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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 »

 

The world’s first synthetic fiber is the petroleum product “Nylon 6.” It is discovered by a DuPont chemist who produces the polymer from chemicals found in oil.

petroleum product nylon

“Women show off their nylon pantyhose to a newspaper photographer, circa 1942,” notes historian Jennifer S. Li in “The Story of Nylon – From a Depressed Scientist to Essential Swimwear.” Photo by Dale Rooks.

petroleum product nylon

Du Pont models at the 1939 New York World’s Fair play tug-of-war with a nylon stocking to dramatize its strength.

Du Pont Corporation foresees the future artificial fibers “strong as steel.” The chemical company becomes a global giant as its scientist create consumer products out of nylon, rayon and lucite.

The world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – is discovered on February 28, 1935, by a former Harvard professor working at a DuPont Corporation research laboratory. Later called Nylon 6 by scientists, the revolutionary product comes from chemicals found in petroleum.

Professor Wallace Carothers had experimented with artificial materials for more than six years. He previously discovered neoprene rubber (commonly used in wetsuits) and made major contributions to understanding polymers – large molecules composed in long chains of repeating chemical structures.

petroleum product nylon

DuPont names the new petroleum product nylon – although chemists call it Nylon 6 because the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contain 6 carbon atoms per molecule. Durable petroleum-based polymer products are in common use throughout the world.

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.

However, the fibers are weak, explains a PBS series, “A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries.”

“Carothers’ breakthrough came when he realized the water produced by the reaction was dropping back into the mixture and getting in the way of more polymers forming,” notes the PBS website. “He adjusted his equipment so that the water was distilled and removed from the system. It worked!” Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 »

 

The change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea is another chapter in petroleum history. 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 »

 

Outside the Page Museum of Los Angeles, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured at the Rancho La Brea in Hancock Park. Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the pools are actually comprised of asphalt.

“Tar pits” form when crude oil seeps to the surface through fissures in the earth’s crust and part of the oil evaporates.

The La Brea “tar pits,” discovered on August 3, 1769, by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola, exemplify the many natural petroleum seeps of southern California.

“We proceeded for three hours on a good road; to the right were extensive swamps of bitumen which is called chapapote,” Franciscan friar Juan Crespi noted in a diary of the expedition.

“We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” he added.

Crespi – the first person to use the term bitumen – described the sticky pools in southern California where crude oil had been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Read the rest of this entry »

 

“Sometimes, when researching history, you find places where it’s still alive,” says Evan L. Schwartz, author of Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story.

L. Frank Baum – whose father found great success in Pennsylvania oilfields – would serve as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which he founded with his brother on July 9, 1883.

L. Frank Baum’s sales trips may have influenced Oz. “On one of these trips, while installing a window display for a customer, the idea of the Tin Woodman came to him.”

Schwartz’s search for the Tin Man’s mythic oil-can led him to finding that in the 1880s L. Frank Baum and his brother owned a petroleum products business in Syracuse, New York. The business continues to this day.

The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz once sold cans of buggy wheel oil for a living.

In 1883, Baum and his brother Benjamin launched their small business offering lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”

Reporting on the July 9, 1883, opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper noted that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”

Baum’s Castorine Company prospered with L. Frank Baum serving as superintendent and chief salesman for the next four years.

“He was a traveling salesman for the company,” notes an exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Michigan. “On one of these trips, while installing a window display for a customer, the idea of the Tin Woodman came to him.”

The exhibit also explains that  although the company enjoyed some success, it “came to an end when the bookkeeper gambled away the profits.”

Baum wrote of Baum’s Castorine Company, “I see no future in it to warrant my wasting any more years of my life in trying to boom it.”

Baum sold the business. In May 1900 he published the first of his children’s classics.

Son of a Successful Independent Oilman

L. (Lyman) Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York, on May 15, 1856, the seventh of nine children of Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum – one of only five of the children to survive into adulthood.

Baum’s Castorine products “are designed to extend machine life and reduce your maintenance costs.”

Thanks to Benjamin Ward Baum’s financial success in the newly born Pennsylvania petroleum industry, the young Baum grew up in an environment where his imagination and love of reading flourished.

In 1860, just one year after America’s first commercial oil discovery, Benjamin Ward Baum closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the western Pennsylvania oilfields. “Frankie” was then only four and a half years old.

Productive oil wells drilled near Titusville and Cherry Tree Run will bring Benjamin Ward Baum great wealth.

“Benjamin recognized a splendid opportunity and joined the crowds who moved in to exploit the oilfields and develop the area. A hundred new wells were drilled every month, ingenious mechanical contrivances were invented, towns and cities were built,” writes Katharine M. Rogers in her 2002 book, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography.

“Benjamin began acquiring oilfields, including a particularly profitable one at Cherry Tree Run, a few miles south of Titusville,” Rogers explains. “He later bought property between Bradford, Pennsylvania, and Olean, New York, where he helped to develop the hamlet of Gilmour and built a hotel and an opera house.”

By 1862, the elder Baum owned Carbon Oil Company – and was a well-established oilman. His success helped finance diversification into dry goods and other mercantile businesses.

L. Frank Baum’s father once owned an oil company in Bolivar, New York, where a museum today exhibits the region’s extensive petroleum history.

Son Frank found employment in several of these family ventures as a young man. When his father purchased the Cynthia Oil Works in Bolivar, New York, Frank operated a retail outlet for awhile.

“The Cynthia Oil Works, the first refinery in Bolivar Township, was erected on the Porter Cowles flats at the north end of Bolivar village in 1882,” explains historian Ronald G. Taylor.

“The plant, owned by B. W. Baum & Son, dealers in oil leases and managers of the first opera house at Richburg, was designed as a lubricating oil works and for the manufacture of ship oil of 300 fire test for illuminating on board ships,” Taylor notes.

However, there was no longer unlimited free enterprise in the oil fields, says Rogers in her book.

“John D. Rockefeller had moved in and was increasingly controlling distribution. In 1878, Benjamin organized a group of independent producers to break Rockefeller’s grip by building a pipeline from Bradford to Rochester, where the oil could be transferred to tank cars and shipped to refineries in New York and Buffalo.”

Although the Standard Oil Company used its influence with the New York Central Railroad and the state legislature to block the plan, Rogers says, Baum continued to find success by discovering productive wells in New York.

“Oz” historian and author Evan L. Schwartz’s search for the Tin Man’s oil can led him to Baum’s Castorine Company in Rome, New York.

In 1887, after almost 30 years in the oil business, Benjamin Ward Baum died in New York. His father’s prosperity in the oil business permitted Frank to pursue writing, publishing journals and writing for the stage.

There were nine daily and 18 weekly newspapers published in the oil region, Rogers notes, and “Benjamin Baum had used some of his oil profits to acquire a string of small theaters in New York and Pennsylvania.”

Finding the Tin Man’s Oil Can

Was Baum’s Castorine lubricants inspiration for the oil can of the 1939 classic?

When historian Evan L. Schwartz researched his 2009 book, Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story, he was surprised to learn of the role petroleum played in Baum’s life – and that the Tin Man’s oil can trace its roots to Baum’s Castorine Company.

“L. Frank Baum sold cans of buggy wheel oil for a living as the co-owner of Baum’s Castorine Company of Syracuse, New York,” Schwartz explains, noting the company’s troubles that led to Baum’s selling it in 1888.

Schwartz describes discovering that the company still manufactures industrial oils and lubricants under the brand name, Baum’s Castorine Company .

“So I visited the current location in Rome, New York, and sat down for a peek into the archives with owner Charles Mowry, whose grandfather was one of the investors who bought the company from Frank Baum himself,” Schwartz explains.

“The smells of fine lubricant wafted in the air as I perused the collection of historic oil cans and heard the legend of Baum’s magic balms,” he says.

“What if Frank had never sold oil cans? Would we have never met the heartless Tin Man? And in 1939, why wasn’t Baum’s Castorine given the chance to pony up for some choice product placement?”

Visit the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar.