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


Ever since America’s earliest oil discoveries, dynamite or nitroglycerin detonations increased a well’s production. Hydraulic fracturing came in the 1949. 

Today’s hydraulic fracturing technologies can trace their roots to April 25, 1865, when Civil War veteran Col. Edward A. L. Roberts received the first of his many patents for an “exploding torpedo.”

hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing has been used to increase production on millions of oil and natural gas wells since 1949.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Message from the Editor

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 Gradeedited to narrow scope to oil and natural gas. Read the rest of this entry »


In 1905, Kansas University professor Hamilton P. Cady, above, discovered significant amounts of helium in a natural gas sample from a Dexter, Kansas. well. He and D. F. McFarland found that the gas - previously believed to be rare on earth - could be extracted from natural gas.

In 1905, Kansas University professor Hamilton P. Cady, above, discovered significant amounts of helium in a natural gas sample from a Dexter, Kansas, well. He and D. F. McFarland found that the gas – previously believed to be rare on earth – could be extracted from natural gas.

A marker near Dexter, Kansas, notes that a nearby gas well led to a scientific discovery that “lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry.”

A Dexter, Kansas, marker notes a nearby gas well led to a scientific discovery that “lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry.”

A stock certificate from The Gas, Oil and Developing Company is noteworthy to collectors – but not for producing great wealth for its investors.

For this exploration company, which disappeared more than a century ago, more interesting is its connection to “The Gas That Wouldn’t Burn.”

In May 1903, The Gas, Oil and Developing Company drilled an exploratory well on William Greenwell’s farm near Dexter, Kansas, about 45 miles southeast of Wichita.

At a depth of just 560 feet, the company’s drill bit struck a formation that produced “a howling gasser” that flowed an estimated nine million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Read the rest of this entry »


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

In 1860, Michigan State Geologist Alexander Winchell reported that oil and natural gas deposits lay under Michigan’s surface.

First commercial production was at Port Huron, where twenty-two wells were drilled, beginning in 1886.
Total output was small. Michigan’s first oil boom was at Saginaw, where production began about 1925.

About three hundred wells were drilled here by 1927, when Muskegon’s “Discovery Well” drew oil men from all over the country to that field.

The Mt. Pleasant field, opened in 1928, helped make Michigan one of the leading oil producers of the eastern United States. Mount Pleasant became known as the “Oil Capital of Michigan.”

Efforts of the industry itself resulted in excellent state laws regulating petroleum output. Well depths ranged from one thousand to six thousand feet.

New wells are constantly opened as exploration continues. – 1961 Michigan historical marker.

Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, designed the petroleum history exhibit that creatively used documents and photographs to capture the attention of students.

Central Michigan University Oil Exhibit

In the summer of 2005, a special petroleum exhibit opened at Central Michigan University’s (CMU) Clarke Historical Library, Mount Pleasant.

“They work hard, take risks, prosper, and by and large benefit everybody,” noted Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, about oil and natural gas producers. “What I didn’t understand about the industry is that these people all know each other.”

The library told their story with an “Oil and Natural Gas in Michigan” exhibit.

The state’s abundant oil production comes as a surprise to many, said Boles, who put the exhibit together with the cooperation of the Michigan Oil & Gas Association and the Michigan Oil & Gas Producers Educational Foundation.

Jack Westbrook, retired managing editor of Michigan Oil & Gas News magazine, marshaled the resources and worked tirelessly to ensure success, Boles said. “In a very real sense, there would be no exhibit if it were not for Jack.”

The exhibit was designed to designed to pique a visitor’s curiosity – and be transportable. The region’s students learned that Mount Pleasant, home to CMU, had its own oil boom in 1928 and today is known as the historical center of Michigan’s oil industry.

They were surprised to learn that more than 57,000 oil and gas wells had been drilled in their state since 1925 – and that Michigan ranks 17th in nationwide oil production and 11th in natural gas.

More surprises awaited those students who looked more closely, Boles said.

“We’re about usage,” he explained. “Our profit is people coming in, using our resources, and hopefully learning something. We want our exhibits to prompt them to dig deeper.”

For example, students learn that after decades of dry holes or small oil discoveries, the Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well on January 7, 1957, revealed Michigan’s largest oil field, 29-miles-long.

Ferne Houseknecht had convinced her uncle, Clifford Perry, to take time between his other farm projects to drill the historic well. Read more in “Michigan’s ‘Golden Gulch’ of Oil.”

For the exhibit, Boles used just six walls and eleven cabinets to tell this and other stories, so careful planning was essential. He said that from the project’s outset, pursuit of community support, resources, and partners was essential.

Proudly showing off his homemade miniature cable tool rig in 1932, Earl “Red” Perry Jr., age 12, is the nephew of Cliff Perry – who will discover Michigan’s largest oil field on January 7, 1957.

The exhibit began with storyboarding and the interactive process of writing and rewriting proposed text. Large photo formats with understandable text dominated the walls, while display cases featured unique artifacts and documents.

Visitors discovered a rich oil history and learned of the complex environmental issues Michigan has successfully addressed.

The 1970s “Pigeon River State Forest” ecological controversy was presented – along with its innovative solution. In 1976, Michigan became the first state in the nation to earmark state revenue generated through mineral, including oil and gas, activity for acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive or public recreation lands.

According to Jack Westbrook, all 83 Michigan counties have benefited from the fund’s $635 million collected from oil and gas revenues – and other states followed Michigan’s example.

His book, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011: A 35 year Michigan investment heritage in Michigan’s public recreation future, is available at Amazon. See “Books & Artists.”

Visit the Clarke Historical Library.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


Rarely, a community sees its pulse quicken with a get-rich quick best, feels the boom fever strike, suffers the chill of disillusion when the “El Dorado” fades out and then recovers.

But this is what happened at the McKeesport gas field, scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash. – Pittsburgh Press, July 15, 1934

Following America’s first commercial oil discovery in Northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, natural gas development began in Western Pennsylvania in the late 1870s.

Two brothers discovered a massive natural gas field and brought a new energy resource to Pittsburgh factories. Read more about the once famous Haymaker well in “Natural Gas is King in 1880s Pittsburgh.”

For investors, history seemed to be repeating itself two decades later. McKeesport Gas Company was one of about 300 petroleum companies that sprang up within six months of an August 30, 1919, discover – a runaway natural gas well near McKeesport.

The “Snake Hollow Gusher” between the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, blew in at more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Drilled by S. J. Brendel and David Foster, the discovery well prompted a frenzy that saw $35 million dollars invested during the boom’s seven-month lifespan.

McKeesport Gas Company incorporated on December 5, 1919, and two-weeks later enticed investors with advertisements in the Pittsburgh Press and the Gazette Times newspapers. “Over 500 Acres of Leases in the Heart of the McKeesport Gas Fields,” proclaimed one ad, offering stock at $1.25 a share.

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” notes a local reporter. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses in anticipation of fortunes to be made.”

However, of the estimated $35 million sunk into the nine square mile area of the boom, only about $3 million came out. By the beginning of 1921, natural gas production was falling in about 180 producing wells – and more than 440 wells were dry holes.

The McKeesport gas field was reported as, “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.”

The Library of Congress photography collection includes “McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” with several McKeesport Gas Company wells at the far left.  The company likely drilled a few of the boom’s hundreds of dry holes and with funds exhausted, disappeared into petroleum history.

Fifteen years later, McKeesport Mayor George H. Lysle explained to a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter how the town survived the “seven-month wonder” natural gas boom:

“Other boom towns,” he said, “were built merely on the strength of the wealth that was to pour from their wells or mines. But McKeesport and vicinity was established before the boom came. When it was over, people still had their jobs in the mills and stores, the permanent population remained, and the natural resources of the district, except for gas, were still as great as ever. We were still a great industrial community.”

Today, greater knowledge of geology and advanced production technologies are promising far surer results than the Snake Hollow Gusher. The region’s latest gas boom – the Marcellus Shale – extends across western Pennsylvania into other Appalachian Basin states.

McKeesport Gas Company stock certificates have collectible value.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


Detailed illustrations tell the story of the industry’s remarkable heritage in Oil and Natural Gas — an excellent book from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Discovering the story of petroleum – and the many ways it shapes the world – is the theme of this illustrated guide to the industry’s past, present and future. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center opened April 1, 2011, in Enid, Oklahoma.

Honoring America’s Petroleum Pioneers

Many universities and colleges with petroleum-related curricula honor accomplishments of their oil patch alumni. Ohio’s Marietta College, with a renowned geology and petroleum engineering program, maintains a Petroleum and Geology Hall of Fame on campus.

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, is “dedicated to those who cherished the freedom to dare, and whose work and service helped build the Permian Basin.”

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

The Petroleum History Institute’s Larry Woodfork, left, presented the 2011 Colonel Edwin L. Drake Legendary Oilman Award to I.L. “Ike” Morris, founder and CEO of Waco Oil and Gas Company, Inc., Glenville, West Virginia.

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.

Every September since 1969, the West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival is hosted by Sistersville, an historic oil community on the Ohio River. In addition to antique engine shows, a parade and the crowning of an Oil and Gas Queen, festival organizers host a banquet for its West Virginia Oil and Gas Man of the Year.

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

The Offshore Oil and Gas History Project “draws from economic research, oral histories, photographs, artifacts — and personal accounts gathered to examine the historical evolution of the offshore oil and gas industry and its effects on Louisiana’s coastal culture, economy, landscape, and society.”

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.”

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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.

Opened in 1929 as a vaudeville theatre and movie palace, the “Coleman Theatre Beautiful” of Miami, Oklahoma, has never been “dark” since. It will host Oklahoma Historical Society members in April.

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 »