This Week July 2 to July 9
July 2, 1910 – President Taft establishes Naval Petroleum Reserves
As the U.S. Navy rapidly converts from coal to oil-burning ships, President William Howard Taft establishes three Naval Petroleum Reserves.
National security concerns about an assured oil supply in the event of war or a national emergency resulted in the Pickett Act of 1910, which authorizes the president to withdraw large areas of potential oil-bearing lands in California and Wyoming as sources of fuel for the Navy.
Within 15 years, the properties that make up the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves include the three Naval Petroleum Reserves and three Naval Oil Shale Reserves. A Naval Petroleum Reserve Number Four, on the north slope of Alaska, is added in 1923.
“As not only the largest owner of oil lands, but as a prospective large consumer of oil by reason of the increasing use of fuel oil by the Navy, the federal government is directly concerned both in encouraging rational development and at the same time insuring the longest possible life to the oil supply.” - Message to Congress by President Taft
Commissioned in December 1923, the U.S.S. West Virginia will be one of the first oil-burning ships – as oil replaces coal as a vital military resource. The U.S.S. Texas is the last American battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers.
Sailors shoveled more than 124,000 cubic feet of coal – 2,891 tons – to fill the battleship”s massive bunkers.
By 1927 the Texas has been converted to burn fuel oil and serves throughout World War II. Read “Petroleum and Sea Power” and visit Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves — 90 Years of Ensuring National Security.
July 2, 1913 – Beginning of the End for Steam Locomotives
While most locomotives are still steam-powered, General Electric lays claim to producing the first commercially successful internal combustion engine locomotive in the United States.
The “Dan Patch” Electric Line of Minnesota purchases the “boxcab” Locomotive Number 100 for $34,500. Two Model GM-16C4, 175-horsepower V-8 gasoline engines drive two 600-volt, direct current generators to propel the 57-ton locomotive to a top speed of 51 miles per hour.
The engine-generator sets operate in parallel and No. 100 (named Dan Patch in honor of a famed racehorse) rides on a “B-B” configuration — four axles, two trucks with each truck having two powered axles. In 1918, the Dan Patch is converted to streetcar operations by removal of its novel General Electric gas-electric system.
After a long career and many modifications, the Minnesota Transportation Museum restored this historic locomotive to operating condition. Today, the Dan Patch is on display at the museum’s Jackson Street Roundhouse. Some historians dispute General Electric’s claim, asserting that a 30-inch gauge, 22 ton diesel-electric built in late 1912 was actually the first gas-electric locomotive.
July 4, 1906 – Louisiana conserves Natural Gas
Louisiana enacts conservation measures to prevent waste. The Louisiana State Legislature passes an act “to protect the natural gas fields of this state.”
The conservation law imposes penalties for “failure to cap out of control wells, doing injury to pipe lines, or wastefully burning natural gas from any well into the air.” It empowers the governor to use the state board of engineers to shut down offending wells at the owner’s expense.
The conservation measure is a result of lessons learned from Indiana and other early natural gas producing states. See “Indiana Natural Gas Boom.”
July 6, 1988 — Offshore North Sea disaster
Occidental Petroleum Corporation’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea is destroyed “when an out of service gas condensate pump is started with its pressure safety valve removed.
The subsequent gas leak, explosion and fire results in the deaths of 167 workers.” It remains the world’s most deadly offshore disaster. Offshore platform emergency evacuation technologies and new safety procedures emerge following the accident.
July 8, 1937 – Gulf of Mexico Drilling Pier
President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War approves an ambitious plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil.
War Secretary Harry Hines Woodring approves an application to drill near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company. The 60-acre lease is about eight miles east of Galveston County’s High Island. Humble Oil builds the pier into the Gulf and erects three drilling rigs (above what geologist describe as a shallow salt dome).
All three wells are dry holes and a hurricane destroys the pier and rigs in 1938. Visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center on Galveston Island
July 9, 1815 – Early Natural Gas Discovery
Natural gas is discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815).
The site is near where George Washington noted “burning springs” along the Kanawha River in his 1775 diary. Washington was awarded tracts of the land in Wirt County, which in the 1860s would experience one of America’s earliest oil booms.
Visit the Oil & Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The first commercial discovery of natural gas will be in 1821 in Fredonia, New York.
July 9, 1883 – Oil in the Land of Oz
The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offers lubricants, oils, greases - and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”
L. Frank Baum – whose father has found great success in early Pennsylvania oilfields – serves as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which is still in operation. Reporting on the opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper notes that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”
Baum sold the business and in May 1900, published his children’s classic. His connection to the oil and natural gas industry began earlier.
Forty years earlier, just one year after America’s first commercial oil discovery, his father Benjamin Ward Baum closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the western Pennsylvania oilfields. Productive oil wells drilled near Titusville and Cherry Tree Run will bring him great wealth.
Just two years later, the elder Baum owns Carbon Oil Company – and is a well-established oilman. His success helped finance diversification into dry goods and other mercantile businesses. Son Frank found employment in several of these family ventures as a young man. When his father purchased the Cynthia Oil Works in Bolivar, New York, Frank operated a retail outlet for awhile. Visit the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar.
In 1887, after almost 30 years in the oil business, Benjamin Ward Baum died in New York. It would be 13 years before his son would publish The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Oz historian Evan L. Schwartz was surprised to learn of the role that petroleum in Baum’s life – and that the Tin Man’s oil can trace its roots to Baum’s Castorine.
“So I visited the current location in Rome, New York, and sat down for a peek into the archives with owner Charles Mowry, whose grandfather was one of the investors who bought the company from Frank Baum himself,” Schwartz explains. “The smells of fine lubricant wafted in the air as I perused the collection of historic oil cans and heard the legend of Baum’s magic balms.”
He concludes: “What if Frank had never sold oil cans? Would we have never met the heartless Tin Man? And in 1939, why wasn’t Baum’s Castorine given the chance to pony up for some choice product placement?”
Read more in “Oil in the Land of Oz.”
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