- This Week in Petroleum History, May 20 – May 26
May 20, 1930 – Professional “Doodlebuggers” launch a Geophysical Society
The Society of Economic Geophysicists adopts a constitution and bylaws in Houston. The organization will become a leader in the science of petroleum exploration.
In 1937 the society adopts the name by which it is known today, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, which fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources, in characterizing the near surface, and in mitigating earth hazards.”
SEG’s journal, Geophysics, which first appears in 1936, includes articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The lead article warns young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.
“This is the first time that the term ‘doodle-bug’ was applied to scientific methods, particularly if they had no scientific validity,” explain the authors of Geophysics in the Affairs of Men.
“Twenty years later, it was a badge of honor to be known as a doodlebugger, i.e., the field personnel of geophysical crews,” notes the 1982 book by Charles C. Bates, T. F. Gaskell and R. B. Rice. ”Still later, the term was applied to everyone who worked in exploration geophysics.”
A bronze statue, “The Doodlebugger,” is unveiled in SEG headquarters during a May 2, 2002, ceremony. The statue, created by sculptor Jay O’Melia, stands almost 10 feet tall and weighs more than 600 pounds.
O’Melia also created an “Oil Patch Warrior” statue of a roughneck dedicated in 1991 in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham, England. The seven-foot bronze statue honors American oilmen who drilled more than 100 wells there during World War II.
A duplicate statue of the “Oil Patch Warrior” is dedicated in 2001 in Memorial Square in Ardmore, Oklahoma – where many of the U.S. roughnecks volunteered for the secret project. Read more in “Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.”
SEG today has more than 33,000 members in 138 countries and “serves the geoscience community with timely events, helpful information and networking opportunities, all with the purpose of advancing geophysics today and inspiring geoscientists for tomorrow.”
May 23, 1937 – John D. Rockefeller dies in Florida
Almost 70 years after founding Standard Oil Company in Ohio - and 40 years after retiring from the company in 1897 - John D. Rockefeller dies in Ormond Beach, Florida, at age 97.
Rockefeller’s fortune peaked in 1912 at almost $900 million, although by then he had already given away hundreds of millions of dollars.
Born July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller attends high school in Cleveland, Ohio, from 1853 to 1855 – and at age 16 he becomes an assistant bookkeeper with a produce shipping company.
Rockefeller forms his own company in 1859 – the same year as oil is discovered in western Pennsylvania – and studies the oil refining business. In 1865, at the age of 24, he takes control of his first refinery, which will be the largest in the world in three years.
After retiring decades later, Rockefeller uses his unprecedented wealth to fund endeavors such as the University of Chicago, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, General Education Board (now the Rockefeller Foundation), the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, and Spelman College in Atlanta.
May 24, 1902 – First Edition of the Oil & Gas Journal
The Oil & Gas Journal is founded as the Oil Investors’ Journal in Beaumont, Texas, by Holland Reavis. It focuses on complex financial issues facing operators and investors in the Beaumont oilfields, discovered the year before on Spindletop Hill.
In 1910, Patrick C. Boyle acquires the Oil Investors’ Journal. A former oilfield scout for John D. Rockefeller and publisher of the Oil City (Pennsylvania) Derrick newspaper, Boyle renames the publication the Oil & Gas Journal, eventually increases its frequency to weekly, and expands coverage to all oil industry operations.
Today’s Houston-based Pennwell Corporation Oil & Gas Journal is a leading petroleum industry publication, notes its website. The Derrick newspaper has been owned by the Boyle family for more than 100 years. After experiencing the oil boom of nearby Pithole, Boyle was 39 when he purchased the newspaper in 1885.
Boyle was known “as the most spectacular oil scout ever employed,” notes Oil150.com. Oil Companies used scouts to spread news and rumors throughout the region – sometimes using very colorful ways to outfox their competitors. “His flaming red hair and black horse, known as Daniel Webster, helped Boyle become a legend.”
May 26, 1891 – Carbon Black Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons
Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith receive an 1891 patent (no. 453140) for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.” Their process produces a fine, soot-like substance intensely black – a better pigment than any other in use at the time.
The booming Pennsylvania petroleum industry will supply the oil and natural gas feedstock for the Easton-based Binney & Smith Company’s carbon black – which wins a quality award at the 1900 Paris Exposition.
“The objects of my invention are to manufacture lamp-black from oil in an improved and economical manner, whereby waste of the product and unnecessary expenditure of labor are avoided, and to manufacture carbon-black from gas in such a manner as to obtain improved quality of black which shall have the soft flaky texture of lamp-black made in ordinary ways,” writes Binney in the patent abstract.
Formerly the Peekskill Chemical Works, best known for its production of red iron oxide and carbon black for paints, inks, and stove and shoe polishes, Binney & Smith mixes carbon black with oilfield paraffin and other waxes to introduce a paper-wrapped black crayon marker for crates and barrels. The new product is promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named “Staonal.” It is still sold.
Binney and Smith Company – today known as Crayola – will produce its first box of eight crayons in 1903 – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown…and black. Read more in “Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.”
May 26, 1934 – Diesel-Electric Powered “Streamliner” sets Record
America’s first diesel-electric “streamliner,” the 97.5 ton Burlington Zephyr, pulls into Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition after a nonstop 13 hour “dawn to dusk” run from Denver – cutting traditional steam locomotive time by half.
Powered by a single eight-cylinder diesel engine, the revolutionary passenger train has traveled 1,015 miles.
On its record-breaking run, Zephyr burns just $16.72 worth of diesel fuel. The same distance for a coal-burning train would cost $255.
It has been just 60 years since steam locomotives and the transcontinental railroad have linked America’s coasts.
“With its spectacular appearance at the Century of Progress, Zephyr’s speed, elegance, economy announce a new era in rail transportation,” notes one historian. By the end of 1934, eight major U.S. railroads have ordered diesel-electric locomotives. The engine technology’s cost advantages in manpower, maintenance, and support were quickly apparent. Read more in “Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.”
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