This Week in Petroleum History, September 5 to September 11
September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers test Electric Well Logging Tool
Petroleum exploration technology advanced in 1927 when an electric downhole well log was first applied near Pechelbronn, France. Brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger modified their surface system to operate vertically in a well.
Conrad Schlumberger had conceived the idea of using electrical measurements to map subsurface rock formations as early as 1912. After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers created an electric downhole well log.
Lowering their new tool into a well, they recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plot the results against depth – creating a well log of geologic formations.
Changes in subsurface resistance readings showed variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas. This technology breakthrough made Schlumberger the world’s first well logging oilfield service company.
September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Pump
The modern gasoline-pump design was invented by Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to a grocery store owner in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1885.
Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” the pump held 42 gallons. The pump used marble valves, a wooden plunger and a simple, upright faucet.
With the pump’s popular success at Jake Gumper’s Fort Wayne grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. Within a decade – as the automobile’s popularity grew – Bowser’s company adapted and became hugely successful.
By 1905 (the same year some claim the first gasoline station was built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a filling station.
The original Bowser gas pump was a square metal tank and wooden cabinet equipped with a suction pump operated by hand-stroke lever action. It included a hose attachment for dispensing gasoline directly into the automobile fuel tank.
With the addition of competing businesses such as Wayne Pump Company and Tokheim Oil Tank & Pump Company, the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, became known as the “Gas Pump Capital of the World.” Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.
September 7, 1923 – Major Oilfield discovered at Dominguez Hills
Maj. Frederick Russell Burnham discovered oil in Dominguez Hills, an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, California, in 1923. His well produced about 1,200 barrels of oil a day from 4,068 feet deep.
Maj. Burnham was a decorated soldier for the U.S. and British armies – where he was once known as “King of the Scouts.” His Burnham Exploration Company and partner Union Oil Company of California opened the Dominguez Hills oilfield, “a two-square mile, two-mile deep stack of eight producing zones,” notes one geologist.
The region was named for a Spanish soldier who in 1784 received a land grant for grazing cattle. “But family fortunes truly took off with discovery of oil in the 1920s, first in the Torrance area and then, most resoundingly, on Dominguez Hill itself, where productive wells functioned for a half century,” explains the California State University Dominguez Hills.
By 1933 Burnham Exploration and partner Union Oil Company of California paid more than $10 million to stockholders. Learn more California history in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.
September 9, 1928 – Oklahoma regulates Oil Production
For the first time, a state regulatory body issued an order that governed oil production for the entire state.
The move was an effort to control excessive production from a host of newly discovered fields, including that summer’s greater Seminole oil boom. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission set the state’s oil production limit to 700,000 barrels daily and limits and production of new wildcat wells to 100 barrels a day.
The commission allocated 425,000 barrels a day for new fields like Seminole (the premier high-gravity oilfield) and 275,000 barrels a day for older fields. Learn more in Oklahoma Oil History.
September 10, 1879 – Chevron founded in California
Chevron Corp. began in 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquired the California Star Oil Works, which has made the first major oil discovery in California.
As the future major oil company grew over the century, it’s downstream retail operations added more than a dozen service station logos – including Standard Oil Company of California’s red-white-and-blue chevron; the Texaco Company red star; the orange disc of Gulf Oil; and the Unocal 76 logo.
“We trace our beginnings to an 1876 oil discovery at Pico Canyon, north of Los Angeles, which led to the formation of the Pacific Coast Oil Company,” notes a company historian. See First California Oil Well.
“Driller Alex Mentry succeeded in striking oil in Pico No. 4, despite rattlesnakes, wasps, mud and underbrush,” he adds. This well launched California as an oil-producing state.
By 1880, Pacific Coast Oil built California’s largest refinery, with a capacity of 600 barrels a day, at Point Alameda on San Francisco Bay.
In 1906, Pacific Coast Oil became part of the Standard Oil empire until it was divested from its parent company in 1911. Standard Oil (California) became Socal in 1926. Chevron U.S.A. acquired Gulf Oil in 1984 and merged with Texaco in 2001.
In 2005 Chevron acquired another historic California oil company, Unocal, founded in Santa Paula in 1890. Visit the California Oil Museum located in Unocal’s original Santa Paula headquarters building.
September 11, 1866 – Distilling Kerosene in Vacuum leads to Major Oil Company
Carpenter and part-time inventor Matthew Ewing in 1866 patented a method of distilling kerosene in a vacuum to produce lubricants. His post-Civil War invention helped create Mobil Oil.
Three weeks after his patent, Ewing and partner Hiram Everest founded Vacuum Oil Company in Rochester, New York. Their first product was “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil,” extolled for its virtues as a leather conditioner and preserver.
After Ewing left the partnership, Everest continued to develop the unique vacuum-produced lubricant, finding popular success with the Vacuum Harness Oil. He initially distributed the improved lubricant in square containers previously used for canned oysters.
In 1880, Everest sold 75 percent of Vacuum Oil to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. More than half a century later, the vacuum-produced lubricants company evolved into Socony Mobil and then Mobil Oil before becoming ExxonMobil in a 1999 merger. Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.
Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of the month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS 2016, This Week in Petroleum History.