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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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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they pass a resolution demanding that the Civil War’s one dollar a barrel “war tax” on refined petroleum products be repealed.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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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.

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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

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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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