This Week in Petroleum History – January 14 to January 20
January 14, 1928 – Future Dr. Seuss begins Career at Standard Oil
New York City’s Judge magazine includes its first cartoon drawn by Theodore Seuss Geisel – who will develop his skills as “Dr. Seuss” while working for Standard Oil Company.
In the 1928 cartoon that launches his career, Geisel draws a peculiar dragon trying to dodge Flit, a popular bug spray of the day.
“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” will become a common catchphrase.
Flit is one of Standard Oil of New Jersey’s many consumer products derived from petroleum. For years to follow, Geisel’s fanciful menagerie will populate Standard advertisements.
Throughout the hard years of the Great Depression, advertising campaigns for Esso gasolines, lubricating oil, and “Essomarine Oil and Greases,” provided steady income to Geisel and his wife.
“It wasn’t the greatest pay, but it covered my overhead so I could experiment with my drawings,” he said later.
Geisel will acknowledge that his experience working at Standard Oil, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.” The former Standard Oil advertising illustrator – who publishes How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1957 – will write more than 50 children’s books over a half-century career.
Read more in “Seuss I am, an Oilman.”
January 17, 1911 – North Texas Discovery will lead to Boom
The Electra oil field is revealed in Texas with the first commercial oil discovery in Wichita County.
The Producers Oil Company well Waggoner No. 5 comes in at 50 barrels per day from a depth of 1,825 feet on land owned by rancher William T. Waggoner, who had previously found traces of oil while drilling for water.
“At first, there weren’t any cars, and about the only thing oil was good for was to help repel chicken house mites,” notes a Wichita County historian.
Although a small producer, the discovery brings new drilling. A gusher three months later will send Electra’s fortunes skyward. The Clayco No. 1 well erupts on April 1. The Electra field is soon producing 6,000 barrels of oil a day. Learn more North Texas history in the “Felty Outdoor Oil Museum.”
January 19, 1922 – Geological Survey predicts End of Oil
The U.S. Geological Survey predicts America’s oil supply will run out in 20 years. Warnings of oil shortages have been made for most of the 20th century, according to geologist and geophysicist David Deming of the University of Oklahoma.
In a January 2000 research paper, Deming cites a 1950 monograph, “A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scare” that includes six USGS claims prior to 1950:
“The Model T Scare of 1916; the Gasless Sunday Scare of 1918; the John Bull Scare of 1920-1923; the Ickes Petroleum Reserves Scare of 1943-1944; the Cold War Scare of 1946-1947; and the second Cold Winter Scare of 1947-1948.”
January 19, 1965 – Inventor patents “Underwater Manipulator”
Howard L. Shatto Jr. patents an “underwater manipulator with suction support device” – precursor to today’s modern remotely operated underwater vehicles.
Shatto and others help make Shell Oil Company an early leader in offshore oilfield development thanks to new technologies.
Their early underwater robot technology can trace its roots to the late 1950s, when Hughes Aircraft Company developed a Manipulator Operated Robot – MOBOT – for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Working on land, the robot performed in environments too radioactive for humans.
Beginning in 1960, Shell began transforming the landlocked MOBOT into a marine robot – “basically a swimming socket wrench,” according to one engineer.
In his 1965 patent – one of many he will receive – Shatto explained how his underwater device particularly relates to the offshore petroleum industry.
“A recent development at offshore locations is the installation of large amount of underwater equipment used in producing oil fields and gas fields situated many miles from shore,” he says. “Many of the wells are being drilled in water up to 600 feet deep, a depth greater than divers can safely work.”
Shatto is inducted into the Houston-based Offshore Energy Center’s Industry Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2000. Learn more in “ROVs – Swimming Socket Wrenches.”
January 20, 1886 – Ohio’s Great Natural Gas Well
The spectacular natural gas well – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio – comes in with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet per day.
The well’s pressure is so great that it cannot be controlled by the technology of the time. The gas will ignite and the flame becomes an Ohio tourist attraction that burns for four months.
Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay two years earlier by the Findlay Natural Gas Company, formed by Dr. Charles Oesterle.
However, the Karg well, then the largest in the world, launches the state’s first major natural gas boom – and brings many new industries.
Glass companies especially are “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” notes an historical marker at the Richardson Glass Works in Finlay. “They included eight window, two bottle, two chimney lamp, one light bulb, one novelty, and five tableware glass factories.”
By 1887, Findlay will become known as the “City of Light,” adds another nearby historical marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company – established the same year by five independent oil producers.
After becoming an international exploration and production company, in 1962 Ohio Oil Company will change its name to today’s Marathon Oil Company.
The Hancock Historical Museum of Findlay includes natural gas exhibits from the region and is less than two miles from the site of the famous well. Also learn how natural gas discoveries bring industries to neighboring Indiana in “Indiana Natural Gas Boom.”
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.