsa University, and on on February 10, 1917, formed an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.”
Forty-six natural gas lights along Philadelphia’s Second Street are lit for the first time in 1836 by employees of the newly formed Gas Works — the first municipally owned natural gas distribution company.
Today there are more than 900 public natural gas systems; the Philadelphia Gas Works is the largest. There are more than 70 million residential, commercial and industrial natural gas customers in the United States.
America’s first commercial gas lighting company, the Gas Light Company of Baltimore, Maryland (now Baltimore Gas and Electric Company), incorporated in 1817. It distributed gas manufactured from tar and later coal.
In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” was the name applied to the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder.
Discovered just two years earlier by General Motors scientists, “Ethyl,” the world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetra-ethyl lead compound, goes on sale February 2, 1923, at the Refiners Oil Company service station in Dayton, Ohio.
On January 28, 1969, an accident at an oil platform six miles off Santa Barbara, California, leads to between 80,000 barrels and 100,000 barrels of oil spilled into the Pacific – and onto beaches.
“Thus the means by which the U.S. obtains about 25 percent of the nation’s natural gas production and about 24 percent of its oil production have become, understandably, linked to environmental degradation,” explains one historian.
Earth Day is born in the following spring, adds a report by the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Environmental Protection Agency is established in 1970.
“Many consider the publicity surrounding the oil spill a major impetus to the environmental movement,” the university notes. A 2009 study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reveals that natural seafloor oil seeps from nearby Goleta have produced far more oil than the 1969 spill.
Col. Edward A. L. Roberts – who fought bravely at the 1862 battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia – three years later conducts his first test to increase oil production by using an explosive charge deep in a well. His “shooting” of a well near Titusville, Pennsylvania, increases daily production from a few barrels to more than 40 barrels.
Roberts will quickly patent his “torpedoes” – iron canisters filled with gunpowder (later nitroglycerin) that were lowered into wells and ignited by a weight dropped along a suspension wire onto a percussion cap.
By 1870, the “Roberts Torpedo” and similar production-enhancing technologies will become commonplace in America’s young oil patch. Modern hydraulic fracturing of wells – or “fracking” – will evolve from this January 21, 1865, experiment.
Offshore technology advances when an “underwater manipulator with suction support device” is patented on January 19, 1965.
Howard L. Shatto Jr. will help make Shell Oil an early leader in offshore oilfield development thanks to new technologies, including remotely operated underwater vehicles like the one at right.
Early underwater robot technology can trace its roots to the late 1950s, when Hughes Aircraft Company developed a Manipulator Operated Robot – MOBOT – for the Atomic Energy Commission. Working on land, the robot performed tasks in environments too radioactive for humans.
Beginning in 1960, Shell began transforming the landlocked MOBOT into a marine robot — “basically a swimming socket wrench,” according to one engineer.
The modern oil and natural gas industry is born January 10, 1901, on a hill in Texas, when a wildcat well erupts on Spindletop Hill in Beaumont. The discovery will change the future of American industry and transportation and bring new oilfield technologies.
The 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 more than a decade earlier. Two museums in Beaumont educate the public about the historic oil field – and the modern petroleum industry.
January 7,1957, oil discovery well on Ferne Houseknecht’s dairy farm will uncover a 29-mile-long oilfield — the largest in Michigan. After almost two and a half years of drilling, the Houseknecht No. 1 well discovers the “Golden Gulch” near Scipio Township in Hillsdale County.
The 3,576-foot-deep well in southwestern Michigan produces from the Black River formation of the Trenton zone. “The story of the discovery well of Michigan’s only ‘giant’ oilfield, 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.
The giant oilfield will “foster a boom on a discovery-hungry petroleum industry to end a 15-year major discovery drought in Michigan,” Westbrook says.
Modern oil and natural gas companies – armed with new detection and completion technology – have returned to the historic region. With 14,123 producing wells in 2009, Michigan is the nation’s 17th largest oil producer and ranked 16th in natural gas production.
She was among the most famous journalists of her day as a reporter for the New York World. Journalist Nellie Bly, a celebrity by the age of 25, will marry a wealthy industrialist – and invent the modern oil drum.
Writing under her pen name (a character in a popular song of the time), Elizabeth Cochrane’s numerous exposés and adventures capture the public’s imagination and make her world famous. Much has been written about this remarkable woman from Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania. Her less known is her invention of the 55-gallon oil drum.
Issued a U.S. patent on December 26, 1905, Bly will proudly proclaim, “I am the only manufacturer in the country who can produce a certain type of steel barrel for which there is an immense demand at present, for the transportation of oil, gasoline, and other liquids.”
Born on December 21, 1842, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler will become one of the most prolific “bird’s-eye view” artists who crisscross the country during the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Many of what Fowler called “aero views” captured the small cities near America’s earliest oil and natural gas fields.
Fowler gained his commissions by interesting citizens and civic groups in the idea of a panoramic map of their community. After one town had agreed to having a map made, he often sought to involve neighboring towns — exploiting their sense of community pride. He traveled through Oklahoma and North Texas in 1890 and 1891 similarly documenting such cities such as Wichita Falls, Texas, Bartlesville and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“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 December 13, 1905, article in The Horseless Age.
The monthly journal first published in 1895 describes the earliest motor technologies, including the use of compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam, and diesel power — as well as the first hybrids.
Ferdinand Porsche uses a small four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate electricity to power two electric motors mounted in front wheel hubs. His hybrid system is resurrected more than 100 years later with Chevrolet’s introduction of the Volt.
Drilling safety increases dramatically in December 1931 when James S. Abercrombie improves the Cameron Iron Works mechanically operated ram-type blowout preventer.
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, sets a new standard in safe drilling operations. The rapidly reacting device is first used during the Oklahoma City oilfield boom to help end an era of gushers. In 2003, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers recognizes the “Cameron Ram-Type Blowout Preventer” as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
A discovery on November 28, 1892, near Neodesha, Kansas, is considered the first significant oil well west of the Mississippi River.
Although it begins as just a four-barrel-a day producer, it will prove to be the first to uncover the vast Mid-Continent oilfield, which extends into Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
Today, the Norman No. 1 well site – added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and designated a National Landmark in 1977 – is at the northeast corner of Mill and First streets in Neodesha.
“A museum has been built in a city park surrounding the site — a fitting recognition of Norman No. 1′s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history,” notes the Kansas Historical Society.
On a chilly November morning in November 1905 – two years before Oklahoma becomes a state – oil is discovered on the Glenn farm south of Tulsa. Soon, there are hundreds of wells producing so much oil that the land is called the “‘Glenn Pool.” The discovery will help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”
With daily production soon exceeding 120,000 barrels, Glenn Pool becomes the greatest oil field in America at the time, exceeding the giant Spindletop discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four years earlier.
“Unlike the thick, sour oil from Spindletop, the famed 1901 Texas discovery that had already played out, this oil was light and sweet – just right to refine into gasoline and kerosene,” notes one Oklahoma historian.
In April 2008, a monument was unveiled in Glenpool’s Black Gold Park by the Glenn Pool Oil Field Commission. The 28-foot “derrick” illuminates at night and includes granite etchings that tell the story of the historic 1905 discovery.
The modern offshore oil and natural gas industry is born on November 14, 1947, when an exploratory well strikes oil in the Gulf of Mexico. It is the first successful offshore oil well out of sight of land.
Commissioned by Kerr-McGee Industries, the offshore drilling platform is 10 miles off the Louisiana coast in just 18 feet of water. Built by Brown & Root Company for only $230,000 — and without comparable information on how strong to make the pilings, welds and jackets — the platform will withstand hurricane-force winds and waves.
Sixteen 24-inch pilings sunk 104 feet into the ocean floor secure the 2,700 square foot wooden deck.Kerr-McGee purchases World War II surplus utility freighters to provide supplies, equipment, and crew quarters. The “Kermac 16″ oil platform will produce 1.4 million barrels of oil and 307 million cubic feet of natural gas before being shut down in 1984.
On November 11, 1884, America’s largest gas utility is created in New York City. Six gas-light companies (the New York, Manhattan, Metropolitan, Municipal, Knickerbocker and Harlem companies) merge to form what will become the Consolidated Edison Company of New York.
“With six major 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 a Con Edison historian. “From time to time, work crews from competing companies would inadvertently meet on the same street and literally battle for customers, giving rise to the term “gas house gangs.’”
Con Edison today distributes natural gas to more than one million customers – and maintains more than 4,200 miles of gas mains.
America’s first National Automobile Show opens in New York City’s Madison Square Garden on November 3, 1900. Almost 48,000 visitors pay 50 cents each to see the latest in automotive technology. Of the 4,200 automobiles sold by the end of the year, less than a thousand are powered by gasoline.
Manufacturers present 160 different vehicles and demonstrate driving and maneuverability on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that encircles the exhibits. A 200-foot ramp tests hill-climbing power. Almost 48,000 visitors pay 50 cents each to see the latest in automotive technology.
Automobiles will help reduce the 450,000 tons of horse manure annualy removed from New York City streets.
In Boonsville on October 26, 1970, 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.
He began life in Lone Star Steel Company advertisements in the 1950s. The oil field tubular goods manufacturer hired Texas artist Torg Thompson to create a character representing the “heart of the oil and gas industry.”
Joe – whose bronze face is on four other Texas monuments – is also presented annually as the U.S. petroleum industry’s “Chief Roughneck Award” honoring one individual whose achievements and character represent the highest ideals of the oil and natural gas industry.
Wyoming’s first oil boom begins on October 23, 1908, 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 was known to be productive, the central Salt Creek dome received little attention until noted Italian geologist Dr. Cesare Porro recommended the drilling site to Petroleum Maaschappij in 1906.
Drillers J. E. Stock and his father, working for an English corporation known as the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, brought in the well at 1050 feet with initial production of 600 barrels a day.
Formerly known as Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum tells the story of the state’s petroleum industry using historic buildings, a collection of outdoor displays, and interactive exhibits.
The museum is in Oil City, where the October 12, 1905, discovery of the Caddo Pine Island field created a classic boom town — and brought economic prosperity to northern Louisiana that would last for decades. About 20 miles northwest of Shreveport, the oilfield includes more than 80,000 acres.
Louisiana’s first natural gas production came much earlier — thanks to an 1870 effort to drill a water well for a Shreveport ice factory. The discovery was used to light the ice factory, becoming the state’s first commercial use of natural gas.
On October 3, 1980 – exactly 50 years after the discovery of the giant 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.
“Here are the people, their towns, their personal habits, their tools and their pastimes, all colorfully depicted in dioramas, movies, sound presentations and actual antiques donated by East Texas citizens,” says White. One downtown block in Kilgore - the “World’s Richest Acre Park” – once contained the greatest concentration of oil wells in the world.
On October 2, 1919, William Grove Skelly incorporates a company that will help make Tulsa become known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”
Skelly Oil Company builds on Skelly’s earlier success in the El Dorado oilfield in, Kansas. Skelly, born in 1878 in Erie, Pennsylvania — where his father hauled oilfield supplies in a horse-drawn wagon – becomes known as “Mr. Tulsa.” He is a philanthropic sponsor of civic, educational, and charitable causes – and serves as president of Tulsa’s famous International Petroleum Exposition for 32 years until his death in1957.
New Mexico’s first commercial oil well is drilled September 25, 1922, on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Shiprock by the Midwest Refining Company.
The Hogback No. 1 is a modest producer at 375 barrels per day, but Midwest soon 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. However, discoveries in southeastern New Mexico will overshadow the San Juan Basin’s oil and natural gas possibilities. New Mexico has produced more than 5.5 billion barrels of oil since the Hogback No. 1 well.
The Texas petroleum industry is born in 1866 east of Nacogdoches when Lyne Taliaferro Barret and his Melrose Petroleum Oil Company bring in the state’s first commercial oil well.
The Confederate army 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. His well yields a modest ten barrels per day, but limited access to markets soon leads to the company’s failure.
Barret’s failed project lay dormant for nearly two decades until 1887 when new wildcat drilling companies once again found oil and by 1889 had 40 producing wells. The Nacogdoches oilfield remains the first and oldest in Texas. Barret’s 1848 homestead, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, today has been restored as a bed and breakfast.
In 1927, the Schlumberger brothers add a new technology to petroleum exploration and production — a downhole electronic “logging tool.”
A technology that will revolutionize the search for oil and natural gas – an electric downhole well log — is first applied near Pechelbronn, France.
After successfully developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger adapt their surface system to operate vertically. Changes in subsurface resistance readings show variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas.
On August 31, 1959, 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 Livingston Grandin.
Instead of being remembered as America’s second commercial oil discovery, the Grandin exploratory well results in the petroleum industry’s first “dry hole.” Gradin’s drilling attempt might also 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).
Travelers on U.S. 62 about four miles south of the Allegheny River Bridge at Tidioute, Pennsylvania, will find an historic marker erected in July 1959. The marker reads: “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.”
The modern American petroleum industry begins on August 27, 1859, in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The Seneca Oil Company’s highly speculative pursuit of oil is rewarded when Edwin Drake and his blacksmith driller, William “Uncle Billy” Smith, bring in the first commercial oil well at 69.5 feet near Oil Creek in Venango County. They launch a new industry.
August 27, 1859, is one of those special dates that changed the world, explains one respected oil patch historian. “Edwin Drake’s quest to find oil by drilling was a success, and the modern oil and gas industry took a giant leap forward. 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.”
Aviation fuel technology is still in its infancy when a pilot agrees to use a new Phillips Petroleum aviation fuel – Nu-Aviation Gasoline – for a dangerous air race over the Pacific Ocean. Eight airplanes will takeoff before a crowd of 50,000 at the Oakland Airport in California. Several competitors will never return.
It has been just three months after Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 transatlantic flight. The Dole Pineapple Company has sponsored the air race of more than 2,400 miles across the Pacific.
Phillips Petroleum’s high-octane gas fuels the “Woolaroc” monoplane to victory. The winning aircraft today is in a museum at the Woolaroc Ranch near Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Biographers of Howard Hughes Sr., who patented the twin-cone roller bit on August 10, 1909, note that Hughes met inventor Granville A. Humason in a Shreveport bar – where Humason sold the rights to a roller bit consisting of two interlocking cones.
The University of Texas Center for American History collection includes a 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that chance meeting. He recalls that he sold the rights for $150 – and spent $50 of his sale proceeds at the bar during the balance of the evening.
The Page Museum is located at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles, California. The tar pits, discovered by a Spanish expedition on August 3, 1769, is one of the world’s most famous sources of fossils, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world.
Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the thick liquid that bubbles out of the ground at Rancho La Brea is actually comprised of asphalt — not tar. “Asphalt is a superb preservative; small and delicate fossils, such as hollow bird bones or paper-thin exoskeletons of beetles are very well-preserved here. As a result, our collection of fossil birds is one of the worlds largest.”
A wildcat well comes in on S. L. Fowler’s farm on July 29, 1918, near a small North Texas community on the Red River. The subsequent drilling boom will make Burkburnett famous — two decades before “Boom Town,” the motion picture it inspires. The 1940 MGM feature will star Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, Hedy Lamarr and Claudette Colbert.
Following the 1918 discovery, Burkburnett’s population grows from 1,000 to 8,000. A line of derricks two-miles long greets visitors. The new oilfield joins earlier discoveries in nearby Electra (1911) and Ranger (1917) that will make North Texas a worldwide leader in petroleum production.
A 19th century petroleum product – kerosene – fuels the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that carries Apollo 11 to the moon, where astronaut Neil Armstrong announces on July 20, 1969, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Although the Saturn V was last launched in 1972, “rocket grade” kerosene continues to fuel spaceflight — powering today’s Atlas and Delta II launch vehicles…and Russia’s Soyuz.
A 1926 discovery well near Seminole, Oklahoma, reveals the potential of an oil producing formation, the Wilcox sand – and launches a drilling boom that will make Oklahoma one of today’s leading producing states. The Fixico No. 1 well penetrates the Wilcox sand at 4,073 feet.
The greater Seminole area – several 1920s Oklahoma oil fields – will swing the United States’ oil reserves from scarcity to surplus. 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.
On July 9, 1883, L. Frank Baum - whose father found great success in Pennsylvania oilfields – opens Baum’s Castorine Company in Syracuse, New York.
The future author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and his brother Benjamin begin their enterprise by offering petroleum lubricants, oils – and Baum’s Castorine. They sold a buggy grease, “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”
According some researchers, L. Frank Baum’s sales trips in the Pennsylvania oil patch may have influenced the writing of his famous children’s books. “On one of these trips, while installing a window display for a customer, the idea of the Tin Woodman came to him,” claims one historian.
On June 28, 1967, the Hall of Petroleum opens at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology on the national mall in Washington.
The exhibit features exploration and production technological advancements and the resulting oil and natural gas discoveries essential to development of America’s energy supplies.
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 and its preparation for consumption — whether by automobiles, airplanes, power stations, household furnaces, or the petrochemical industry,” explains Philip W. Bishop, author of the exhibit’s catalogue, Petroleum.
After years of “dry holes,” a 1921 discovery on Signal Hill, California – one of the world’s most famous oil strikes – launches a drilling boom 20 miles south of Los Angeles.
The well reveals the Long Beach oilfield, which will eventually produce one billion barrels, making Signal Hill acreage among the most productive in the world. Signal Hill, a growing residential area prior to the discovery, will have so many derricks people call it Porcupine Hill.
“Today ou can see wonderful commemorative art displays of this era throughout the lush parks and walkways of Signal Hill,” notes a local newspaper. Dedicated in 2006, a bronze-cast sculpture — Tribute to the Roughnecks — today overlooks western Signal Hill and Long Beach.
The June 13, 1928, discovery of a massive oilfield near Hobbs, New Mexico, will provide a Great Depression photographer many subjects.
The Midwest Refining Company’s well revealed the Hobbs field, later cited by the New Mexico Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources as “the most important single discovery of oil in New Mexico’s history.”
The Library of Congress collection includes photographs taken by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration.
“Although Lee visited Hobbs a dozen years after its first major oil strike, these photographs are the most complete visual record available of this early New Mexico oil boom town,” notes Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
“New Mexico has been a major producer of oil and natural gas since hydrocarbons were first discovered in the state during the early 1920s,” notes the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.
The Lone Star State’s oil and natural gas industry is launched on June 9, 1894, when the state’s first major oilfield is discovered – while drilling for water.
The American Well and Prospecting Company makes the oil strike in the Mid-Continent oilfield at a depth of 1,035 feet. The city council – still wanting water for its growing community – pays only half of the contracted $1,000 fee.
The Corsicana oilfield leads to Texas’ first petroleum boom – and the first west of the Mississippi River. The first oil refinery in Texas is built in 1897. By 1898 there are 287 producing wells in the Corsicana oilfield alone
Corsicana today hosts an annual “Derrick Days” and claims the first commercial oil well west of the Mississippi River.
It takes almost two years of cable-tool drilling before petroleum history is made in West Texas on May 28, 1923.
Near Big Lake, on the 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.
The Santa Rita No. 1 – named for the patron saint of the impossible – will produce for seven decades. The discovery also will make the University of Texas one of the richest state universities in the country.
America’s first diesel-electric “streamliner,” the 97.5 ton Burlington Zephyr, pulls into Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition on May 26, 1934.
Zephyr has completed a nonstop “dawn to dusk” run from Denver, Colorado — cutting traditional steam locomotive time by half.
Powered by a single eight-cylinder diesel engine, the revolutionary passenger train travels 1,015 miles in slightly more than 13 hours. The Zephyr burns $16.72 worth of diesel fuel. The same distance in a coal burner would cost $255. By the end of 1934, eight major U.S. railroads have ordered diesel-electric locomotives. The engine technology’s cost advantages in manpower, maintenance, and support are apparent.
Copyright © 2003-2013 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.