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An April 1, 1911, oil discovery brought prosperity to Electra, Texas.

An April 1, 1911, oil discovery brought prosperity to Electra, Texas, helping to build the community’s theater in 1920 and high school in 1923. A commemorative afghan is proudly held in 2005 by chamber of commerce members Shirley Craighead, Georgia Eakin and Jeanette Miller.

Many activities are planned for the April 1, 2011, Clayco No. 1 centennial celebration in Electra, Texas -- including a parade and rededication ceremony of the well’s historic marker.

April 1, 2011, marked the centennial of the Clayco No. 1 discovery well. Electra celebrated with a parade and rededication ceremony of the well’s historic marker.

The excitement began with an oil discovery on April Fool’s day in 1911 near Electra, Texas. It became oil fever when “Roaring Ranger” came in a few years later. When a third drilling boom began at Burkburnett, even Hollywood noticed.

Among other things, these oilfield discoveries brought prosperity to North Texas, launched hundreds of petroleum companies, fueled America’s Model T Fords (and victory in World War I), convinced Conrad Hilton to buy his first hotel, and inspired the movie “Boomtown,” which would win an Academy Award.

As early as 1913, newly discovered Mid-Continent oilfields like Electra were producing almost half of all the oil in Texas. Refineries began to appear in Wichita Falls in 1915 when Wichita County alone reported 1,025 producing wells.

Nearby, the McClesky No. 1 well in Eastland County struck oil in October 1917. The “Roaring Ranger” in Ranger reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels. Within two years eight refineries were open or under construction and Ranger banks had $5 million in deposits.

“Roaring Ranger” gained international fame for Ranger as the town whose oil wiped out critical oil shortages during World War I, allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

His 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” today remains on display in its original Texas oil patch community’s historic U.S. Postal Service building – now a museum.

Born in Memphis, Missouri, on February 22, 1898, Alexandre Hogue will become known for his paintings of southwestern scenes during the Great Depression – including murals of the 1930s petroleum industry. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont, Texas, tells the story of a 1901 oil discovery that created the modern petroleum industry – and made America a world power.

The Beaumont, Texas, museum includes 15 buildings of exhibits to educate visitors.

On January 1, 1901, if you asked residents of Beaumont, Texas, what news interested them, they would have said the Galveston Hurricane of September 8 (the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history), or the dawning of a new century.

However, as a southeastern Texas petroleum museum explains, if you asked them after January 10, 1901 – they would have said the great oil gusher on Spindletop Hill.

The Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont tells the story of the Spindletop well, a discovery that created the greatest oil boom in America – exceeding the nation’s first oil discovery well in 1859 in Pennsylvania.

Just as consumer demand for kerosene for lamps was declining in favor of electricity, Americans would soon want far more of another refined petroleum product: gasoline. Within a few decades, new oil companies will pump gasoline into automobiles from “filling stations” across the country. Read the rest of this entry »

 

December 17, 1884 –  Article features Oilfield Thunder and Lightning, Fires and Cannons

Especially in the Great Plains, frequent lightening strikes caused oil tank fires. This rare photograph is from the collection of the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.

“Oil fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” is the reporter’s catchy phrase in a New England magazine article.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country” - its firsthand account of the problem of lightning strikes in America’s oilfields.

MIT not only reports on the fiery results of an lightning strike, but also the practice of using artillery to fight such conflagrations. Read the rest of this entry »

 

More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified. There are 324 in the Library of Congress, including Oil City, Pennsylvania. Source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.

Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler has the greatest number of panoramic or “Birds-Eye View” maps in the collection of the Library of Congress. Lithographs of his cartography (done without a balloon) fascinated the public of America’s Victorian Age.

An 1896 Fowler panorama of Titusville, Pennsylvania, where Edwin L. Drake launched the U.S. petroleum Industry in 1859.

Panoramic maps were a popular cartographic form used to depict U.S. towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Interestingly, many of what Fowler called “aero views” captured the small cities near America’s earliest oil and natural gas fields.

Fowler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on December 21, 1842. He served in the 21st New York Volunteers in 1861 – was wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run a year later – and discharged at Boston in 1863.

According to the Library of Congress, after the Civil War, Fowler migrated to Wisconsin. He established his own panoramic map firm and in 1870 produced views of Wisconsin towns. A panoramic map of Stewart, Ohio, that appears in D. J. Lake’s Atlas of Athens Company is the earliest Fowler view in the library’s collections.

In 1885, Fowler moved with his family to Morrisville, Pennsylvania, where he maintained his headquarters for 25 years as he traveled the country.

Morrisville served as his operating center as Fowler began to draw and publish views of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio cities – including many oil boomtowns. His production of Pennsylvania panoramas was greater than that of any other artist. In the Library of Congress collection alone, there are 220 separate Fowler views of Pennsylvania.

Viewed from the north looking south, Thaddeus Fowler depicted Wichita Falls, Texas, population of 1,978, probably in the fall of 1890. For a suitable fee, the artist included homes and business as insets. Source: Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.

An additional 165 Fowler views of Pennsylvania towns are in the Pennsylvania State Archives and at Pennsylvania State University. He also  visited the booming oilfield communities in Oklahoma and Texas.

“Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler (1842–1922) was perhaps the most prolific of the dozens of bird’s-eye view artists who crisscrossed the country during the latter three decades of the nineteenth century,” explains the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. “He produced at least seventeen views of different Texas cities in 1890 and 1891, but that output is dwarfed by his production of almost 250 views of Pennsylvania between 1872 and 1922.”

T.M. Fowler’s 1896 map of Sistersville, West Virginia. An oil discovery four years earlier had revealed a giant oil field, which transformed this Ohio River community. Every September since 1969, residents celebrate the discovery with the West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival.

Historians have identified 411 separate Fowler panoramas. “His views of Pennsylvania towns suggest he concentrated on a specific geographical area in a given year, very likely to minimize transportation problems,” notes the Library of Congress.

From 1895 to 1897, Fowler worked in the western part of Pennsylvania, especially around Pittsburgh. In 1898 and 1899, he sketched West Virginia towns, and from 1900 to 1903, he was back in Pennsylvania.

He will travel to Oklahoma to produce a 1918 map of the “Oil Capital of the World.”

An August 11, 1891, discovery well made Sistersville the world’s leading oil producer. The well was restored as a tourist attraction in 1911 by Quaker State Refining Corporation.

Oil derricks are among the many details Fowler included in his Sistersville panorama.

Fowler gained commissions for city plans by interesting citizens and civic groups in the idea of a panoramic map of their community. After one town had agreed to having a map made, he would seek to involve neighboring communities.

By noting that he had already secured an agreement for a view from one town in the area, Fowler would play on the pride, community spirit, and sense of competition of adjacent communities.

How did Fowler create his maps? Preparation of panoramic maps “involved a vast amount of painstakingly detailed labor,” explains a Library of Congress article on panoramic mapping:

For each project a frame or projection was developed, showing in perspective the pattern of streets. The artist then walked in the street, sketching buildings, trees, and other features to present a complete and accurate landscape as though seen from an elevation of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. These data were entered on the frame in his workroom…A careful perspective, which required a surface of three hundred square feet, was then erected from a correct survey of the city.

This Fowler print of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was published in 1918 — when Tulsa was known as the “Oil Capital of the World” following discovery of the Glenn Pool oil field on November 22, 1905, four miles south.

The “Bird’s-eye” or “aero” views fascinated the public of America’s Victorian Age. Advances in lithography made inexpensive and multiple copies possible, adds the Library of Congress article:

The citizen could view with pride his immediate environment and point out his own property to guests, since the map artist, for a suitable fee, obligingly included illustrations of private homes as insets to the main city plan. As late as the 1920s, panoramic maps were still in vogue commercially.

The Library of Congress article notes that Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler died in March 1922 in his eightieth year – following a fall on icy streets incurred while preparing a panorama of Middletown, New York.

Today, panoramic maps of American communities – including petroleum boom towns – preserve a pictorial record of urban life at the time. They remain documents with historic significance: For some communities, “aero views” are the only early maps that have survived.

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December 9, 1921 – Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gasoline invented

Public health concerns will result in the phase-out of tetraethyl lead in gasoline beginning in 1976.

General Motors chemists Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering.

General Motors scientists discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead – and American motorists are soon saying “fill ‘er up with Ethyl.”

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. This shock frequently damaged the engine.

After five years of lab work to find an additive to eliminate pre-ignition “knock” problems of gasoline, G.M. researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering discover the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead. Their experiments examine the properties of knock suppressors such as bromine, iodine and tin – and compare these to new additives such as arsenic, sulfur, silicon and lead. Read the rest of this entry »

 

“Burkburnett was a sleepy farm town that transformed into a ‘Boom Town’ as a result of the North Texas oil boom in 1918,” explains the Burkburnett Historical Society. A 1940 MGM movie about it was a hit.

A wildcat well comes in on S. L. Fowler’s farm near a small North Texas community on July 29, 1918. The subsequent drilling boom along the Red River will make Burkburnett famous – two decades before “Boom Town,” the 1940 motion picture it inspires.

At the time of the Fowler No. 1 well’s discovery, future moviestar Clark Gable is a teenage roustabout in an Oklahoma oilfield. The well is completed at the northeastern edge of Burkburnett, founded in 1907 – and named by President Theodore Roosevelt, who two years earlier hunted wolf along the Red River with rancher Burk Burnett.

Although Wichita County had been producing oil since 1912 (thanks to a shallow water well west of town) Fowler’s decision to drill a well on his farm – an attempt called “Fowler’s Folly” by some – will bring an oil boom to Wichita County.

A collection of 1930s oilfield photography by Farm Security Administration photographers can be found at Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Fifty-six drilling rigs are at work just three weeks after his oil strike at 1,734 feet deep. Six months later, Burkburnett’s population has grown from 1,000 to 8,000. A line of derricks two-miles long greets visitors.

By June 1919, there are more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.”

The Burkburnett oilfield joins earlier discoveries in nearby Electra (1911) and Ranger (1917) that will make North Texas a worldwide leader in petroleum production. See Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

By the end of 1918, Burkburnett oil wells are producing 7,500 barrels per day. By June 1919, there are more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.”

Nineteen local refineries are soon processing the crude oil. The town’s unpaved streets are lined with newly formed stock offices, brokerage houses, and autos stuck in the mud.

Twenty trains are running daily between Burkburnett and nearby Wichita Falls. Yet another highly productive Wichita County oilfield is then discovered, bringing more prosperity for North Texas.

But eventually, the oil boom dies out. Affected by the Great Depression, Burkburnett’s population declines during the 1930s.

At the time of the 1918 Burkburnett discovery well, Clark Gable was a 17-year-old roustabout in an oilfield outside Bigheart, Oklahoma.

By 1939, the town has a population of less than 3,500. At the same time, the movie “Boom Town” is adapted from a Cosmopolitan magazine article, “A Lady Comes to Burkburnett.”

The 1940 MGM feature stars Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, Hedy Lamarr and Claudette Colbert. It is nominated for two Academy Awards.

At the time of the 1918 Burkburnett discovery well, Clark Gable was a 17-year-old roustabout working with his father William Gable, a service contractor, in an oilfield outside Bigheart, Oklahoma.

In 1922, Gable would collect an inheritance from his grandfather and leave working in the Oklahoma oil patch for good.

Clark Gable’s father is reported to have said, “I told the stubborn mule if he left me this time, he need never come back.”

Today, Burkburnett’s population exceeds 10,000, thanks to agriculture, continued production from its historic oilfield – and the 1941 establishment of nearby Sheppard Air Force Base.

Among Burkburnett’s tourist attractions are the Bluebonnet Festival in April – and the Felty Outdoor Oil Museum.

With exhibits collected over five decades by Francis “F.T.” Sr., the Felty Outdoor Oil Museum of Burkburnett, Texas, displays machinery from the height of a 1918 North Texas oil boom.

“World’s Littlest Skyscraper.”

A footnote of the North Texas oil boom is the “World’s Littlest Skyscraper” in Wichita Falls. Just 40 feet tall with 118 square feet per floor, it has survived since 1919.

The building is a monument of the boom town era – and a Philadelphia con man who convinced oilmen (who were desperate for office space) to approve fraudulent blueprints.

J. D. McMahon disappeared after collecting $200,000 and completing his promised “skyscraper.” The fine print his investors overlooked noted a scale in inches - not feet.

“Apparently too busy to keep an eye on construction, investors ultimately found themselves owners of a building that looked more like an elevator shaft than high-rise office space,” notes Carlton Stowers, author of “Legend of the World’s Littlest Skyscraper.”

“The completed building’s outside dimensions were a closet-sized 11 feet by 19 feet. Stairwells that led to the upstairs floors occupied 25 percent of the interior,” Stower says. “Dallas and Houston may have sparkling skyscrapers so tall that they require oxygen in the penthouses, but has Ripley’s Believe It or Not ever paid them attention?”

The brick building has become a Wichita Falls landmark. Today it attracts oil-patch knowledgeable tourists. The city also is headquarters for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

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

 

Conrad Hilton visited Cisco, Texas, intending to buy a bank. When the deal fell through, he went from the train station across the street to a two-story red brick building called the Mobley Hotel. He noticed roughnecks from the booming Ranger oilfield waiting in line for a room.

On October 17, 1917, the McClesky No. 1 well hit an oil-bearing sand at 3,432 feet deep and launched the world-famous Ranger oilfield boom.

Thanks to “Roaring Ranger,” in just 20 months the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company – whose stock had skyrocketed from $30 to $1,250 a share – was drilling 22 wells in the area. Eight refineries were open or under construction, and the city’s four banks had $5 million in deposits.

The Ranger oilfield and other nearby North Texas discoveries gained international fame by eliminating critical oil shortages during World War I – allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.”

Investment capital and aspiring millionaires soon overwhelmed the little town of Ranger as well as nearby Cisco, where the Texas Central Railroad crossed the Texas & Pacific. The new oilfield gave birth to countless stories of fortunes made with gushers and good luck. But only one tale endures of a fortune made because oil was easier to find than a good place to sleep.

The McClesky No. 1 well struck oil in October 1917, reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels – and launched an economic boom.

Conrad Hilton learned the banking business from the ground up in his hometown of San Antonio, N.M. As a young man with only $2,900 capital, he founded the New Mexico State Bank of San Antonio. His tenacity in pursuit of investors and deposits paid off.

In two years, Hilton built his bank’s assets to $135,000. He believed he had found his life’s work. World War I interrupted his plans, prompting Hilton to sell his bank and serve his country.

Upon returning from France after the Armistice, Hilton began anew. He set out for Albuquerque, determined to start again in the banking business. But times had changed and banking opportunities had dried up. Despite Hilton’s best efforts, he couldn’t break back into the business.

A postcard provides a view of downtown Cisco, Texas, in the 1920s.

Then a longtime Albuquerque friend, Emmett Vaughey, suggested Texas, where the Ranger oilfield was making millionaires. Persuaded and confident, Hilton boarded the train bound for Wichita Falls.

But just as he had found in Albuquerque, there was no room for a “new guy” in the solidly locked up banking community of Wichita Falls. The same was true even further south, in Breckenridge.

Disappointed but determined, Hilton continued down the Texas Central Railroad to the Cisco railway station, just east of Ranger’s booming oilfield in Eastland County. He was 31 years old and determined to build a banking empire.

Conrad Hilton described his first hotel as “a cross between a flophouse and a gold mine.”

With $5,011 in his pockets, Hilton walked to the first bank he saw in Cisco and found to his delight that it was for sale – asking price – $75,000.

Accustomed to finding financial backers and undeterred by the $70,000 shortfall, he wired the absentee Kansas City owner to close the deal. Hilton was poised to build the banking empire he had long dreamed of when the seller came back by telegram, tersely raising the price to $80,000.

In his autobiography, Be My Guest, Conrad Hilton recalled telling the startled telegraph operator, “He can keep his bank!” Then I strode out of the station and across the street to a two-story red brick building boosting itself as the ‘Mobley Hotel.’

Henry Mobley, the hotel’s owner, was making the most he could off of the Ranger oilfield boom. His lobby was constantly packed with tired workers, maneuvering for space and impatiently awaiting their turn to rent a room. Mobley rented the hotel’s 40 beds in eight-hour blocks corresponding to oilfield shifts.

Hilton joined the crowd in line, suddenly alert to an unanticipated opportunity. He approached Henry Mobley, who was convinced that the real money was in oil, not in the “glorified boarding house” business. Before long, they closed a $40,000 deal and Conrad Hilton had his first hotel. He would never return to banking.

The first Hilton Hotel is a tourist attraction.

Later in the year, with profits earned from the Mobley Hotel, Hilton bought the Melba Hotel in Fort Worth, and the following year the Waldorf in Dallas. Then in 1921, production from the Ranger field collapsed, taking with it scores of businesses and a number of failed banks. Hilton’s hotel business continued to expand. By 1923 he owned five Texas hotels. By 1930, he was the largest hotel operator in the region.

The Depression and the years that followed brought Conrad Hilton challenges that were inevitably answered with tenacity and innovation. While memories of the Ranger oilfield boom gradually slipped into history, Conrad Hilton’s business grew to dominate the hotel marketplace.

The restored Mobley building is no longer a hotel, but serves as a landmark community center, museum and city park. Two of the original rooms were restored to show visitors.

The restored Mobley building is no longer a hotel, but serves as a landmark community center, museum and city park. Two of the original rooms were restored to show visitors.

According to a National Register of listed sites narrative about the Mobley Hotel, Hilton considered his purchase the “ideal hotel to practice on.”

Two principals now basic to all Hilton hotels were first tried in the Mobley: maximum reduction of wasted space and “esprit de corps” among the employees. Hilton is remembered not as a banker but as a preeminent hotelier…and an oilfield entrepreneur.

The restored and renovated Mobley Hotel, which Hilton once referred to as “a cross between a flophouse and a gold mine,” now hosts the Cisco chamber of commerce and serves as a community center, museum, and park. Hilton later regarded his oil boom town purchase as his “first love; a great lady.”

Read more about North Texas boom towns in “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”

The Bad Santa of Cisco, Texas

Adding to the lore of Cisco, Texas – in addition to being near the 1917 “Roaring Ranger” oilfield and home of Hilton’s first hotel – on December 23, 1927, a man disguised as Santa Claus made an ill-fated attempt to rob a bank two days before Christmas.

Marshall Ratliff donned a Santa Claus disguise and tried to rob the First National Bank with three armed accomplices. A running gun battle with police and citizens ensued, leaving more than a dozen wounded or dead before Ratliff was captured.

“After the gun smoke cleared, six people were dead, eight others wounded, two little girls and a young man had been kidnapped, and two bloody gun battles had been fought, launching the largest manhunt in Texas history,” explains Damon C. Sasser in “The Bloody Cisco Santa Claus Christmas Caper.”

The mortal wounding of a guard during an escape attempt sealed bank-robbing Santa’s fate.

In November 1928, Ratliff attempted to escape from the Eastland County jail and mortally wounded a guard before being subdued. The next morning, enraged citizens dragged Ratliff from the jail and strung him up from a nearby utility pole.

When the first rope broke, they got a new one that did not.

Organized in 1992, the Eastland County Museum & Historical Society maintains an archive of period photographs and other memorabilia related to the county.

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

 

Architectural drawing of the Boston Building in Denver.

Architectural drawing of the Boston Building in Denver.

In 1917 and 1918, with the United States fighting in World War I, the Double Standard Oil & Gas Company sought investors for the booming oilfields.

“Double Standard Oil & Gas Company is the owner of valuable oil leases in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming,” the company told potential investors.

Advertisements added that a valuable lease had been acquired in the new Electra-Burkburnett oilfields of North Texas. The lease reportedly included “eight producing wells, together with pumping plant, tanks and full equipment, connected with the pipeline, and selling oil.”

Noting that oil was then selling at $2 per barrel, Double Standard’s owners “expect soon to be getting $3 per barrel for this high-grade oil.”

The exploration company, based in the  prestigious Boston Building in Denver (built in 1890 and today a  National Historic Landmark), announced it was launching new drilling operations in the Electra-Burkburnett oilfield – and offering investors stock at 10 cents a share.

“You can join us in an exceedingly profitable business enterprise, and in doing so, help increase the oil output, which means, help win the war,” one Double Standard Oil & Gas advertisements concluded. “Write us for free map and further particulars. Special inducements to live active salesmen.”

There is no record of Double Standard drilling a successful oil well in a region famous worldwide for its discoveries, which began in 1911 in what today is part of the Mid-Continent field, extending from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas into parts of Louisiana and Missouri.

In North Texas, it was an April 1, 1911, oil gusher that brought prosperity – and hundreds of companies – to Electra, Texas. A well in nearby Eastland County struck oil in October 1917 brought even more.

The “Roaring Ranger” in Ranger reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels. Then, on July 28, 1918, a well in Burkburnett triggered another yet another drilling boom that brought still more companies.

Double Standard apparently arrived late to the scene of these giant discoveries. Historians note that because much of the surrounding land had been leased, many who rushed to Electra and Burkburnett seeking quick profits, just as quickly departed…or failed.

The company lost its right to do business in Texas in 1920 and left few records behind.

Electra will be named “Pump Jack Capital of Texas” by the Texas legislature in 2011, the centennial of the community’s  historic oil discover.

A 1940 Academy Award-winning movie starring Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable was based on the story of Burkburnett’s oilfield. Read “Boom Town” of Burkburnett.

The Double Standard Oil & Gas Company’s stock 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 1859, Lyne Taliaferro Barret leased 279 acres east of Nacogdoches, Texas, near Oil Springs — an area known for oil seeps. After the Civil War he drilled his first oil well. On September 12, 1866, his tenacity was rewarded when the No. 1 Isaac C. Skillern well struck oil at a depth of 106 feet.

In December 1859, less than four months after Edwin Drake’s celebrated discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, a similarly determined wildcatter named Lyne (Lynis) Taliaferro Barret began searching in an East Texas area known as Oil Springs.

Barret’s interest in finding this newly prized commodity was no doubt prompted by its lucrative $20 a barrel selling price – and his certainty that Texan oil was waiting for him.

Indians and early East Texas settlers had long known the Oil Springs area for its seepage and used the crude for its purported medicinal benefit for both themselves and their livestock. Invention of the kerosene-burning lamp prompted immediate demand for “illuminating oil” and inspired a boom in drilling and speculation across the country. Barret was eager to profit from the new opportunity.

Barret joined the chase for oil, but prudently continued to operate his successful mercantile partnership in Melrose, Texas. Read the rest of this entry »

 

 Published in June 2013, Texas Oil and Gas, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s series of books featuring historic postcards. Using often rare postcards from the state's historic oilfields, author Jeff Spencer, a Houston geologist, conveys a lot of fascinating details through his carefully researched captions.

Published in 2013, Texas Oil and Gas, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s series of books featuring historic postcards. Using often rare postcards from the state’s historic oilfields, author Jeff Spencer, a Houston geologist, conveys a lot of fascinating details through his carefully researched captions.

For anyone interested in exploring petroleum history – or vintage postcards from Texas – one book combines both in an educational 128 pages.

The history of America’s oil and natural gas industry provides an important context for teaching young people the modern energy business. Arcadia Publishing’s Texas Oil and Gas by Jeff A. Spencer is a teaching resource that should be in many Texas high-school classrooms.

A geologist with Amromco Energy, Houston, Spencer has authored or co-authored more than 20 oilfield history papers. He has documented petroleum-related postcards from West Virginia, California, Ontario, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas.

A tenacious researcher and collector – the majority of the book’s more than 200 images are from the author’s private collection – Spencer acknowledges help received from Texas oil museums. 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.

 

Exhibits in Luling’s restored 1885 mercantile store educate visitors about a 1922 oil discovery – and the modern petroleum industry.

Although nationally famous for its BBQ ribs and watermelon seed-spitting contest, Luling, Texas, still rises and falls with the fortune of its giant oilfield discovered more than a century ago.

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum Museum Director Carol Voigt was among those featured in a story by KVUE Television, the Austin affiliate of ABC.

The July 24, 2013, local news segment – “Oil boom in Luling sparks new interest in town” – also noted the historic oilfield’s return to prosperity thanks to horizontal drilling technology.

In 1924, just two years after its discovery, the Luling oilfield had almost 400 wells producing about 11 million barrels of oil. Read the rest of this entry »

 

June 4, 1892 – Floods and Fires devastate Pennsylvania Oil Region

Photographer John Mather - renowned for his images of early Pennsylvania oilfields - will lose 16,000 glass-plate negatives during the 1892 flooding of Titusville and Oil City.

Photographer John Mather – renowned for his images of early Pennsylvania oilfields – will lose 16,000 glass-plate negatives during the 1892 flooding and fires in Titusville and Oil City.

After weeks of heavy rain in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek Valley, Thompson & Eldred’s huge mill dam on Oil Creek at Spartanburg bursts, releasing a torrent of water that kills more than 100 people and destroys homes and businesses in Titusville and Oil City. The disaster is compounded when fire breaks out in Titusville. Read the rest of this entry »

 

A June 9, 1894, oil discovery (while drilling for water) will transform Corsicana, Texas, from a regional agricultural shipping town to a petroleum and industrial center, creating a number of allied businesses, including service companies manufacturing the newly invented rotary drilling bits.

The first major oilfield in Texas was discovered in Corsicana – by a water-well contractor hired by the city. Some consider this well on South 12th Street America’s  first commercial oil discovery west of the Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »


In 1958, the University of Texas Board of Regents moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. After the dedication, the student newspaper described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

The Permian Basin, once known as a “petroleum graveyard,” began to make U. S. petroleum history in 1920 with a discovery by W. H. Abrams in Mitchell County in West Texas. But when completed, his well produced just 10 barrels a day.

It would be another discovery well, the Santa Rita No. 1, that convinced wildcatters to explore the full 300-mile extent of the basin from most of West Texas into the southeastern corner of New Mexico.

Although many experts still considered West Texas barren of oil, the Santa Rita well will produce for seven decades after tapping into the vast commercial oil production of the Permian Basin.

Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made its major oil strike May 28, 1923 – after 21 months of cable-tool drilling that averaged less than five feet a day. Read the rest of this entry »

 

The exploration history of the U.S. offshore oil and natural gas industry began in the Pacific Ocean more than 100 years ago. As recently as 1947 no company had ever risked drilling beyond the sight of land.

America’s offshore petroleum industry began in the late 19th century in Pacific Ocean with drilling and production piers at Summerland, California. Drilling platforms also appreared on lakes in Ohio and Lousiana. By the 1940s, technology was taking wells far into the Gulf of Mexico.

America’s offshore petroleum industry began in the late 19th century in Pacific Ocean with drilling and production piers at Summerland, California. Drilling platforms also appreared on lakes in Ohio and Louisiana. By the 1940s, technology was taking wells far into the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1896, as enterprising businessmen pursued California’s prolific Summerland oilfield all the way to the beach, the lure of offshore production enticed Henry L. Williams and his associates to build a pier 300 feet out into the Pacific – and mount a standard cable-tool rig on it. Read the rest of this entry »

 

During much of the 1920s, a Texas Ranger became well known for strictly enforcing the law in booming oilfield communities and on the border. By 1930, the discovery year of the great East Texas field, he was known as “El Lobo Solo” – the lone wolf – who would bring order to a boomtown famous worldwide.

Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas was born in 1891 in Cádiz, Spain, to a Spanish father and Canadian mother who were naturalized U.S. citizens. At age 15 he witnessed the murder of his only two brothers and the wounding of his parents when bandits raided their home. Fourteen years later, he joined the Texas Rangers.

“Give Texas more Rangers of the caliber of ‘Lone Wolf’ Gonzaullas and the crime wave we are going through will not be of long duration,” reported the Dallas Morning News in 1934.

“He was a soft-spoken man and his trigger finger was slightly bent,” independent oilman Watson W. Wise characterized him during a 1985 interview in his office in Tyler, Texas. “He always told me it was geared to that .45 of his.”

When Kilgore became “the most lawless town in Texas” after the October 1930 oil boom started, Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas was the Texas Ranger sent out to tame it, according to Wise, himself a distinguished oilman and philanthropist who moved to Texas in 1925.

Gonzaullas – five feet, nine inches tall, with a scarred face, and no sense of humor – was “a very serious type fella,” Wise noted.

“He was sent out to Pecos one time to stop a riot out there, added Wise. “When he got off the train there was a great posse waiting to greet him, and when they saw he was alone, they said, ‘Where’s all your help Mr. Gonzaullas?’ and he said, ‘There’s only one riot isn’t there?’”

He rode a black stallion named Tony and often sported two pearl-handled, silver-mounted .45 pistols. On his chest was a shining Texas Ranger star. Everybody in Kilgore soon knew he was around. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Veteran oilman George W. Strake Sr. made a major discovery eight miles southeast of Conroe, Texas, in December 1931. His wildcat well would prove historic in many ways.

Although the Conroe well’s producing sands proved to be dangerously gas-charged, shallow and unstable, the giant oil field – the third largest in the United States at the time - soon had 60 successful wells producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil a day. The region north of Houston boomed as the Great Depression worsened.

Disaster came in January 1933 when one of the wells blew out and erupted into flame. The runaway well cratered – completely swallowing nearby drilling rigs. Read the rest of this entry »