May 23, 1937 – John D. Rockefeller Dies

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Rockefeller at age 87. Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University.

Almost 70 years after founding the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland (where he had attended high school from 1853 to 1855), John D. Rockefeller dies at age 97 in Florida – 40 years after retiring from his company.

Born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller formed his own company in 1859 – the same year of the first American oil well. In 1865 he took control of his first refinery, which would be the largest in the world in three years. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars by the time his fortune peaked at almost $900 million in 1912 ($21.3 billion in today’s dollars).

May 24, 1902 – Earliest Oil & Gas Journal published

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Norman Rockwell illustrated an ad for the Oil & Gas Journal in 1962. Image courtesy of PennWell Publishing.

In Beaumont, Texas, Holland Reavis founds the Oil Investors’ Journal on May 24, 1902. It will soon become today’s Oil & Gas Journal.

Early articles focus on complex financial issues facing operators and investors in the booming oilfield discovered the year before at Spindletop.

In 1910, Patrick C. Boyle acquires the Oil Investors’ Journal. He is a former oilfield scout for John D. Rockefeller and the publisher of the Oil City (Pennsylvania) Derrick newspaper.

Boyle renames his newly purchased publication the Oil & Gas Journal. He increases its frequency to weekly, and expands coverage to all petroleum industry operations.

In 1962, illustrator Norman Rockwell renders an advertisement for the Oil and Gas Journal. Today, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based PennWell Corporation publishes the magazine.

Today’s Derrick newspaper in Oil City, Pennsylvania, has been owned by the Boyle family for almost 130 years.

May 24, 1920 – Oil discovered South of Los Angeles

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Pictured here in 1926, the Huntington Beach field will produce more than one billion barrels of oil by 2000. Discovery Well Park today includes six acres with playgrounds. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

The Huntington Beach oilfield is discovered in California by the Standard Oil Company’s Huntington A-1 well. The beach town’s population grows from 1,500 to 5,000 within a month of the well drilled near Clay Avenue and Golden West Street.

By November 1921 the field has 59 producing wells with daily production of 16,500 barrels of oil. Development activities – and speculators – draw national attention to this expansion of the Los Angeles oilfield.

“The unscrupulous promotion of stock selling enterprises, without the necessary acreage or working capital to insure a reasonable return on investments, caused the withdrawal of considerable public support from the normally necessary function of wildcat drilling,” notes a 1922 report from the California State Mining Bureau.

In 1964, a total of 1,776 wells in Huntington Beach produces 16,095,564 barrels of oil, according to the Orange County Register. “But as oil production peaked, the pressure of explosive population growth began pushing the wells off land that had become more valuable as sites for housing.”

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons

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Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin will lead to Crayola crayons in 1903.

It is a petroleum product that will lead to colorful childhoods. Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith receive an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

Their 1891 refining process uses petroleum to produce a fine, soot-like substance intensely black – a better pigment than any other in use at the time.

The booming Pennsylvania oil  industry supplies the feedstock for the Easton-based Binney & Smith Company’s carbon black – which wins an award for its quality at the 1900 Paris Exposition. More innovations follow.

The company mixes carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker. It is promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named “Staonal,” which is still sold.

Today known as the Crayola company, Binney & Smith will produce its first box of eight crayons in 1903 – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown…and black. Read Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

May 26, 1934 – Diesel-Electric Power sets Train Speed Record

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Chicago World’s Fair visitors admire the stainless steel Burlington Zephyr, which helped save America’s railroad passenger industry. Two-stroke diesel-electric engines provided a four-fold power to weight gain. Photo from a Burlington Route Railroad 1934 postcard.

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During its “dawn to dusk” record-breaking run, the Zephyr burned only $16.72 worth of diesel fuel.

A new diesel-electric “streamliner,” the Burlington Zephyr, pulls into Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition after a nonstop 13 hour “dawn to dusk” run from Denver. The trip cuts traditional steam locomotive times by half.

Powered by one eight-cylinder diesel engine, the passenger train has traveled 1,015 miles. On its record-breaking run, Zephyr burns just $16.72 worth of diesel fuel. The same distance for a coal-burning train would cost $255.

It has been just 60 years since steam locomotives and the transcontinental railroad linked America’s coasts. Read more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.

May 28, 1923 – “Oil Well of the Century” taps Permian Basin in West Texas

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In 1958, the University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus, where it stands today. The student newspaper once described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

It takes 646 days of difficult cable-tool drilling before U.S. petroleum history is made in West Texas on May 28, 1923.

Near Big Lake, on the surrounding arid land once thought to be worthless, the Santa Rita No. 1 well strikes oil, discovers an oilfield – and reveals the vast Permian Basin.

Until now, experts have considered West Texas barren of oil.

Discovered after 21 months of drilling that averaged less than five feet a day, the Santa Rita – named for the patron saint of the impossible – will produce for seven decades.

Within three years of the discovery by Texon Oil and Land Company, petroleum royalties endow the University of Texas with $4 million. In 1999, Santa Rita No. 1 is named “Oil Well of the Century” by Texas Monthly. Read more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

May 29, 1940 – Nebraska’s First Oil Well

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Nebraska’s oil production, which began in 1940 in its most southeastern county, was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil in 2012, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

After more than a half century of dry holes, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well is completed in 1940 near Falls City in the southeastern corner of the state.

Eager to become an oil-producing state, the legislature has offered a $15,000 bonus for the first well to produce 50 barrels daily for two months.

Drilled by by Pawnee Royalty Company, the Bucholz No. 1 discovery well produces an average of more than 169 barrels a day in its first 60 days. Richardson County enjoys an oil boom. The well is about five miles east of a “vein of petroleum” first reported in 1883.

Today’s Nebraska petroleum production is largely in the southwestern panhandle – where a discovery well came in for 225 barrels of oil per day in 1949. Read more in First Nebraska Oil Well.


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