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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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February 2, 1923 – First Anti-Knock Gas goes on Sale

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“Ethyl” gasoline goes for the first time at this Dayton, Ohio, gas station.

“Ethyl,” the world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetra-ethyl lead compound, goes on sale. Discovered just two years earlier by General Motors scientists, the improved gasoline is sold at the Refiners Oil Company service station on South Main Street in Dayton, Ohio.

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” is the name applied to the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. This shock often damages engines. In the 1950s, chemist Clair Patterson discovers the toxicity of tetra-ethyl lead and its phase out begins in 1976. See Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.

February 3, 1868 – Pennsylvania Oil Producers seek End of Civil War Tax

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Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, who during the Civil War created the first “greenbacks” as legal tender (with his image on them), at first attempted to charge oil producers a “war tax” of more than $10 per barrel.

Oil Creek refiners meet in Petroleum Center, Pennsylvania, where they pass a resolution demanding that the Civil War’s one dollar a barrel “war tax” on refined petroleum products be repealed.

As early as 1862, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase advocated a $10.50 per barrel tax on refined petroleum products (about $145 in 2010 dollars).

Chase, responsible for the introduction of federal paper money (printed on green paper) during the Civil War, will not succeed with his massive petroleum tax, despite the Union’s need for revenue. Instead, a one-dollar excise tax is imposed in 1864.

In 1868, with the war over and Pennsylvania’s oil region production greatly in excess of demand, Oil Creek refiners achieve their original goal when Congress passes a bill exempting petroleum and its products from taxation.

February 4, 1910 – W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Wyoming Oilman

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W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, center in black hat, and other investors at an oilfield on the Shoshone Anticline near Cody, Wyoming, around 1910. Photo courtesy the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extends beyond his world-famous Wild West Show. It reaches into the Wyoming oil patch.

Cody, who in 1896 founded the town that bears his name, in February 1910 buys shares in Shoshone Oil Company. It is not his first attempt to strike oil.

Perhaps inspired by the January 1901 oil gusher on Spindletop Hill, Texas, which had launched hundreds of independent oil companies, Cody and several partners, including Wyoming Rep. Frank Mondell, in 1902 began exploring near Cody. They drilled one 500-foot dry hole and run out of funds when a second well also fails to find oil.

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A stock certificate for 2,500 shares valued at $1 per share issued to W. F. Cody by Shoshone Oil Company, Cody, Wyoming, on February 4, 1910. Image courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

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“Bill, the Oil King” stands at one of his wells.

In 1910 Cody and the congressman once again venture into the oil business by forming the Shoshone Oil Company. Cody buys 2,500 shares at $1 per share and files placer claims south of Cody. “Buffalo Bill” promotes his “Bonanza Oil District” to potential investors.

During a visit to New York City, the Wyoming oilman carries pocket flasks of oil to interest investors. Some of Cody’s eastern friends call him, “Bill, the Oil King,” notes one historian, adding, “with what degree of seriousness we cannot know.”

Unfortunately for Shoshone Oil, all major oil strikes will come north and east of Cody. When the company’s drilling funds run out, “Buffolo Bill” again leaves the oil business. Read more in Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company.

Major oilfields will be discovered in Wyoming. By the early 1920s, the Salt Creek oilfield in Natrona County becomes one of the most productive in the nation. See First Wyoming Oil Well.

February 5, 1873 – “Moonlighter” shoots his Last Illegal Well

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Nitroglycerine could prove fatal to illegal oil well shooters – “moonlighters.”

Andrew J. Dalrymple is killed with his wife in a nitroglycerin explosion at his home on Dennis Run, Pennsylvania.

Dalrymple is alleged to have been “moonlighting” – illegal oil well shooting – in the Tidioute oil field. Nitroglycerine was a powerful but dangerous means of fracturing (fracking) oil bearing strata to increase production. The technology had been patented, its use rigorously protected.

Pouring nitroglycerin was risky enough in the late 19th century oil patch. Doing it illegally at night made it into today’s lexicon.

“The Dalrymple torpedo accident at Tidioute brings to light the fact that nitroglycerine, or other dangerous explosives, are used, stored and manipulated secretly in places little suspected by the general public,” reports the Titusville Morning Herald.

“A large amount of this dangerous material has lately been stolen from the various magazines throughout the country, ” the newspaper adds. “This species of theft is winked at by some parties, who are opposed to the Roberts torpedo patent.”

The modern term moonlighting comes from this practice of secretly avoiding licensing fees imposed on the use of Civil War veteran Col. E.A.L. Roberts’ patented fracking technique. Read Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

February 7, 1817 –  Manufactured Gas illuminates First Public Street Lamp

America’s first public street lamp fueled by gas illuminates the corner of Market and Lemon streets in Baltimore, Maryland. The Gas Light Company of Baltimore becomes the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company – distilling tar and wood to manufacture its gas.

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Baltimore Gas & Electric celebrated its 150th anniversary – and street lamp – in 1997.

Today, a monument to the first public gas street lamp in the United States stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street (once Market and Lemon). Dedicated in 1997, the lamp is a replica of its original design of February 1817.

Local inventor Rembrandt Peale first illuminated a room in his Holliday Street museum a year earlier, burning his artificial gas and dazzling local businessmen and socialites gathered there with a “ring beset with gems of light.”

“During a candlelit period in American history the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors,” notes a historian at the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E).

The gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore (BG&E’s precursor).

“Less than a year later, on February 7, 1817, the first public gas street lamp was lit in a ceremony one block south of City Hall,” notes BG&E. The city council speedily approves Peale’s plan to light the city’s streets.

Over coming decades, two miles of gas main are completed under Baltimore streets and the company shows its first profit. Metering replaces flat-rate billing, helping more residents afford lighting their home with gas.

By 1855, a new gas manufacturing plant is constructed where gas is distilled from coal – an improvement over the former “gasification” of tar or wood. Visit the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

February 8, 1836 – “Coal Gas” brightens Philadelphia

Forty-six lights burning manufactured “coal gas” are lit along Philadelphia’s Second Street by employees of the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works.

As Philadelphia becomes the nation’s center for finance and industry, the municipally owned gas distribution company fuels innovations.

By 1856, Philadelphia Gas completes construction of a gas tank at the company’s Point Breeze Plant in South Philadelphia. At the time it is the largest in the nation with a total holding capacity of 1.8 million cubic feet.

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A natural gas storage facility at Point Breeze in South Philadelphia, circa 1856. Photograph courtesy Philadelphia Gas Works.

When the American Centennial Exposition of 1876 displays the wonders of the age in agriculture, horticulture and machinery, gas cooking is showcased as a novelty. Sixty miles of pipe bring manufactured gas to the exhibition’s lamps.

The earliest commercial use of natural gas in a community, according to most historians, took place in Fredonia, New York, in 1825.

Natural gas was piped to several stores, shops and a mill from a downtown natural gas well drilled by William Hart, who some consider as the father of the natural gas industry.

Hart made three attempts at drilling, according to Lois Barris in her history of the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company, which incorporated in 1857.

“He left a broken drill in one shallow hole and abandoned a second site at a depth of forty feet because of the small volume of gas found,” she reports.

“In his third attempt, Mr. Hart found a good flow of gas at seventy feet,” Barris adds. “He then constructed a crude gasometer, covering it with a rough shed and proceeded to pipe and market the first natural gas sold in this country.”

Today in the United States, there are more than 900 public natural gas systems serving more than 70 million customers; the Philadelphia Gas Works is the largest. Learn more about the early natural gas industry in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.


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