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

 

By 1920, Tulsa is home to 400 petroleum companies, two daily newspapers, seven banks, four telegraph companies – and 10,000 telephones.

On a chilly fall morning in 1905 – two years before Oklahoma becomes a state – oil is discovered on the Glenn farm south of Tulsa.

Soon, there are hundreds of wells producing so much oil that the land is called the “‘Glenn Pool,” now the Tulsa suburb Glenpool.

This November 22 discovery well will help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”

With daily production soon exceeding 120,000 barrels, Glenn Pool exceeds Tulsa County’s earlier “Red Fork Gusher” – and the giant Spindletop discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four 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 »

 

Hollywood newsreels and NBC Radio rushed to feature the March 1930 “Wild Mary Sudik” gusher. Within weeks they made the Oklahoma oil field famous worldwide.

wild mary sudik

“Wild Mary Sudik” newsreels soon appeared in theaters around the country. When the well was brought under control, crews recovered 200,000 barrels of oil from pits and ponds.

The Mary Sudik No. 1 well blew out after striking a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath the state capital.

The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control on April 6, 1930.

The well, which produced a stunning 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, became a public sensation.

The giant discovery was featured in newsreels and on radio, according to “Oklahoma Journeys,” an audio program of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

“At about 6:30 the morning of March 26, 1930, the crew of roughnecks drilling a well on the property of Vincent Sudik paused in their work,” the program begins about the well, which is near I-240 and Bryant Street in present day Oklahoma City.

“The tired drillers had been waiting for daylight to continue their work,” the audio tape notes.

wild mary sudik

Experts control the well with “a clever ball-shaped contrivance” that lowers a two-ton “overshot” cap.

The program’s narrator Michael Dean notes that after drilling to drilling to 6,471 feet, the roughnecks overlook a dangerous pressure increase in the well.

“The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” he explains. “They didn’t know the Wilcox sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.”

The drilling crew was caught off guard when oil and natural gas suddenly “came roaring out of the hole,” Dean adds.

“Pipe stems were thrown hundreds of feet into the air like so many tooth picks. First there was gas then the flow turned green gold and then black,” he reports. “Oil shot hundreds of feet into the air, and for the next eleven days, the Mary Sudik ran wild.”

“Wild Mary Sudik” Daily Updates

On April 6, Floyd Gibbons of NBC Radio – who broadcast regular reports about the well – reports that after two unsuccessful attempts, the well is closed with a two-ton “overshot” cap.

An Associated Press article describes the “clever equipment” required to control the well without sparking a fire – a “double die was screwed into four inches of casing threads…a clever ball-shaped contrivance, called a fantail, was used to affix the double die to the casing.”

The fantail was placed over the well, “and the ‘Wild Mary’s’ pressure, playing through jets in the contrivance, aided in lowering the cap through the blast,” the article explains.

“With the petroleum geyser halted, operators in the field drew sighs of relief,” it concludes. “A stray spark from two clanking pieces of steel and the territory might have become a raging inferno.”

With the well was brought under control and the danger of fire eliminated, drilling continues at a frantic pace elsewhere in Oklahoma City.

However, the prolific, high-pressure of the Wilcox sands formation continued to challenge drillers and the technologies of the day.

A Wild Mary Sudik article in the Southwest Missourian newspaper reported:

Oklahoma City, April 7 – A gas well, estimated to be producing at a rate of 75,000,000 cubic feet a day, blew in at the edge of the city today, creating a new fire threat less than 24 hours after the wild No. 1 Mary Sudik gusher, several miles to the south, had been brought under control.

Recognizing the risks of drilling into the Wilcox sand, Oklahoma City passes additional ordinances for safety and well spacing in the city.

Although the first ram-type blowout preventer had been patented by James Abercrombie in 1926, many high-pressure Texas and Oklahoma oil fields would take time to tame.

wild mary sudik

The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City includes the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park.

In December 1933, Abercrombie patented an improved blowout preventer (patent No. 1,834,922), that set a new standard for safe drilling during the Oklahoma City oil field boom. Read more in Ending Oil Gushers – BOP.

Visitors today  can see the valve that split in half and view newsreel film of the Wild Mary Sudik in the oil and gas and natural resources on exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center.

There also is the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park with drilling and production equipment at the center, located on N.E. 23rd Street just east of the state capitol.

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

 

His 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” today remains on display in its original Texas oil patch community’s historic U.S. Postal Service building – now a museum.

Born in Memphis, Missouri, on February 22, 1898, Alexandre Hogue will become known for his paintings of southwestern scenes during the Great Depression – including murals of the 1930s petroleum industry. Read the rest of this entry »

 

As early 20th century worldwide demand for oil grew – but the science for finding it remained obscure – a small group of geologists organized the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).

Beginning as the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about 90 geologists gathered at Henry Kendall College, now Tulsa University, and on on February 10, 1917, formed an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.”

AAPG embraces a code that assures “the integrity, business ethics, personal honor, and professional conduct” of its worldwide membership.

The new association’s mission included promoting the science of geology, especially as it related to oil and natural gas, and encourage “technology improvements in the methods of exploring for and exploiting these substances.”

AAPG would also “foster the spirit of scientific research among its members; to disseminate facts relating to the geology and technology of petroleum and natural gas.”

Adopted its present name a year after the meeting at Henry Kendall College, AAPG begins publishing a bimonthly journal that remains among the most respected in the industry.

AAPG launches a peer-reviewed Bulletin that includes papers written by leading geologists. With a subscription price of five dollars, the journal is distributed to members, university libraries, and other industry professionals. Read the rest of this entry »

 

December 23, 1927 – Bad Santa of Cisco, Texas

Adding to the lore of Cisco, Texas – near the 1917 “Roaring Ranger” oilfield and the boom town where Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel – Santa Claus attempts an ill-fated bank robbery.

When a man disguised as Santa tries to rob the First National Bank two days before Christmas, a gun battle ensues, leaving more than a dozen wounded and eight dead before he is captured.

The “Santa Claus Bank Robber” later kills a guard while trying to escape. Recaptured, Cisco citizens hang him – twice, after the first rope breaks.

Read more about Cisco’s colorful history in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

December 26, 1905 – Nellie Bly patents the 55-Gallon Steel Drum

Nellie Bly – well known in her day as a journalist for the New York World newspaper – is issued a U.S. patent for the “metal barrel” that will become today’s 55-gallon steel drum. Read the rest of this entry »

 

December 17, 1884 –  Article features Oilfield Thunder and Lightning, Fires and Cannons

Especially in the Great Plains, frequent lightening strikes caused oil tank fires. This rare photograph is from the collection of the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.

“Oil fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” is the reporter’s catchy phrase in a New England magazine article.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country” – its firsthand account of the problem of lightning strikes in America’s oilfields.

MIT not only reports on the fiery results of an lightning strike, but also the practice of using artillery to fight such conflagrations. Read the rest of this entry »

 

In today’s oil patch, many community museums educate visitors about petroleum technologies – including early oilfield fire fighting. Especially in the Great Plains, where frequent lightning strikes once caused dangerous oil tank fires, one exhibit draws the attention of young and old alike. 

A cloud of black smoke marks the site of an early oil tank fire being fought with oilfield artillery as spectators look on. This rare photo is from the collection of the Butler County History Center & Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.

“Oil Fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” was the catchy phrase in an 1880s magazine article from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

“Lightning had struck the derrick, followed pipe connections into a nearby tank and ignited natural gas, which rises from freshly produced oil. Immediately following this blinding flash, the black smoke began to roll out.”

“A Thunder Storm in the Oil Country,” a December 17, 1884, first-person account in MIT’s The Tech magazine, described what happened next:

“Without stopping to watch the burning tank-house and derrick, we followed the oil to see where it would go. By some mischance the mouth of the ravine had been blocked up and the stream turned abruptly and spread out over the alluvial plain.

“Here, on a large smooth farm, were six iron storage tanks, about 80 feet in diameter and 25 feet high, each holding 30,000 barrels of oil. The burning oil spread with fearful rapidity over the level surface, and finally touched the sides of the nearest tank. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 »

 

National-Union-Oil-and-Gas-Co-stock-AOGHS

Although it would be put on the “List of Get-Rich Quick Promoters” by one investment magazine, the National Union Oil & Gas Company drilled a deep well in Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin half a century before major discoveries there.

The company filed for incorporation in Oklahoma on August 25, 1916, financing its operations through the sale of stock. By May 1917, the company drilled successful wells in Sumner County, Kansas, with total production exceeding 4,000 barrels.

By February of 1919, World’s Work magazine reported National Union Oil & Gas Company’s capitalization of $1 million – but also placed the company on its “List of Get-Rich Quick Promoters.”

The company nonetheless pursued investors in Custer County, Oklahoma, and spudded a deep test well five miles north of Clinton on February 26, 1920.

“The derrick of the National Union Oil & Gas Company is among the first of the forest of derricks that will likely transform the Custer County landscape,” the Western Oil Derrick newspaper optimistically reported.

Although the company’s 1920 deep-well experiment failed to find an oilfield, in 1979 a well drilled just a few miles away produced natural gas from 24,996 feet. The No. 1 Sanders well was part of the Anadarko Basin natural gas boom.

“For 20th century’s final quarter the basin remains the frontier of deep drilling technology centered on Elk City, ‘Deep Gas Capital of the World,'” notes the According to the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association of Oklahoma.

anadarko_shale_mapsetup001

The Anadarko Basin is a geologic feature covering about 50,000 square miles in west-central Oklahoma and northern Texas.

“The shallow horizons of Greater Anadarko account for much of this nation’s proved gas reserves,” the association adds. “The Deep Anadarko Basin of Western Oklahoma is one of the most prolific gas provinces of North America.”

Expanding operations in 1921, the National Union Oil & Gas board of directors proposed acquisition of the Modern Refining Company, which owned a 1,000 barrel a day refinery in Blackwell, Oklahoma. This required an increase of capital stock to $250,000 and a one-for-one exchange of shares with Modern Refining Company.

Still seeking new oil production, the company drilled two wells in the town of Oxford, Kansas, sharing the risk with several companies for one of the wells. The other, the Collins No. 1 well, was near the corner of today’s West College Street and North Sumner Avenue. Few details remain about either well.

In July, August and September 1922, National Union Oil & Gas produced a total of 7,572 barrels, according to Oil Weekly. Meanwhile, dozens of major discoveries were occurring in the area around Seminole, Oklahoma, and in the Texas Permian Basin. Learn more in “Greater Seminole Oil Boom” and “Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.”

As late as February 1925, the Oklahoma City company was still actively pursuing leases, paying $40,000 for one valuable 80-acre parcel. Litigation apparently followed in 1933. Thereafter, the research trail goes cold. Online collectors offer the obsolete National Union Oil & Gas stock certificates for sale.

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Since 1896, when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Bartlesville, many historic Oklahoma oilfields have been discovered: Glennpool, Cushing, Three Sands, Healdton, Oklahoma City and others – including 20 “giants.” Few have had the tremendous economic impact as the late 1920s oilfields of the greater Seminole area.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

Texas-oil-and-refining-co-stock-aoghs

The Texas Oil & Refining Company (sometimes known as Douglas-Texas Oil & Refining) was organized in Fort Worth in 1919 with capital of $200,000. It acquired an oil refinery in Port Arthur.

In October 1919, Texas Oil & Refining controlled leases in Comanche and Tillman counties of southern Oklahoma –  2,000 acres northwest of the famed Burkburnett oilfield. See “Boom Town” of Burkburnett.

The company also leased land south of Tulsa, where it drilled a 1,900-foot dry hole (No. 4 Henderson well) near Okmulgee.

Texas-Oil-and-Refining-Co-stock2-aoghsAlso in 1919, the company brought in two producing wells on its 680 acre lease in Oklahoma’s Beggs-Bixby oilfield also near Okmulgee.

In 1920, the company drilled a wildcat well in South Texas’s Gonzales County (No. 1 Hassman well) a mile west of the town of Coast. No results can be found.

The October 9, 1919, issue of Oil & Gas News promoted the company’s efforts with photos and names of company sites, principals, and investors.

A fair amount of dispersed activity and apparent success mark the company’s efforts, but it nonetheless soon disappears.

The petroleum business had a lot to do with the “Roaring 20s in Okmulgee, according to local historians.

About 35 miles north, a 1905 discovery of the Glenn Pool oilfield – located between Okmulgee and Tulsa – had brought the first rush of exploration companies and prosperity.

An oil find closer to Okmulgee came in the year of Oklahoma’s statehood, 1907.

The region’s wells were relatively shallow, about 1,500 feet deep, which lowered drilling expense. The high quality of the oil produced from these Oklahoma wells also made them attractive to investors.

“Unlike the thick, sour oil from Spindletop, the famed 1901 Texas discovery that had already played out, this oil was light and sweet – just right to refine into gasoline and kerosene,” says Norman Hyne, a professor of petroleum geology at the University of Tulsa. See Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.

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