This Week Nov. 26 to Dec. 2
November 27, 1940 – Gas by Edward Hopper exhibited in New York
Edward Hopper’s painting Gas is exhibited by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
Hopper began the painting a month earlier. “Ed is about to start a canvas – an effect of night on a gasoline station,” noted his wife.
Critics praise Hopper’s work and suggest that Gas with its commonplace Mobilgas sign presages America’s Pop Art movement that comes a decade later.
The work – which includes the flying Pegasus logo of Mobilgas – is an amalgamation of gas stations in and around his home in Truro, Massachusetts. Fellow artist Charles Burchfield admired Hopper’s simple title for the painting, noting that a less discerning artist would have titled it “Gas Station” or “Gas Station Attendant.”
Read about the Mobilgas iconic logo in “High Flying Trademark.”
The later work of renowned “pop artist” whose influence can be seen in graphic design, film and urban history – Ed Ruscha – is on exhibit at Los Angeles County Museum of Art until January 21, 2013.
“Ed Ruscha’s art depicts everyday objects – gas stations, street signs, billboards, commercial packaging – yet often triggers philosophical reflection about the relationship between words, things, and ideas,” notes a curator at LACMA.
“The word ‘standard’ is a case in point: it can be a banner or rallying point, an established level of quality, and an oil company’s brand name,” adds the LACMA website. “In his depictions of Standard stations, Ruscha points to each of these definitions and more.”
The gasoline station is Ruscha’s most iconic image, according to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. He began experimenting with the subject in Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), reproducing photographs taken while driving on Route 66 between Los Angeles and his hometown of Oklahoma City.
Ruscha created a 10-foot painting titled Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, based on one of his photographs.
November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies
Mrs. Emma Summers, once known as the “Oil Queen of California” dies at the age of 83 in Los Angeles.
Forty years earlier, the San Francisco Call newspaper described Mrs. Summers as “A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”
Summers graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano — but soon caught oil fever. With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field just a year before, Summers invested $700 for half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s.
Summers’ first 14 oil wells came in as producers – and launched her dominance in the Los Angeles oil field. See “Oil Queen of California.”
November 28, 1892 – First Commercial Oil Well West of the Mississippi
After 22 days of drilling near Neodesha, Kansas, the Norman No. 1 well comes in – considered the first significant oil well west of the Mississippi River.
Beginning as a four-barrel-a day producer from just 832 feet deep, this Kansas discovery is the first to uncover the vast Mid-Continent oilfield, which extends into Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
“Norman No. 1 was the first oil well west of the Mississippi River to produce a commercial quantity of oil. This major oil discovery ushered in a new era for Neodesha and the state,” explains the Kansas Historical Society.
William Mills had arrived in Neodesha in 1892 and selected a garden plot belonging to T. J. Norman, a local blacksmith. Immediately after his discovery, Mills traveled east to show a sample to the experienced oilmen of Pennsylvania. “It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard, making the area the richest bed of prehistoric decay,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum.
Today, the Norman No. 1 well site – designated a U.S. National Landmark on December 22, 1977 – is at the northeast corner of Mill and First streets in Neodesha.
“A museum has been built in a city park surrounding the site – a fitting recognition of Norman No. 1′s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history,” concludes the Kansas Historical Society. The Norman No. 1 Museum and RV Park offers indoor and outdoor exhibits that include a replica of the original wooden cable-tool derrick.
December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth visits Pithole, Pennsylvania
Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appears as Lady Macbeth in the luxurious Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania.
Once extolled by a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper as “the most handsome actress in the Confederate States,” Miss Bridges performs in one of the region’s most notorious oil boom towns. Within nine months of the discovery of oil, Pithole hosts a muddy population of over 30,000 oilmen, teamsters, coopers, lease-traders, roughnecks, and merchants of all kinds — along with gamblers, “soiled doves” and criminals.
Almost overnight, 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest Post Office in Pennsylvania are up and running. Murphy’s Theater is the biggest building in Pithole. It offers 1,000 seats, a 40-foot stage, a twelve-musician orchestra, and Tiffany chandelier lighting.
Miss Bridges is the darling of the Pithole stage. Following her performance as Lady Macbeth, the Titusville Morning Herald chastises the audience: “The simple clapping of the hands is sufficient to express the most exquisite delight and satisfaction…but rude boisterous stomping and screaming…is absolutely disgraceful.”
Eight months after Bridges departs for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil suddenly runs dry – and the most famous boom town in Pennsylvania collapses into empty streets and abandoned buildings.
Today, little remains of Pithole in the lush Pennsylvania countryside. Visit the Pithole Visitors Center.
December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized
With all 1,470,559 acres of Oklahoma’s Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry V. Foster organizes the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company from the Phoenix Oil and Osage Oil companies.
For the Osage Indians, the lease provides a 10 percent royalty on all petroleum produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleases drilling to 75 different companies, but by 1903 only 30 wells have been drilled – including 11 dry holes.
Although debt ultimately drives the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership, the company emerges with veteran oilman Theodore N. Barnsdall a majority owner. By the end of 1904, drilling results in 361 producing wells. In 1912, Barnsdall sells his interests to the Empire Distributing Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, for $40 million.
Foster, who becomes known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” builds the 32-room La Quinta Mansion – now the administration building for Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville.
The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company old headquarters building is at the corner of Frank Phillips Boulevard and Johnstone Street. Read more in “Discovering Oklahoma Oil.”
December 1, 1913 - First Drive-In Station
“Good Gulf Gasoline” goes on sale when Gulf Refining Company opens America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offers free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stand by. The service station’s lighted marquee provides shelter from bad weather.
“On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. On its first Saturday, Gulf’s new service station pumped 350 gallons of gasoline,” notes the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. “Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.”
The decision to open the first station along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh was no accident, the historical commission adds. By 1913 when the station was opened, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the high number of dealerships that were located along the thoroughfare.
“Gulf executives must have figured that there was no better way to get the public hooked on using filling stations than if they could pull right in and gas up their new car after having just driven it off the lot.”
In addition to gas, the Gulf station also offered free air and water – and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States.
“The first generally distributed oil company road maps are usually credited to Gulf,” says Harold Cramer in his Early Gulf Road Maps of Pennsylvania. “The early years of oil company maps, circa 1915 to 1925, are dominated by Gulf as few other oil companies issued maps, and until about 1925 Gulf was the only oil company to issue maps annually.”
The Gulf Refining Company was formed in 1901 by members of the Mellon family, along with other investors, as an expansion of the J. W. Guffey Petroleum Company formed earlier the same year – to exploit the Spindletop oil discovery in Texas.
December 1, 1960 – Oil Musical hits Broadway
Lucille Ball debuts in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics love Lucy – but hate the show, where she stars as penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find a gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912.
“Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” reports The New York Times theater critic. Audiences flock to this rare oil patch musical – but after 171 performances, the show closes.
December 2, 1942 – Petroleum Administration for War
President Roosevelt establishes by executive order the Petroleum Administration for War to centralize war policies relating to petroleum and provide adequate supplies “for the successful prosecution of the war and other essential purposes.” Roosevelt terminates PAW on May 3, 1946.
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