This Week in Petroleum History, June 13 – 19
June 13, 1917 – Phillips Petroleum Company founded in Oklahoma
Phillips Petroleum Company is founded in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, during the early months of America’s entry into World War I – when the price of oil climbs above $1 per barrel.
Brothers Frank and L. E. (Lee Eldas) Phillips consolidate their companies and begin operating with 27 employees, leases throughout Oklahoma and Kansas, and assets of $3 million. Assets grow to $103 million by 1924.
By 1927 Phillips Petroleum begins selling gasoline in Wichita, Kansas, the first of more than 10,000 service stations across the country.
In coming years the company makes a series of discoveries – and advances in petrochemicals. Phillips chemists are granted thousands of U.S. patents, including one in 1954 for Marlex, a high-density polyethylene.
Wham-O toy company is the first to buy the new plastic (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Phillips’ high-octane aviation fuel will play a key role in World War II as Phillips 66 gasoline becomes a popular advertising brand (see Flight of the Woolaroc.).
Phillips Petroleum merges with Conoco in 2002 to become ConocoPhillips. In May 2007, as part of statehood centennial celebrations, a Phillips Petroleum Company Museum opens in Bartlesville. See Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.
June 13, 1928 – Giant Oilfield found in New Mexico
The New Mexico petroleum industry is launched with the discovery of the Hobbs oilfield near the southeastern corner of the state. Drilling of the Midwest State No. 1 well – which began in late 1927 with a cable-tool rig – finds oil for the Midwest Refining Company.
The well reveals the giant Hobbs petroleum field, later cited by the New Mexico Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources as “the most important single discovery of oil in New Mexico’s history.”
Drilling took time. Disaster struck at 1,500 feet when an engine house fire consumed the wooden derrick.
“Men with less vision would have given up, but not the drillers of Midwest,” notes Paige W. Christiansen in The Story of Oil in New Mexico.
Production from the Hobbs oil field draws crowds of investors, quickly transforming Hobbs from “sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits” to the fastest growing town in the United States. Read more in New Mexico Oil Discovery.
June 14, 1865 – First Edition of Pennsylvania Oil Region Newspaper
Pennsylvania’s oil region gets its first daily newspaper when William and Henry Bloss publish the their four-page broadsheet, the Titusville Morning Herald. Initial circulation is 300.
A story in the first edition includes a brief report about a failed oilman:
John Wilkes Booth purchased one-thirteenth interest in the territory in August 1864. We are credibly informed that this Homestead well in which Booth was interested was destroyed by fire on the day he assassinated President Lincoln.
The Titusville Herald remains in publication with daily circulation of more than 4,000. Read more of Booth’s failed oil patch career in Dramatic Oil Company.
June 15, 1954 – Mr. Charlie launched
The offshore barge drilling platform, Mr. Charlie leaves its shipyard in 1954 and goes to work for Shell Oil Company in a new oilfield in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Alden “Doc” LaBorde, a marine superintendent for Kerr-McGee in Morgan City, Louisiana, originally proposed building this first moveable, submersible drilling barge.
Despite Kerr-McGee being a leader in post- World War II offshore technology, including drilling the first oil well out of sight of land, the company decided against LaBorde’s idea. Fortunately, he found support from veteran oilman Charles H. Murphy Jr., who backed the project, which is soon named after Charles Murphy, Sr.
LaBorde formed the Ocean Drilling & Exploration Company and contracted with J. Ray McDermott Company to build Mr. Charlie. A 220 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 14 feet deep barge supports the drilling platform. The platform is 60 feet above the barge.
Mr. Charlie is the first mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) and a springboard for new offshore technologies for deeper wells. Described as an “independent island” and nearly totally self-sufficient with a crew of up to 58, Mr. Charlie drills hundreds of Gulf of Mexico wells for next 32 years before retiring in 1986.
Today, Mr. Charlie continues to serve the petroleum industry as a museum and training platform at the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition in Morgan City, Louisiana.
June 18, 1889 – Birth of Standard Oil Company of Indiana
The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey incorporates a new subsidiary in Indiana in 1889. Standard Oil of Indiana will process oil at a growing refinery at Whiting, Indiana, southeast of Chicago.
By the mid-1890s, the Whiting refinery is the largest in the United States. It begins by producing axle grease for industrial machinery, paraffin wax for candles, and kerosene for home lighting. When John D. Rockefeller is forced to break up his oil holdings in 1911, Standard Oil of Indiana emerges as an independent company. Its Amoco service stations begin opening in the 1950s.
Amoco merges with British Petroleum (BP) in 1998 – the largest foreign takeover of an American company up to that time. BP will close or rename its Amoco service stations in 2001. Read more refinery history in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.
June 18, 1946 – Truman creates National Petroleum Council
The National Petroleum Council, a federally chartered advisory committee, is established in 1946 by President Harry Truman to make recommendations about oil and natural gas.
“President Truman stated in a letter to the Secretary of the Interior that he had been impressed by the contribution made through industry-government cooperation to the success of the World War II petroleum program,” notes the NPC.
Today 200 members are appointed by the Secretary of Energy. They “serve without compensation as representatives of their industry…not as representatives of their particular companies or affiliations.”
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