James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron in 1922 filed a patent for the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer. Their invention was a vital technology for ending dangerous oil gushers. 

“The object of our invention is to provide a device designed to be secured to the top of the casing while the drilling is being done and which will be adapted to be closed tightly about the drill stem when necessary,” they noted in their application, which was approved in January 1926. It revolutionized the petroleum industry.

Petroleum drilling technologies, among the most advanced of any industry, have evolved since 1859 – especially as wells have reached far deeper. In 1922, it took a Texas wildcatter’s experience and ingenuity to invent a device designed to stop gushers.

blowout preventer

Gushers like this famous one on Spindletop Hill, Texas, in 1901 were dramatic – but dangerous and wasteful.

The image of James Dean celebrating in a rain of oil may have been dramatic in 1956, but most oilfield gushers ended much earlier. By the time the movie “Giant” was made, the technology of well control and blowout prevention had been in place more than 30 years.

Perhaps the most famous high-pressure blowout occurred at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas.

On January 10, 1901, a three-man crew was drilling when a six-inch stream of oil and gas erupted 100 feet into the air. This oilfield would prove to be among the largest and most significant for a gasoline-hungry nation.

The Beaumont newspaper described the discovery well drilled by Anthony F. Lucas and Pattillo Higgins of the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company: “An Oil Geyser – Remarkable Phenomenon South of Beaumont – Gas Blows Pipe from Well and a Flow of Oil Equaled Nowhere Else on Earth.”

It took nine days and 500,000 barrels of oil before a shut off valve for the well (producing from a salt dome, as Lucas had predicted) could be affixed to the casing to stop the flow. At the time and for years to follow, images of gushers would attract investors.

blowout preventer

James Abercrombie invented the “ram-type” blowout preventer – using hydrostatic pistons to close on the drill stem and form a seal against the well pressure.

Learn more at the Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont. Read the rest of this entry »