This Week in Petroleum History, August 22 to 28
August 24, 1892 – Gladys City Oil Company founded by “Prophet of Spindletop”
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.
August 24, 1923 – University of Texas receives Royalty Check
The University of Texas receives the first oil royalty payment ($516.53) three months after the Santa Rita No. 1 well discovers an oilfield on university-owned land in the Permian Basin.
After 21 months of difficult drilling, the Texon Oil and Land Company’s well had revealed the 4.5-square-mile Big Lake field. Within three years of the discovery, petroleum royalties endow the university with $4 million.
In 1958, the university moves the Santa Rita well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. A student newspaper describes the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”
August 24, 1937 – Music Mountain Oil Discovery
No one has expected it, not even the Niagara Oil Company that drilled it, notes the Bradford Landmark Society about a 1937 gusher near Bradford, Pennsylvania, McKean County.
For the first time since oil strikes in the early days of the great Bradford field 70 years earlier, an exploratory well on Music Mountain erupts and reveals a new oilfield. The discovery is made at a depth of 1,630 feet with a cable-tool rig, deeper than earlier wells.
The producing formation lies beneath the older, highly prolific Bradford sands first discovered in the 1860s. The Pennsylvania region’s high-paraffin oil is still considered one of the highest grade natural lubricants in the world.
August 27, 1859 – U.S. Petroleum Industry begins
The modern American petroleum industry is born August 27, 1859, in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
The Seneca Oil Company’s highly speculative pursuit of oil is rewarded when Edwin L. Drake and his driller William Smith, a blacksmith, bring in America’s first commercial oil well at 69.5 feet near Oil Creek in Venango County. It produces 25 barrels a day.
Northwestern Pennsylvania in the 1850s is considered a wilderness by most Americans. When a group of New Haven, Connecticut, investors look for someone to drill in an area known for oil seeps, they turn to a former railroad conductor who has traveled there. It helps that Drake is allowed free passage on trains.
Although earlier “spring pole” and cable-tool drillers of brine wells have found small amounts of oil – an unwanted byproduct – Drake specifically drills for it. His investors want to refine the oil into a highly demanded new product, kerosene.
Drilling at Oil Creek, Drake pioneers new drilling technologies, including a method of driving an iron pipe down to protect the bore’s integrity. But after five months of financial setbacks and drilling problems, the locals begin calling the attempt “Drake’s Folly.” To improve his reputation, Connecticut investors address their letters to “Colonel” Edwin Drake.
On a hot summer day in 1859, Edwin Drake’s driller “Uncle Billy” Smith notices oil floating at the top of the pipe. The bit has reached what will become known as the First Venango Sand. To begin pumping the oil, Drake borrows a kitchen water pump.
August 27, 1959 – Stamp celebrates Petroleum Centennial
“No official act could give me greater pleasure than to dedicate this stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the petroleum industry,” declares the keynote speaker in 1959.
U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield addresses a large crowd gathered for “Oil Centennial Day” in Titusville, Pennsylvania.During his introduction of the new four-cent commemorative postage stamp, he describes the vital role of petroleum in war and peace.
“”The American people have great reason to be indebted to this industry,” Summerfield proclaims. “It has supplied most of the power that has made the American standard of living possible.”
Fifty years later, the Postal Service Stamp Advisory Committee in 2009 rejected a stamp recognizing the 150th anniversary of the U.S. petroleum industry. At the same time it granted commemorative stamps for Kermit the Frog and nine Muppets. Learn more in the Centennial Oil Stamp Issue.
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