The change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea is another chapter in petroleum history.Read the rest of this entry »
Your source for energy education. Petroleum history offers a context
for teaching the modern business of meeting America's energy needs.
The change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea is another chapter in petroleum history.Read the rest of this entry »
Although the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) provides many free energy education research and resources, it remains a small, nonprofit program that needs your financial support. Please help with AOGHS outreach, including this website, by making a donation today.
An updated state-by-state list of resources and contacts for teachers, students and researchers. Also see our list of National Energy Education Contacts.
This collection of state contacts offers education programs (designed for grades kindergarten through 12th grade) with emphasis on oil and natural gas exploration and production. It is an ongoing research product – please contact AOGHS with your comments, suggestions or additions.
Contact the society and support its energy education mission.
When petroleum leaves the wellhead and reaches a refinery, it has moved into what is considered the “downstream” segment of the industry. Information about the “upstream” segment (exploration and production) is available from sources — in the oil and natural gas producing states.
Since 1930, the Independent Petroleum Association of American has published an annual magazine containing detailed statistics — including drilling, production, prices and financial information, operating rotary rigs, and much more.
For a collection of individual state geological surveys in all 50 states, visit theAssociation of American State Geologists. Many of the following resources are documented from updated information of the U.S. Department of Energy’s booklet Energy Education Resources: Kindergarten through 12th Grade – edited to narrow scope to oil and natural gas. Read the rest of this entry »
The Boy Scouts of America geology merit badge began in 1911 as a mining badge – one of less than 30 scouting merit badges. The mining badge evolved into the rocks and minerals badge and in 1953 became the geology merit badge.
The story behind the geology merit badge is best told by a member of the Houston Geological Society, which offers potential badge earners many resources.
Geologist Jeff Spencer, himself an Eagle Scout, provided details for this article.
Spencer has published more than 20 oilfield history papers and is a frequent contributor to Oil-Industry History, the annual journal of the Petroleum History Institute, Oil City, Pennsylvania.
According to Spencer, the original mining merit badge had four requirements: know and name 50 minerals; name and describe the 14 great divisions of the earth’s crust; define watershed, delta, drift, fault, glacier, terrace, stratum, dip; and identify 10 different kinds of rock and describe methods for mine ventilation and safety devices.
Spencer notes that the first mention of oil and natural gas appeared in 1927 – the mining merit badge requirement asked Scouts to “explain how we locate petroleum and natural gas pools, and how we obtain oil and gas.”
In 1945, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) formed a “Committee on Boy Scout Literature” at the urging of industry leaders, including A.C. Bace, a geologist with Stanolind, and George W. Pirtlem, an independent geologist from Tyler, Texas.
Oklahoma geologist Frank Gouin chaired the AAPG committee’s effort to revise the badge and its requirements, Spencer says. In 1953, the geology merit badge officially replaced the rocks and minerals badge.
Spencer notes that the 1953 badge’s description of what a geologist does said that four out of five geologists become “oil geologists” with an expected starting salary of $300 per month.
“You may have to be a nomad instead of settling down for life in one spot,” it continued. “You may have to ‘sit on’ a well all night and then drive a hundred miles to report on it. You may have to burn in India, freeze in Alaska, or do both in the Texas Panhandle.”
Although minor revisions of the geology merit badge occurred in 1957, the next major change came in 1982, adding anticlines, synclines, and faults with a requirement to draw simple diagrams showing unconformity, strikes and dips.
The last major revision of the geology merit badge occurred in 1985, Spencer says, again with the cooperation of AAPG leadership. The badge now has 13 requirements, organized under five categories: earth materials, earth processes, earth history, geology and people, and careers in geology.
The earth materials section includes the collection and identification of rocks and minerals.
The earth processes section covers geomorphology, the hydrologic cycle, volcanoes, mountain building, and the ocean floor.
The earth history section includes the geologic time chart, fossils, and continental drift.
The geology and people section covers environmental geology and energy sources with a field trip option in this category.
In addition to its involvement in geology merit badges, AAPG and its chapters serve the scouting program in many ways, Spencer concludes. The Houston Geological Society has sponsored Explorer Posts and worked with the Houston Museum of Natural Science to teach elements of the merit badge.
There now are more than 120 merit badges. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 – and the need for energy conservation – led to creation of an “energy” merit badge in 1977.
Editor’s Note – In 2013, Jeff published a selection of his oil patch post cards via Arcadia Publishing’s postcard history series. His Texas Oil and Gas, which includes more than 200 vintage black-and-white images, shows the industry from near Corsicana in the 1890s through decades of oil booms throughout the state.
Chapters reflect the Lone Star State’s petroleum heritage by region, including “Spindletop and the Golden Triangle,” the prolific area in southeast Texas between Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange.
Read a review of his book in Postcards from the Texas Oil Patch.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.
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.”
The new association’s mission included promoting the science of geology, especially as it related to oil and natural gas, and encourage “technology improvements in the methods of exploring for and exploiting these substances.”
AAPG would also “foster the spirit of scientific research among its members; to disseminate facts relating to the geology and technology of petroleum and natural gas.”
Adopted its present name a year after the meeting at Henry Kendall College, AAPG begins publishing a bimonthly journal that remains among the most respected in the industry.
AAPG launches a peer-reviewed Bulletin that includes papers written by leading geologists. With a subscription price of five dollars, the journal is distributed to members, university libraries, and other industry professionals. Read the rest of this entry »
Visit a petroleum museum this summer!
Summer brings millions of Americans trekking across the country on vacation. Among the more unusual stops, if less well known than most, are community petroleum museums with exhibits chronicling the nation’s discoveries.
There are several historic attractions in state where it all started, Pennsylvania.
East of I-79 in northwestern Pennsylvania, the Drake Well Museum in Titusville exhibits “Colonel” Edwin Drake’s famous Aug. 27, 1859, discovery well – recognized as the first commercial oil producer.
Soon after Drake made his discovery, iron natural gas pipelines about two inches in diameter were taking transporting natural gas more than five miles.
The museum’s outdoor exhibits include a recreation of the original cable-tool derrick Drake used. A popular summer attraction is the “Nitro” reenactment that demonstrates the use of “go-devils” for fracturing a well.
Visit the museum gift shop to find a reprint of the Early Days of Oil, by Dr. Paul Giddens, a book considered to be the “Bible” of information about the birth of the U.S. petroleum industry. Many mages are from originals made by photographer John A. Mather and today housed at the museum.
Located on 270 Seneca Street in Oil City – in a Beaux Arts building listed in the National Register of Historic Places – the Venango Museum of Art, Science & Industry preserves the oil region’s industrial heritage. Its exhibits include a 1928 Wurlitzer Theater Organ.
Another must-see visit, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Historic Pithole Visitors Center – site of a vanished 1865 oil boom town to day managed by Drake Well Museum. The ghost town is in Oil Creek State Park.
A dedicated group of railroad enthusiasts maintain the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, a nonprofit group that offers trips through the historic oil region. Near the railroad is the refurbished home of “Coal Oil” Johnny. Read his fascinating tale in the Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.”
In nearby by Oil City is a center dedicated to the study of the oil heritage region at Clarion University – Venango Campus.
The Barbara Morgan Harvey Center for the Study of Oil Heritage contains hundreds of rare books that document the history of the region, newspaper clippings from the early 1900s, minutes from the meetings of early companies from the late 1800s, maps and photographs.
The First Billion Dollar Oilfield
A few hours drive to the east of Titusville, the Penn-Brad Oil Museum (and historical oil well park), near Bradford, takes visitors back to the early boom times of “The First Billion Dollar Oil Field.”
Guided tours are conducted by retired geologists or petroleum engineers who volunteer their time to relate exciting first-hand experiences. The museum is located three miles south of Bradford, along Rt. 219, near Custer City.
Nearby is the 125-year-old refinery of the American Refining Group – reportedly the oldest continuously operating refinery in the country.
Before leaving Pennsylvania, visit one of the world’s largest collections of oilfield engines. Century old “hit and miss” gas engines, vintage oilfield equipment, early electric generators are among the permanent exhibits at a unique “power museum” in Coolspring.
With perhaps the largest 19th century engine collection in the world, the museum is housed in 13 buildings with about 250 engines – many of them operational.
The Coolspring Power Museum is located east of Pittsburgh just off Route 36 midway between Punxsutawney to the south and Brookville to the north.
According to Director Paul E. Harvey, the collection presents an illuminating history of the evolution of internal combustion technology that put an end to the steam powered era.
Twice a year engine collectors from around the country gather on the extensive grounds – and the “barking” of hundreds of antique engines last several days.
Although not in Pennsylvania, but just across the New York border, the Pioneer Oil Museum is located in the Village of Bolivar, Allegany County.
While dairying and livestock have become the cash crops, the region still produces a small amount of very high quality oil and natural gas, says Director Kelly Lounsberry. This museum tells the story of oil and natural gas production in the region.
Most petroleum history sources agree that the first U.S. well specifically intended to obtain natural gas was dug near Fredonia by William Hart, who had noticed gas bubbles on the surface of a creek.
In 1821, Hart dug a 27-foot well to bring a larger flow of natural gas to the surface. Hart succeeded and a “log pipe” was used to bring gas to nearby houses for lighting.
Regarded by many as the father of natural gas in America, Hart’s work led to the formation of the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company – the first U.S. natural gas company.
The American Oil and Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) is dedicated to preserving the history of exploration and production by providing advocacy and service for community oil museums. The society links these dedicated museums in order to strengthen the efforts of all to preserve a remarkable petroleum heritage.
Today, more than 100 community oil and gas museums are linked to the AOGHS website. Museum events and K-12 education efforts are featured alongside stories of America’s E&P heritage.
Editor’s Note – This article adapted from an American Oil & Gas HIstorical Society article that first appeared in American Gas, official magazine of the American Gas Association, Washington, D.C., founded in 1918.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation.
Petroleum companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf are required to provide detailed sonar data in areas that have archaeological potential.
Several federal agencies today review about 1,700 oil and natural gas company surveys every year. The surveys have revealed more than 100 historic shipwrecks. In 2001, scientists at the Minerals Management Service noted that “a German submarine definitely got our attention.”
During World War II, U-boats prowled the Gulf of Mexico to disrupt the vital flow of oil carried by tankers departing ports in Louisiana and Texas.
In just one year, the Kriegsmarine sank 56 Allied ships, including 17 tankers, while losing only one submarine – the Unterseeboot 166.
German submarine predations so threatened the war effort that American government and industry responded with the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken, building the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” from East Texas to Illinois, and as far as New York. See WW II Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines.
But for the U-166, the war was over. Its final resting place remained a mystery for almost 60 years.
The last victim of the U-166 was the passenger freighter Robert E. Lee, sunk by a single torpedo on July 30, 1942, while on its way to New Orleans. Her Naval escort ship, PC-566, rushed in to drop ten depth charges. The U-166 was believed to have escaped. It did not.
In 1986, a Shell Offshore vessel using a deep-tow system of the day recorded two close wrecks about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast in 5,000 feet of water.
Thought to be the Robert E. Lee and cargo freighter Alcoa Puritan, it was May 2001 before an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) using side scan sonar revealed the U-166. The lost World War II submarine was separated from Robert E. Lee by less than a mile on the sea floor.
The AUV, which required no cable connection to its mother ship, found the Alcoa Puritan 14 miles away. Learn more about the petroleum industry’s offshore robotics in Swimming Socket Wrenches.
The historic submarine’s discovery resulted from the requirement for an archaeological survey of the seafloor prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline by BP and Shell Oil. Six other World War II vessels have been discovered in the course of Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas surveys.
As a result of the U-166’s discovery, BP and Shell altered their proposed pipeline to preserve the site and government archaeologists notified the U.S. Navy Historical Center of the discovery, notes a 2001 MMS newsletter.
“They, in turn, notified the German Embassy and military attaché,” the MMS article explains. “Since the remains of the U-166’s 52 crewmen are still on board, the German government has declared the site to be a war grave and has requested that it remain undisturbed.”
Gulf of Mexico oil tanker losses led to a petroleum industry achievement: construction of the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” pipelines that connected Texas oilfields to eastern refineries.
Editor’s Note – Since 2011, the Minerals Management Service has become the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Donate to this historical society.
The lucky life of John Washington Steele started on December 10, 1844, when Culbertson and Sarah McClintock adopted him as an infant.
Johnny Steele – who one day will become famous as “Coal Oil Johnny” – was adopted along with his sister, Permelia.
The McClintocks brought them home to their farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.
Fifteen years later, the petroleum boom prompted by Edwin Drake’s 1859 discovery at nearby Titusville – America’s first commercial oil well – made the widow McClintock a fortune in royalties.
When Mrs. McClintock died in a kitchen fire in 1864, she left the money to her only surviving child, Johnny. At age 20, he inherited $24,500.
Johnny also inherited his mother’s 200-acre farm along Oil Creek between what is now Rynd Farm and Rouseville. The farm already included 20 producing oil wells yielding $2,800 in royalties every day.
“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele will earn his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that years later the New York Times reported.
“In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known,” the newspaper proclaimed. “He threw away $3,000,000 in less than a year.”
Philadelphia journalists coined the name “Coal Oil Johnny” for him, reportedly because of his attachment to a custom carriage that had black oil derricks spouting dollar symbols painted on its red doors. He later confessed in his autobiography:
I spent my money foolishly, recklessly, wickedly, gave it away without excuse; threw dollars to street urchins to see them scramble; tipped waiters with five and ten dollar bills; was intoxicated most of the time, and kept the crowd surrounding me usually in the same condition.
Of course, such wealth could not last forever. The rise and fall of Coal Oil Johnny, who died in modest circumstances in 1920 at age 76, will linger in petroleum history.
In 2010, the Atlantic magazine published “The Legend of Coal Oil Johnny, America’s Great Forgotten Parable,” an article surprisingly sympathetic to his riches to rags story.
“Before J.R. Ewing, or the Beverly Hillbillies, or even John D. Rockefeller, there was Coal Oil Johnny,” noted the October 8 feature story.
“He was the first great cautionary tale of the oil age – and his name would resound in popular culture for more than half a century after he made and lost his fortune in the 1860s.”
For generations after the peak of his career, Johnny was still so famous that any major oil strike – especially the January 1901 gusher at Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas, “brought his tales back to people’s lips,” noted magazine article, citing Brian Black, a historian at Pennsylvania State University.
“It was wealth from nowhere,” Black explained. “Somebody like that was coming in without any opportunity or wealth and suddenly has a transforming moment. That’s the magic and it transfers right through to the Beverly Hillbillies and the rest of the mythology.”
“Coal Oil Johnny” was a legend and like all legends, “he became a stand-in for a constellation of people, things, ideas, feelings and morals – in this case, about oil wealth and how it works,” added the article.
“He made and lost this huge fortune – and yet he didn’t go crazy or do anything terrible. Instead, he ended up living a regular, content life, mostly as a railroad agent in Nebraska,” the 2010 Atlantic article concluded.
“Surely there’s a lesson in that for the millions who’ve lost everything in the housing boom and bust.”
John Washington Steele’s Venango County home, relocated and restored by Pennsylvania’s Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism, stands today in Oil Creek State Park, just off Route 8, north of Rouseville.
On Route 8 south of Rouseville is the still-producing McClintock No. 1 oil well.
“This is the oldest well in the world that is still producing oil at its original depth,” proclaims the Alliance. “Souvenir bottles of crude oil from McClintock Well Number One are available at the Drake Well Museum, outside Titusville.”
Published in 1902, Coal Oil Johnny: story of his career as told by himself (John Washington Steele) was digitized in 2007 and now is a free Google Ebook.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.
Since 1896, when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Bartlesville, many historic Oklahoma oilfields have been discovered: Glennpool, Cushing, Three Sands, Healdton, Oklahoma City and others – including 20 “giants.” Few have had the tremendous economic impact as the late 1920s oilfields of the greater Seminole area. Read the rest of this entry »
Honoring America’s Petroleum Pioneers
Their reputations among peers speak of many noble achievements — and award deserving careers in the oil patch. Every year a select group oil and natural gas business leaders are honored by their colleagues, their industry, and their communities.
Among the most prestigious awards (to name only a few that take place every year) are: the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Washington, D.C., presentation of the Chief Roughneck Award at its annual meeting. The bronze “Joe Roughneck” statue has been presented since 1955. See “Meet Joe Roughneck.”
Other awards are presented by the Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas, the Offshore Energy Center in Houston, Kansas museums in El Dorado and Great Bend, and the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar, New York. All host special award events or maintain their own halls of fame honoring men and women of the petroleum industry.
Still other organizations, including professional trade groups like the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, Wichita Falls, frequently host legends or legacy award dinners and luncheons. Universities in oil producing states also honor their alumni.
Ohio’s Marietta College, with its world-renowned geology and petroleum engineering program, adds members to its Petroleum and Geology Hall of Fame. The Ohio Oil & Gas Association maintains its hall of fame “as a way to honor those who have made their own distinct contributions to the Ohio oil and gas industry.”
Petroleum Museum Hall of Fame
The Petroleum Hall of Fame at the Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas — which added five distinguished members on April 14, 2011, is “dedicated to those who cherished the freedom to dare, and whose work and service helped build the Permian Basin — Let their achievements be remembered and their beliefs inspire!”
The Hall of Fame received its first member in 1968, several years before the museum itself actually opened in 1975. Induction of the 100th member came in 1999. In each odd-numbered year a maximum of four people are inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Those inducted have been elected by the museum’s governing board, after an exhaustive study of their qualifications by a special committee. Candidates not chosen in the year submitted will be automatically reconsidered in future elections.
The 2011 inductees were I. Jon Brumley, Sam G. Gibbs, William D. Kleine, and “the team of Mack C. Chase and John R. Gray,” according to museum Director Kathy Shannon. Biographical files and portraits of each honoree are available in the museum archives.
Located in the heart of the Permian Basin in West Texas, The Petroleum Museum includes a 40,000-square-foot facility housing photographic wall murals depicting early life in the oilfields, a West Texas boomtown, and a marine diorama of 230 million years ago.
Colonel Edwin L. Drake Legendary Oilman Award
In late June, the Petroleum History Institute(PHI) of Oil City, Pennsylvania, presented a life-time achievement award during its History Symposium in Marietta, Ohio. Oilman I.L. “Ike” Morris received the Petroleum History Institute’s “highest honor and most prestigious award,” the Colonel Edwin L. Drake Legendary Oilman Award.
The June 23, 2011, presentation took place during the Institute’s annual symposium and field trip — as members cruised aboard a sternwheeler riverboat on the Ohio River following a reception and banquet. Larry D. Woodfork, PHI chairman of the honors and awards committee, presented this year’s award to Morris, founder and CEO of Waco Oil and Gas Company, Glenville, West Virginia.
Originally from Oklahoma, Morris established an oil service company in Gilmer County, West Virginia, in the early 1960s and eventually expanded into all exploration and production, notes an article in the Gilmer Free Press.
The PHI 2011 award was presented by Woodfork, an independent consulting geologist and emeritus state geologist of West Virginia. He praised Morris and his “stellar business career, great successes and accomplishments in the oil and gas industry, as well as his contributions to the local community, including the very generous philanthropy of he and his wife, Sue — a Gilmer County girl and long-time school teacher — to Glenville State College, their support of W.V.U., and numerous other charitable organizations and enterprises — the list of which goes on and on.”
Both Woodfork and Morris have been previously honored as the “West Virginia Oil and Gas Man of the Year” — Woodfork in 1991 and Morris in 1994. The award is made during the September annual West Virginia Oil and Gas Festivalheld in Sistersville, an historic oil community on the Ohio River.
Chronicle of Gulf of Mexico Petroleum History
Is knowledge of U.S. offshore exploration and production history important?
Although America’s offshore petroleum industry began in the Pacific Ocean more than 100 years ago, it wasn’t until 1947 that a company drilled beyond the sight of land — southwest of Morgan City, Louisiana.
Now available online: the first six volumes of a project to study Louisiana offshore petroleum history — a decade in the making and still in progress.
“Understanding Louisiana’s relationship with offshore energy development must begin in the bayous, lakes and marshes of south Louisiana in the late 1920s,” notes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), which is working with three universities to compile a history of southern Louisiana’s oil and natural gas industry.
Funded by the agency’s environmental studies program, the Offshore Oil and Gas History Project draws from economic research, oral histories, photographs, artifacts — and personal accounts gathered from former industry engineers, managers, workers, and community and political leaders, according to Ocean Science, a quarterly publication of BOEMRE, formerly the Minerals Management Service.
This offshore history project, begun in 2002 as a cooperative agreement with the Louisiana State University — which partnered with the University of Arizona and the University of Houston — has two phases. The six volumes of the completed first phase (a southern Louisiana offshore history up to 1970) are available online at the University of Arizona. The second phase focuses on the development farther offshore.
The first-quarter 2011 issue of BOEMRE’s Ocean Science notes that the two phases of the Offshore Oil and Gas History Project “forms the basis for understanding the evolution of the industry and how that is intertwined with local communities.”
Editor’s Note — The first U.S. well out of sight of land was drilled in 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico by Kerr-McGee Oil Industries partnered with Phillips Petroleum and Stanolind Oil & Gas companies. A freestanding platform was erected 10 miles offshore…in 18 feet of water. Read more at “Offshore Oil History.”
Latest Updates at News
Oklahoma Historical Society Annual Meeting
“Music and Folklore from the Oklahoma Oil Patch” is among the planned sessions when members of the Oklahoma Historical Society gather April 18-20, 2012, in Miami, Oklahoma.
Educational sessions and evening events will take place at the elegant Coleman Theatre, according to Annual Meeting Committee Chair Leonard Logan.
“The theme of the annual meeting this year is Crossroads of Creativity: The Impact of Oklahoma on Popular Culture,” Logan explains. “Festivities will begin Wednesday evening with a Coffeehouse Concert at the Coleman Theatre featuring Mason Williams and a host of outstanding musicians who were prominent in the folk music scene as experienced in coffeehouses in Oklahoma and throughout the nation in the 1950s.”
Program sessions on Thursday, April 19, and Friday, April 20, will feature presentations on topics such as “The Image of American Indians in Movies and Popular Culture, Images of Oklahoma in Popular Culture, The Coffeehouse Era in Oklahoma, Impact of Oklahomans on Images of the American West, Music Festivals and Circuses in Rural Oklahoma, Oklahoma’s Contributions to Jazz and Blues, Oklahoma Authors and Cartoonists – and Music and Folklore from the Oklahoma Oil Patch. Read the rest of this entry »