This Week in Petroleum History, August 1 – August 7
August 2, 1938 – Selling Petroleum 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
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.” It 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 has agreed to work on U.S. Route 66 – now Interstate 44. “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,” proclaim the state’s leaders. Read more in America on the Move.
August 3, 1769 – Rancho La Brea Asphalt Pits discovered
The La Brea – “the tar” – pits are discovered during a 1768 Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “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 have used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes.
Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the pools at Rancho La Brea are actually asphalt – not tar. The nearby Page Museum explains tar is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as peat, while asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules – petroleum. Learn more about California oil seeps in Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits. For a history of the asphalt, see Asphalt Paves the Way.
August 3, 1942 – War brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines
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. The Trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long. Read Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.
August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”
The Crystal Oil Company completes its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. With an initial flow of up to 100 barrels of oil per day, the well reveals the Healdton field. In 1929, independent oilman Wirt Franklin will become the first president of the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).
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 area attracts independent producers with limited financial backing to compete with the larger oil companies. By June 1914, about 90 percent of Healdton oilfield leases are held by independent producers. Among those establishing a financial base at Healdton are Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner and former Oklahoma governor Charles Haskell. Erle Halliburton will perfect his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.
August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires Alley Oop Comic Strip
Although the comic strip Alley Oop first appears on August 7, 1933, the caveman can trace his roots to the Permian Basin and a 1926 oil discovery. The West Texas oil town of Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) proclaims itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin.
Iraan first appeared as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combines names of the town-site owners, Ira and Ann Yates. As the Permian Basin boomed, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology. Read Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.
August 7, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter
Famed oilfield well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair dies at age 89 in Houston. The son of a blacksmith, Adair was born in 1915 in Houston. He served with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II before working for Myron Kinley, an oilfield firefighting pioneer from California.
Adair, who founded the Red Adair Company in 1959, pioneered many new technologies for “wild well” control. Over the years his company gained control of about 2,000 dangerous well fires and blowouts – onshore and offshore – all over the world. His skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film Hellfighters, were tested in 1991 when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.
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