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January 12, 1904 – Henry Ford sets Speed Record

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The Ford No. 999 used an 18.8 liter inline four-cylinder engine that produced up to 100 hp. Image courtesy Henry Ford Museum.

Seeking to prove his cars are built better than others, Henry Ford sets a speed record on a frozen lake in 1904. At the time his Ford Motor Company is struggling to get financial backing for its first car, the Model A.

Ford “bounces” his No. 999 Ford Arrow across the Lake St. Clair, which separates Michigan and Ontario, Canada, at a top speed of 91.37 mph.

“The No. 999, little more than a giant engine encased in a wood frame with a seat and a metal bar for steering, thundered across the lake,” reports a 2013 article in “Downshift Autos.”

Ford will later report that it scared him so bad he never again wanted to climb into a racing car. With news of his speed record spread around the country, his Detroit car company gets a boost at becoming one of the most successful automobile manufacturers in history. Read how liquified natural gas will lead to a 1970 speed record in Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

January 12, 1926 – Texans patent Ram-Type Blowout Preventer

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James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron invent the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer – ending many dangerous and wasteful oil gushers.

Seeking to end dangerous and wasteful oil gushers, James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron receive a patent for a hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer.

Oil and natural gas companies embrace the new technology, which the inventors will repeatedly improve in the 1930s.

Their concept uses rams – hydrostatic pistons – to close on the drill stem and form a seal against the well pressure.

“Once nearly a victim of a disastrous blowout himself, Abercrombie had taken his idea for a ram-type preventer to Cameron’s machine shop in Humble, Texas, where they worked out the details, starting with a sketch on the sawdust floor,” notes the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Read more in Ending Oil Gushers – BOP.

January 13, 1957 – Wham-O launches a New Petroleum Product

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Thanks to Phillips Petroleum, newly developed polyethylene plastics will be used to manufacture Frisbees. Detail from U.S. Patent No. 3,359,678. Image courtesy the Disc Golf Association, Watsonville, California.

The latest of a growing number of products made from plastic is born in California when Wham-O Manufacturing Company begins production of the Frisbee in 1957.

The toy originated in 1948 when two World War II veterans formed Partners in Plastic to sell their newly invented “Flyin’ Saucers” for 25 cents.

Wham-O bought the rights to the “flying toy” in 1955 – one year after Phillips Petroleum had introduced a high-density polyethylene under the brand name Marlex.

Although Phillips Petroleum executives expected the product to be a big hit, customers failed to materialize for the revolutionary plastic.

The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company found itself with warehouses full of Marlex – until the phenomenal demand for Wham-O Hula Hoop and Frisbee. Read more in Petroleum Product Hoopla. 

January 14, 1928 – “Dr. Seuss” begins Career as Standard Oil Ad Illustrator

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During the Great Depression, Theodore Geisel created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. He said the experience taught him “how to marry pictures with words.”

New York City’s Judge magazine includes its first cartoon drawn by Theodore Seuss Geisel – who will develop his skills as “Dr. Seuss” while working for Standard Oil Company.

In the 1928 cartoon that launches his career, Geisel draws a peculiar dragon trying to dodge Flit, a popular bug spray of the day.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” will become a common catchphrase. Flit is one of Standard Oil of New Jersey’s many consumer products derived from petroleum.

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Standard Oil advertising campaigns provided a steady income to Geisel and his wife throughout his early days experimenting with his drawings. Images courtesy Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego.

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Essolube is still a product of ExxonMobil.

For years to follow, hundreds of Geisel’s fanciful critters will populate Standard advertisements.

Throughout the hard years of the Great Depression, advertising campaigns for Esso gasolines, lubricating oil, and “Essomarine Oil and Greases,” provided steady income to Geisel and his wife.

“It wasn’t the greatest pay, but it covered my overhead so I could experiment with my drawings,” he said later.

Geisel will acknowledge that his experience working at Standard Oil, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.” The former Standard Oil advertising illustrator – who publishes How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1957 – will write more than 50 children’s books.

Read more in Seuss I am, an Oilman.

January 17, 1911 – North Texas Discovery will lead to Boom

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Named after rancher William Waggoner’s daughter, Electra annually celebrates its petroleum heritage. In 2001 Texas legislators designated it the “Pump Jack Capital” of Texas.

The Electra oilfield is revealed in North Texas with the first commercial oil discovery in Wichita County. Other 1911 discoveries will follow.

The Producers Oil Company well Waggoner No. 5 comes in at 50 barrels per day from a depth of 1,825 feet on land owned by rancher William T. Waggoner, who had previously found traces of oil while drilling for water.

“At first, there weren’t any cars, and about the only thing oil was good for was to help repel chicken house mites,” notes a Wichita County historian.

Although a small producer, the discovery brings new drilling to North Texas. A gusher three months later will send Electra’s fortunes skyward. The Clayco No. 1 well erupts on April 1, 1911. Read more in Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


Seuss the oilman? Thirty years before the Grinch stole Christmas in 1957, Theodore Seuss Geisel’s critters were seen in Standard Oil advertising campaigns.

seuss the oilman

Few know that Theodore Seuss Geisel created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil for many years. This Standard Oil Company “Essolube” oil change card was issued between 1930 and 1940.

During the Great Depression, the strange but wonderful creatures of the future Dr. Seuss helped sell Essolube and other products for Standard Oil of New Jersey. He later said his experience at Standard, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

seuss the oilman

Ted Geisel’s unique critters populated Standard Oil advertisements for “Flit,” once a popular bug spray.

In the cartoon that launched his career, Theodore Seuss Geisel drew a peculiar dragon inside a castle.

In the January 14, 1928, issue of New York City’s Judge magazine, Geisel introduced America to one of the many characters inhabiting his imaginative menagerie.

seuss the oilman

Dr. Seuss later said his experience working at Standard Oil “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

“Flit,” was a popular bug spray of the day – especially against flies and mosquitoes. It was one of many Standard Oil Company of New Jersey consumer products derived from petroleum.

Late in 1927, Standard Oil’s growing advertising department, which had focused on sales of Standard and Esso gasolines, lubricating oil, fuel oil and asphalt, reorganized to promote other products, according to author Alfred Chandler Jr.

“Specialities, such as Nujol, Flit, Mistol, and other petroleum by-products that could not be effectively sold through the department’s sales organization were combined in a separate subsidiary – Stanco,” noted Chandler in his 1962 book, Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”

Geisel’s fortuitous bug-spray cartoon depicted a medieval knight in his bed, facing a dragon who had invaded his room, and lamenting, “Darn it all, another dragon. And just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit.”

According to the curators of the Dr. Seuss Collection at the University of California, San Diego, an anecdote in Judith and Neil Morgan’s 1995 book Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, the wife of the ad executive who handled the Standard Oil account saw the dragon cartoon. Read the rest of this entry »