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October 27, 1763 – Birth of the “Father of American Geology”

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“Map of the United States of America, Designed to Illustrate the Geological Memoir of Wm. Maclure, Esqr.” A larger, more detailed 1818 version of the first geological map of the United States, originally published by Maclure in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton University Library.

Today is the birthday of William Maclure, a Scottish-born American geologist and “stratigrapher” who creates the earliest geological maps of North America.

After settling in the United States in 1797, Maclure explores the eastern part of North America to prepare the first geological map of the United States.

His travels from Maine to Georgia in 1808 result in the first geological map of the new United States, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 1809.

“Here, in broad strokes, he identifies six different geological classes: primitive rocks, transition, secondary, alluvial, old red sandstone, and salt/gypsum,” reports a Princeton historian. “Note that the chain of the Appalachian Mountains is correctly labeled as containing the most primitive, or oldest, rock.”

When Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemist, organizes the American Geological Society in 1819, Maclure is elected its first president. Silliman’s son, also a Yale chemist, in the 1850s will analyze Pennsylvania “rock oil” and help launch the American petroleum industry.

Most geologists consider Maclure (1763-1840) the “Father of American Geology.”

October 27, 1923 – Lion Oil founded in Arkansas

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Founded in 1923 in El Dorado, Arkansas, at its peak in the mid-1950s, Lion Oil will operate about 2,000 service stations in the south.

Lion Oil Company is founded as the Lion Oil Refining Company in El Dorado, Arkansas, by Texan Thomas Harry Barton.

Barton earlier organized the El Dorado Natural Gas Company and acquired a 2,000-barrel-a-day refinery in 1922. Thanks to production from the nearby Smackover oilfield, his newly formed Lion Oil Refining Company grows to 10,000 barrels a day capacity.

By 1925, the company has acquired 58 oil wells producing 1.4 million barrels of oil. At its peak in the mid-1950s, Lion Oil operates about 2,000 service stations in the southern United States.

A merger with Monsanto Chemical in 1955 brings the gradual disappearance of the once familiar “Beauregard Lion” logo. Ownership of Lion Oil passes to Tosco Corporation in 1975 and Ergon Corporation in 1985. Read more Arkansas history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

October 27, 1938 – DuPont names Petroleum Product “Nylon”

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A 1940 New Yorker ad for the latest petroleum product.

A revolutionary petroleum product is revealed in 1938 when DuPont chemical company announces that “nylon” will be the name of its new synthetic fiber yarn.

Invented in 1935 by Wallace Carothers at a DuPont research facility, nylon is considered the first commercially successful synthetic polymer.

Carothers is viewed by many as the father of the science of man-made polymers. Chemists call the new polymer Nylon 6 because the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

Nylon is used for parachutes and many other vital products during World War II. It will find widespread applications in consumer goods, including toothbrushes, fishing lines, luggage and lingerie, or in special uses such as surgical thread, parachutes, or pipes.

Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

October 28, 1868 – Explosive Technology praised

In Pennsylvania, the Titusville Morning Herald reports on the latest oilfield technology – the nitroglycerin torpedo.

“It would be superfluous, at this late day, to speak of the merits of the Roberts Torpedo,” the 1868 newspaper article explains.

“For the past three years, it has been a most successful operation, and has increased the production of oil in hundreds upon hundreds of oil wells to an extent which could hardly be overestimated,” it adds.

Read more in Shooters – a “Fracking” History.

October 28, 1926 – Yates Field discovered in West Texas

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New technologies are renewing interest in the Yates field, discovered in 1926. Houston Chronicle photo.

The 26,400-acre Yates oilfield is discovered in a remote area of Pecos County, Texas, in the increasingly prolific Permian Basin.

Drilled in 1926 sing a $15,000 cable-tool rig, the Ira G. Yates 1-A produces 450 barrels of oil a day from just under 1,000 feet.

Prior to the historic discovery, Yates had struggled to keep his ranch on the northern border of the Chihuahua Desert, notes a 2007 article in the Austin Chronicle.

“Drought and predators nearly did him in when Yates convinced a San Angelo company to explore for oil west of the Pecos River,” the article explains.

The Yates “rank wildcat” well – completed by the Mid-Kansas and Transcontinental Oil Companies – is 30 miles from the nearest oil pipeline at McCamey in Upton County. A 55,000-barrel steel storage tank and a pipeline to McCamey are under construction when four more producers begin yielding an additional 12,000 barrels of oil daily.

“The fourth test well blew a gusher that covered a tent city four miles away,” concludes the Chronicle article about the the West Texas town of Iraan. “On his 67th birthday, Yates was handed an $18 million oil royalty check.”

As the extent of the prolific Yates oilfield became known, boom town Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann), appeared. Yates and his wife, Anna, donated 152 acres of their 20,000-acre ranch for the town site on the Pecos River.

Today, the Permian Basin, 250 miles wide and 300 miles long across West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, remains a significant petroleum region, producing more than 270 million barrels of oil in 2010 and more than 280 million barrels in 2011. Learn more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

October 31, 1871 – Modern Refinery Method patented

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Henry Rogers patented a “method of distilling the commercial articles…entirely separated from the lubricating-oil and lamp-oil.”

Refining will evolve from an “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons.”

The 1871 invention presages many elements of modern refineries’ “fractionating” towers. It is a significant improvement over the earlier process of extracting kerosene by simple atmospheric distillation in kettle stills.

Henry Rogers of Brooklyn, New York, patents his “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons by repeated vaporization and condensation.”

“The apparatus which I use is, in many respects, similar to what is known as the column-still for distilling alcoholic spirits, but modified in all the details, so as to make it available for distilling oils,” he explains in his 1871 patent (No. 120539).

Rogers adds that “by my method of distilling the commercial articles known as benzine, gasoline, chimogen, rhigoline, carbon spirits and the like are products of perfectly uniform constitution, and these light products are entirely separated from the lubricating-oil and lamp-oil.”


October 31, 1902 — Batson Oilfield discovered

Oil is found at only 790 feet near Pine Bayou, one mile north of Batson, Texas. Initial production is 600 barrels a day. A second well in December produces 4,000 barrels from a depth of 1,000 feet. The area had first attracted interest when “signs” of oil were noticed.

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A former post office once housed the Oil Patch Museum in Batson, which today hosts an annual Oil Patch Festival.

“S. W. Pipkin and W. L. Douglas, who had no prior oil-industry experience, organized the Paraffine Oil Company with backing from a number of Beaumont businessmen,” notes the Texas State Historical Association.

“In late October 1903 Paraffine staked a location for a test, the No. 1 Fee, on evidence of paraffin dirt that Douglas found on the surface,” adds historian Julia Cauble Smith. “This was the first known use of paraffin dirt as a prospecting guide.”

Along with three other prolific salt-dome fields – Spindletop (1901), Sour Lake (1901) and Humble (1905) – Batson, “helped to establish the basis of the Texas oil industry when these shallow fields gave up the first Texas Gulf Coast oil,” Smith concludes about the oilfield 55 miles northeast of Houston. Visit Batson’s Oil Patch Museum.

October 31, 1930 – H. L. Hunt to make Historic Deal 

Judge Robert Brown of the Texas Fourth Judicial District places the properties of 70-year-old wildcatter Columbus  Marion “Dad” Joiner into receivership. His ruling will lead to an historic $1 million-plus property deal at the Baker Hotel in Dallas.

petroleum history october 27

In legal trouble, Columbus “Dad” Joiner, discoverer of the giant East Texas oilfield, will meet with H.L. Hunt at the Baker Hotel in Dallas — and sell 5,580 acres for $1.34 million.

It has been revealed that Joiner has oversold lease certificates to hopeful investors in Rusk County. His Daisy Bradford No. 3 gusher, discovery well for the massive East Texas oilfield, is immediately tied up in conflicting claims.

Joiner takes refuge from claimants and creditors in the Baker Hotel, where oilman Haroldson Lafayette (H. L.)  Hunt Jr. negotiates a $1.34 million deal with him for the Daisy Bradford well and 5,580 acres of leases, despite the certainty of litigation.

The Baker Hotel witnessed many oil deals. Its Peacock Terrace, which opened in 1925, was popular with movie stars and swing bands of the 1930s. The oil patch landmark was imploded 1980.

“In  seconds the grand hotel was in ruins. The site was cleared and in its place a modern skyscraper known as Bell Plaza stands. The dancing ceased, the party was over.” Read more in H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oil Field.

November 1, 1830 – Drilling Technology evolves

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Four-legged drilling derricks will become standard.

New Jersey inventor Levi Disbrow receives a reissued patent (No. 57) for his March 1825 design of a “Machine for Boring Artesian Wells.”

Disbrow’s system employs a mechanical drilling machine with a spring-expanded auger bit – and a four-legged derrick. Expanding auger bits in the borehole permit Disbrow to “bore a hole larger than the tube through which they are passed down.”

“It will be seen that wells on my system of boring and tubing can be sunk in quicksands, marshes, under water, and in other places where it would be very difficult to dig them, and that during the operation the influx of water from the top and sides of the well is prevented by my system of tight tubing,” Disbrow explains.

Having studied drilling methods in the West Virginia salt industry, Disbrow develops his system to drill for water. His most successful effort is a seven-inch diameter, 442-foot-deep water well at the corner of Broadway and Bleeker Street in New York City.

Disbrow’s patent is reissued in October 1843, as “Apparatus for Boring in Earth.” Also see Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

November 1, 1865 – First Railroad Oil Tank Car arrives 

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Densmore oil tanks cars of Pennsylvania.

James and Amos Densmore’s “oil tank car” railroad car arrives at the Miller Farm, four miles south of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

The brothers, who will patent this revolutionary technology, fill their first tank car with oil delivered by Samuel Van Syckle’s oil pipeline (another first) from the booming town of Pithole.

The Miller Farm’s 17 large storage tanks supply the Oil Creek Railroad, which connects to other rail lines in Corry and on to Pittsburgh, New York City, and other markets. The tank car design features two large, iron-banded wooden tanks on a flatcar. See Densmore Brothers Oil Tank Car.

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Today, the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad takes Pennsylvania tourists through Oil Creek State Park.

November 1, 1872 – Oilmen stop Production to Raise Prices

petroleum history october 27

Excess production and low prices united oil producers.

Oil prices rise $1.50 to $4.60 a barrel in Pennsylvania’s oil region in response to the Petroleum Producers Association’s 30-day shutdown of oil pumping operations one month earlier.

This is the first use of “shutdown days” to limit oil supplies delivered to kerosene refiners. Excessive production from America’s earliest oilfields has driven the price down to a low of $3.10 a barrel in September. Operators declare it cost more than that to produce the oil.

The 1872 Oil City Derrick newspaper reports “that a business producing three million dollars a month, employing 10,000 laboring men and fifty million dollars of capital, should be entirely suspended, dried up, stopped still as death by a mutual voluntary agreement, made and perfected by all parties interested, within a space of ten days – this is a statement that staggers belief – a spectacle that takes one’s breath away.”

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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.

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