This Week June 25 to July 1
June 25, 1889 – First Oil Tanker catches Fire
The first oil tanker ever built, the W. L. Hardison, burns at its Ventura, California, wharf. The Hardison & Stewart Oil Company (forerunner of Union Oil Company) built the revolutionary schooner as an alternative to paying one-dollar per barrel railroad tank car rates to reach markets in San Francisco.
With oil-fired boilers and supplemental sail, the wooden-hulled W. L. Hardison had been capable of transporting 6,500 barrels of oil below decks in steel tanks. The vessel’s steel tanks are later recovered and used at the company’s Santa Paula refinery. Loss of the schooner severely strains Hardison & Stewart Oil Company finances; it will be 11 years before company launches a replacement tanker, the Santa Paula.
Learn more petroleum history by visiting the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula – the museum’s main building is the original Union Oil Company headquarters.
June 25, 1901 – Tulsa blooms with Red Fork Gusher
The Oklahoma petroleum industry takes off – and Tulsa begins its journey to becoming the “Oil Capital of the World” – when two Pennsylvania oilmen make a wildcat discovery in the Creek Indian Nation.
Six years before Oklahoma statehood, John Wick and Jesse Heydrick drill a wildcat well (many miles from any previous discovery) near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. Their Sue A. Bland No. 1 comes in as a 10-barrel-a-day producer at 537 feet.
The Tulsa Democrat newspaper proclaims, “Geyser of Oil Spouts at Red Fork” and “Oil Well Gusher Fifteen Feet High.” Within a week, Red Fork is overrun by people clamoring for drilling leases.
Many of the newcomers settle in Tulsa, which in 1904 builds its first bridge across the Arkansas River to accommodate wagonloads of oilfield workers and equipment.
Publicity surrounding the discovery of oil at Red Fork in 1901 will draw attention to Oklahoma and launch significant exploratory activity. Established in 1963, the Tulsa Historical Society maintains an extensive collection of resources about the city’s petroleum heritage.
Also visit Tulsa’s Society of Exploration Geophysicists Geoscience Center.
June 26, 1885 – First Pennsylvania Gas Company
The Hardison & Stewart Oil Company incorporates. It is the first natural gas company to be chartered under legislation passed in Pennsylvania for that purpose.
June 28, 1967 – Hall of Petroleum opens in Smithsonian Museum
The Hall of Petroleum opens at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology on the national mall in Washington, D.C. Multiple exhibits feature exploration and production technology advancements – and the resulting oil and natural gas discoveries essential to development of America’s energy supplies.
Visitors to the Hall of Petroleum – in what will become the National Museum of American History in 1980 – are greeted by a 13-foot by 56-foot mural painted by artist Delbert Jackson, a well known Tulsa, Oklahoma, artist and illustrator. He has spent two years creating the painting, which portrays oil exploration, production, refining, and delivery. His “Panorama of Petroleum” serves as a key to the hall’s exhibit contents.
The hall’s main exhibits are prepared with “the best available technical advice to give the public some conception of the involved nature of the processes of finding and producing oil and its preparation for consumption,” explains Philip W. Bishop, author of the exhibit’s catalogue, Petroleum.
“If the hall can increase the public’s knowledge of and respect for the technical skill and know-how of those who make this energy available, it will have served its purpose,” he adds.
Noting that in front of the mural stands a rotary drilling rig used originally to drill water wells, Bishop describes the exhibit’s “horse-powered machine called the Corsicana rig” – believed to be one of the oldest surviving examples of a rotary drilling rig.
“Adjacent to the introductory mural is a large relief map of the United States, which shows the statistical growth of the industry, including crude oil and natural gas production and proved reserves,” he continues. The map “provides dramatic evidence of the advancement of oil-finding technology especially after the doldrums of the 1920s when scientists – including those of the Smithsonian Institution – were confidently, if despondently, forecasting the exhaustion of America’s oil resources within a few years.”
When the ”Hall of Petroleum” exhibit closes, the mural is put into storage for three decades. The city of Tulsa will recover “Panorama of Petroleum,” thanks to its Gilcrease Museum, and in 1998 the mural is restored and installed at the Tulsa International Airport, where it remains today. Read more in “Smithsonian’s Hall of Petroleum.”
June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, becomes law. It provides 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways” (in case of the need to flee cities during a nuclear attack). The 41,000-mile system is designed to reach every city with a population of more than 100,000.
June 30, 1864 – Oil taxed for First Time
The federal government taxes oil for the first time when it levies a $1 per barrel tax on crude oil. As early as 1862 — needing revenue to fund the Civil War — Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase had advocated a $6.30 tax per barrel on crude oil and $10.50 per barrel on refined products.
Angry oil producers rally against the tax in Titusville and Oil City, Pennsylvania — and send delegates to Washington, where they ultimately negotiated the tax of $1 per barrel. Visit the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
July 1, 1859 – First Issue of Pipeline & Gas Journal
The first issue of the American Gas Light Journal is published. It is the first to report on the manufactured gas industry and subsequently the natural gas industry. Publication continues after 1917 as the American Gas Journal, which later combines with Pipeline Engineer International and continues today as the Pipeline & Gas Journal.
July 1, 1914 – Petroleum Technology Office established
Four years after the United States Bureau of Mines is organized under the Department of Interior, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Division is established. W. A. Williams is named Chief Petroleum Technologist. The division’s Petroleum Experiment Station is in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In 1977, under the newly created U.S. Department of Energy, the site becomes the Bartlesville Energy Technology Center (joining the Morgantown Energy Technology Center in West Virginia and the Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center in Pennsylvania).
In 1998, DOE opens the National Petroleum Technology Office in Tulsa and closes the Bartlesville Project Office. In 2000, the technology office joins DOE’s 15th national laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory. Today, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy continues to support research for “secure, reasonably priced, and environmentally sound fossil energy.”
July 1, 1919 – Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association expands
The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association establishes its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa. The association’s members had helped provide essential supplies of petroleum and petroleum products, allowing the Allies of World War I, “to float to victory upon a wave of oil.”
Kansas-Oklahoma members include leading oilmen – Frank Phillips, one of the founders of Phillips Petroleum Company; E. W. Marland, whose company will become Conoco; W. G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil Company; and H. H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil Company; and Alf Landon, who will later be governor of Kansas and the Republican presidential nominee in 1936.
Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company (later to be Oklahoma’s governor and U.S. Senator), is president of the Oklahoma-Kansas Division from 1935 through 1941. Learn more at the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association of Oklahoma.
Today, the U.S. Oil & Gas Association includes affiliate organizations representing all segments of the industry. The Mississippi/Alabama Division, established in 1944, is one of four autonomous divisions. Other divisions are in Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
July 1, 1938 – Major Illinois Oil Discovery
The Texas Company – later Texaco - strikes oil in Marion County near Salem, Illinois. By January 1939 the field is ranked seventh in U.S. daily production.
In just one year the Salem oilfield will produce more than 20 million barrels of oil. At right, the oilfield as it looked in 1943. Standard derricks, including one today on display for tourists in Olney, Illinois, dotted the landscape during the oil boom years that started in 1938. Photo courtesy the Illinois State Geologic Survey.
Oil or natural gas production in Illinois began in 1853 when marsh or drift gas was produced from two wells drilled near Champaign, the survey notes. “In the early 1860s, several holes drilled in Clark County produced enough oil for the name ‘Oilfield’ to be given to a small town there, even though commercial-scale production in the area did not begin until 40 years later.”
Illinois’ producers today seek new exploration and production technologies for increasing the amount of oil they recover, says the survey, which studies the geology of Illinois’ reservoirs, models characteristics, and advises the industry about methods that can solve production problems to sustain the state’s production.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.