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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. 

hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing has been used to increase production on millions of oil and natural gas wells since 1949.

Modern 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.”

In May 1990, Pennsylvania’s Otto Cupler Torpedo Company “shot” its last oil well using liquid nitroglycerin – abandoning nitro but continuing to pursue a fundamental oil field technology.

Although President Rick Tallini remains in the business of improving oil wells’ production, today’s fracturing systems are much advanced from Lt. Col. Edward A. L. Roberts’ original 1865-1866 patents.

hydraulic fracturing

When Col. E.A.L. Roberts founds his company in 1865, his many patents give him a monopoly on torpedoes needed by the oil industry. The stock certificate – with oilfield vignettes – is worth about $300 to collectors.

“Our business since Colonel Roberts’ day has concerned lowering high explosives charges into oil wells in the Appalachian area to blast fractures into the oil bearing sand,” says Tallini. His company is based in Titusville – where the American petroleum industry began on August 27, 1859. Read the rest of this entry »


February 1, 1868 – Oil Prices Weighed for First Time

In a practice that continues to this day, oil price quotations are based on specific gravity – the heaviness of a substance compared to that of water – in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

In the new oil regions, independent producers frequently meet to discuss business, sell shares of stock, argue prices, and enter into refining contracts that depended on the crude oil’s quality.

Before the Titusville Oil Exchange is established in 1871, producers would gather in convenient establishments, such as Titusville’s American Hotel or along Centre Street in Oil City – known as the “Curbside Exchange.” Read more End of Oil Exchanges.

American Petroleum Institute gravity, or API gravity, was adopted in 1921 and became the worldwide standard. Crude oil is classified as light, medium or heavy, according to its measured API gravity.

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

petroleum history february

“Ethyl” gasoline goes for the first time at this Dayton, Ohio, gas station. Photo courtesy Kettering/GMI Alumni Foundation.

“Ethyl,” the world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetra-ethyl lead compound, goes on sale. Discovered two years earlier by General Motors scientists, the vastly 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. In the 1950s, chemist Clair Patterson discovers the toxicity of tetra-ethyl lead and its phase out begins in 1976. Read more Ethyl Anti-Knock Gas.

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

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.

February 4, 1910 – “Buffalo Bill,” Wyoming Oilman

petroleum history february

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.

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.

In 1910 Cody and the congressman once again venture into the oil business by forming the Shoshone Oil Company. During a visit to New York City, “Buffalo Bill” 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, the state’s major oil strikes will come south of Cody. The company’s drilling funds run out. Read more in Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company.

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 Last Well

petroleum history february

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

Andrew Dalrymple and his wife are killed 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 oilfield. 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 more so. “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 technique. Read Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

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

petroleum history february

Baltimore Gas & Electric in 1997 dedicated a replica 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.

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). Read more in Manufactured Gas for Lamps.


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