This Week Oct. 29 to Nov. 4
October 31, 1871 – Refinery Method patented
An 1871 invention presages many elements of modern refineries’ fractionating towers and is a significant improvement over the earlier process of extracting kerosene by simple atmospheric distillation in kettle stills.
Henry Rogers patents his “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons by repeated vaporization and condensation.”
Rogers notes that “by my method of distilling the commercial articles known as benzine, gasoline, chimogen, rhigoline, carbon spirits and the like are products of perfectly uniform constitution, and these light products are entirely separated from the lubricating-oil and lamp-oil.”
October 31, 1930 – H. L. Hunt to make Historic Deal
Judge Robert T. Brown of the Texas Fourth Judicial District places the properties of 70-year-old wildcatter Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner into receivership. His ruling will lead to an historic $1 million-plus property deal at the Baker Hotel in Dallas.
It has been revealed that Joiner has oversold lease certificates to hopeful investors in Rusk County. His Daisy Bradford No. 3 gusher, discovery well for the massive East Texas oil field, is immediately tied up in conflicting claims.
Joiner takes refuge from claimants and creditors in the Baker Hotel, where oilman Haroldson Lafayette (H. L.) Hunt Jr. negotiates a $1.34 million deal with him for the Daisy Bradford well and 5,580 acres of leases, despite the certainty of litigation. In the 300 lawsuits and 10 years of litigation that follow, Hunt sustains every title.
Hunt’s deal with Joiner puts him in the midst of the “Black Giant” East Texas oil field. To date, this oil field has yielded over five billion barrels of oil – and is still producing.
The Baker Hotel witnessed many oil deals. Its Peacock Terrace, which opened in 1925, was popular with debutantes, movie stars and swing bands of the 1930s, according to the University of Texas Archives. The oil patch landmark was imploded 1980.
“In seconds the grand hotel was in ruins. The site was cleared and in its place a modern skyscraper known as Bell Plaza stands. The dancing ceased, the party was over.” Read more in “H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oil Field” – and visit the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore.
November 1, 1830 – Drilling Technology evolves
New Jersey inventor Levi Disbrow receives a reissued patent for his March 1825 design of a “Machine for Boring Artesian Wells.”
Disbrow’s revolutionary system employs a mechanical drilling machine with a spring-expanded auger bit and a four-legged derrick. Expanding auger bits in the borehole permit Disbrow to “bore a hole larger than the tube through which they are passed down.”
Having studied drilling methods in the West Virginia salt industry, Disbrow develops his system to drill for water. His most successful effort is a seven-inch diameter, 442-foot-deep water well at the corner of Broadway and Bleeker Street in New York City.
Disbrow’s patent is reissued again (No. RE57) on October 20, 1843, as “Apparatus for Boring in Earth.”
November 1, 1865 – First Railroad Oil Tank Car arrives
James and Amos Densmore’s “oil tank car” railroad car arrives at the Miller Farm, four miles south of Titusville, Pennsylvania.
The brothers, who will patent this revolutionary technology, fill their first tank car with oil delivered by Samuel Van Syckle’s oil pipeline (another first) from the booming town of Pithole.
The Miller Farm’s 17 large storage tanks supply the Oil Creek Railroad, which connects to other rail lines in Corry and on to Pittsburgh, New York City, and other markets. The Densmore tank car design features two iron-banded wooden tanks – each holding up to 45 barrels of oil – on a flatcar.
The design evolved from several earlier efforts to solve the challenge of shipping oil. Competing variations soon appear and patent infringement litigation follows. The U.S. Court in New York City ultimately rules against the brothers, noting that “there could be no patent about wheels, trucks, barrels nor their peculiar position and juxtaposition and arrangement in tank cars.”
Visit the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad.
November 1, 1872 – Pennsylvania Producers limit Production
Oil prices rise to $4.60 a barrel in Pennsylvania’s oil region in response to the Petroleum Producers Association’s 30-day shutdown of pumping operations initiated one month earlier.
This is the first use of “shutdown days” to limit oil supplies delivered to refiners. Excessive production had driven the price down to a low of $3.10 a barrel in September – and operators declared that it cost more than that to produce the oil.
The Oil City Derrick newspaper reports “that a business producing three million dollars a month, employing 10,000 laboring men and fifty million dollars of capital, should be entirely suspended, dried up, stopped still as death by a mutual voluntary agreement, made and perfected by all parties interested, within a space of ten days – this is a statement that staggers belief – a spectacle that takes one’s breath away.”
November 2, 1902 – Locomobile goes with Gasoline
The first four-cylinder, gas-powered Locomobile is delivered to a buyer in New York City.
The $4,000 Model C has a 12-horsepower engine. “The Locomobile Company had been known for building heavy, powerful steam cars,” notes one historian. “But by the turn of the century it was clear that the future of the automobile – and thus of the Locomobile – lay in the internal-combustion engine.”
Just a few years later, a Locomobile “Old 16″ – a 16-liter, four-cylinder, 120-horsepower two-seater – wins a 258.5-mile international race in Long Island, New York.
“In 1908, Old 16, the Locomobile race car, won the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup,” notes an exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. “Its victory marked the first time an American car won an international auto race and served notice to the rest of the world that America was poised to change the auto industry forever.”
November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Gas Well roars in near Pittsburgh
While drilling for oil, Michael and Obediah Haymaker’s well erupts with natural gas from a depth of almost 1,400 feet.
“Every piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind. But instead of oil, we had struck gas,” Michael Haymaker later recalls.
Eighteen miles east of Pittsburgh, the out-of-control well in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, produces an estimated 34 million cubic feet of natural gas daily – probably the largest natural gas well ever drilled up to that time. With no way to cap it and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities, the roaring Haymaker well serves only to draw thousands of curious onlookers to a flaming torch that burns for 18 months, visible from miles away.
The well, brought under control, will produce for years. The Haymaker brothers sell their interest to Joseph Newton Pew and his partner, Edward Emerson. Pew and Emerson form the Penn Fuel Company, recorded as “first to supply natural gas to a major city (Pittsburgh) for home and industrial use.”
The area’s highly productive Murrysville sandstone brings prosperity and development of the new fuel source for homes and industry, notes Explore Pennsylvania History. “Murrysville became the site of the nation’s first commercial gas well industry. Many new businesses took shape in the region, including Equitable Gas Company, which was soon acquired by George Westinghouse to become part of his Philadelphia Company.”
Equitable Gas Company has more than 900 wells and 440,000 acres under lease in Pennsylvania and West Virginia by 1910. Pew and Emerson later follow other oil and natural gas deposits to Findlay, Ohio — and form the Sun Oil Company of Ohio, which will become today’s Sunoco.
The Murrysville Historic Preservation Society maintains the site – and “is working to have the gas well site designated as a National Historic Landmark, which, if approved, would formally establish the site’s national significance in American history and culture.”
Read More in “Natual Gas Is King” in 1880s Pittsburgh.
November 3, 1900 – First American Auto Show
America’s first National Automobile Show opens in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Manufacturers present 160 different vehicles and conduct driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that encircles the exhibits.
A 200-foot ramp tests hill-climbing power.
Almost 48,000 visitors pay 50 cents each to see the latest in automotive technology. The most popular models prove to be electric, steam, and gasoline…in that order.
New Yorkers especially welcome electric models as a way to reduce the estimated 450,000 tons of manure, 21 million gallons of urine, and 15,000 horse carcasses that have to be removed from the city’s streets each year.
Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in 1900, less than a thousand are powered by gasoline. Within five years however, technology and consumer preference thoroughly establish the dominance of gasoline-powered internal combustion automobiles that continues to this day.
One early critic complained that the internal combustion engine was, “Noxious, noisy, unreliable, and elephantine. It vibrates so violently as to loosen one’s dentures. The automobile industry will surely burgeon in America, but this motor will not be a factor.”
The critic was wrong. Gasoline, once an unwanted byproduct of kerosene refining, cost only about 15 cents a gallon in 1900 and produced dramatic increases in engine horsepower.
Despite the absence of “filling stations,” gasoline was readily available in a market where electric lights were making kerosene obsolete. Read more in “Cantankerous Combustion — 1st U.S. Auto Show.”
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