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

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 »

 

pennsylvania natural gas

A marker on Route 22 at Murrysville, Pennsylvania, commemorates the Haymaker brother’s historic natural gas well of 1878.

In 1878, the Haymaker brothers discovered a Pennsylvania natural gas field near Pittsburgh – and laid the foundation for many modern petroleum companies..

Like many young men of their time, Michael Haymaker and his younger brother Obediah had left their Westmoreland County farm to seek their fortunes in Pennsylvania’s booming petroleum industry.

The brothers first found work as drillers for oilman Israel Painter, who had brought in wells a few miles north of Oil City in Venango County – not far from Edwin L. Drake’s famous 1859 discovery less than 20 years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »

 

A pink granite rock marks the spot where a large crowd gathered at Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well to witness history being made in 1897.

Prior to the Civil War, America’s search for oil prompted entrepreneurs, speculators, and wildcatters to seek their fortunes on the great plains of the Indian Territory.

This was land reserved for Native Americans by Congress and home to its indigenous people as well as the “Five Civilized Tribes” – Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, and Chickasaw, which had been relocated from the Southeast.

Each of the Five Civilized Tribes established national territorial boundaries, constitutional governments, and advanced judicial and public school systems. The Indian Territory included present-day Oklahoma north and east of the Red River, as well as Kansas and Nebraska. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 »

 

Powered by natural gas, the Blue Flame set a world speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1970. The American Gas Association sponsored the rocket car.

Because driver now seek environmentally friendly but low-cost transportation fuels, today’s abundance of natural gas promises innovation. City buses, taxis and interstate trucks now burn it. But before these new clean-energy transporters, a speedy blue rocket car blazed the trail.

blue flame

The Blue Flame makes a spectacular debut at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on October 23, 1970. The natural gas powered rocket car sets a new world land speed record of 630.388 mph.

Today there reportedly are more than 120,000 vehicles on U.S. roads powered by natural gas. Experts say engine design advances promise greater natural gas use for transportation. Historic pursuit of the world land speed record is the heritage of this “fuel of the future.”

blue flame

The 38-foot Blue Flame’s natural gas-powered rocket motor could produce up to 58,000 horsepower.

Throughout the 20th century, land speed records were set with vehicles powered by steam, electricity, and all manner of petroleum distillates. National pride was often at stake as British, American, French, Belgian, German, and Italian teams fielded competing machines.

The first record was set by a Frenchman in 1898. Count Gaston De Chasseloup-Laubat, driving an electric-powered car, achieved 39.24 mph. Read the rest of this entry »

 

February 24, 1938 – New Petroleum Product replaces Hog Bristles

A 1938 magazine advertisement for “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft.” Johnson & Johnson will introduce a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939.

The first nylon-bristle toothbrush goes on sale. Americans soon brush their teeth with nylon – instead of hog bristles, declares the New York Times.

The Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, promotes its “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft,” the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic DuPont nylon bristles. This is the first commercial use of the revolutionary petroleum product – nylon, which is a synthetic polymer (a plastic). Women’s stockings will soon follow.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” notes a 1938 advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with EXTON, a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”

Pricing its toothbrush at 50 cents, the Weco Products Company guarantees “no bristle shedding.” Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, New Jersey, will introduce a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939.

February 25, 1897 – Sucker Rod Company Owner elected Mayor

The founder of the Acme Sucker Rod Company will become a popular Toledo, Ohio, mayor

Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, the founder of an early oilfield service company, is elected Mayor of Toledo, Ohio, on a progressive Republican ticket.

Jones, a 40-year veteran of the Pennsylvania oilfields, first earns his nickname in 1894 when he posts the biblical admonition at his newly formed Acme Sucker Rod Company.

Jones will introduce better wages, paid vacations, five percent bonuses – and become an advocate for eight-hour workdays as a means to increase employment opportunities.

Jones is elected Toledo’s mayor four times and serves until dying on the job in 1904.

February 25, 1919 – Oregon enacts First Gas Tax

A gasoline filling station owner’s sign, circa the 1930s.

A state taxes gasoline for the first time. Oil is selling for about $2 per barrel when Oregon enacts the one-cent gasoline tax to be used for road construction and maintenance. Less than two months later, Colorado and New Mexico have followed Oregon’s example.

By 1929, every state has added a tax of up to three cents per gallon. Faced with $2.1 billion federal deficit and declining revenue, President Herbert Hoover will add another one-cent per gallon federal excise tax in 1932.

State taxes now vary from less than 10 cents per gallon to about 70 cents. Consumers pay an additional 18.4 cents for a federal excise tax (unchanged since October 1997), which mainly supports a highway trust fund.

February 25, 1926 – Wyatt Earp’s Petroleum Investment pays off

Wyatt Earp’s investment in Kern County, California, results in a 1926 producing oil well.

Wyatt Earp’s oil well investment north of Bakersfield, California, pays off with a 150-barrel-a-day producer.

In his later years, long after his famous 1881 gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona, the former lawman has invested in the Kern River and Kern Front oilfields.

At age 75 – as Earp begins focusing on his biography and movie ambitions – he turns management of his oilfield properties over to “Hattie” Lehnhardt, sister to his wife Josie.

Disappointing results will later prompt Josie to write a family friend, “I was in hopes they would bring in a two or three hundred barrel well. But I must be satisfied as it could have been a duster, too.”

February 26, 1866 – Eaton Mining & Gas joins Indiana Gas Boom

Eaton Mining & Gas Company is established in Eaton, Indiana, as rapidly growing natural gas production begins changing the state’s economy.

Recent discoveries in the giant Trenton field spread over 17 Indiana counties – about 5,120 square miles. At the time, it is the largest known natural gas field in the world.

Within three years, Eaton Mining & Gas Company is joined by more than 200 companies drilling for and producing natural gas. Natural gas is so plentiful that customers are charged by the month or year rather than using a meter.

By 1890, more than 100 new industries, including 21 new glass factories, have hired 10,000 workers in what becomes know as Indiana’s “Gas Belt.” To attract businesses, communities erect natural gas flambeaux torches – arches of perforated iron pipe – and let them burn day and night. Read more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

February 28, 1935 – Chemist invents Nylon – World’s First Synthetic Fiber

The world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – is discovered by a former Harvard professor working at a DuPont Corporation research laboratory. The revolutionary polymer fiber comes from chemicals found in petroleum.

During WW II, nylon was used as a substitute for silk in parachutes. Above is a DuPont 1948 advertisement.

Professor Wallace Carothers, after experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, creates a unique molecule chain – that stretches.

Carothers has previously discovered neoprene rubber (commonly used in wet-suits) and made major contributions to understanding polymers – molecules composed in long chains.

Nylon 6 fiber has six carbon atoms per molecule.

Just 32 years old, Carothers creates fibers when he combines the chemicals amine, hexamethylene diamine, and adipic acid. He forms a polymer chain using a process in which individual molecules join together with water as a byproduct.

Chemists call it Nylon 6 because the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contain six carbon atoms per molecule. Each molecule consists of 100 or more repeating units of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, strung in a chain.

The first commercial use of this revolutionary petroleum product is for toothbrushes (replacing animal bristles). But it’s women’s hosiery that brings fortunes to the Delaware chemical company.

Although the company patents nylon in 1935, it is not officially announced to the public until October 1938 in New York City.

A DuPont vice president unveils the world’s first synthetic fiber – not to a scientific society – but to 3,000 Women’s Club members gathered at the site of the upcoming 1939 New York World’s Fair.

The petroleum product is an instant hit, especially as a replacement for silk in hosiery. DuPont does not register “nylon” as a trademark, choosing to allow the word to enter the American vocabulary as a synonym for “stockings.”

Read more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

March 1, 1921 – Halliburton patents Cementing Technology

Erle P. Halliburton patents his new oilfield technology – a “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells.”

Erle Halliburton’s 1921 well cementing process isolates down-hole zones, guards against collapse of the casing – and permits control of the well throughout its producing life.

After working in Burkburnett, Texas, Halliburton had moved to the Healdton oilfield near Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in 1919.

“It is well known to those skilled in the art of oil well drilling that one of the greatest obstacles to successful development of oil bearing sands has been the encountering of liquid mud water and the like during and after the process of drilling the wells,” Halliburton notes in his patent application.

His well cementing process isolates the various down-hole zones, guards against collapse of the casing and permits control of the well throughout its producing life. It also helps protect the environment.

The revolutionary patent explains that oil well production, hampered by water intrusion that requires time and expense for pumping out, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

See Halliburton cements Wells.

March 2, 1922 – Osage Indian Leases top $1 Million for First Time

Oklahoma’s first million-dollar oil lease is sold in the shade of an elm tree in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in 1922.

Under the shade of the “Million Dollar Elm” in front of the Osage Council House in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Skelly Oil and Phillips Petroleum Company jointly bid more than one-million dollars for a 160-acre tract of land.

Already legendary oilmen Frank Phillips, Harry Sinclair, Bill Skelly, Jean Paul Getty and E.W. Marland are frequent bidders to lease this promising territory on the Osage Indian Reservation. This sale is Oklahoma’s first million dollar oil lease.

Learn more about the major discoveries of northeastern Oklahoma at museums in Ponca City, including the Marland Estate and the Conoco Museum. Also visit and  the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville.

March 2, 1944 – WWII Pipeline begins East Coast Petroleum Deliveries

“Little Big Inch,” the 20-inch-diameter pipeline, could carry as many as four different kinds of petroleum products, including gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and kerosene.

The first gasoline transported by the “Little Big Inch” pipeline arrives at Linden Station, New Jersey, from refineries near Houston and Beaumont, Texas.

This vital World War II effort culminates the “War Emergency Pipelines” project to carry both oil and refined petroleum products from the Gulf Coast region to East Coast refining and distribution centers.

German submarine attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast have made the unprecedented pipeline project essential.

Read Petroleum Survey finds U-166.

The Big Inch line carries crude oil in a 24-inch-diameter pipe, while the Little Big Inch line can carry four products:  gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and kerosene – each separated by solid rubber balls that are slightly smaller than the inside diameter of the 20-inch pipe.  In its first year of operation, the Little Big Inch products pipeline pumps a daily average of 199,085 barrels.

After the War, both Inch Lines are converted to carry natural gas and in 1957 the Little Big Inch Line is converted back to a common-carrier products pipeline.

Read more in World War II Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines.

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

 

In 2001, an archaeological survey of the seafloor prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline led to the discovery of U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast. BP and Shell sponsored additional fieldwork to record detailed images, including a gun on the deck aft of the submarine’s conning tower.

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.

Commissioned on March 23, 1942, U-166 today is a war grave in the Gulf of Mexico.

Finding U-166

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 U.S. petroleum industry remains a principle user of advanced underwater technologies for seafloor mapping.

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.

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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.

 

December 9, 1921 – Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gasoline invented

Public health concerns will result in the phase-out of tetraethyl lead in gasoline beginning in 1976.

General Motors chemists Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering.

General Motors scientists discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead – and American motorists are soon saying “fill ‘er up with Ethyl.”

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. This shock frequently damaged the engine.

After five years of lab work to find an additive to eliminate pre-ignition “knock” problems of gasoline, G.M. researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead. Their experiments examine the properties of knock suppressors such as bromine, iodine and tin – and compare these to new additives such as arsenic, sulfur, silicon and lead. Read the rest of this entry »

 

December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography 

Geologic Resources

An energy source (explosive charge, weight drop, vibration generator), creates waves reflecting from the top of bedrock to surface detectors.

Amerada Petroleum drills into a Viola limestone formation in Oklahoma – the first successful oil well produced from a geological structure identified by a reflection seismograph.

The exploration technology for the first time reveals an oil reservoir near Seminole. Successfully tested as early as June 1921, reflection seismography – seismic surveying – will lead to oilfield discoveries across the world.

Amerada Petroleum’s subsidiary Geophysical Research applies the new technology, which has evolved from the World War I and experiments of Reginald Fessenden, Ludger Mintrop of Germany – and renowned Oklahoma physicist John Karcher.

Fessenden, working as the chief physicist for the Submarine Signaling Company of Boston, makes the technology practical for use in the field. In Germany, Mintrop develops portable seismic detection equipment that uses seismic reflections from Allied artillery to aid the German army in locating the source. Read the rest of this entry »

 

The Chief Roughneck Award recognizes one individual whose accomplishments and character represent the highest ideals of the oil and natural gas industry.
Read the rest of this entry »

 

As the Indiana natural gas boom continued, communities took great pride in what they thought to be an unlimited supply of natural gas. They erected arches of perforated iron pipe and let them burn day and night for months. Indiana lawmakers banned these wasteful “flambeaux” lights in 1891 – becoming one of the earliest states to legislate conservation.

The late 1880s discoveries of natural gas in Eaton and Portland ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom, which would 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.

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 »

 

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.

 

Oil scouts like Justus McMullen often braved harsh winters (and sometimes armed guards) to visit well sites. Their intelligence debunked rumors and “demystified” reports about oil wells producing in early oil fields.

In the hard winter of 1888, famed 37-year-old “oil scout” Justus C. McMullen, succumbs to pneumonia – contracted while scouting production data from the Pittsburgh Manufacturers’ Gas Company’s well at Cannonsburg.

McMullen, publisher of the Bradford, Pennsylvania, “Petroleum Age” newspaper, already had contributed much to America’s early petroleum industry as a reliable oil field detective. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 »