May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well

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Following the 1860 oil discovery at Burning Springs, Appalachian drillers applied cable-tool technologies to drill deeper. Photo courtesy West Virginia Humanities Council.

Virginia’s petroleum industry began on May 1, 1860, when John Castelli Rathbone found oil near a stream called Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia.

The Rathbone well reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day. Rathbone partnered with his brother John as a major drilling boom began – the first to take place outside Pennsylvania. By the end of 1860, more than 600 oil leases were registered in the Wirt County court-house. Warehouses were built along the Little Kanawha River, which reached the Ohio River at Parkersburg.

“These events truly mark the beginnings of the oil and gas industry in the United States,” notes one West Virginia historian, He adds that the region’s oil wealth helped lead to statehood in June 1863. Just one month earlier, Confederate cavalry attacked Burning Springs, destroying oilfield tanks and equipment.

May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair founds Sinclair Oil & Refining

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Sinclair’s first “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago during the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

Harry Ford Sinclair brought together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases – all acquired at bargain prices. He began with $50 million in assets and borrowed another $20 million to form Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produced six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million. The company’s petroleum refining capacity grew to 150,000 barrels of oil a day in 1932.

Destined to become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry, in 1930 the company began using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels. Millions of visitors marveled at the green Jurassic giant in Sinclair’s “Dinoland” New York World’s Fair pavilion in 1934 – and again in 1964. Learn more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

May 1, 2001 – Plaza honors Oil Pioneers

The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza – an outdoor educational exhibit area – was dedicated at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.

“The history of the state of Oklahoma is inextricably linked with the remarkable history of the oil industry,” proclaimed then Conoco Chairman Archie Dunham. “The individuals identified here are true Oklahoma oil pioneers in that their endeavors were most significant in the development of the oil and gas industry in this very young state.”

Tom Slick, Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, is among those honored in the Conoco Plaza. Slick, a self-taught geologist and former landman, discovered the giant Cushing-Drumright oilfield in 1912.

May 3, 1870 – “Yellow Dog” Lantern with Two Spouts patented

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The 1870 “safety derrick lamp” will become known as a “yellow dog.”

Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, received a patent for his “safety derrick lamp” – a two-wicked lantern that became known in America’s early oilfields as the “yellow dog.”

Dillen’s lamp was designed “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places.”

How the once popular lamp got its name has remained a mystery, but some say the two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Learn more in Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

May 4, 1869 – Offshore Drilling Platform Design patented

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Although never constructed, Thomas Rowland’s 1869 offshore drilling platform with telescoping legs was ahead of its time.

The first U.S. patent for an offshore oil drilling rig was issued to Thomas Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.”

Many experts believe this remarkable 1869 patent helped inspire some offshore exploration technologies used today. Rowland designed a fixed, working platform for drilling offshore to a depth of 50 feet.

Although his rig was designed to operate in shallow water, the anchored, four-legged tower resembles modern offshore fixed platforms. Rowland and his Continental Iron Works also became a leader in petroleum storage tank design and construction. The offshore wells completely out of sight from land were drilled in 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico, as technologies advanced after Rowland’s patent. (see Offshore Rig Patent). The American Society of Civil Engineers began awarding The Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize in 1882. 

May 5, 1889 – Construction begins on Largest U.S. Refinery

Seventeen miles east of downtown Chicago, Standard Oil Company began construction of a 235-acre refinery complex on May 5, 1889. The refinery, using advanced processes introduced by John D. Rockefeller, was the largest in the United States at the time. Today it is owned by BP.

Using a newly patented method, the Whiting, Indiana, refinery processed sulfurous “sour crude” from the Lima, Ohio, oilfields – transported on Rockefeller-controlled railroads. The refinery was soon producing high-quality kerosene to meet public demand for use in home lamps. Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

May 7, 1920 – Erle Halliburton launches Cementing Company

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An Erle Halliburton statue was dedicated in 1993 in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Halliburton Company was founded as an oilfield well service and cementing company by Erle P. Halliburton. The Wilson, Oklahoma, company succeeded his New Method Oil Cementing Company formed a year earlier during the Burkburnett oil boom in North Texas.

The use of cement in drilling oil wells remains integral to the industry, because its injection into the well seals off water formations from the oil, protects the casing, and minimizes the danger of blowouts.

Halliburton’s company in 1922 patented a new “jet-cement” mixer that increased the speed and quality of the mixing process. By the end of the year, 17 Halliburton trucks were cementing wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

The company introduced cement pumps powered by truck motors rather than steam from rig boilers and a device that allowed the testing of a formation without setting casing. Halliburton is the first to offer self-contained cementing units operating under their own power. More advances in cementing technology followed. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.