Oil and Natural Gas History, Education Resources, Museum News, Exhibits and Events


March 28, 1886 – Indiana Natural Gas Boom begins

A natural gas boom comes to Portland, Indiana, when the Eureka Gas and Oil Company finds gas at 700 feet. For a time, the state becomes the world’s leading natural gas producer.

The discovery comes just two months after a spectacular natural gas well about 100 miles to the northeast – the Great Karg Well of Findlay, Ohio. “Natural gas had previously been found in large quantities in western Pennsylvania and had revolutionized the iron, steel, and glass industries of Pittsburgh, as industrialists adapted their factories to use the natural gas in place of the more expensive coal,” notes historian James Glass of Ball State University.

The prolific Trenton limestone will be found in 17 Indiana counties across 5,120 square miles. The natural gas field becomes the largest in the world. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas. Read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

March 28, 1905 – Caddo-Pine Discovery

The Offenhauser No. 1 discovery well for the giant Caddo-Pine Island oilfield in Louisiana comes in at a depth of 1,556 feet.

Although the well yields only five barrels a day and is soon plugged and abandoned, more wells follow and the northern Louisiana oilfield is soon prolific.

To prevent the loss of natural gas through flaring, Louisiana passes its first conservation law in 1906. By 1918, annual production from the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield reaches 11 million barrels. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well and visit the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.

March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of the Petroleum Industry

Today is the birthday of Edwin Laurentine Drake (1819-1880), who will become the “father of the American petroleum industry” when he drills the first U.S. commercial oil well in the summer of 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania.

petroleum history march 28

Edwin L. Drake used a steam engine and cable-tool drilling rig to drill his famous well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. He also invented a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of the well bore.

Born in Greenville, New York, Drake will overcome many financial and technical obstacles to make his historic discovery.

Drake also will pioneer new drilling technologies, including using iron casing to isolate his well bore from nearby Oil Creek. Seeking oil for the Seneca Oil Company for refining into a new product (kerosene) his shallow well creates an industry.

“In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” reports a Pennsylvania State University historian. “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”

Drake will make his historic discovery on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet. Read more in Birth of the U.S. Petroleum Industry.

March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas

“Kerlyn Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country,” notes an Arkansas newspaper headline as the Barnett No. 1 well opens the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield. Drilling had been suspended by the Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) because of a recession and lack of backers, but company vice president and geologist Dean McGee persevered. He was rewarded with the giant Arkansas discovery at 7,646 feet. Read more in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

April 1, 1911 – First Well of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas”

petroleum history march 28

Founded in Wichita County in 1907, Electra was named after the daughter of leading citizen W.T. Waggoner. The rancher had complained about finding oil when drilling water wells for his cattle.

petroleum history march 28

Electra’s 2,800 residents host an annual Pump Jack Festival to celebrate their 1911 discovery well.

South of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launches an oil boom that will last decades.

“As news of the gusher spread through town, people thought it was an April Fools joke and didn’t take it seriously until they saw for themselves the plume of black oil spewing high into the sky,” reports Electra historian Bernadette Pruitt.

The well on cattleman William Waggoner’s lease settles into production of about 650 barrels per day from 1,628 feet. Hundreds of producing wells follow, leading to the Electra oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913. North Texas oil fever takes off again when “Roaring Ranger” erupts in 1917 in neighboring Eastland County. A third major discovery occurs at Burkburnett in 1918.

Thanks to dedicated community activists like Pruitt, Texas legislators in 2001 designate Electra the “Pump Jack Capital” of Texas. The Clayco No. 1 well centennial celebration in 2011 includes a parade and re-dedication of the well’s historic marker. Read Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

April 1, 1986 – Crude Oil Price hits Modern Low

World oil prices fall below $10 a barrel – a modern low for the petroleum industry.

Causes include excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession (increasing supplies with declining demand) and a U.S. petroleum industry heavily regulated by production or price controls.

“Saudi Arabia, tiring of cutting output to support prices, flooded the market,” reports Mark Shenk of Bloomberg News. “West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, tumbled 69 percent from $31.82 a barrel in November 1985 to $9.75 in April 1986.”

Oil prices recover by 1990 and set a record peak of $145 per barrel in July 2008 – before another price collapse to below $32 by the end of the year. Historic prices ranged between $2.50 and $3 from 1948 through the end of the 1960s. From the mid-1980s to September 2003, the inflation adjusted price of a barrel of oil was under $25 a barrel.

April 2, 1980 – President Carter signs Windfall Profit Tax

petroleum history march 28

President Jimmy Carter signs into law the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax.

One year after lifting price controls on oil, President Jimmy Carter signs the  Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax (WPT) into law. The controversial WPT imposes an excise tax on oil production.

“From 1980 to 1988, the nation levied a special tax on domestic oil production,” explains historian Joseph Thorndike. Policymakers, “imposed an excise levy on domestic oil production, taxing the difference between the market price of oil and a predetermined base price.”

The base price is derived from 1979 oil prices and requires annual adjustments for inflation. A remnant of President Richard Nixon’s general wage and price freeze of 1971 –  WPT is meant to limit increases in oil prices.

After eight years of the tax, domestic oil production falls to its lowest level in 20 years – increasing U.S. reliance on foreign oil. In August 1988, Congress decides to repeal the tax. “Few mourned its passing,” says Thorndike.


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Indiana natural gas discoveries of the late 1880s revealed the Trenton Field, which extended across the state into Ohio and soon attracted new Midwestern industries.

Indiana natural gas

Midwestern communities took pride in what they thought to be an unlimited supply of natural gas. Indiana lawmakers banned “flambeaux” lights in 1891 – becoming one of the earliest states to legislate conservation. Photo of Findlay, Ohio, during its 1888 Gas Jubilee courtesy Hancock Historical Museum.

Discoveries of natural gas in Eaton and Portland quicky ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom. New exploration and production will dramatically change the state’s economy.

The “Trenton Field” as it would become known, spread over 17 Indiana counties and 5,120 square miles. It was the largest natural gas field known in the world. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas.

Replacing Coal Gas

In 1859, the same year that “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake drilled the country’s first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, there were already 297 “manufactured gas” (known as coal gas) companies in the 33 United States. Read the rest of this entry »