A state historical marker near Saginaw commemorates the birth of Michigan’s petroleum industry in 1925. The marker notes the Mt. Pleasant field, discovered three years later, “helped make Michigan one of the leading oil producers of the eastern United States” and that Mount Pleasant became known as the “Oil Capital of Michigan.”

E. Brown Oil Development Company of Midland in April 1930 reportedly secured a lease about six miles northeast of Saginaw and drilled a well. Another well, the Grubb No. 2, was drilled in Isabella County, Chippewa Township (NE¼ of the NW¼ of the SW¼ of Section 2, Township 15 North, Range 4 West), according to Public Land Survey System online maps.

As wells drilled into the prolific Mt. Pleasant field reached 162 in June, E. Brown Oil Development reported completing a producer at 3,594 feet deep with initial production of 300 barrels of oil in 12 hours. In September, the company’s Grubb No. 3 well produced 325 barrels of oil an hour.

Michigan oil history

“Michigan Oil & Gas History,” a 2005 Clarke Historical Library exhibit at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant.

By October 1931, E. Brown Oil Development’s earlier successes helped fund drilling of its No. 1 Homer Campbell well (in the center of the NE¼ of the NE¼ of Section 35, Township 14 North, Range 3 West). At depth of 1,360 feet, the well struck a 600,000 cubic foot initial flow of natural gas.

Two years later, E. Brown Oil Development expanded its search for 100 miles east to Sanilac County, at the base of a Michigan map’s “thumb.” It leased 160 acres from William Herdell in Sanilac County and began to drill on October 3, 1933. The well was sited in Argyle Township (SW¼ of the SW¼ of the SW¼ of Section 15, Township 13 North, Range 13 East).

But at a time when about 90 percent of U.S. exploratory wells ended as expensive failures, E. Brown Oil Development drilled a 2,353-foot-deep dry hole on November 4, 1933. The well was plugged and abandoned.

What happened to E. Brown Oil Development after that is a mystery, but in 1931 oil prices had dipped to a 13-year low of about $10 per barrel (in 2013 dollars) and Great Depression unemployment reached almost 25 percent.

Faced with low oil prices in a highly competitive industry, many oil companies failed and disappeared, leaving investors with stock certificates now only valued by collectors. E. Brown Oil Development appears to be among them. Today the state has several productive oil and natural gas fields, and Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant preserves Michigan Petroleum History.

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The stories of many exploration companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found in an updated series of research in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?

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