This Week March 5 to March 11
March 5, 1963 – Petroleum Product receives Patent
Arthur Melin receives a U.S. Patent (No. 3,079,728) for a “Hoop Toy.”
The Wham-O Company, founded in 1948 by Melin and partner Richard Knerr, previously trademarked the name “Hula Hoop.”
The California company began using Marlex, a new plastic from Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to manufacture its first hoop in 1958.
An estimated 20 million Hula Hoops are sold in six months.
Although Phillips Petroleum introduced Marlex polyethylene in 1954, there was little demand until orders came from the toy company that began by making wooden slingshots. In 1957 Wham-O added a plastic flying disc, the “Pluto Platter” – today’s Frisbee – to its products. The next year, the Marlex-made Hula Hoop was introduced, launching a national craze.
Marlex, developed by Phillips chemists Paul Hogan and Robert Banks, is the world’s first high-density polyethylene. In the early 1950s, the two men had been researching gasoline additives. ”As Paul Hogan recalls it, he was standing outside the laboratory when Banks came out saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got something new coming in our kettle that we’ve never seen before,” notes one chemist’s account.
As the Hula Hoop fad swirled across the nation, plastic companies in Titusville, Pennsylvania – birthplace of the U.S. petroleum industry a century earlier – worked overtime to meet demand for the new petroleum product. Today, Oil Creek Plastics still extrudes the “Hoop Toy.”
Read more in “Petroleum Product Hoopla.”
March 7, 1926 – Seminole City Discovery in Oklahoma
The Seminole City oilfield, which will lead to a series of discoveries revealing the Greater Seminole Area, is found by the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company.
The discovery is followed by a successful well drilled by the Amerada Petroleum Company. Then the biggest discovery, the Fixico No. 1 well, strikes oil in the Wilcox Sand formation on July 16, 1926, producing 1,500 barrels of oil a day – and starting the Greater Seminole oil boom.
Oklahoma’s massive production will glut oil markets and result in a price collapse to as low as 15 cents per barrel – forcing the state to step in and limit production. “Thus, the conservation movement, as far as the oil industry is concerned, started in Oklahoma and largely in the greater Seminole areas,” concludes author Louise Welsh in A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field.
At its height, the Seminole City oilfield accounts for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production. By 1935, sixty petroleum reservoirs are discovered in the Greater Seminole Area – 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma. Six of its reservoirs are “giants,” producing more than one-million barrels of oil each.
March 11, 1829 – “Great American Well” discovered in Kentucky
Boring for salt brine with a simple spring-pole device on a farm near Burkesville, Kentucky, Martin Beatty strikes an oilfield. Drilled for a local doctor, the gusher shoots “to the top of the surrounding trees.”
Oil from the 171-foot-deep well on the Stockton farm along Little Renox Creek will reach the Cumberland River, according to the Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS). The oil ignites and burns for three weeks, halting riverboat traffic 50 miles downstream. Petroleum drilling, production and control technologies have not been invented.
Beatty drills his Cumberland County well with “an apparatus consisting of a spring pole made from a strong sapling, set in the crotch of a tree, with a short ‘bit’ fastened to the free end of the pole,” explains a Burkesville historian. “The driller manipulated this bit by his own foot power, and what a slow task this must have been.”
“The salt borers were greatly disappointed,” adds an 1847 account of the discovery. “The well was neglected for several years, until it was discovered that the oil possessed valuable medicinal qualities. It has been bottled up in large quantities and is extensively sold in nearly all the states in the Union.”
Settlers in Wayne County had abandoned a well in 1815 – because oil ruined it as a source of salt water. The 1829 “Great American Well” – also known as the “Old American Oil Well” – reportedly produced 50,000 barrels, according to KGS, which claims the oil later “ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Samuel Kier either sold it as medicine or refined it into lamp oil.”
The well produces oil until about the Civil War. Salt makers will then take over operation of the well – because brine has become the well’s primary output. Historic records gathered as part of a centennial celebration in 1929, “documenting the first commercially operated oil well in the United States,” are preserved at the University of Kentucky Special Collections.
However, another even earlier Kentucky well – drilled for brine in 1818 in what is now the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in McCreary County – also found oil that that was sold for “medicinal” purposes.
Still earlier, in Noble County, Ohio, drillers seeking brine near Caldwell in 1814 discovered oil – which they soaked up with rags, bottled and sold. Today’s Calwell Chamber of Commerce proclaims this to be “the first oil well in America.”
Today in Kentucky, petroleum is produced from 52 out of 102 counties – from rock formations dating from the Cambrian to Pennsylvanian ages. Oil production generally includes the state’s western and south-central region.
Most natural gas is produced in eastern counties. The exploration industry remains active; almost 1,000 wells were drilled in 2009 - including 304 “dry holes.”
Drilling for oil – not brine – near Titusville, Pennsylvania, Edwin L. Drake is credited with launching the American petroleum industry on August 27, 1859.
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