This Week Dec. 24 to Dec. 30
December 26, 1905 – Nellie Bly patents the 55-Gallon Drum
Nellie Bly – well known in her day as a journalist for the New York World newspaper – is issued a U.S. patent for the “metal barrel” that will become today’s 55-gallon steel drum.
Patent No. 808,327 is assigned to Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, better known as Nellie Bly, the most famous woman journalist of her day – who is also president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.
Bly’s company, which produces milk cans, boilers, enamel ware, and dozens of other steel products, will manufacture early versions of the “metal barrel” that becomes the now ubiquitous 55-gallon steel drum.
After marrying wealthy industrialist Robert Seaman in 1894, Bly’s invention begins with a 1904 visit to Europe, where she first sees glycerin containers made of steel. Read more in “The Remarkable Nellie Bly.”
“I determined to make steel containers for the American trade,” she recalls. “My first experiment leaked and the second was defective because the solder gave way, and then I brazed them with the result that the liquid inside was ruined by the brazing metal.”
Bly perfected her technique. “I finally worked out the steel package to perfection, patented the design, put it on the market and taught the American public to use the steel barrel,” she explains.
Soon she would proudly claim, “I am the only manufacturer in the country who can produce a certain type of steel barrel for which there is an immense demand at present, for the transportation of oil, gasoline, and other liquids.”
To learn more petroleum history, see “History of the 42-Gallon Oil Barrel.”
December 28, 1930 – Second Well finds East Texas Oil Field
Following the discovery of oil in East Texas on October 3, 1930, J. Malcolm Crim of Kilgore believes there is more oil to be found.
Crim ignores geologists who claim the Kilgore area is barren. By October 17 drilling had begins on land belonging to his mother, Lou Della. The well comes in on December 28 and is named Lou Della Crim No. 1.
“The drought-stricken soil grew a few vegetables for families to eat but little else. He paid no attention to the seventeen wells that tempted East Texas before coming up dry,” notes writer Caleb Pirtle III. “The drilling crew called them dusters. Crim merely wrote it off to bad luck.”
His discovery causes the population of Kilgore to boom from 700 to 10,000 in three days and, ultimately, prove that the East Texas oil field is a major one, covering over 480 square miles. Lou Della Crim No. 1 initially produces 20,000 barrels per day. It is plugged in 1961.
Read more in “H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oil Field.”
December 30, 1854 – America’s First Oil Company incorporated
America’s first oil company – the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York – incorporates in Albany. The U.S. petroleum industry is launched when oil is struck five years later in Pennsylvania.
George Bissell, Jonathan Eveleth and five other trustees incorporate the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York, capitalized at $250,000.
This is America’s first oil company and is formed “to raise, manufacture, procure and sell Rock Oil.” The oil will come from the 105-acre Hibbard Farm in Cherrytree Township, Venango County, Pennsylvania.
Struggling to attract wealthy New Haven investors, the company reorganizes on September 18, 1855, under Connecticut corporate law, which protects shareholders’ property from company debts. The Wall Street Panic of 1857 renders control of the company to New Haven financier Robert Townsend.
Townsend hires acquaintance Edwin Drake to manage the drilling on a Hibbard Farm lease. With lease in hand, Townsend incorporates the Seneca Oil Company in March 1858 and on August 27, 1859, Drake’s successful oil well launches the American petroleum industry.
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