November 28 to December 4, 2016

November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well taps Mid-Continent Field

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A rare photograph of the 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

In eastern Kansas, the Norman No. 1 well erupted oil in 1892 – the first major petroleum discovery west of the Mississippi River.

Just 832 feet deep, the well uncovered the vast Mid-Continent producing region, which eventually included five states.

Immediately following the discovery, a sample of the Kansas oil was sent to the more experienced oilmen of Pennsylvania. “It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum.

Abandoned in 1919, the Norman No. 1 well was “overgrown along the banks of the Verdigris River until 1961, when a replica of the original derrick was erected on the old well site as a memorial,” notes the Kansas Historical Society, which adds the Neodesha oil museum is “a fitting recognition of Norman No. 1’s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history.” Learn more in Oil Discovery in Neodesha, Kansas.

November 28, 1895 – First American Auto Race

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J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles invented America’s first gas-powered automobile.

At 8:55 a.m., six fragile motor cars left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back through the snow.

Inventor J. Frank Duryea received $2,000 for winning America’s first auto race. His No. 5 automobile took just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 miles per hour. The Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, also awarded $500 to a racing enthusiast who named the horseless vehicles “motocycles.”

The newspaper declared, “Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.” Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth visits Pennsylvania Boom Town

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Eloise Bridges played Lady Macbeth in 1865 for “stomping and screaming” roughnecks in Pithole, Pennsylvania’s infamous boom town. Pithole Visitors Center scale-model photo by David Jones.

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The darling of the Pithole stage, Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania. Once extolled by a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper as “the most handsome actress in the Confederate States,” Miss Bridges performed in the region’s most notorious boom town.

Within nine months of the discovery of oil, Pithole hosted 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 were up and running. Murphy’s Theater was the biggest building in the new town.

Three-stories high, the building had 1,100 seats, a 40-foot stage, an orchestra – and chandelier lighting by Tiffany. Miss Bridges was the darling of the Pithole stage.

However, following her performance as Lady Macbeth, a critic for the Titusville Morning Herald chastised the roughneck audience for going beyond simple clapping, noting the “rude boisterous stomping and screaming…is absolutely disgraceful.”

Eight months after Bridges departed for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil ran out. The most famous boom town collapsed into empty streets and abandoned buildings. Today, visitors walk on the grass streets of the historic ghost town. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized

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Henry Foster was called “the richest man west of the Mississippi” in the 1930s. He built La Quinta Mansion in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

With almost 1.5 million acres of Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry Foster organized the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company by combining the Phoenix Oil Company and Osage Oil Company.

For the Osage Indians, the lease provided a 10 percent royalty on all petroleum produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleased drilling to 75 different companies, but by 1903 only 30 wells had been drilled – including 11 dry holes.

Although debt ultimately drove the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership, the company emerged with veteran oilman Theodore Barnsdall a majority owner.

By the end of 1904, new drilling resulted in 361 producing wells. In 1912, Barnsdall sold his interests to the Empire Distributing Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, for $40 million.

Foster, who became known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” built the 32-room La Quinta Mansion – now the main administration building for Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville. Read more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

December 1, 1913 – First U.S. Drive-In Service Station opens in Pittsburgh

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Gulf Refining Company’s decision to open the first service station (above) along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was no accident. By 1913 the boulevard was known as “automobile row'” because of its many auto dealerships.

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Oil company maps were dominated by Gulf Refining Company, which was the only oil company to issue maps until about 1925.

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold when Gulf Refining Company opened 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 offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stood nearby. The service station’s lighted marquee provided 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.

In addition to gas, the Gulf station provided free air and water – and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States. The modern gasoline pump can trace its roots to a pump that dispensed kerosene at an Indiana grocery store in the late 1880s. Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

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Lucy sought a Broadway gusher in 1960.

December 1, 1960 – Broadway Oil Musical

Lucille Ball debuted in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics loved Lucy – but hated the show. She played the penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find an oil gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912. “Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” reported an unimpressed New York Times critic. Audiences flocked to this rare oil patch musical – but after 171 performances, the show closed.

December 2, 1970 – Nixon creates EPA 

President Richard M. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency to consolidate into a single agency “a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.” At the same time the president created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to serve “a national need for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources.”

December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography

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An energy source (explosive charge, weight drop, vibration generator), creates waves reflecting from the top of bedrock to surface detectors.

Amerada Petroleum drilled into a Viola limestone formation in Oklahoma – it was the first successful oil well produced from a geological structure identified by a reflection seismograph. The new exploration technology revealed an oil reservoir near Seminole.

Tested as early as June 1921, reflection seismography – seismic surveying – led to oilfield discoveries across the world. Amerada Petroleum’s subsidiary, Geophysical Research, applied the new technology, which had evolved from World War I weapons research. Scientists developed portable equipment that used seismic reflections from artillery to aid the in locating the source. Learn more in Exploring Reflection Seismography.

December 4, 1928 – Giant Oilfield discovered in Oklahoma City

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The Oklahoma City oilfield would bring stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

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The 215,000 square-foot Oklahoma History Center and Research Center opened in 2005.

Henry Foster’s Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company and Foster Petroleum Corporation completed the Oklahoma City No. 1 well, discovery well for the Oklahoma City oilfield. Petroleum companies had searched for decades before this successful well just south of the city limits.

The 6,335-foot-deep wildcat well produced 110,000 barrels of oil in its first 27 days, causing a rush of development that extended the field northward toward the capitol building. Drilling reached the city limits by May 1930, prompting the city council to pass ordinances limiting drilling to the southeast part of the city and allowing only one well per city block.

By 1932, with about 870 producing wells completed, the Oklahoma City oilfield’s production peaked at 67 million barrels. “From such a beginning the sprawling Oklahoma City oil and natural gas field will become one of world’s major oil-producing areas,” notes a state historical marker. The field’s production will rank eighth in the nation for the next 40 years.

Another major discovery erupted in 1930 thanks the city’s prolific Wilcox sands. Equipment failure and high pressure resulted in the well remaining uncontrolled for 11 days – making it “the most publicized oil well in world.” Learn more about the World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.” 
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Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.

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