This Week in Petroleum History, April 10 to 16
April 10, 1866 – Densmore Oil Tank Cars
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.
April 13, 1974 – Oklahoma Well sets World Depth Record
After 504 days and about $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reached a total depth of 31,441 feet before being stopped by liquid sulfur. Drilled in the heart of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, it was the deepest well in world for several years and the deepest in the United States for three decades until finally exceeded in 2004.
Robert Hefner III’s GHK Company and partner Lone Star Producing Company believed natural gas reserves resided deep in the basin, which extends across West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Their first attempt began in 1967 and took two years to reach what at the time is a record depth, 24,473 feet.
The pioneering well found plenty of natural gas, according to historian Robert Dorman, but because of government price controls, “the sale of the gas could not cover the high cost of drilling so deeply – $6.5 million, as opposed to a few hundred thousand dollars for a conventional well.”
The Bertha Rogers No. 1 began drilling in November 1972, averaging about 60 feet per day. By April 1974, the bottom hole pressure and temperature reached almost 25,000 pounds per square inch and 475 degrees. It took eight hours for bottom hole cuttings to reach the surface almost six miles above.
Although no natural gas was produced at the record depth, Bertha Rogers was competed as a natural gas discovery at 13,000 feet. The 1.3 million pounds of casing was the heaviest ever handled by any drilling rig. The Bertha Rogers well led to deeper drilling technologies and the “deep gas plays” of the 1990s. Learn more in Anadarko Basin in Depth.
April 14, 1865 – Dramatic Oil Company’s failed Oilman turns Assassin
After failing to make his fortune in Pennsylvania oilfields, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Just one year earlier Booth had left his acting career to drill an oil well in booming Venango County. He and his friends formed the “Dramatic Oil Company.”
In January 1864, Booth made the first of several trips to Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he leased land on a farm along the Allegheny River. Although the Dramatic Oil Company’s well produced about 25 barrels of oil a day, Booth wanted more and tried “shooting” the well to increase production. When the well was ruined, he left the Pennsylvania oil region in July 1864. Learn more in Dramatic Oil Company.
April 15, 1897 – Birth of the Oklahoma Petroleum Industry
A large crowd gathered at the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well near Bartlesville, in the Indian Territory that will become Oklahoma. Drilling began in January 1897, the same month that Bartlesville was incorporated with a population of about 200 people. Four months later, at 1,320 feet, the Nellie Johnstone No.1 well (named for partner William Johnstone’s six year-old daughter), showed signs of oil.
On April 15, 1897, George Keeler’s stepdaughter dropped a “go devil” down the well bore to set off a waiting canister of nitroglycerin – producing a gusher that heralded the start of Oklahoma’s oil industry. As the discovery well for the giant Bartlesville-Dewey Field, Nellie Johnstone No.1 ushered in the oil era for Oklahoma Territory. By the time of statehood in 1907, Oklahoma led the world in oil production.
In the 10 years following the discovery, Bartlesville’s population grew to over 4,000 while Oklahoma’s annual oil production reached more than 43 million barrels. Today, a replica 84-foot wooden derrick and a nearby education center help tell the story in Discovery 1 Park, the land donated by the well’s namesake, Nellie Johnstone Cannon, a descendant of a Delaware Chief. Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.
April 16, 1855 – Valuable Rock Oil
Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman Jr. reported Pennsylvania “rock oil” could be distilled into a high-quality illuminating oil. The professor’s “Report on Rock Oil or Petroleum” convinced a group of New Haven, Connecticut, investors to finance Edwin Drake to drill for oil in northwestern Pennsylvania.
“Gentlemen,” Silliman wrote, “it appears to me that there is much ground for encouragement in the belief that your company have in their possession a raw material from which, by simple and not expensive processes, they may manufacture very valuable products.”
Silliman’s conclusion that kerosene could be distilled from oil as readily as coal led to the first U.S. commercial oil discovery at Titusville four years later. Learn more in First American Oil Well.
April 16, 1920 – First Arkansas Oil Well
Col. Samuel S. Hunter of the Hunter Oil Company of Shreveport, Louisiana, completed the first oil well in Arkansas. His Hunter No. 1 well (also known as the Lester-Hamilton No. 1 after owners of the lease) had been drilled to 2,121 feet.
Although the well yielded only small quantities of oil in Ouachita County, the discovery was followed by a January 1921 oil gusher – the S.T. Busey well – in the same field. These wells marked the beginning of oil production in Arkansas and launched the state’s petroleum industry.
Col. Hunter later sold his original lease of 20,000 acres, including the non-commercial discovery well, to Standard Oil Company of Louisiana for more than $2.2 million. Learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells.
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