This Week July 30 to August 5
August 1, 1872 – First Pennsylvania Natural Gas Pipeline
The first recorded large-scale delivery of natural gas by pipeline begins when gas is delivered to Titusville, Pennsylvania, through a two-inch wrought iron pipeline from a well five miles to the northeast. The well’s high production — four million cubic feet of natural gas a day – is the largest in the oil region.
The mayor of Titusville and the Keystone Gas & Water Company constructed the pipeline to deliver “the most powerful and voluminous gas well on record” to more than 250 residential and commercial customers in Titusville. A second 3.25-inch diameter pipe is soon added. The well produces into the 1880s.
Once an underestimated byproduct of the new petroleum industry, practical uses of natural gas will be introduced by George Westinghouse for the Pittsburgh steel and glass industries, notes David Waples, author of The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia. Learn more Pennsylvania petroleum history at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
August 2, 1938 – Petroleum Product debuts in Toothbrushes
Americans will soon brush their teeth with a nylon-bristle toothbrush — instead of hog bristles, declares a New York Times article.
The Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, begins promoting its “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft,” the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic DuPont nylon bristles. This is the first commercial use of the revolutionary petroleum product — nylon, which is a silky synthetic polymer (a plastic). Women’s stockings will soon follow.
“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” notes a 1938 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, the Weco Products Company guarantees “no bristle shedding.” Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, New Jersey, will introduce a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939.
August 2. 1956 – Missouri begins First U.S. Interstate Highway
Missouri becomes the first state to award a contract with interstate construction funding authorized two months earlier by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Missouri highway commission signs the contract for work on the already historic Route 66.
The Highway-Aid Act provides 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways” — the need to flee cities in the event of a nuclear attack.
The Highway-Aid Act makes it possible for states to afford construction of the network of national limited-access highways, which will eventually reach more than 40,000 miles.
Missouri is the first state to award a contract with the new interstate construction funds, “inking a deal for work on U.S. Route 66 – now Interstate 44 – in Laclede County,” notes the Missouri Department of Transportation. “There is no question that the creation of the interstate highway system has been the most significant development in the history of transportation in the United States.”
Read more in “America on the Move.”
August 3, 1769 – The Petroleum Discovery at Rancho La Brea
The La Brea “tar pits” are discovered during a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portola. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” notes the expedition’s Franciscan friar in his diary.
The friar, Juan Crespi, is the first person to use the term bitumen in describing these sticky pools in southern California – where crude oil has been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years.
Native Americans had used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes when, in 1828, Antonio de Rocha established Rancho La Brea via a land grant by the Mexican government.
Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the thick liquid that bubbles out of the ground at Rancho La Brea is actually asphalt – not tar. Located at the site, exhibits at the Page Museum explain that tar is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as coal or peat, while asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules – petroleum.
“Asphalt is a superb preservative; small and delicate fossils, such as hollow bird bones or paper-thin exoskeletons of beetles are very well-preserved here,” observes the museum. “As a result, our collection of fossil birds is one of the world’s largest.”
Learn more about the history of oil seeps at Rancho La Brea in “Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits.”
For a brief history of the asphalt on America’s roads, see “Asphalt Paves the Way.”
August 3, 1942 – War brings Historic Pipeline effort
War Emergency Pipelines, Inc., begins construction on the “Big Inch” line – the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken in the United States.
Conceived to supply wartime fuel demands – and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” lines are extolled as “The most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.”
With a goal of transporting 300,000 barrels of oil per day, the $95 million project calls for construction of a 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line (Little Big Inch) as far as New York and Philadelphia – more than 1,200 miles. Ceremonies mark the final weld on the Big Inch in July 1943, just 350 days after construction began. More than 185 million barrels of oil are pumped through the two pipelines in the first year alone.
After the war, the “Inch Lines” will become war surplus property. Sold to the Texas Eastern Transmission Corp. in 1947, both pipelines are later adapted for natural gas transmission. Visit the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore.
August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”
The Crystal Oil Company brings in the Wirt Franklin No. 1 well about 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. With an initial flow of up to 100 barrels oil per day, it is the discovery well for the Healdton oilfield.
The opening of the Healdton oilfield sets in motion one of Oklahoma’s greatest oil booms. Wirt Franklin will become the first president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 1929.
Throughout its development, Healdton is known as a “poor man’s field” – because of its relatively shallow depth and consequent low cost of drilling operations. The field attracts independent oilmen with limited financial backing to compete with the larger oil companies.
By June of 1914, 90 percent of Healdton oilfield leases are held by independents (of 120 companies operating in the field, only three are major companies). By the end of the year, 255 wells are producing 65,000 barrels per day. The low cost of drilling in the Healdton field will attract a large number of Oklahoma oil and natural gas producers.
Among oilmen establishing a financial base at Healdton are Lloyd Noble, Robert A. Hefner and former Oklahoma governor Charles N. Haskell. Also in the Healdton field: Erle Halliburton, who will perfect his method of oil well cementing. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.