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Oil and Natural Gas History, Education Resources, Museum News, Exhibits and Events


Indiana communities took pride in what they thought to be an unlimited supply of natural gas. Indiana lawmakers banned these “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 »

A Message from the Editor

Although the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) provides many free energy education research and resources, it remains a small, nonprofit program that needs your financial support. Please help with AOGHS outreach, including this website, by making a donation today.

An updated state-by-state list of resources and contacts for teachers, students and researchers. Also see our list of National Energy Education Contacts.

This collection of state contacts offers education programs (designed for grades kindergarten through 12th grade) with emphasis on oil and natural gas exploration and production. It is an ongoing research product – please contact AOGHS with your comments, suggestions or additions.

Contact the society and support its energy education mission.

When petroleum leaves the wellhead and reaches a refinery, it has moved into what is considered the “downstream” segment of the industry. Information about the “upstream” segment (exploration and production) is available from sources — in the oil and natural gas producing states.

Since 1930, the Independent Petroleum Association of American has published an annual magazine containing detailed statistics — including drilling, production, prices and financial information, operating rotary rigs, and much more.

For a collection of individual state geological surveys in all 50 states, visit theAssociation of American State Geologists. Many of the following resources are documented from updated information of the U.S. Department of Energy’s booklet Energy Education Resources: Kindergarten through 12th Gradeedited to narrow scope to oil and natural gas. Read the rest of this entry »


Brothers Amos and James Densmore designed and fabricated the first successful railroad tank cars used in the Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865. Patented a year later and built by the thousands, their invention improved bulk transportation of oil. Photo courtesy the Drake Well Museum.

The Densmore Railroad Tank Car will briefly revolutionize the bulk transportation of crude oil to market.

Railroad oil tank cars became the latest of a growing number of oilfield innovations when two brothers received a U.S. patent on April 10, 1866.

James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, were granted the patent for their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum,” which they developed one year earlier in the booming oil region of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Using an Atlantic & Great Western Railroad flatcar, the brothers secured two tanks in order to ship oil in bulk. Patent no. 53,794 describes and illustrates the railroad car’s design.

The nature of our invention consists in combining two large, light tanks of iron or wood or other material with the platform of a common railway flat freight-car, making them practically part of the car, so as they carry the desired substance in bulk instead of in barrels, casks, or other vessels or packages, as is now universally done on railway cars.

The brothers described the use of special bolts at the top and bottom of the tanks to act as a braces and “to prevent any shock or jar to the tank from the swaying of the car while in motion.” 

An historical marker on U.S. 8 south of Titusville memorializes the Densmore brothers’ contribution to petroleum transportation technology.

The first functional railway oil tank car was invented and constructed in 1865 by James and Amos Densmore at nearby Miller Farm along Oil Creek. It consisted of two wooden tanks placed on a flat railway car; each tank held 40-45 barrels of crude oil.

 A successful test shipment was sent in September 1865 to New York City. By 1866, hundreds of tank cars were in use. The Densmore Tank Car revolutionized the bulk transportation of crude oil to market.

Safer and stronger, riveted-iron horizontal tanks will soon replace Densmore tanks.

According to an article, the benefit of such cars to the oil industry was immense – it cost $170 less to ship eighty barrels of oil from Titusville to New York in a tank car than in individual barrels. But the Densmore cars had flaws.

They were unstable, top-heavy, prone to leaks, and limited in capacity by the eight-foot width of the flatcar.

Within a year, oil haulers shifted from the Densmore vertical vats to larger, horizontal riveted iron cylindrical tanks, which also demonstrated greater structural integrity during derailments or collisions.

The same basic design for transporting petroleum is still used today as railroads have put  dozens of other products – from corn syrup to chemicals – in the versatile tank car.

Although the Densmore brothers left the oil region by 1867 – their inventiveness was far from over.

The Densmore brothers invent one of the first typewriters.

In 1875, Amos assisted Christopher L. Sholes to rearrange the “type writing machine” keyboard – so that commonly used letters no longer collided and got stuck. The “QWERTY” arrangement vastly improved Shole’s original 1868 invention.

Following his brother’s work with Sholes, inventor of the first practical typewriter, James Densmore’s oilfield financial success helped the brothers establish the Densmore Typewriter Company, which produced its first model in 1891.

The article concludes: Biographies of the Densmores – and even their personal papers now residing at the Milwaukee Public Museum – all refer to their work on typewriters, but make no mention of their pioneering work in railroad tank car design.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


“Michigan Oil & Gas History,” a 2005 Clarke Historical Library exhibit at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant.

In 1860, Michigan State Geologist Alexander Winchell reported that oil and natural gas deposits lay under Michigan’s surface.

First commercial production was at Port Huron, where twenty-two wells were drilled, beginning in 1886.
Total output was small. Michigan’s first oil boom was at Saginaw, where production began about 1925.

About three hundred wells were drilled here by 1927, when Muskegon’s “Discovery Well” drew oil men from all over the country to that field.

The Mt. Pleasant field, opened in 1928, helped make Michigan one of the leading oil producers of the eastern United States. Mount Pleasant became known as the “Oil Capital of Michigan.”

Efforts of the industry itself resulted in excellent state laws regulating petroleum output. Well depths ranged from one thousand to six thousand feet.

New wells are constantly opened as exploration continues. – 1961 Michigan historical marker.

Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, designed the petroleum history exhibit that creatively used documents and photographs to capture the attention of students.

Central Michigan University Oil Exhibit

In the summer of 2005, a special petroleum exhibit opened at Central Michigan University’s (CMU) Clarke Historical Library, Mount Pleasant.

“They work hard, take risks, prosper, and by and large benefit everybody,” noted Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library, about oil and natural gas producers. “What I didn’t understand about the industry is that these people all know each other.”

The library told their story with an “Oil and Natural Gas in Michigan” exhibit.

The state’s abundant oil production comes as a surprise to many, said Boles, who put the exhibit together with the cooperation of the Michigan Oil & Gas Association and the Michigan Oil & Gas Producers Educational Foundation.

Jack Westbrook, retired managing editor of Michigan Oil & Gas News magazine, marshaled the resources and worked tirelessly to ensure success, Boles said. “In a very real sense, there would be no exhibit if it were not for Jack.”

The exhibit was designed to designed to pique a visitor’s curiosity – and be transportable. The region’s students learned that Mount Pleasant, home to CMU, had its own oil boom in 1928 and today is known as the historical center of Michigan’s oil industry.

They were surprised to learn that more than 57,000 oil and gas wells had been drilled in their state since 1925 – and that Michigan ranks 17th in nationwide oil production and 11th in natural gas.

More surprises awaited those students who looked more closely, Boles said.

“We’re about usage,” he explained. “Our profit is people coming in, using our resources, and hopefully learning something. We want our exhibits to prompt them to dig deeper.”

For example, students learn that after decades of dry holes or small oil discoveries, the Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well on January 7, 1957, revealed Michigan’s largest oil field, 29-miles-long.

Ferne Houseknecht had convinced her uncle, Clifford Perry, to take time between his other farm projects to drill the historic well. Read more in “Michigan’s ‘Golden Gulch’ of Oil.”

For the exhibit, Boles used just six walls and eleven cabinets to tell this and other stories, so careful planning was essential. He said that from the project’s outset, pursuit of community support, resources, and partners was essential.

Proudly showing off his homemade miniature cable tool rig in 1932, Earl “Red” Perry Jr., age 12, is the nephew of Cliff Perry – who will discover Michigan’s largest oil field on January 7, 1957.

The exhibit began with storyboarding and the interactive process of writing and rewriting proposed text. Large photo formats with understandable text dominated the walls, while display cases featured unique artifacts and documents.

Visitors discovered a rich oil history and learned of the complex environmental issues Michigan has successfully addressed.

The 1970s “Pigeon River State Forest” ecological controversy was presented – along with its innovative solution. In 1976, Michigan became the first state in the nation to earmark state revenue generated through mineral, including oil and gas, activity for acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive or public recreation lands.

According to Jack Westbrook, all 83 Michigan counties have benefited from the fund’s $635 million collected from oil and gas revenues – and other states followed Michigan’s example.

His book, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011: A 35 year Michigan investment heritage in Michigan’s public recreation future, is available at Amazon. See “Books & Artists.”

Visit the Clarke Historical Library.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


Students visit the Norman No. 1 Well Museum in Neodesha, Kansas, to learn about the November 28, 1892, gusher — and about their state’s modern petroleum industry. Oil or natural gas is produced in 89 of 105 counties.

After 22 days of drilling near Neodesha, Kansas, the Norman No. 1 well comes in.

This November 28, 1892, oil discovery is considered by many to be America’s first significant oil well west of the Mississippi River.

Beginning as just a four-barrel-a day producer from 832 feet deep, this Kansas discovery is the first to uncover production from the Mid-Continent region, which includes oil and natural gas fields extending into Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

Norman No. 1 was among the earliest wells west of the Mississippi River to produce a commercial quantity of oil, explains one historian.

The first Kansas oil well was drilled in Miami County in 1860. Read the rest of this entry »


 The Uinta Basin witnessed its first drilling boom following a 1948 oil discovery oil at 4,152 feet deep. The boom continue today - thanks to giant reserves of coalbed methane gas. Photo courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.

The Uinta Basin witnessed Utah’s first drilling boom following a 1948 oil discovery oil at 4,152 feet. The boom continues today – thanks to giant reserves of coalbed methane gas. Photo courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.

After drilling for oil in Utah for more than 25 years, in 1948 oilman J. L. “Mike” Dougan makes history.

His oil well, competed September 18 in the Uinta Basin, is Utah’s first true commercial well.

President of the small independent Equity Oil Company, Dougan beats out larger and better financed competitors, including  Standard Oil of California, Pure Oil, Continental, and Union Oil. The Utah discovery launches a deep-drilling boom.

Unlike the earlier attempts, Dougan has drilled beyond the typical depth of 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet. His Ashley Valley No. 1 well, ten miles southeast of Vernal, produces 300 barrels a day from 4,152 feet. Read the rest of this entry »


Sound-Cities-Gas-and Oil Co-stock-aoghs

Washington is not a petroleum-producing state. Extended, significant commercial oil production has never occurred.

But in the mid-1930s, drilling about 40 miles south of Seattle, Sound Cities Gas & Oil Company, Inc., became one of the few companies to make a strike that excited interest.

The company, which had offices in Seattle and Tacoma (Puget Sound cities), wisely decided to drill where flaming gas seeped from the ground.

Using a cable-tool drilling rig near the town of Enumclaw, the company drilled the Bobb No. 1 well seeking a hillside anticline. Geologists had long recognized anticlines – created by the up-folding of rocks, similar to an arch – as potential oil and natural gas traps. Read the rest of this entry »


As is often the case, several petroleum companies have shared popular names, and this is the case with Evangeline Oil Company.

A circa 1920 certificate is for one Evangeline company that drilled in Texas’ world famous Burkburnett oilfield. It was a dry hole.

That North Texas field would lead to a 1940 Academy Award-winning movie with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. Read more in “Boom Town” of Burkburnett.”

This company also explored in Louisiana’s Clairborne Parish, drilling a well that produced a disappointing  30 barrels a day. The company established offices in Brockton, New York, and sold stock to fund drilling operations.

However, by July 1922, Evangeline Oil stock had “little or no value, unlisted brokers offering but a few cents a share and the price today being considerably under what it was six months or a year ago,” reported the United States Investor.

Today the certificate has collectible value and can be found on eBay.

In 1905, Detroit millionaire Leonard Frederick Benckenstein and others incorporated another Evangeline Oil Company in New Jersey, capitalized at $125,000 and operating out of Jennings, Louisiana – probably inspired by discovery of the state’s first commercial oil well near the Acadia Parish towns of Evangeline and Jennings in 1901.

As the newly discovered oilfield profited, investors and venture capitalists scrambled to get in on the “play.”

This Evangeline Oil Company was reported to be a “highly speculative promotion in oil.” It entered into receivership by 1912. Calcasieu Trust & Savings Bank was appointed receiver and recovered some damages from Gulf Oil and the Texas Oil Company (later Texaco).

Another Evangeline Oil Company was named in Standard Oil antitrust litigation, but this nominal Standard refinery competitor was also known as Central Asphalt Works located in Port Neches, Texas.

Note that this certificate includes a vignette of derricks commonly seen on those of other companies formed (and failed) in booming oil regions: Centralized Oil & Gas Company, the Double Standard Oil & Gas Company, the Evangeline Oil Company, the Texas Production Company and the Tulsa Producing and Refining Company! See Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?”

First Commercial Well in Louisiana

Just eight months after the giant 1901 discovery at Spindletop Hill, Texas, oil was discovered on September 21 just 90 miles to the east in Louisiana.

Already successful thanks to making strikes at Spindletop, independent oilman W. Scott Heywood brought in a 7,000-barrel-a-day producer six miles northeast of the town of Jennings.

Heywood’s Jules Clements No. 1 well marked the state’s first commercial oil production and opened the prolific Jennings Field. He followed up his success by securing leases, building pipelines and storage tanks, and contracting buyers.

Heywood’s discovery found oil at 1,700 feet. Some discouraged investors had sold their Jennings Oil Company stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, stock in the Jennings Oil Company sold for as little as 25 cents per share.

Patient investors were rewarded at 1,700 feet. The oilfield reaches peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


Midfields-Oil-Stock-Colorado-AOGHSIn 1918, a number prominent citizens of Yuma and Wray counties in Colorado got together to form the Midfields Oil Company, capitalized at $100,000 with H. F. Strangways as president.

The local newspaper, the Wray Rattler, followed the company’s progress and published advertisements. Stock was offered at $10 per share.

“The control of the company is in the hands of honest, capable, well known business men of Yuma County, and is in every way a home institution,” proclaimed one ad.

Although oil was the objective (natural gas pipeline infrastructure being nonexistent), Midfields Oil’s first drilling attempt 16 miles south of Wray produced “a showing” of gas in the “Black-Wolf Basin” and was abandoned.

A second well in 1919 proved to be the discovery well for the Beecher Island natural gas field in the Niobrara shale formation, which remains active today. Read the rest of this entry »


Spectacular production from the New Mexico oil field encouraged further exploration. The 1928 discovery well brought prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs, named for James Hobbs, who homesteaded there in 1907. Photo courtesy

The Midwest State No. 1 – discovery well for the Hobbs oil field – is commemorated with a cable-tool rig placed there in 1952 by the American Petroleum Institute.

“It was desolate country – sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits. Hobbs was a store, a small school, a windmill, and a couple of trees.” – New Mexico roughneck.

Many have called it the most important single oil discovery in New Mexico history. The Midwest State No. 1 well – spudded in late 1927 using a standard cable-tool rig – saw its first signs of oil from the Hobbs oil field at 4,065 feet on June 13, 1928. It was a long  journey.

“Finding commercial amounts of oil in southeastern New Mexico presented geologists with a perplexing problem in 1928 because the land was too flat,” noted an article in the Midland Reporter-Telegram. Read the rest of this entry »


Texas Production Company was incorporated on June 18, 1917, with capitalization of $1 million.

By 1919, this company brought in the Renner No. 1 well at 475 barrels a day from the Waggoner oilfield, near Electra and the recent extension of the Burkburnett field.

According to the Texas Historical Commission, oil exploration and production in this area was minimal until April 17, 1919, when the Bob Waggoner Well No. 1 blew in at 4,800 barrels per day. It was the first well in what became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprised of approximately 27 square miles.

Oil had been found in 1912 west of Burkburnett in Wichita County, followed by another oilfield in the town itself in 1918. The Wichita Falls region’s drilling booms inspired a 1940 Academy award-winning movie. See “Boom Town of Burkburnett.”

The company also appears to have drilled productive oil wells in the in the Humble oilfield of Harris County, bringing in the Bissonnet Np. 1 well to a depth of over 4,000 feet, one of the deepest in the field at the time.

That well produced up to 2,000 barrels of oil a day in 1921. In the same year however, a Texas Production Company investor sought advice from a leading financial publication. The answer was not promising.

“So far as we can make out you bought into an oil production of little or no merit, which has simply gone the way of any number of such enterprises,” United States Investor noted.

“Shares of the Texas Production Company are now being offered at a few cents a share by unlisted brokers which would indicate that a sale of your stock would net you little,” the magazine added. “There is no way for you to get your money back.”

United States Investor encouraged its readers to avoid investing in any questionable petroleum-related bonds.

“This may be a time for strong companies to invest in oil at a low figure,” Investor  proclaims, “but a company which must bond itself to pull itself out of a hole can’t do much in the way of speculation on the future price of oil to get back for its stockholders what has been already taken by unscrupulous promoters.”

Note that the company’s certificate includes a vignette of derricks commonly seen on those of other companies formed (and failed) in oil regions: Centralized Oil & Gas Company, the Double Standard Oil & Gas Company, the Evangeline Oil Company, the Texas Production Company and the Tulsa Producing and Refining Company! See “Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?”

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


In October 1917, Wyoming Peerless Oil Company stock promotions first appeared in the pages of the Cheyenne State Leader, Laramie Republican and Wyoming Tribune newspapers.

Within a year the new exploration company’s advertisements appeared in newspapers as far away as Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “Action Not Promises Our Motto,” noted one placed in the June 2, 1918, Milwaukee Journal (above).

Many U.S. newspapers at the time included similar promotions as oilfield discoveries proliferated from California to Kansas.

Oeerless-oil-stock-ad-AOGHSDemand for gasoline was skyrocketing, both for Model T Fords and World War I, which the United States would soon join. Oil companies proliferated.

Some used questionable claims to keep investors unaware of how risky and expensive the business finding and producing oil truly was.

Nine out of 10 exploratory well attempts proved to be dry holes – and drilling was expensive in such remote areas.

The Wyoming Peerless Oil Company set its sights on drilling a well six miles from the nearest producer in the Big Muddy oilfield east of Casper. Stock was initially offered at three cents per share. “Don’t wait for our first well to come in. You might not be able to get this stock then for less than 25-cents or 50-cents per share.”

Wyoming-big-muddy-oilfield-marker-AOGHSThe Big Muddy oilfield, located about four miles west of Glenrock in Converse County, was discovered in 1916, a discovery that touched off widespread drilling and brought about one of Wyoming’s famous oil booms. Today, a marker on the south side of Hwy. 230 at the junction with County Road 33 describes the historic field:

Big Muddy oil field is a typical Wyoming oil producing structure. The field, discovered in 1916, has produced over 30 million barrels of high quality oil.

Strata here were arched upward at the time the Rocky Mountains originated over 60 million years ago, to form anticline, or dome. Because oil is lighter than water, it rose to the crest of the dome where it was trapped in pore spaces between sand grains. The Wall Creek sand lies at a depth of near 3,000 feet and the Dakota sand at about 4,000 feet. The first oil well in Wyoming was drilled in 1884. There are now about 100 oil fields in the state.

Seeking more investors, advertisements reported Wyoming Peerless Oil ‘s drilling progress on its Big Muddy exploratory well: Down 1,475 feet by June of 1918; down 1,675 feet by July and down to 3,315 feet by August of 1919.

Although rumors of a dry hole began to circulate, the company continued to solicit more investors to fund deeper drilling. But after reaching 4,050 feet without finding oil, company officer Charles Straub announced the well would be abandoned.

If more funds could be secured, Wyoming Peerless Oil would drill a second well, Straub added.

“Efforts have been made to extend the limits of the (Big Muddy) field in every direction, but these efforts have all been failures and the area of the field is plainly marked,” reported the Oil and Gas News reported (this would change in 1950 with a discovery to the east of the field).

By February 1920, stockholders from Denver had petitioned a court to put the Wyoming Peerless Oil Company into receivership, alleging mismanagement by Straub and other company officers. Straub responded with a $50,000 libel suit, reported by the Casper Daily Tribune on March 5, 1920.

The results are obscured, but Wyoming Peerless Oil never drilled a second well and the company disappeared from newspaper accounts.

The Big Muddy oilfield now has produced more than 300 million barrels of oil and wells are still pumping.

The first record of oil in Wyoming came in 1832. An expedition led by Captain B.L.E. Bonneville took the first wagons through South Pass. Fifty years later, prospector Mike Murphy, bought an oil lease on the site of Capt. Bonneville’s “great tar spring” southeast of Lander.

Read more in Petroleum Pioneers of Wyoming.

Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.


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 »


Since 1896, when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Bartlesville, many historic Oklahoma oilfields have been discovered: Glennpool, Cushing, Three Sands, Healdton, Oklahoma City and others – including 20 “giants.” Few have had the tremendous economic impact as the late 1920s oilfields of the greater Seminole area.  Read the rest of this entry »


Building a community oil museum is not for the faint of heart.

“Money and volunteers, volunteers and money,” are the biggest challenges, according to John Larrabee, board president for the Illinois Oil Field Museum and Resource Center on the outskirts of his hometown of Oblong, Illinois.

The Illinois Oil Field Museum is located in Oblong, Illinois, on Highway 33, southeast of Effingham. First opened in 1961, the community museum moved into a new building in 2001 and today continues to add new exhibits.

“The first thing you have to have is a goal and the determination to keep at it, no matter what. Don’t give up, whatever happens,” Larrabee explained in a 2004 interview with historical society Contributing Editor Kris Wells.

It helps to know something about the oil business, said the third generation Illinois Basin oilman. “The museum began way back in 1961 with a fellow named Enos Bloom, Larrabee noted. “In those days, the city of Oblong provided and maintained a building that housed donated artifacts.” Read the rest of this entry »