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April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum founded

petroleum history april 18

Magnolia Petroleum will adopt a “Flying Pegasus” logo in the 1930s.

The Magnolia Petroleum Company was founded as an unincorporated joint-stock association – a consolidation of several companies, the first of which began as a small refinery in Corsicana, Texas, in 1898.

Standard Oil Company of New York began acquiring Magnolia in 1925. When Standard Oil of New York and the Vacuum Oil Company merged in 1931 to form Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Magnolia became the leading affiliate of the new nationwide company. Read the rest of this entry »


April 17, 1919 – More Oilfields found in North Texas

Another drilling boom was launched in Wichita County, Texas, when the Bob Waggoner No. 1 well began producing 4,800 barrels of oil a day. Read the rest of this entry »


April 10, 1866 – Densmore Oil Tank Cars

petroleum history april 4

The Densmore Tank Car will briefly revolutionize the bulk transportation of oil to market. Hundreds of the tank cars were in use by 1866.

Inventors James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, received a patent for their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum,” which they developed a year earlier in the booming northwestern Pennsylvania oil region.

Their patent illustrated a simple but sturdy design for securing two re-enforced containers on a typical railroad car. Although these early oil-tank cars were an improvement, they soon would be replaced by the more practical single horizontal types seen today

After leaving the oil transportation business, Amos Densmore in 1875 came up with a new way for arranging a “type writing machine” keyboard so commonly used letters no longer collided and stuck. His “Q-W-E-R-T-Y” arrangement improved the original 1868 invention. James Densmore’s financial success in the oilfields helped establish the Densmore Typewriter Co. Learn more in Densmore Oil Tank Cars. Read the rest of this entry »


April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin

petroleum history april 4

On April 4, 1951, a wildcat well drilled in a North Dakota wheat field revealed the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin.

After eight months of difficult drilling and severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered oil in North Dakota – revealing the Williston Basin two miles beneath the farm of Clarence Iverson near Tioga. Read the rest of this entry »


March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist trademarks Kerosene

petroleum history march 21

A Canadian March 2000 stamp featured kerosene’s inventor.

Canadian physician and chemist Abraham Gesner patented a process to distill coal into kerosene. “I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaimed. Because his new illuminating fluid was extracted from coal, consumers called it “coal oil” as often as kerosene.

The U.S. petroleum exploration industry was launched when it was learned that kerosene also could be distilled from crude oil. With new oilfields discovered in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, inexpensive kerosene became America’s main source of light until the electric light bulb arrived. Read the rest of this entry »


petroleum history march 14

A steam boiler that powered a cable-tool rig borders the once rowdy streets of Pithole, Pennsylvania.

March 20, 1919 – American Petroleum Institute founded

Tracing its roots to World War I – when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort – the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded in New York City. In 1921, API established a scale to measure a petroleum liquid’s density relative to water, today called API gravity.

March 20, 1973 – Ghost Town listed in Historic Registry

The former oil boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 1865 discovery of the Pithole Creek oilfield launched a drilling boom for the young U.S. petroleum industry, which had begun in nearby Titusville in 1859. Pithole oil production would lead to construction of the nation’s first oil pipeline. From beginning to end, the once famous boom town lasted about 500 days. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

March 23, 1858 – Seneca Oil Company founded


Seneca Oil Company drilled the first oil U.S. well in 1859. Image courtesy William R. Brice/Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Collection.

Investors from New Haven, Connecticut, organized the Seneca Oil Company with former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake a shareholder. They had purchased leases of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, America’s first oil company founded with partner George Bissell in 1854.

Bissell, who exploited the idea of using oil to produce kerosene, was excluded despite having studied oil seeps south of Titusville. “The New Haven men then put the final piece of their plan into place with the formation of a new company,” notes William Brice in Myth Legend Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.

Seneca Oil and Drake completed the First American Oil Well in 1859 – thanks to knowledge gained from George Bissell’s Oil Seeps. Both Drake and Bissell would later be called the father of the U.S. petroleum industry.

March 24, 1989 – Supertanker Exxon Valdez runs Aground in Price William Sound

petroleum history march 21

Shown being towed away from Bligh Reef, the Exxon Valdez had been outside shipping lanes when it ran aground in March 1989. Photo courtesy Erik Hill, Anchorage Daily News.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The accident, which came after nearly 12 years of routine oil tanker passages through Prince William Sound, resulted in a massive oil spill.

Eight of the supertanker’s 11 oil cargo tanks were punctured. An estimated 260,000 barrels of oil spilled, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline. With the captain not present on the bridge, an error in navigation by the third mate had grounded the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload.

Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely passed through Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times. A massive cleanup began for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The infamous vessel was sold for scrap in 2012.

March 26, 2012 – Buddy joins East Texas Oil Museum

petroleum history march 21

Buddy greets visitors to “Boomtown, USA.” Photo courtesy East Texas Oil Museum.

The life-size animatronic rural electric lineman Buddy was officially welcomed to the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas.

After weeks of operational testing, the robot greeted museum visitors with anecdotal monologues as they enter “Boomtown, USA,” 1930s exhibits of the East Texas oilfield discovery.

“It has drawn rave reviews by museum visitors from many states and numerous foreign countries,” noted museum founder Joe White, who retired in 2014.

One museum visitor describes Buddy as looking like Tommy Lee Jones dressed like Indiana Jones.

March 26, 1930 – “Wild Mary Sudik”

petroleum history march 21

Newsreel photographers will send film of the “Wild Mary Sudik” well to Hollywood, according to the Oklahoma History Center. Within a week, newsreels appear in theaters around the country.

What will become one of Oklahoma’s most famous wells struck a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath Oklahoma City – and oil erupted skyward. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s Mary Sudik No. 1 well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control.

The well, which produced 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, became a worldwide sensation known as “Wild Mary Sudik.”

The giant Oklahoma City oilfield discovery was featured in movie newsreels and on radio broadcasts. It is later learned that after drilling almost 6,500 feet, roughnecks had overlooked a dangerous pressure increase in the well.

“The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” noted one oil patch historian. “They didn’t know the Wilcox sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.”


Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.


March 13, 1974 – OPEC ends Oil Embargo

A five-month oil embargo against the United States was lifted by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel formed in 1960.

The embargo, imposed in response to America supplying the Israeli military during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, created gasoline shortages, prompting President Richard M. Nixon to propose and Congress approve voluntary rationing and a ban of gas sales on Sundays.

OPEC ended the embargo after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Sinai. Read the rest of this entry »


March 7, 1902 – Oil discovered at Sour Lake, Texas

petroleum history march 7

“The resort town of Sour Lake, 20 miles northwest of Beaumont, was transformed into an oil boom town when a gusher was hit in 1902,” notes the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Adding to giant Texas oilfields, the Sour Lake oilfield was revealed just a few miles from the world-famous Spindletop field discovered about one year earlier. The spa town of Sour Lake soon became a boom town where many oil companies, including Texaco, got their start.

Originally settled in 1835 and called as Sour Lake Springs because of its sulphureous spring water known for healing, the sulphur wells attracted petroleum exploration companies. As the science of petroleum geology evolved, some geologists predicted a Sour Lake salt dome formation similar to that predicted by Pattillo Higgins, the Prophet of Spindletop.

Sour Lake’s 1902 discovery well was the second attempt of the Great Western Company. The well, drilled “north of the old hotel building,” penetrated 40 feet of oil sands before reaching a total depth of about 700 feet. The well was the first of many to bring riches to Hardin County, whose oilfield yielded almost nine million barrels of oil within a year. The Texas Company made its first major oil find at Sour Lake in 1903 (see Sour Lake produces Texaco).

March 11, 1829 – Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well Read the rest of this entry »


February 28, 1935 – DuPont Chemist Wallace Carothers invents Nylon

petroleum history february

Common man-made fibers used for textiles and plastics contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

A former Harvard professor working in a DuPont research laboratory discovered the world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – a petroleum product. After experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, professor Wallace Carothers created a long molecule chain, a stretching plastic. The inventor had earlier discovered neoprene (commonly used in wet-suits), advancing understanding of polymers. Read the rest of this entry »


February 20, 1959 – World’s First LNG Tanker arrives in England

petroleum history february

The world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker, the Methane Pioneer, was a converted World War II Liberty freighter.

After a three-week voyage from Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Methane Pioneer – the world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker – arrived at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England. The trip across the Atlantic took 27 days. The ship, a converted World War II Liberty freighter, contained five 7,000-barrel aluminum tanks supported by balsa wood and insulated with plywood and urethane.

The experimental vessel demonstrated that large quantities of liquefied natural gas could be transported safely across the ocean. The 340-foot Methane Pioneer, owned by the Comstock Liquid Methane Corporation, refrigerated its cargo to minus 285 degrees Fahrenheit. The world’s first purpose-built commercial LNG carrier, the Methane Princess, began delivering LNG to the same Canvey Island port in 1964.

February 21, 1887 – New Refining Process will bring Riches to Rockefeller

Herman Frasch applied to patent his unique process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” Once an employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the chemist would soon be rehired by John D. Rockefeller.

Although the oilfields near Lima, Ohio, produced a thick, sulfurous oil, Rockefeller had accumulated a 40-million-barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.” His Standard Oil Company bought Frasch’s patent for a copper-oxide refining process to “sweeten” the oil. The desulfurized, odorless result greatly multiplied its value, making Rockefeller a fortune.

Paid in Standard Oil shares and soon wealthy himself, Frasch moved to Louisiana, where he patented a process for mining sulfur by injecting superheated water into wells. By 1911 he was known as the “Sulfur King.” Read the rest of this entry »


February 13, 1924 – Forest Oil adopts Yellow Dog

petroleum history february

Forest Oil’s two-wicked lantern.

An independent oil exploration company originally founded in 1916 consolidated with four other independent petroleum companies to form the Forest Oil Corporation – an early developer of secondary recovery technologies.

For its logo, the new company decided to include a popular two-wicked “Yellow Dog” oilfield lantern often seen on derricks. Some people believed the lantern’s name came from the two burning wicks resembling a dog’s glowing eyes at night.

Originally based in Bradford, Pennsylvania – home to the nation’s “first billion dollar oilfield” – Forest Oil developed innovative water-injection methods to keep the Bradford oilfield productive.

February 16, 1935 – Oil States form Compact Commission

petroleum history february

Renamed the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission in 1991, IOGCC has been based in Oklahoma City since the 1930s.

The Interstate Oil Compact Commission began in Dallas with the writing of the “Interstate Compact to Preserve Oil and Gas.” The new organization would be headquartered in Oklahoma City following approval by the U.S. Congress in August.

Representatives from Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas agreed to begin implementing a series of provisions to “conserve oil and gas by the prevention of physical waste thereof from any cause.” Oklahoma Gov. Ernest W. Marland  – who founded Marland Oil Company in 1921 – was elected the first chairman.

“In 1935, six states took advantage of a constitutional right to ‘compact,’ or agree to work together, to resolve common issues,” notes IOGCC, which added the word gas to its name in 1991. “Faced with unregulated petroleum overproduction and the resulting waste, the states endorsed and Congress ratified a compact to take control of the issues.”

February 17, 1902 – Lufkin Industries founded in East Texas

petroleum history february

Founded in 1902, Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company designed and manufactured the first counterbalanced oil pumps.

The Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company was founded in Lufkin, Texas, as a repair shop for railroad and sawmill machinery. When the pine region’s timber supplies began to dwindle, the company discovered new opportunities in the burgeoning oilfields following the historic discovery at Spindletop Hill.

Inventor Walter C. Trout was working for this East Texas company in 1925 when he came up with a new idea for pumping oil. His design would become an oilfield icon known by many names – nodding donkey, grasshopper, horse-head, thirsty bird, and pump jack, among others.

By the end of 1925, a prototype of Trout’s revolutionary pumping unit was installed on a Humble Oil and Refining Company well near Hull, Texas. “The well was perfectly balanced, but even with this result, it was such a funny looking, odd thing that it was subject to ridicule and criticism,” Trout explained.

Thanks to Walter Trout’s invention – the now familiar counterbalanced pumping unit – Lufkin Industries would sell more than 200,000 pump jacks of all sizes. General Electric acquired Lufkin for $3.3 billion in 2013, deciding to close the historic downtown foundry in 2015. Learn about early oilfield production in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.

February 17, 1944 – First Alabama Oil Well

petroleum history february

Alabama’s major producing regions are in the west. Map courtesy Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Alabama’s first oilfield was discovered in Choctaw County when Texas oilman H.L. Hunt drilled the No. 1 Jackson well. Hunt’s 1944 wildcat well revealed the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to this discovery, an astounding 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.

“Traces of petroleum in the form of natural gas were first discovered in Alabama in Morgan and Blount counties in the late 1880s, and by 1902, natural gas was being supplied to the cities of Huntsville and Hazel Green,” notes one historian, adding:

“In 1909, a small discovery by Eureka Oil and Gas at Fayette fueled that city’s streetlights for a time, but no natural gas was recovered anywhere in the state for several decades afterward.”

Hunt drilled in Choctaw County and discovered the Gilbertown oilfield in the Eutaw Sand at a depth of 3,700 feet, explains Alan Cockrell in Oil and Gas Industry in Alabama.

The field produced 15 million barrels of oil, “not a lot by modern standards but enough to make ‘oil fever’ spread rapidly,” Cockrell notes

However, the search for another oilfield led to another 11 years of dry holes.

The 1955 oil discovery at Citronelle, a town above a geologic salt dome, finally launched a new drilling boom; five new Alabama oilfields were discovered by 1967. Mobil Oil Company drilled Alabama’s first successful offshore natural gas well in 1981.

With modern technologies, geologists now believe opportunities exist “in the hard shales of the deep Black Warrior Basin beneath Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the thick fractured shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties, ” Cockrell concludes.

February 19, 1863 – Inventor tries Oil Pipeline

An early attempt to transport oil from an oilfield to a refinery by pipeline was completed at Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. New Jersey inventor J.L. Hutchings constructed the 2.5-mile pipeline from the Tarr farm near Oil Creek to the Humboldt refinery using a newly patented pump to move the oil through the two-inch diameter iron pipeline. Unfortunately, leaks made the innovative pipeline impractical, according to records at the Drake Well Museum.

February 19, 1889 – Ohio acts to Conserve Natural Gas

petroleum history february

Ohio is among the leading U.S. producing states. This 2002 map of oilfields (green) and natural gas fields (red/gold) courtesy Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey.

The Ohio House of Representatives enacted a conservation measure, “an Act to prevent the wasting of natural gas and to provide for the plugging of all abandoned wells.”

The 1889 law made Ohio one of the earliest states to legislate conservation.

Natural gas discoveries in the 1880s had revealed the Trenton Field extends across Indiana into western Ohio. With what they thought to be an unlimited supply of natural gas, communities competed to attract manufacturing industries by burning “flambeaux” lights (learn more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom).

Ohio’s first commercial petroleum production began in 1860 in Washington County. Today, Ohio is ranked fourth in the total number of wells drilled, according to the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. Ohio has drilled over 275,000 wells to date, surpassed only by Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce Wells.


February 7, 1817 –  Manufactured Gas lights Street Lamps

petroleum history february

Baltimore Gas & Electric in 1997 dedicated a replica street lamp.

America’s first public street lamp fueled by gas illuminated a street in Baltimore, Maryland, and the city’s Gas Light Company became the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company – distilling tar and wood to manufacture its illuminating gas.

A monument to this street lamp today stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street (once Market and Lemon streets). Dedicated in 1997, the lamp is a replica of its original design of February 1817.

Noted Baltimore artist and inventor Rembrandt Peale had first illuminated a room in his Holliday Street museum a year earlier, burning the 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. Learn more in Manufactured Gas for Lamps. Read the rest of this entry »


January 31, 1888 – Death of a Pennsylvania Oil Scout

petroleum history january 25

Oil scouts like Justus McMullen of Bradford, Pennsylvania, braved harsh winters to gather intelligence about oil wells.

In the winter of 1888, a famous oil scout died. Thirty-seven-year-old Justus McMullen succumbed to pneumonia contracted while scouting production data from a well near Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania.

McMullen, publisher of the trade publication “The Petroleum Age,” contributed much to America’s early oil industry as an oilfield detective. Called “riders of the hemlock,” these scouts debunked rumors and demystified oil well production reports – sometimes despite armed guards. Learn more in Oil Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives. Read the rest of this entry »


January 23, 1895 – Standard Oil closes Oil Exchanges

 petroleum history january 18

The Oil City, Pennsylvania, Oil Exchange incorporated in 1874. By 1877, it was the third largest financial exchange in the United States.

The Standard Oil Company purchasing agency in Oil City, Pennsylvania, notified independent oil producers it would only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” – and not “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”

Oil City’s exchange had become the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind New York and San Francisco. But with the Standard Oil Company buying 90 percent of production and setting its own price for certificates, all other oil exchanges soon closed. Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges. Read the rest of this entry »


January 16, 2012 – New Radio Show explores Energy Education

An Oklahoma radio station began broadcasting Exploring Energy, a weekday morning program dedicated to energy education. The show, hosted by Shawn Wilson and Nathan Brewer, examines issues “from oil and gas, to wind, solar, coal, nuclear and geothermal.” Guests have included T. Boone Pickens and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. In April 2014, a Remember When Wednesday special segment began featuring stories from the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. Read the rest of this entry »


January 9, 1862 – Union exports Oil to England during Civil War

petroleum history january

Barrels of vinegar at a Massachusetts port, in 1870 would be similar to the 1861 loading of oil and kerosene barrels at the Port of Philadelphia. Photo courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The brig Elizabeth Watts arrived at London’s Victoria dock after a six-week voyage from Philadelphia. The small brig carried 901 barrels of oil and 428 barrels of kerosene from northwestern Pennsylvania oilfields. It was the first time America exported oil. Read the rest of this entry »


January 2, 1866 – Patent describes Early Rotary Rig

An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent application for the first time included basic elements of the modern rotary rig. The inventor described a “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.” Peter Sweeney of New York City was granted the patent, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart.

Sweeney’s patent included a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

The rig’s “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.” The petroleum industry soon improved upon Sweeney’s 1866 rotary rig patent.

January 2, 1882 – Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust

John D. Rockefeller continued expanding his Standard Oil Company empire by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled much of the oil industry though 40 producing, refining and marketing affiliates.

The trust controlled all of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tank cars (also see Densmore Oil Tank Cars), continued to operate until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling broke it up in 1911.

January 2, 1932 – Union “76” Brand

The Union Oil Company “76” brand was launched at gas service stations in western states. The orange circle with blue type logo was adopted in the 1940s. The “76” orange orb appeared at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle and proved so popular that millions of smaller versions were given away for car antennas. Today, the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is in the original Union Oil headquarters.

January 4, 1948 – Wildcatters make Deep Permian Discovery

petroleum history january

Tom Slick Jr. helped Michael Benedum discover a deep Permian Basin field. Image from February 16, 1948, LIFE magazine.

After years of frustration, exploration of the Permian Basin suddenly intensified in 1948 after an exploratory well found oil about 50 miles southeast of Midland, Texas.

The Slick-Urschel Oil Company drilled the well to about 12,000 feet deep in partnership with “King of the Wildcatters” Michael L. Benedum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More than two decades earlier, another West Texas well, Santa-Rita No. 1, had produced oil from about 440 feet deep.

Although Benedum had drilled 10,000 feet in less than five months, it had taken seven months to penetrate another 384 feet of hard rock. Help came from Tom Slick Jr., the son of Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, who branched off the well using a “whipstock” and reached the prolific limestone formation.

January 7, 1864 – Discovery at Pithole Creek creates Oil Boom Town

petroleum history january

Visitors today walk grass paths of Pithole’s former streets.

The once famous Pithole Creek oilfield was discovered in Pennsylvania. The United States Petroleum Company’s well reportedly had been located with a witch-hazel dowser. It initially produced 250 barrels of oil a day.

Pithole would make history as a boom town for America’s petroleum industry, which had begun just five years earlier in nearby Titusville.  Adding to the boom were Civil War veterans eager to invest in the new industry. Newspapers stories added to the oil fever – as did the Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.” Tourists have long since visited Oil Creek State Park and its educational visitor center on the  grassy expanse that was once Pithole.

January 7, 1905 – Humble Oilfield Discovery rivals Spindletop

C.E. Barrett discovered the Humble oilfield in Harris County, Texas, with his Beatty No. 2 well, which quickly brought another drilling frenzy to Texas four years after Spindletop launched the modern petroleum industry. The Beatty well produced 8,500 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 1,012 feet.

petroleum history january

An embossed postcard circa 1905 from the Postal Card & Novelty Company, courtesy the University of Houston Digital Library.

The town of Humble grew from 700 to 20,000 in a few months as production from the field – the largest in Texas in 1905 – reached almost 16 million barrels of oil. The field would lead to the founding of the Humble Oil and Refining Company in 1911 by a group that included Ross Sterling, a future governor of Texas.

“Production from several strata here exceeded the total for fabulous Spindletop by 1946,” notes a 1972 historical marker. “Known as the greatest salt dome field, Humble still produces and the town for which it was named continues to thrive.”

Humble Oil Company later consolidated operations with Standard Oil of New Jersey, eventually leading to today’s ExxonMobil. Another oilfield discovery in 1903 at nearby Sour Lake established Texaco.

January 7, 1913 – “Cracking” helps fuel Automobile’s Popularity

petroleum history january

Thermal cracking doubled a refinery’s production of gasoline just as Americans demanded the fuel for cars.

William Burton of the Standard Oil Company in Whiting, Indiana, received a patent for a refining process that effectively doubled the amount of gasoline produced from each barrel of oil.

Because commercial (coal-fueled) electricity was being made available to more  homes and businesses, demand on the petroleum industry for kerosene had plummeted. But consumer demand for gasoline was growing with the popularity – and affordability – of internal combustion automobiles.

Burton’s innovation, called thermal cracking, was a key breakthrough, although his process would be superseded by catalytic cracking in 1937.

January 7, 1957 – Michigan Dairy Farmer finds Giant Oilfield

petroleum history january

Ferne Houseknecht

After two years of drilling, a wildcat well on Ferne Houseknecht’s Michigan dairy farm discovered the state’s largest oilfield. The 3,576-foot-deep well produced from the Black River formation of the Trenton zone.

The Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well at “Rattlesnake Gulch” revealed a producing region 29 miles long and more than one mile wide. It prompted a drilling boom that led to production of more than 150 million barrels of oil and 250 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“The story of the discovery well of Michigan’s only ‘giant’ oil field, using the worldwide definition of having produced more than 100 million barrels of oil from a single contiguous reservoir is the stuff of dreams, and of oilfield legends,” explains Michigan historian Jack Westbrook. Learn more in Michigan’s “Golden Gulch” of Oil.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce Wells.


December 26, 1905 – Nellie Bly’s Ironclad Patent of the 55-Gallon Metal Oil Drum

 petroleum history december

Nellie Bly was assigned a 1905 patent for the “Metal Barrel” by its inventor, Henry Wehrhahn, who worked at her Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.

Henry Wehrhahn of Brooklyn, New York, received two 1905 patents that would lead to the modern 55-gallon steel drum. He assigned them to his employer, the world-famous journalist Nellie Bly, who was then president of the Ironclad Manufacturing Company.

“My invention has for its object to provide a metal barrel which shall be simple and strong in construction and effective and durable in operation,” Wehrhahn noted in his patent for a flanged metal barrel with encircling hoops for better control when rolling. A second patent issued at the same time provided a means for detaching and securing a lid.

A superintendent at Ironclad Manufacturing, Wehrhahn assigned his inventions to Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (Nellie Bly). She was the recent widow of the company’s founder; at age 30 in 1895 she had married the wealthy 70-year-old industrialist Robert Seaman.

Well known as a reporter for the New York World, Bly manufactured early versions of the Wehrhahn “Metal Barrel.” It would become today’s 55-gallon steel drum. Wehrhahn later became superintendent of Pressed Steel Tank Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When Iron Clad Manufacturing succumbed to debt, Bly returned to newspaper reporting. She died at age 57 in 1922. Learn more in the Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum.

December 28, 1930 – Well reveals True Size of East Texas Oilfield

petroleum history December

“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photo courtesy Neal Campbell, Words and Pictures.

Three days after Christmas in 1930, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim revealed the extent of the mighty East Texas oilfield.

Some said a gypsy predicted the oil discovery for J. Malcolm Crim. Others claimed it was because his mother, Lou Della “Mama” Crim, was a pious woman. For whatever reason, following the first discovery of oil in East Texas in early October, Malcolm Crim believed there was more to be found near Kilgore. He ignored geologists who claimed the Kilgore area was barren. On October 17 he began drilling on land belonging to his mother. The well that produced a gusher on December 28 is named Lou Della Crim No. 1.

His discovery well, which initially produced 20,000 barrels per day, indicated the East Texas oilfield was a giant. One month later and 15 miles to the north, the Lathrop No. 1, indeed proved the oilfield extended more than 480 square miles. Learn more in Lou Della Crim Revealed.

December 30, 1854 – America’s First Petroleum Company incorporates

petroleum history December

America’s first oil company incorporated on December 30, 1854, in Albany. George Bissell wanted oil for a new product: kerosene.

America’s first oil company – the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company – incorporated in 1854. George Bissell, Jonathan Eveleth and five other trustees formed the company in Albany, New York, capitalized at $250,000. Struggling to attract wealthy investors, they reorganized it in September 1855.

The “Wall Street Panic” of 1857 rendered control of the company to New Haven financier Robert Townsend, who then incorporated the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in March 1858.

Oil was expected to be found near Oil Creek on the 105 acre Hibbard Farm in Venango County, Pennsylvania. Townsend hired an acquaintance, former railroad man Edwin L. Drake, to manage the drilling on the Hibbard Farm lease. Drilling proved expensive and time consuming; locals called the company’s investment “Drake’s Folly.”

But on August 27, 1859, Drake’s discovery well near Titusville marked the birth of the American oil industry. This Pennsylvania well launched the first U.S. oil company. Many others soon followed to likewise “raise, manufacture, procure and sell Rock Oil.”

December 31, 1954 – Dry Hole sets California Drilling Depth Record

petroleum history December

A January 1954 trade magazine noted the record depth reached by the Ohio Oil Company’s deep well in Kern County – a dry hole.

As deep drilling technologies continued to advance in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in California.

The well was about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, in the San Joaquin Valley. At more than four miles deep, the well’s down-hole drilling technology was not up to the task and became stuck. In a 1954 article about deep drilling technology, The Petroleum Engineer noted the Kern County well of Ohio Oil set a record, despite being “halted by a fishing job” and ending up as a dry hole.

Another 1953 Kern County well drilled by Richfield Oil Corporation produced oil from 17,895 feet, according to the magazine. The average cost for the nearly 100 U.S. wells drilled below 15,000 feet was about $550,000 per well. More than 630  exploratory wells with a total footage of almost three million feet would be drilled in California during 1954.

Founded in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company in 1926 discovered the giant Yates oilfield in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and West Texas. The company later purchased its Yates field drilling partner Transcontinental Oil, acquiring the Marathon product name and Greek runner trademark. Learn more in Marathon of Ohio Oil.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016-2017.


December 20, 1913 – “Prince of Petroleum” opens Tulsa Refinery

A circa 1924 painting of the Osage Nation Tribal Council House where Joshua Cosden bid $2 million for a 160-acre lease.

A refinery built by Joshua Cosden – soon to be known in Oklahoma as the “Prince of Petroleum” – went on stream in Tulsa. With a capacity of 30,000 barrels a day, the refinery was among the largest in the country in 1913. It continues operating today.

The refinery was Cosden’s second. It added to his success in forming companies that acquired and transported oil. In March 1924, he would pay $2 million for a single 160-acre lease at a famous Osage lease auction.

Although Cosden made another $15 million in the oilfields of West Texas, he would lose almost everything during the Great Depression. He died at age 59 in 1940. His Tulsa refinery continues today as a part of Dallas-based HollyFrontier Corporation.

December 20, 1951 – Oil discovered in Washington State

A short-lived oil discovery in Washington foretold the state’s production future. The Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well was completed near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County. It produced just 35 barrels a day.

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Washington’s only commercial well yielded just 12,500 barrels of oil.

The well, which also produced 300,000 cubic feet of natural gas from a depth of 3,700 feet, was abandoned as non-commercial.

In 1967, Sunshine Mining Company reopened the Hawksworth well and deepened it to 4,532 feet. But with only minor shows of oil and natural gas, the well was shut in again.

Although 600 Washington wells would be drilled in 24 counties by 2010, only one produced commercial quantities of oil. It was completed by Sunshine Mining in 1959 about 600 yards north of the failed Hawksworth site. That Sunshine well, Washington’s only commercial producer, was closed in 1961.

When it comes to drilling for oil, Washington state is far down on the list of where companies wish to explore, notes a geologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “We would probably be last, or next to last,” explains the expert. “The geology is too broken up and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California.” Learn more about West Coast geology in California Oil Seeps

December 21, 1842 – Birth of an Oil Town “Aero View” Artist

 petroleum history december

Thaddeus M. Fowler depicted Wichita Falls, Texas, probably in the fall of 1890. For a suitable fee, the artist included homes and business as insets. Source: Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.

Panoramic maps artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler was born  in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1842. Following the fortunes of America’s early petroleum industry, he would produce hundreds of unique maps of the earliest oilfield towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.

 petroleum history december

More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified by the Library of Congress, including this detail of the booming oil town of Sistersville, West Virginia, published in 1896.

Fowler was one of the most prolific of the bird’s-eye view artists who crisscrossed the country during the latter three decades of the nineteenth century, notes the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. The views were drawn without help from a balloon.

 petroleum history december

Oil City, Pennsylvania, prospered soon after America’s first commercial oil discovery in 1859 at nearby Titusville.

“He produced at least 17 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,” explains the museum.

Fowler featured many of Pennsylvania’s earliest oilfield towns, including Titusville and Oil City – along with the booming community of Sistersville in the new state of West Virginia. He traveled through Oklahoma and Texas in 1890 and 1891 similarly documenting such cities as Bartlesville, Tulsa and Wichita Falls. Learn more in Oil Town “Aero Views.”

December 22, 1875 – Grant seeks Asphalt for Pennsylvania Avenue

 petroleum history december

President Grant first directed that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad bitumen in 1876. In 1907, asphalt distilled from petroleum repaved the pathway to the Capitol, above.

President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 convinced Congress to repave Pennsylvania Avenue’s badly deteriorated plank boards with asphalt. Grant delivered to Congress a “Report of the Commissioners Created by the Act Authorizing the Repavement of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The project would cover 54,000 square yards. “Brooms, lutes, squeegees and tampers were used in what was a highly labor-intensive process.”

With work completed in the spring of 1877, the asphalt – obtained from a naturally occurring bitumen lake found on the island of Trinidad – would last more than 10 years.

In 1907, the road to the Capitol was be repaved again with new and far superior asphalt made from U.S. petroleum. By 2005, the Federal Highway Administration reported that more than 2.6 million miles of America’s roads are paved. Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way.

December 22, 1903 – Carl Baker patents Improved Cable-Tool Bit

 petroleum history december

Baker Tools founder Carl Baker in 1919.

Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker of Coalinga, California, patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.

“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Baker-Hughes historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”

Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” adds a local historian. He helped establish several small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.

After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through the well.

By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga in a building that today houses the R.C. Baker Museum.

“Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed and incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” concludes the Baker Museum. Baker Tools will become Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after a 1987 merger with Hughes Tool.

December 22, 1975 – Birth of Strategic Petroleum Reserve

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was established when President Gerald Ford signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. The 695-million-barrel U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve today is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world.

In addition to creating SPR, the legislation mandated increasing automobile fuel efficiency through a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard mileage goal of 27.5 miles per gallon by 1985.

When the newly created Department of Energy assumed SPR management in 1977, it was believed the large reserves would deter future oil embargoes. SPR today includes five naturally occurring salt domes near the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears

Petroleum History December

An early hybrid, this 1902 Porsche used a gas engine to generate electricity to power motors mounted on the front wheel hubs.

“The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” declared a 1905 article in the Horseless Age.

The popular monthly journal, first published in 1895, described the earliest motor technologies, including the use of compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam and diesel power – as well as hybrids.

About the same time as the first American auto show in 1900, engineer Ferdinand Porsche introduced his “Mixte” in Europe. This gas-electric hybrid used a four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate electricity. The engine powered two three-horsepower electric motors mounted on the front wheel hubs. It could achieve a top speed of 50 mph. Read the rest of this entry »


December 9, 1921 – Antinock Leaded Gas invented

Petroleum History December

Public health concerns brought the phase-out of leaded gas beginning in 1976.

Petroleum History December

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

General Motors scientists discovered the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead in 1921. American motorists were soon saying, “fill ‘er up with Ethyl!”

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonations of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. The shock frequently damaged the engine. After five years of lab work, G.M. researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discovered the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead. Their experiments had examined properties of bromine, iodine and tin and compared them to new additives such as arsenic, sulfur, silicon and lead. When they used tetraethyl lead (diluted to a ratio of one part per thousand) in a one-cylinder engine, the knocking abruptly disappeared.

Although the additive proved vital for winning World War II, tetraethyl lead’s danger to public health resulted in its phase-out beginning in 1976 and completed by 1986. Learn more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.

December 10, 1844 – “Coal Oil Johnny” adopted

Petroleum History December

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele

The future “Coal Oil Johnny” was adopted as an infant by Culbertson and Sarah McClintock. John Steele (adopted with his sister Permelia) was brought home to the McClintock farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.

The petroleum boom prompted by Edwin L. Drake’s discovery 15 years later – America’s first commercial oil well – would lead to the widow McClintock making a fortune in royalties. She left the money to Johnny when she died in 1864. At age 20, he inherited $24,500 and $2,800 a day in oil royalties.

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele earned his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that the New York Times later reported: “In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known…he threw away $3 million ($45 million in 2013 dollars) in less than a year.” Learn about his extraordinary life in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.

December 10, 1955 – Life features Stella Dysart’s Uranium Well

The December 10, 1955, Life magazine featured Stella Dysart standing in front of her drilling rig after making a fortune from uranium after decades as of failure in oil drilling ventures.

Although Mrs. Stella Dysart had spent decades drilling dry holes in New Mexico, in 1955 a radioactive uranium sample from one of her wells made her rich. She was 78 years old when Life magazine featured her picture with the caption:

“Wealthy landowner, Mrs. Stella Dysart, stands before an abandoned oil rig which she set up on her property in a long vain search for oil. Now uranium is being mined there and Mrs. Dysart, swathed in mink, gets a plump royalty.”

Just three years earlier, Dysart had been $25,000 in debt when cuttings from one of her unsuccessful wells in McKinley County showed impressive Geiger counter readings. Test wells confirmed that she owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore. Learn more in Mrs. Dysart’s Uranium Well.

December 10, 1967 – Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear Fracturing

Petroleum History December

A September 1967 Popular Mechanics article describes how nuclear explosives would improve previous fracturing technologies, including gunpowder, dynamite and “forcing down liquids at high pressure.”

Petroleum History December

Scientists lower a 13-foot by 18-inches diameter nuclear warhead into a well in New Mexico. The 29-kiloton device is detonated on December 10, 1967.

Government scientists detonated an underground 29-kiloton nuclear warhead about 60 miles east of Farmington, New Mexico. It’s “fracking” late 1960s style.

The experiment was designed to test the feasibility of using nuclear explosions to stimulate release of natural gas trapped in dense shale deposits.

“Project Gasbuggy” included experts from the Atomic Energy Commission, the Bureau of Mines and a natural gas company.

Near three low-production natural gas wells, the team drilled to a depth of 4,240 feet and lowered a 13-foot by 18-inch diameter nuclear device into the borehole.

The experimental explosion was part a federal program created  in the late 1950s to explore possible uses of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes.

“Geologists had discovered years before that setting off explosives at the bottom of a well would shatter the surrounding rock and could stimulate the flow of oil and gas,” explained historian Wade Nelson (see Shooters – A “Fracking” History).

“It was believed a nuclear device would simply provide a bigger bang for the buck than nitroglycerin, up to 3,500 quarts of which would be used in a single shot,” he added.

The detonation created a molten glass-lined cavern 160 feet wide and 333 feet tall that collapses within seconds. Although the well produces 295 million cubic feet of natural gas, the gas is radioactive and useless. Learn more in Gasbuggy” tests Nuclear Fracking.

December 11, 1950 – Federal Offshore grows beyond Cannon Shot

After decades of controversy and a 1947 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the federal government’s “paramount rights” offshore were established beyond a three nautical mile limit – the 18th century precedent based on the theoretical maximum range of smooth-bore cannon.

The court issued a supplemental decree that prohibited any further offshore development without federal approval. The first Outer Continental Shelf lease sale held by the Bureau of Land Management and Geological Survey’s Conservation Division in 1954 earned the government almost $130 million.

Learn more in Offshore Petroleum History.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well taps Mid-Continent Field

petroleum history november

A rare photograph of the 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

In eastern Kansas, the Norman No. 1 well erupted oil in 1892 – the first major petroleum discovery west of the Mississippi River.

Just 832 feet deep, the well uncovered the vast Mid-Continent producing region, which eventually included five states.

Immediately following the discovery, a sample of the Kansas oil was sent to the more experienced oilmen of Pennsylvania. “It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum.

Abandoned in 1919, the Norman No. 1 well was “overgrown along the banks of the Verdigris River until 1961, when a replica of the original derrick was erected on the old well site as a memorial,” notes the Kansas Historical Society, which adds the Neodesha oil museum is “a fitting recognition of Norman No. 1’s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history.” Learn more in Oil Discovery in Neodesha, Kansas.

November 28, 1895 – First American Auto Race

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J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles invented America’s first gas-powered automobile.

At 8:55 a.m., six fragile motor cars left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back through the snow.

Inventor J. Frank Duryea received $2,000 for winning America’s first auto race. His No. 5 automobile took just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 miles per hour. The Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, also awarded $500 to a racing enthusiast who named the horseless vehicles “motocycles.”

The newspaper declared, “Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.” Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth visits Pennsylvania Boom Town

petroleum history november

Eloise Bridges played Lady Macbeth in 1865 for “stomping and screaming” roughnecks in Pithole, Pennsylvania’s infamous boom town. Pithole Visitors Center scale-model photo by David Jones.

petroleum history november

The darling of the Pithole stage, Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania. Once extolled by a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper as “the most handsome actress in the Confederate States,” Miss Bridges performed in the region’s most notorious boom town.

Within nine months of the discovery of oil, Pithole hosted a muddy population of over 30,000 oilmen, teamsters, coopers, lease-traders, roughnecks and merchants of all kinds – along with gamblers, “soiled doves” and criminals. Almost overnight, 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania were up and running. Murphy’s Theater was the biggest building in the new town.

Three-stories high, the building had 1,100 seats, a 40-foot stage, an orchestra – and chandelier lighting by Tiffany. Miss Bridges was the darling of the Pithole stage.

However, following her performance as Lady Macbeth, a critic for the Titusville Morning Herald chastised the roughneck audience for going beyond simple clapping, noting the “rude boisterous stomping and screaming…is absolutely disgraceful.”

Eight months after Bridges departed for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil ran out. The most famous boom town collapsed into empty streets and abandoned buildings. Today, visitors walk on the grass streets of the historic ghost town. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized

petroleum history november

Henry Foster was called “the richest man west of the Mississippi” in the 1930s. He built La Quinta Mansion in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

With almost 1.5 million acres of Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry Foster organized the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company by combining the Phoenix Oil Company and Osage Oil Company.

For the Osage Indians, the lease provided a 10 percent royalty on all petroleum produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleased drilling to 75 different companies, but by 1903 only 30 wells had been drilled – including 11 dry holes.

Although debt ultimately drove the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership, the company emerged with veteran oilman Theodore Barnsdall a majority owner.

By the end of 1904, new drilling resulted in 361 producing wells. In 1912, Barnsdall sold his interests to the Empire Distributing Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, for $40 million.

Foster, who became known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” built the 32-room La Quinta Mansion – now the main administration building for Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville. Read more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

December 1, 1913 – First U.S. Drive-In Service Station opens in Pittsburgh

petroleum history november

Gulf Refining Company’s decision to open the first service station (above) along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was no accident. By 1913 the boulevard was known as “automobile row'” because of its many auto dealerships.

petroleum history november

Oil company maps were dominated by Gulf Refining Company, which was the only oil company to issue maps until about 1925.

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold when Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stood nearby. The service station’s lighted marquee provided shelter from bad weather.

“On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. On its first Saturday, Gulf’s new service station pumped 350 gallons of gasoline,” notes the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

“Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.”

The decision to open the first station along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh was no accident, the historical commission adds. By 1913 when the station was opened, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the high number of dealerships that were located along the thoroughfare.

In addition to gas, the Gulf station provided free air and water – and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States. The modern gasoline pump can trace its roots to a pump that dispensed kerosene at an Indiana grocery store in the late 1880s. Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

petroleum history november

Lucy sought a Broadway gusher in 1960.

December 1, 1960 – Broadway Oil Musical

Lucille Ball debuted in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics loved Lucy – but hated the show. She played the penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find an oil gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912. “Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” reported an unimpressed New York Times critic. Audiences flocked to this rare oil patch musical – but after 171 performances, the show closed.

December 2, 1970 – Nixon creates EPA 

President Richard M. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency to consolidate into a single agency “a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.” At the same time the president created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to serve “a national need for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources.”

December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography

petroleum history november

An energy source (explosive charge, weight drop, vibration generator), creates waves reflecting from the top of bedrock to surface detectors.

Amerada Petroleum drilled into a Viola limestone formation in Oklahoma – it was the first successful oil well produced from a geological structure identified by a reflection seismograph. The new exploration technology revealed an oil reservoir near Seminole.

Tested as early as June 1921, reflection seismography – seismic surveying – led to oilfield discoveries across the world. Amerada Petroleum’s subsidiary, Geophysical Research, applied the new technology, which had evolved from World War I weapons research. Scientists developed portable equipment that used seismic reflections from artillery to aid the in locating the source. Learn more in Exploring Reflection Seismography.

December 4, 1928 – Giant Oilfield discovered in Oklahoma City

petroleum history november

The Oklahoma City oilfield would bring stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

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The 215,000 square-foot Oklahoma History Center and Research Center opened in 2005.

Henry Foster’s Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company and Foster Petroleum Corporation completed the Oklahoma City No. 1 well, discovery well for the Oklahoma City oilfield. Petroleum companies had searched for decades before this successful well just south of the city limits.

The 6,335-foot-deep wildcat well produced 110,000 barrels of oil in its first 27 days, causing a rush of development that extended the field northward toward the capitol building. Drilling reached the city limits by May 1930, prompting the city council to pass ordinances limiting drilling to the southeast part of the city and allowing only one well per city block.

By 1932, with about 870 producing wells completed, the Oklahoma City oilfield’s production peaked at 67 million barrels. “From such a beginning the sprawling Oklahoma City oil and natural gas field will become one of world’s major oil-producing areas,” notes a state historical marker. The field’s production will rank eighth in the nation for the next 40 years.

Another major discovery erupted in 1930 thanks the city’s prolific Wilcox sands. Equipment failure and high pressure resulted in the well remaining uncontrolled for 11 days – making it “the most publicized oil well in world.” Learn more about the World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.” 


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


November 21, 1925 – Magnolia Petroleum incorporates

petroleum history november

Magnolia owned gas stations throughout the Southeast.

Formerly an unincorporated joint-stock association with roots dating to a 1889 refinery in Corsicana, Texas – Magnolia Petroleum Company incorporated in 1925.

The original association had sold multiple grades of refined petroleum products through more than 500 service stations in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Within a month of the new company’s founding, Standard Oil Company of New York purchased most of Magnolia Petroleum’s assets (December 1925) and operated it as a subsidiary.

Magnolia Oil Company merged with Socony Mobile Oil Company in 1959. The companies adopted a red Pegasus logo, which replaced the magnolia logo at gas stations (see Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark). Magnolia Petroleum ultimately became part of ExxonMobil.

November 22, 1905 – Discovery brings Oil Boom to Tulsa

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By 1920, Tulsa was home to 400 petroleum companies, two daily newspapers and seven banks.

Two years before Oklahoma became a state, a major oilfield was revealed just south of Tulsa. The 1905 Glen Pool (or Glenn Pool) discovery, the greatest oilfield in America at the time, would help contribute to Tulsa becoming known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”

With daily production soon exceeding 120,000 barrels, Glen Pool exceeded Tulsa County’s earlier Red Fork GusherThe find even exceeded the giant Spindletop Hill discovery near Beaumont, Texas, four years earlier.

The Ida Glenn No. 1 well was named for the Creek Indian woman from whom oilmen had leased 160 acres. The well, almost 1,500 feet deep, led to many more prolific wells in the 12-square-mile Glen Pool.

By the time of statehood in 1907, Tulsa area oilfields made Oklahoma America’s biggest petroleum producing state. The field today uses enhanced recovery technologies to continue production. In April 2008, a special derrick monument was unveiled in Black Gold Park.

The community of Glenn Pool annually celebrates its petroleum heritage by hosting a Black Gold Days festival. Learn more in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.

November 22, 2003 – Smithsonian Museum opens Transportation Hall

The “America On The Move” permanent exhibition opened at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

petroleum history november

Petroleum history plays a small role (a truck from Shawnee, Oklahoma) in the Smithsonian’s “America on the Move” exhibit.

“Get your kicks on 40 feet of Route 66,” the Smithsonian exhibit noted on opening day of the $22 million renovation of the museum’s Hall of Transportation. A 199-ton locomotive also welcomes visitors to the hall.

The “America on the Move” hall was designed to let visitors “travel back in time and experience transportation as it changed America,” explains the Smithsonian. “It encompasses nearly 26,000 square feet on the first floor of the museum, and includes 340 objects and 19 historic settings in chronological order.”

At the same museum in 1967, the Smithsonian’s “Hall of Petroleum” devoted an entire wing to drilling rigs, pipelines and pump jacks.

November 23, 1951 – First Superman Movie features “World’s Deepest Oil Well”

petroleum history november

Mole men emerge from an experimental oil well that “has broken into clear air” at beyond 32,700 feet deep.

Public fear of the risk of drilling too deep highlighted the theatrical release of “Superman and the Mole Men.”

The 1951 movie, which earned good reviews, featured newspaper reporters Clark Kent (George Reeves) and Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) traveling on assignment to the fictional town of Silsby…“Home of the World’s Deepest Oil Well.”

At the National Oil Company’s “Havenhurst Experimental Number One” well, the drill bit “has broken into clear air” 32,742 feet deep. “Good heavens, that’s practically to the center of the earth!” Lois exclaims. In fact, the deepest U.S. well in 1951 reached 20,521 feet.

When small, humanoid creatures emerged from the well, the townspeople feared an invasion. It took the compassion of Superman to calm the mob and return the mole men to the safety of the deep well. At the end of the movie, the mole men ignited the well, forever closing the connection between the two worlds. Learn about a real 31,441-foot-deep well in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

November 23, 1953 – World’s First LPG Ship

petroleum history november

The first vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks.

The first seagoing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) ship went into service in 1953.

Warren Petroleum Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, sent the one-of-a-kind Natalie O. Warren from the Houston Ship Channel terminal to Newark, New Jersey.

The vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks. The ship was the former Cape Diamond dry-cargo freighter, converted by the Bethlehem Steelyard in Beaumont, Texas. The experimental design would lead to new maritime construction standards for such vessels. Today’s LPG tankers carry more than 18 times the capacity of the historic first vessel.

November 25, 1875 – Continental Oil brings Kerosene to the West

petroleum history november

Conoco began in 1875 as Continental Oil, delivering kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah.

Convinced that he can profit by purchasing bulk kerosene in cheaper eastern markets, Isaac Blake formed the Continental Oil and Transportation Company. He soon transported Ohio kerosene to Ogden, Utah, for distribution.

Continental purchased two railroad tank cars – the first to be used west of the Mississippi River – and began shipping kerosene from a Cleveland refinery. The company grew, expanding into Colorado in 1876 and California in 1877.

Standard Oil Company absorbed Continental Oil in 1885. Following the 1911 breakup of Standard, Continental Oil reemerged as Conoco; it became ConocoPhillips in 2002. Learn more by visiting ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies

petroleum history november

Emma Summers’ “genius for affairs” put her in control of the Los Angeles City oil fields.

Mrs. Emma Summers, once known as the “Oil Queen of California” died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles.

Forty years earlier, the San Francisco Call newspaper described Mrs. Summers as “A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”

Summers graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano – but soon caught oil fever.

With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field just a year before, Summers invested $700 for half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s. Summers’ first 14 wells produced oil – helping launch her dominance in the Los Angeles oilfield.

Read more about Emma Summers in Oil Queen of California.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


November 14, 1947 – First Oil Well drilled Out of Sight of Land

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The “Kermac 16,” America’s first true offshore drilling platform (above), was built 10 miles off the Louisiana coast by Brown & Root Company. It was designed to withstand hurricane-force winds.

The modern offshore petroleum industry began when an exploratory well produced oil in the Gulf of Mexico – the first successful offshore oil well out of sight of land. Brown & Root Company built the 1947 freestanding platform 10 miles offshore for Kerr-McGee and partners Phillips Petroleum and Stanolind.

petroleum history november

The “Kermac 16” platform was featured in a 1954 Bell Helicopter advertisement encouraging use of helicopters for offshore transportation.

The unique freestanding offshore platform, “Kermac 16,” could withstand winds as high as 125 miles per hour. Brown & Root constructed the experimental platform at a time when no equipment specifically designed for offshore drilling yet existed.

With $450,000 invested, Kerr-McGee completed the discovery well, which produced 960 barrels of oil a day in about 20 feet of water off Louisiana’s gradually sloping Gulf of Mexico coast.

Kerr-McGee had purchased World War II surplus utility freighters and materials to provide supplies, equipment and crew quarters for the drilling site at Ship Shoal Block 32.

Sixteen 24-inch pilings were sunk 104 feet into the ocean floor to secure the 2,700 square foot wooden deck – which successfully withstood the biggest Category 5 hurricane of the 1947 season a week after drilling had begun.

The historic “Kermac 16” produced 1.4 million barrels of oil and 307 million cubic feet of natural gas before being shut down in 1984. Learn more about U.S. offshore pioneers and technology in Offshore Oil History and Deep Sea Roughnecks.

November 14, 1947 – WW II “Big Inch” Pipelines sold for $143 Million

Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, a company formed 11 months earlier specifically to acquire the World War II surplus 24-inch “Big Inch” and 20-inch “Little Big Inch” pipelines, won with a bid of $143,127,000 – the largest sale of the war’s surplus material to the private sector.

Under government terms, Texas Eastern Transmission converted both oil products pipelines to the transmission of natural gas, which was needed for the Appalachian region. The Little Big Inch line later proved too small for economic transmission of natural gas and was converted back to a common carrier petroleum pipeline in 1957.

November 15, 1906 – Government seeks Breakup of Standard Oil

U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte filed suit to compel dissolution of the Standard Oil of New Jersey. An 1892 court decision had ordered the Standard Oil Trust to be dissolved, but John D. Rockefeller had reorganized it and continued to operate from New York. Although the Justice Department would win this latest suit, Standard Oil would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which finally affirmed the lower court’s decision in May 1911, mandating dissolution of Standard Oil into 34 separate companies.

November 15, 1952 – Williston Basin produces One-Millionth Barrel of Oil

The Williston Basin produced its millionth barrel of oil on in 1952. The oil came from five fields in three counties in North Dakota – Williams, McKenzie and Mountrail. By the end of the year production reached 356,000 barrels a month.

“Oil was first found in the Williston Basin along the Cedar Creek Anticline in southeastern Montana, in the 1920s,” noted the North Dakota Geological Survey in 1988. “The basin did not become a major oil province until the 1950s when large fields were discovered in North Dakota.”

Amerada Petroleum began the search for oil in the basin in 1946 and found it on Clarence Iverson’s farm in 1951, as explained First North Dakota Oil Well. By 2008 the Williston Basin produced more than five billion barrels of oil.

November 17, 1949 – USGS looks for Oil and Gas Producing Areas

The U.S. Geological Survey embarked on a massive geological study of the United States with more than 70 geologists engaged in intensive investigations covering 22 states and the Alaska Territory. Their mission was to define areas best suited for oil and natural gas exploration. Computer technology later transformed USGS topographic mapping science from prints to digital data and on-line based applications.

November 19, 1927 – Phillips Petroleum introduces “Phillips 66” Gasoline

petroleum history november

Originally promoted as a dependable “winter gasoline,” by 1930 “Phillips 66” gasoline was marketed in 12 states.

petroleum history november

The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville opened in 2007.

After a decade as an exploration and production company, Phillips Petroleum Company entered the competitive business of refining and retail gasoline distribution.

The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company introduced a new line of gasoline – “Phillips 66” – at its first service station, which opened in Wichita, Kansas. The gas was named “Phillips 66” after it had propelled company officials down U.S. Highway 66 at 66 mph on the way to a meeting at their Bartlesville headquarters.

Route 66 soon became the backbone of Phillips Petroleum marketing plans for the new product – which boasted “controlled volatility,” the result of a higher-gravity mix of naphtha and gasoline. Because the composition made Phillips 66 gas easier to start in cold weather, advertisements enticed motorists to try the “New Winter Gasoline.”

Acquisition of service stations added 50 new retail outlets each month to the company. By 1930, Phillips 66 gasoline was sold at 6,750 outlets in 12 states. Learn more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

November 20, 1930 – Hilton expands in Texas, Thanks to Oil

Conrad Hilton opened a new high-rise hotel in El Paso, Texas, 11 years after buying his first hotel in Cisco, where he had witnessed roughnecks from the Ranger oilfield waiting for rooms. Hilton’s first hotel, the Mobley, had 40 rooms he rented for eight-hour periods to coincide with workers’ shifts. Although the famous “Roaring Ranger” oilfield was eventually exhausted, Hilton was firmly in the Texas hotel business.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


November 8, 1880 – Death of Edwin L. Drake

petroleum history november

A monument to Edwin Drake with a bronze statue, “The Driller,” was dedicated in 1901 in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It was refurbished after the 2009 sesquicentennial of his historic well. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Edwin Laurentine Drake, the former railroad conductor who drilled America’s first commercial oil well, died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the age of 61. Drake drilled just three wells – but his first – which produced oil  on August 27, 1859 – launched the U.S. petroleum industry.

Although his discovery brought prosperity to many, by 1863 Drake had lost all his money in speculative ventures. A decade later he was so ill and destitute the Pennsylvania legislature voted him a $1,500 pension in recognition of his historic contribution.

After Drake died in 1880 in relative obscurity, Standard Oil executive Henry Rogers commissioned a monument for Drake, who was re-interred in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery in 1902. “This was the beginning of the long overdue recognition for Drake. It took place in the valley where he made his great contribution to the oil industry,” noted historian Samuel Pees.

November 10, 1854 – Oil Seeps lead to First U.S. Oil Well

petroleum history november

Thanks to George Bissell, Pennsylvania oil seeps or medicinal “Seneca Oil” will lead to Edwin Drake drilling for oil to refine into kerosene for lamps.

The stage was set for the start of America’s petroleum industry when a lumber company sold 105 acres along a creek with oil seeps. George Bissell of New Hampshire bought the land from the lumber firm of Brewer, Watson & Company in 1854. Bissell hired Edwin Drake to drill for oil near the junction of the east and west branches of Oil Creek, southeast of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Bissell suspected oil could be distilled to make kerosene for lamps. He asked a friend at Yale to conduct experiments. Professor Benjamin Silliman Jr., a chemist and geologist, confirmed the illuminating potential of the refined oil. Bissell formed the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company – and hired Drake to search for oil. Learn more in George Bissell and Oil Seeps. Read the rest of this entry »


October 31, 1871 – Modern Refinery Method patented

petroleum history october

Henry Rogers patented a “method of distilling the commercial articles…entirely separated from the lubricating-oil and lamp-oil.”

Petroleum refining will become more efficient thanks to an invention by Henry Rogers of Brooklyn, New York. In 1871 he patented his “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons by repeated vaporization and condensation.”

His design, which introduced many elements of modern refinery “fractionating” towers, was a significant improvement over the earlier process of extracting kerosene by simple atmospheric distillation in kettle stills.

“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,” Rogers noted in his 1871 patent application.

Improved refining technologies proved key for massive facilities like the Standard Oil of Indiana Whiting Refinery, which by the mid-1890s had become the largest the United States.

October 31, 1902 – Paraffin Dirt leads to Oilfield Discovery

On Halloween 1902, oil was discovered near Pine Bayou one mile north of Batson, Texas. Initial production was 600 barrels of oil a day from 790 feet deep. A second well in December produced 4,000 barrels from a depth of 1,000 feet.

Encouraged by the Spindletop Hill oil discovery a year earlier, Beaumont businessmen had organized the Paraffine Oil Company. W.L. Douglas, who had no prior petroleum industry experience, reported seeing “signs” of oil at Baston. “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,” notes the Handbook of Texas Online. “This was the first known use of paraffin dirt as a prospecting guide.”

Along with Spindletop  two other prolific salt dome fields – 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.” Read about a 1902 Batson oilfield firevisit Batson to see its Oil Patch Museum.

November 1, 1865 – First Railroad Oil Tank Car arrives 

petroleum history october

Brothers Amos and James Densmore designed and built the first successful railroad tank cars used in the Pennsylvania oilfields. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

James and Amos Densmore’s “oil tank car” railroad car arrived at the Miller Farm, four miles south of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The brothers, who soon patented this revolutionary technology, filled 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 supplied the Oil Creek Railroad, which connected to other rail lines in Corry and on to Pittsburgh, New York City, and other markets. The tank car design featured two large, iron-banded wooden tanks on a flatcar. Although better tank cars would soon be adopted, Amos Densmore later helped create the modern typewriter. Learn more in Densmore Brothers Oil Tank Car.

November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Gas Well lights Pittsburgh

petroleum history november

“A sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly in 1885.

While drilling for oil in 1878, Michael and Obediah Haymaker’s well erupted with natural gas from a depth of almost 1,400 feet. “Every  piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind. But instead of oil, we had  struck gas,” Michael Haymaker later recalled.

Eighteen miles east of Pittsburgh, the out-of-control well in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, produced an estimated 34 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. It was considered the largest natural gas well ever drilled up to that time.

Given oilfield technologies of the late 1880s, there was no way to cap the well and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities. The Haymaker well drew thousands of curious onlookers to a flaming torch that burned for 18 months, visible from miles away.

“Outlet of a natural gas well near Pittsburgh – a sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly. The Haymaker well, brought under control, brought gas light to Pittsburgh and produce for years. Read more in Natural Gas Is King in Pittsburgh.

November 3, 1900 – New York City hosts First American Auto Show

petroleum history november

Above, the 1898 first American car ad. Automobile sales will reduce the 450,000 tons of horse manure annually deposited on New York City streets.

America’s first gathering of the latest automotive technologies attracted thousands to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The most popular models proved to be electric, steam and gasoline…in that order.

Manufacturers presented 160 different vehicles and conducted driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that  encircles the exhibits.

About 48,000 visitors paid 50 cents each to witness autos driving up a 200-foot ramp to test hill-climbing power.

New Yorkers welcomed the new models as a way to reduce the 450,000 tons of manure, 21 million gallons of urine, and 15,000 horse carcasses that had to be removed from the streets every year.

Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in 1900, less than a thousand are powered by gasoline. But within five years, consumer preference thoroughly established the dominance of gasoline-powered automobiles that continues today. Read more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show and First Gas Pump and Service Station.

November 6, 1860 – First U.S. Multi-Still Kerosene Refinery

Less than six months before the start of the Civil War, construction began on the nation’s first multiple-still oil refinery in Pennsylvania, one mile south of Titusville in the booming oil region.

William Barnsdall, who drilled America’s second commercial oil well in 1859, eventually constructed six stills for refining kerosene. When completed, the first U.S. major refinery would cost $15,000. Much of the equipment was purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City, then up Oil Creek to the site.

With construction finished in January 1861, the refinery produced two grades of kerosene for lamps – white and the less expensive yellow. Each barrel of oil yielded about 20 gallons of the new illuminating resource.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


October 26, 1970 – Joe Roughneck Statue dedicated in Texas

petroleum history october 20

Texas Gov. Preston Smith in 1970 dedicated this “Joe Roughneck” in Boonsville. Photo courtesy Mike Price.

Governor Preston Smith of Texas dedicated a “Joe Roughneck” statue in Boonsville on the 20th anniversary of a giant natural gas field discovery there.

In 1950, the Lone Star Gas Company Vaught No. 1 well discovered the Boonsville field, which produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 20 years. By 2001 the field reached production of 3.1 trillion cubic feet of gas from 3,500 wells.

Joe Roughneck began life in the 1950s as a character in Lone Star Steel Company advertising. He was soon adopted by the industry. A bronze Joe Roughneck bust has been awarded since 1955 at the annual Chief Roughneck Award ceremony of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. A Joe Roughneck bronze bust, originally created by noted Texas artist Torg Thompson, continues to be awarded to each Chief Roughneck recipient.

In addition to the Boonsville monument, Joe’s rugged mug today sits atop three different Texas oilfield monuments:  Joinerville (1957), Conroe (1957) and Kilgore (1986). Learn more in Meet Joe Roughneck.

October 27, 1763 – Birth of the “Father of American Geology”

petroleum history october 27

“Map of the United States of America, Designed to Illustrate the Geological Memoir of Wm. Maclure, Esqr.” This 1818 version is more detailed than the first geological map he published in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton Library.

William Maclure, a Scottish-born American geologist and “stratigrapher,” was born in 1763. He created the earliest geological maps of North America in 1809.

After settling in the United States in 1797, Maclure explored the eastern part of North America to prepare the first geological map of the United States. His travels from Maine to Georgia in 1808 resulted 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,” a  Princeton historian reported later. “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, organized the American Geological Society in 1819, Maclure is elected its first president. Most geologists consider Maclure (1763-1840) the “Father of American Geology.” In the 1850s, Silliman’s son, also a Yale chemist, analyzed samples of  Pennsylvania “rock oil” for refining into kerosene. His report led to drilling America’s first oil well in 1859.

October 27, 1938 – DuPont names Petroleum Product “Nylon”

DuPont chemical company announced that “nylon” would be the name of its newly invented synthetic fiber yarn made from petroleum. Discovered in 1935 by Wallace Carothers at a DuPont research facility, nylon is considered the first commercially successful synthetic polymer.

Carothers, now known as the father of the science of man-made polymers, called the new polymer Nylon 6 because of the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contained six carbon atoms per molecule.

Nylon found 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 reported 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 explained. “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.” Learn more in Shooters – a “Fracking” History.

October 27, 1923 – Lion Oil Refining Company founded in Arkansas

petroleum history October

Founded in 1923 in El Dorado, Arkansas, Lion Oil will operate about 2,000 service stations in the south in the 1950s. Photo courtesy Lion Oil.

Lion Oil Company was founded as the Lion Oil Refining Company in El Dorado, Arkansas, by Texan Thomas Harry Barton.

Barton earlier had 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 grew to 10,000 barrels a day capacity. The company acquired 58 oil wells producing 1.4 million barrels of oil by 1925.

A merger with Monsanto Chemical in 1955 brought the gradual disappearance of the familiar “Beauregard Lion” logo. Today, Lion Oil (an affiliate of Delek U.S. Holdings, Inc.) markets petroleum products, including gasolines, low-sulfur diesel, solvents, propanes and asphalt. Read more Arkansas history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

October 28, 1926 – Yates Field discovered in West Texas

petroleum history october 27

New technologies are renewing interest in the Yates field, discovered in 1926. Houston Chronicle photo.

The 26,400-acre Yates oilfield was discovered in a remote area of Pecos County, Texas, in the increasingly prolific Permian Basin.

Drilled in 1926 with a $15,000 cable-tool rig, the Ira Yates 1-A produced 450 barrels of oil a day from just under 1,000 feet. Prior to the discovery, Ira Yates had struggled to keep his ranch, located on the northern border of the Chihuahua Desert.

“Drought and predators nearly did him in” notes one account, until he convinced a San Angelo company to explore for oil west of the Pecos River.

The Yates wildcat well – completed by the Mid-Kansas and Transcontinental Oil Companies – was 30 miles from the nearest oil pipeline. A 55,000-barrel steel storage tank was under construction when four more Yates wells begin yielding an additional 12,000 barrels of oil daily. Ira Yates received an $18 million oil royalty check on his 67th birthday. Also see Alley Oop’s Oil Roots and Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.


October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded

Wallace Hardison, Lyman Stewart and Thomas Bard established the Union Oil Company of California in Santa Paula in 1890. Soon known as Unocal, the company moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1901. The original headquarters in Santa Paula, a California Historical Landmark, houses the California Oil Museum. An effort is underway to preserve Wallace Hardison’s masion, built in 1884. Unocal merged its upstream business with Chevron in 2005. 

October 17, 1917 – “Roaring Ranger” Oil Discovery 

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Eastland County, Texas, discoveries include oil wells near Cisco, where Conrad Hilton will witness the crowds of roughnecks – and buy his first hotel.

Ninety-nine years ago, a wildcat well between Abilene and Dallas brought a Texas oil boom that fueled Allied victory in World War I. The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well erupted oil about two miles south of the small farming community of Ranger. Petroleum companies had searched Eastland County with limited success since 1904.

Texas and Pacific Coal Company’s William Knox Gordon completed the discovery well at 3,432 feet deep. It initially produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day of quality, high gravity oil. Within 20 months the exploration company’s stock value jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share.

“Roaring Ranger” launched a drilling boom that extended to nearby towns. More gushers followed, some producing up to 10,000 barrels of oil every day. Ranger’s population grew from 1,000 to 30,000 – mostly men.

The petroleum proved essential in World War I. When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”

After the war, a young veteran – Conrad Hilton – visited Eastland County intending to buy a Texas bank. When his bank deal fell through, Hilton (at the Cisco train station ready to leave), noticed across the street a small motel with a long line of roughnecks waiting for a room. Hilton decided to buy his first hotel. Learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

October 17, 1973 – OPEC declares Oil Embargo

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implements what it calls “oil diplomacy” – prohibiting any nation that had supported Israel in its “Yom Kippur War” from buying any of the oil it sells.

The OPEC embargo brought an end to years of cheap gasoline, caused the New York Stock Exchange to drop by almost $100 billion, and created one of the worst recessions in U.S. history.

America’s low domestic reserves required annually importing almost 30 percent of the petroleum it needed. Dependence on foreign supplies peaked in 2005. In 2014, thanks to new technologies, the United States became the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

October 18, 2008 – Derrick dedicated in Discovery 1 Park

petroleum history october 13

Discovery 1 Park in Bartlesville includes a replica derrick on the original site of Oklahoma’s first oil well.

Discovery One Park in Bartlesville  – site of a renovated Nellie Johnstone No. 1, Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well – was dedicated with a reenactment of the dramatic moment that changed Oklahoma history.

Events included local roughneck reenactors bringing in the 84-foot derrick’s oil well with a water gusher. A similar cable-tool drilling rig thrilled spectators in 1897, when Jenny Cass, stepdaughter of Bartlesville founder George W. Keeler, was given the honor of “shooting” the oil well.

October 20, 1949 –  Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland

petroleum history october

No oil has yet been found in Maryland.

The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County – the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer N. Beachy well produced almost 500 Mcf of natural gas a day.

The wildcat discovery prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depletes the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has yet been found in Maryland

October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico

petroleum history october

New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service began soon after a 1921 discovery near Aztec. Major oil discoveries will follow in the southeast.

New Mexico’s natural gas industry was launched with the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.

The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. The crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado.

By Christmas, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. By 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove).

Read more about the state’s petroleum history in New Mexico Oil Discovery

October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom

petroeum history october

The “Big Dutch” No. 1 well, above, initially produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet in 1908. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek completed the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper.

Although the Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, the central Salt Creek dome received little attention until an Italian geologist recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

Drillers J.E. Stock, working for an English corporation known as the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled a well to 1,050 feet, where it produced 600 barrels a day.

More than 4,000 wells have since been drilled in the Salt Creek oilfield, producing from depths as shallow as 22 feet (in 1911). To increase production, water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection

petroleum history october

Photo of a “smart pig” used for testing pipelines courtesy of Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal.

Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds.

The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – now known as a “smart pig” – travels up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.

As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Today’s inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.

October 23, 1970 – Natural Gas fuels World Land Speed Record

petroleum history october

The Blue Flame will set a land speed record that will not be broken until 1997. Today, there are more than 120,000 vehicles on the road powered by natural gas.

Natural gas made a spectacular rocket fuel debut in 1970 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah as the Blue Flame set a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour – a record that will stand for 27 years.

A rocket motor combining liquefied natural gas and hydrogen peroxide powered the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame. The motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.

Sponsored by the American Gas Association and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. After building a 1967 record-setting rocket dragster, the X-1, they began the far more ambitious Blue Flame natural gas rocket car in 1968.

petroleum history october

The 38-foot Blue Flame’s natural gas-powered rocket motor could produce up to 58,000 horsepower.

Keller notes that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, American Gas Association executives saw the value of educating consumers. “The Blue Flame was really ‘green’ – it was fueled by clean-burning natural gas and hydrogen peroxide,” he explains. “It was the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”

Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. On the fourth Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.


October 13, 1917 – U.S. Oil & Gas Association founded

The United States Oil & Gas Association (USOGA) was founded as the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association in Tulsa Oklahoma, six months after the United States joined World War I.

A group of leading independent producers, including Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland, Bill Skelly and Robert Kerr, established the association to increase U.S. petroleum supplies for the Allied forces. In 1919 the association formed the Oklahoma-Kansas Division (now the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association).

Today a lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., USOGA advocates industry views in policy debates, especially for states along the Gulf of Mexico. Read the rest of this entry »


October 3, 1930 – Giant Oilfield discovered on Daisy Bradford’s Farm

petroleum history september

Columbus “Dad” Joiner in 1930 discovered the East Texas oilfield, which remains the largest in the lower-48 states. Photo courtesy Jack Elder, The Glory Days.

With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, creditors and spectators watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 wildcat well was successfully shot with nitroglycine near Kilgore, Texas.

“All of East Texas waited expectantly while Columbus ‘Dad’ Joiner inched his way toward oil,” noted Jack Elder in The Glory Days. “Thousands crowded their way to the site of Daisy Bradford No. 3, hoping to be there when and if oil gushed from the well to wash away the misery of the Great Depression.” Read the rest of this entry »


September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well

petroleum history september

Thanks to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, California’s first refinery has been preserved, perhaps the oldest in the world. Photo courtesy Konrad Summers.

Although Charles Mentry’s California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells that showed promise, his first gusher arrived with the Pico No. 4 well on September 26, 1876. Drilling with a cable-tool rig powered by steam in an area known for its oil seeps, his well revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It was California’s first commercial oil well.

The Star Oil Works well, which initially produced 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, led to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery for making kerosene, axle grease and other lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations had a refining capacity of 150 barrels a day.

Today’s Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, can trace its beginning to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company. Read the rest of this entry »


September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well

petroleum history september

Mrs. Scott Heywood unveiled a marker as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee in 1951. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana.

W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill – completed a 7,000-barrel-a-day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings. Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 found oil at 1,700 feet, leading to the state’s first commercial oil production.

According to the Jennings Daily News, “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice.” Read the rest of this entry »


September 12, 1866 – First Oil Discovery in Texas

petroleum history September

Lyne Taliaferro Barret in 1859 leased about 280 acres east of Nacogdoches, Texas, near Oil Springs – an area known for oil seeps.

The Texas petroleum industry was born a few miles east of Nacogdoches when Lyne Taliaferro Barret and his Melrose Petroleum Oil Company completed the Lone Star State’s first commercial oil well.

The Confederate Army veteran’s No. 1 Isaac C. Skillern well – drilled in an area known as Oil Springs – found the newly prized resource at a depth of 106 feet. Barret’s well yielded a modest ten barrels per day; limited access to markets soon led to the company’s failure. The seemingly failed project laid dormant for nearly two decades – until other exploration companies found oil nearby.

The Nacogdoches field remained the oldest field in Texas for many decades. As late as 1941 it still recorded production of eight barrels a day from 40 wells. Some of the field’s wells produced well into the 1950s. Read more in First Lone Star Discovery  and visit Nacogdoches, “the oldest town in Texas.” Read the rest of this entry »


September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers test Electric Well Logging Tool

petroleum history september

Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger first tested a downhole electronic logging tool in 1927 – one year after founding Société de Prospection Électrique, the precursor of Schlumberger, the world’s first well logging company. Photo and image courtesy Schlumberger Ltd.

Petroleum exploration technology advanced in 1927 when an electric downhole well log was first applied near Pechelbronn, France. Brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger modified their surface system to operate vertically in a well.

petroleum history september

Conrad Schlumberger, using very basic equipment, in 1912 recorded the first map of equipotential curves near Caen, France.

Conrad Schlumberger had conceived the idea of using electrical measurements to map subsurface rock formations as early as 1912. After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers created an electric downhole well log.

Lowering their new tool into a well, they recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plot the results against depth – creating a well log of geologic formations. Read the rest of this entry »


August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom (and Bust) at Snake Hollow

About 300 petroleum companies sprang up near Pittsburgh within months of a major natural gas discovery – the “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Drilled near the Monongahela River, the discovery well produced more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. It prompted an exploration frenzy  that saw $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area.

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” the local newspaper later reported. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses.”

But excitement in the McKeesport natural gas field ended in just seven months. At the beginning of 1921, natural gas production had declined in 180 wells – and more than 440 exploratory wells were dry holes. Of the millions invested during the boom, only about $3 million came out. The field was soon described as “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.” Learn more in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh and the McKeesport Gas Company.

August 30, 2002 – Birth of ConocoPhillips Read the rest of this entry »


August 24, 1892 –  Gladys City Oil Company founded by “Prophet of Spindletop” 

petroleum history august

Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company discovered oil at Spindletop Hill in January 1901.

Patillo Higgins, who will become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop,” founds Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company .

Higgins, a self-taught geologist, and three partners lease 2,700 acres near Beaumont, Texas. He is convinced that an area known as “Big Hill” – Spindletop Hill – four miles south of Beaumont, contains oil. Almost all earth science experts say he is wrong.

Higgins had noticed oil and natural gas seeping on the hill while taking his Sunday school class on picnics. He later will oversee the planning of Gladys City, named for his favorite Sunday school student.

The new company, one of the earliest petroleum companies incorporated in Texas, drills wells at the Spindletop salt dome in 1893, 1895 and 1896. All are dry holes.

Although Higgins leaves his Gladys City venture in 1895, Capt. Anthony Lucas will strike the “Lucas Gusher” in January 1901 that forever changes the petroleum industry. The Spindletop oilfield will produce more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s oil fields combined. Read the rest of this entry »


August 15, 1945 – WW II Gasoline Rationing ends

World War II gasoline rationing officially ends in the United States. Since the beginning of gas rationing in December 1942, priority stickers and coupon books had been issued by the Office of Price Administration to conserve oil for the war effort. Most civilian automobiles carried “A” stickers – limiting them to four gallons of gas a week.

Higher priority stickers were issued to emergency vehicles. A national speed limit of 35 mph was also imposed to further constrain consumption. In addition to gasoline and fuel oil, wartime rationing included tires, food, clothing, shoes, and coffee.

August 16, 1861 – Oldest Producing Well

petroleum history August

Drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1861, the McClintock well today is pumped a few times a year to supply oil for souvenir bottles sold at the Drake Well Museum.

petroleum history August

Nearby is America’s first commercial oil well.

What will become the world’s oldest continuously producing oil well is completed in 1861 near Rouseville, Pennsylvania. The McClintock No. 1 well, reaching 620 feet deep into the Venango Third Sand, initially produces 50 barrels of oil a day. The well is 14 miles from Titusville, where America’s first commercial oil discovery was made in 1859. Read the rest of this entry »


August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography applied for First Time

petroleum history August 4

A sign and granite marker on I-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, commemorates the historic August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology.

petroleum history august

Scientists chose Oklahoma’s Arbuckle Mountains to test a new technology in 1921, seismic surveying, “because an entire geologic section from the Basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed.”

Thanks to pioneering research led by Dr. J.C. Karcher, an Oklahoma physicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section is measured near Ardmore in 1921.

“Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society of the geophysical method that records reflected seismic waves as they travel through the earth, helping to find oil-bearing formations.

“The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains the society. Read more in Exploring Seismic Waves. Read the rest of this entry »


August 2, 1938 – Selling Petroleum Bristles

petroleum history july 3

A 1938 Life magazine advertisement promotes nylon bristles.

Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, promotes its “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” – the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic nylon developed by DuPont chemists just three years earlier. Americans will soon be brushing their teeth with nylon bristle toothbrushes instead of hog bristles, declares the New York Times.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” notes a 1938 Weco Products advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with EXTON, a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”

Pricing its toothbrush at 50 cents, Weco Products guarantees “no bristle shedding.” Johnson & Johnson will introduce a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939. “Before this, the world relied on toothbrush bristles made from the neck hairs of wild pigs from Siberia, Poland and China,” notes the Royal Society of Chemistry. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

August 2. 1956 – First U.S. Interstate Highway Read the rest of this entry »


July 25, 1543 – First Report of Oil in New World

The first documented report of oil in the New World is made in 1543 west of the Sabine River in Texas when a storm forces ashore two boats of Spanish explorer Don Luis de Moscoso.

Moscoso had succeeded expedition leader Hernando de Soto, who died of fever after leading the first Europeans across the Mississippi River. Moscoso built seven brigs, sailed down the Mississippi and at the Gulf of Mexico, decided to sail west along the coast. A storm drove two of their brigs ashore and the others followed.

According to an account published in 1557, “the vessels came together in a creek where lay the two brigantines that preceded them, finding a scum the sea cast up, called copee, which is like pitch and used instead on shipping where that is not to be had, they paved the bottoms of their vessels with it.” Moscoso’s oil seep remained active as late as 1903. Learn more about natural oil seeps in Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”

July 27, 1918 – First Concrete Oil Tanker launched

petroleum history july 27

Rare image of the world’s first concrete oil tanker, the 98-foot-long “Socony” built for Standard Oil Company of New York.

America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, the Socony, is launched at its shipyard on Flushing Bay, New York, in 1918.

The reinforced concrete barge is 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam. Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the ship draws nine feet with a cargo of 370 tons. Read the rest of this entry »


July 19, 1957 – Oil discovered in Alaska Territory

Petroleum History July 13

Even the Anchorage Daily Times could not predict that oil production would someday account for more than 90 percent of Alaska’s general fund revenues.

The Alaska Territory’s first commercial oilfield is discovered in 1957 – two years before Alaska statehood.

Richfield Oil Company completes the discovery well Swanson River Unit No. 1 in the Cook Inlet Basin. The well yields 900 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 11,215 feet.

Richfield has leased more than 71,000 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now part of the 1.92 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

More Alaska discoveries follow and by June 1962 about 50 wells are producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day. Atlantic Richfield Company is better known today as ARCO. Read more about petroleum exploration in the 49th state in First Alaska Oil Well.

July 20, 1920 – Permian Basin revealed

The Permian Basin makes headlines in 1920 when a West Texas well finds oil about 2,750 feet deep. The W.H. Abrams No. 1 well is named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William Abrams, who owns the land and leases mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).

After “shooting” the well with nitroglycerine, a tall column of oil announces the discovery now known as West Columbia field. It is part of the Permian Basin, which proves to be 250 miles wide and 300 miles long with production ranging from depths from a few hundred feet to five miles. Read the rest of this entry »


July 11, 2008 – World Oil Price sets Historic High

petroleum history july 13

Although world crude oil prices tend to move together, variations in quality and location result in price differentials, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The price of oil reaches a record high of $147.27 a barrel, before dropping back to $145.08. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange had peaked at $145.29 a barrel eight days earlier.

As supply fears subside (despite speculation, concern about Iran, and demand from China and India competing for world oil supplies) oil prices fall to $36.51 a barrel on January 16, 2009. A 2016 survey of academic literature finds that “most major oil price fluctuations dating back to 1973 (the OPEC embargo) are largely explained by shifts in the demand for crude oil,” notes The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Read the rest of this entry »


July 4, 1906 – Louisiana conserves Natural Gas

Joining the growing number of U.S. states with producing oil and natural gas wells, Louisiana enacts conservation measures to prevent waste. The Louisiana State Legislature passes an act “to protect the natural gas fields of this state.”

The conservation law imposes penalties for “failure to cap out of control wells, doing injury to pipe lines, or wastefully burning natural gas from any well into the air.”

The measure is a result of lessons learned from Indiana and other early natural gas producing states. See Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

July 6, 1988 – North Sea Tragedy

petroleum history july 6

California-based Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha platform began operations in 1976.

An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea results in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the petroleum industry’s most deadly offshore disaster.

At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha – originally designed for oil production – was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. According to safety consultant Gary Karasek, “the initial explosion was caused by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve.” Read the rest of this entry »


June 28, 1967 – Hall of Petroleum opens in Washington, D.C.

petroleum history june

“Panorama of Petroleum” by Delbert Jackson, once greeted visitors to a Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. Today, the 13-foot by 56-foot mural is exhibited at Tulsa International Airport.

The Hall of Petroleum opens at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C. A vast number of exhibits feature exploration and production technology advancements up to 1967. Read the rest of this entry »


June 20, 1977 –  Oil flows in Trans-Alaska Pipeline

june 15 petoleum history

Construction of the 800-mile Alaskan pipeline began in March 1975.

After three years of construction, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline begins carrying oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez at Prince William Sound.

The oil arrives 38 days later, culminating the world’s largest privately funded construction project at the time. The 48-inch-diameter pipeline costs $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations. Its annual flow will account for about 20 percent of U.S. oil production. Tax revenues will earn Alaska $50 billion by 2002.

Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes. Anchor structures hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.” Read the rest of this entry »


June 13, 1917 –  Phillips Petroleum Company founded in Oklahoma

June 8 petroleum history

Brothers L.E. Phillips (left) and Frank Phillips established Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville in 1917. Photo courtesy ConocoPhillips.

Phillips Petroleum Company is founded in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, during the early months of America’s entry into World War I – when the price of oil climbs above $1 per barrel.

Brothers Frank and L. E. (Lee Eldas) Phillips consolidate their companies and begin operating with 27 employees, leases throughout Oklahoma and Kansas, and assets of $3 million. Assets grow to $103 million by 1924.

By 1927 Phillips Petroleum begins selling gasoline in Wichita, Kansas, the first of more than 10,000 service stations across the country. Read the rest of this entry »


June 6, 1944 – Secret Operations fuel WWII Victory

petroleum history june 6

Operation PLUTO’s spooled tubing will cross the English Channel to fuel Allied victory in WWII.

The D-Day invasion begins along 50 miles of fortified French coastline in Normandy. The logistics of supplying the beaches include two top-secret engineering triumphs: construction of artificial harbors followed by the laying pipelines across the English Channel.

Codenamed Mulberrys and using a design similar to today’s jack-up offshore rigs, the artificial harbors use barges with four retractable pylons to provide platforms to support floating causeways that extend to the beaches.

To fuel the advance into Nazi Germany, Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) will engineer pipelines wound onto giant floating “conundrums” designed to spool off when towed. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower acknowledges the significance of this oil pipeline engineering feat when he says, “Second in daring only to the Mulberry Harbours, was PLUTO.” Read more in PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II.

June 6, 1967 – First Oil Embargo attempt Read the rest of this entry »


May 30, 1911 – First  Indianapolis 500

petroleum history may 30

Although the 100-horsepower American Locomotive Company auto (19) won the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island in 1909 and 1910, it finished 33rd at the first Indy 500. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

petroleum history may 30

All of the cars except the winner had a mechanic to manually pump oil. More than 60,000 watched the first race.

The first Indianapolis 500 begins with a 40-car field; only a dozen will finish the 1911 test of endurance and automotive technology. The winner averages almost 75 mph. The race lasts about seven hours.

All the cars – except the No. 32 Marmon Wasp – have two seats. Drivers travel with “riding mechanics,” who manually pump oil. Read the rest of this entry »

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