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.

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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.

August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oil Fortunes of Luling, Texas

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The Central Oil Patch Museum of Luling, Texas, is a restored 1885 mercantile store near an oilfield a renowned psychic supposedly helped locate in 1922.

After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, Texas, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company brings in the Rafael Rios No. 1 well.

The August 1922 discovery reveals an oilfield that is 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years the field has almost 400 producing wells annually yielding 11 million barrels of oil.

Local lore proclaims that Edgar B. Davis, president of the exploration company, found the oil after consulting  a famous psychic.

The oil patch “reading” came from a then nationally known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.

Davis will sell his leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Cayce will claim success helping other wildcatters – but leaves the oil patch for good after forming his own company and drilling dry holes.

Luling today hosts an annual “Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off” and has “the best ribs in the country,” according to Reader’s Digest. Read more in Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.

August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Drill Bit

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Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, receives a patent in 1909 for a drill that “relates to boring drills, and particularly to roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”

“Fishtail” drill bits become obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patents the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit will lead to faster and deeper rotary drilling.

Historians note that several men are trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it is Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who make it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 bit patent, they establish the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.

“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” notes the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which on August 10, 2009, designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

“By chipping, crushing, and powdering hardrock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME adds. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.”

Hughes engineers will invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933. Frank and George Christensen will develop the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth comes into use in the early 1950s. Read Making Hole – Drilling Technology. 

August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oilmen organize

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Kentucky salt-well drillers found oil in 1829 – long before the 1919 oil well that launched a true oil boom.

Eastern Kentucky independent producers join the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association in Frankfort, where articles of incorporation are amended to create a state-wide organization – today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association.

A 1919 oil discovery near Pellville in Hancock County had touched off an oil boom in western Kentucky. Some historians credit the state with the first U.S. commercial oil well. See Kentucky’s Great American Well of 1829.

August 13, 1962 – Norman Rockwell illustrates Oil and Gas Journal 

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A Norman Rockwell illustration advertised a leading industry magazine.

petroleum history August

Norman Rockwell’s art commemorated the 1959 centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry.

The Oil and Gas Journal promotes itself with an illustration from artist Norman Rockwell captioned, “Where Oil Men Invest Their Valuable Reading Time.” For decades Rockwell’s renditions of American life and family brought him widespread popularity through magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

In addition to the illustrations for advertisements in the Oil and Gas Journal, in 1959 Rockwell provides artwork to the American Petroleum Institute, which sponsors a U.S. Postal Service first day of issue to commemorate the centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry. See Centennial Oil Stamp Issue.

Rockwell’s illustration includes the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.” His drawing depicts “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” notes a collector. Learn about another oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman.


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 to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.