• This Week in Petroleum History, April 13 to April 19


    April 13, 1974 – Bertha Rogers No. 1 Well sets World Depth Record

    april 13 oil history

    A 1974 souvenir of the Bertha Roger No. 1 well, which sought natural gas almost six miles deep in Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin.

    After 504 days and about $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reaches a total depth of 31,441 feet – stopped by liquid sulfur. Drilled in the heart of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, it is the deepest hole in world for several years and the deepest in the United States for three decades until finally exceeded in 2004.

    Robert Hefner III’s GHK Company and partner Lone Star Producing Company believe immense natural gas reserves reside in the basin, which extends across West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Their first attempt begins in 1967 and takes two years to reach what at the time is a record depth, 24,473 feet.

    The exploratory well finds plenty of natural gas, according to historian Robert Dorman, “but because of price controls, the sale of the gas could not cover the high cost of drilling so deeply – $6.5 million, as opposed to a few hundred thousand dollars for a conventional well.”

    The high-tech drilling of Bertha Rogers No. 1 begins in November 1972, averaging about 60 feet per day. By April 1974, the bottom hole pressure and temperature reaches an estimated 24,850 pounds per square inch and 475 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. It takes eight hours for bottom hole cuttings to reach the surface almost six miles above.

    Although no natural gas is produced at the record depth, Bertha Rogers is successfully competed as a natural gas discovery at 13,000 feet. The 1.3 million pounds of casing is the heaviest ever handled by any drilling rig in the history of the industry.

    Bertha Rogers No. 1, “cost $7 million but yielded relatively little gas,” concludes historian Dorman. “Some observers classified it as an ultra-deep dry hole.” As drilling technologies emerge, “deep gas plays” will prove successful by the 1990s. Read more in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

    April 14, 1865 – Dramatic Oil Company’s failed Oilman turns Assassin

    april 13 oil history

    A photograph of John Wilkes Booth taken soon after his dreams of Pennsylvania oil wealth ended in a July 1864 failed well. Courtesy Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

    After failing to make his fortune in Pennsylvania oilfields, John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

    Just one year earlier Booth had left his acting career to drill an oil well in booming Venango County. He and some friends from the stage formed the Dramatic Oil Company.

    In January 1864, Booth made the first of several trips to Franklin, where he leased land on the Fuller farm on the east side of the Allegheny River.

    Although the Dramatic Oil Company’s well produced about 25 barrels of oil a day, Booth and his partners determined that “shooting” their well could increase its production. As a partner’s son later recalled, “the well was ‘shot’ with explosives to increase production. Instead of accomplishing that, the blast utterly ruined the hole and the well.”

    Booth’s dreams of Pennsylvania oil wealth abruptly ended. After losing more than $6,000, he left the oil region in July 1864. Read more in Dramatic Oil Company.

    April 15, 1897 – Birth of the Oklahoma Petroleum Industry

    april 13 oil history

    A granite boulder marks the spot where a crowd gathered in 1897 for the “shooting” of the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well (named after the young Delaware Indian woman who owned the land).

    A re-enactment of the moment that changed Oklahoma history highlighted the 2008 dedication of the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 replica derrick in Bartlesville. Photo courtesy Discovery 1 Park.

    A large crowd gathers at the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well near Bartlesville, in the Indian Territory that will become Oklahoma.

    On April 15, 1897, independent oilman George Keeler’s stepdaughter drops a “go devil” down the well bore to set off a waiting canister of nitroglycerin – producing a gusher that heralds the beginning of Oklahoma’s petroleum industry.

    As the discovery well for the giant Bartlesville-Dewey Field, the Nellie Johnstone No.1 ushers in the oil era for Oklahoma Territory. By the time of statehood in 1907, Oklahoma will lead the world in oil production.

    In the ten years following the Nellie Johnstone discovery, Bartlesville’s population grows from 200 to over 4,000 while Oklahoma’s oil production will reach more than 43 million barrels annually.

    Today, a 184-foot derrick and education center tells the story in Bartlesville’s Discovery 1 Park. Read more about the Sooner State’s first commercial oil well in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

    April 16, 1855 – Pennsylvania Rock Oil promises “Very Valuable Products”

    A report about oil’s potential as an illuminant will lead to the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company discovering America’s first commercial well.

    A report from Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman Jr. says Pennsylvania “rock oil” can be distilled into a high-quality illuminating oil.

    The New Haven, Connecticut, professor’s “Report on Rock Oil or Petroleum” of April 16, 1855, is an analysis of samples from Cherrytree Township, Venango County.

    “Gentlemen,” Silliman writes to his clients – soon to be oilmen – “it appears to me that there is much ground for encouragement in the belief that your company have in their possession a raw material from which, by simple and not expensive processes, they may manufacture very valuable products.”

    Silliman’s 1855 report helps attract investors to the fledgling Pennsylvania Rock Oil CompanyFour years later, Edwin L. Drake will reward them with the first U.S. commercial oil well near Titusville. Refineries will begin producing a new, highly sought product – Kerosene. Read First American Oil Well.

    April 17, 1919 – North Texas Oilfield Booms, Again

    april 13 oilhistory

    The 1940 MGM movie resulted from oil discoveries decades earlier near Burkburnett, Texas, when future star Clark Gable was a 17-year-old roustabout in Bigheart, Oklahoma. Burkburnett Historical Society photo.

    Another drilling boom arrives in Wichita County, Texas, when the Bob Waggoner No. 1 well erupts and produces in at 4,800 barrels a day.

    Just one year earlier, a wildcat well on S.L. Fowler’s farm had brought thousands to the Red River border with Oklahoma. The county, which includes Wichita Falls, had been producing oil since 1912 (thanks to a shallow water well west of town).

    According to the historical marker in Burkburnett, “It was the first well in what became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprised of approximately 27 square miles on the former S. Burk Burnett Wild Horse Ranch. R.M. ‘Bob’ Waggoner’s well led to a boom, and the area was suddenly thick with oil derricks.”

    The North Texas drilling frenzy will lead to the popular 1940 movie “Boom Town,” which is adapted from the Cosmopolitan magazine article, “A Lady Comes to Burkburnett.” Read more in “Boom Town” Burkburnett.

    April 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Auto

    Gasoline engines will take time to catch on with consumers.

    American inventors Charles and Frank Duryea on April 19, 1892, test drive a gasoline powered automobile built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop.

    Considered the first automobile regularly made for sale in the United States, the model will be produced – a total of 13 – by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers quickly follow the Duryea example.

    In March 1896, the Duryea brothers will offer the first commercial automobile – the Duryea motor wagon. It is reported two months later that in New York City a motorist driving a Duryea hits a bicyclist. This is recorded as the nation’s first automobile traffic accident.

    By the time of America’s first national automobile show in November 1900 at Madison Square Garden, of the 4,200 automobiles sold in the United States, gasoline powers less than 1,000. The most popular vehicles are powered by electricity, steam and gasoline…in that order.

    See Cantankerous Combustion – First U.S. Auto Show.


    Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program, Exploring Energy, 9 a.m – 10 a.m., eastern time. On the fourth Wednesday of each month AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in to discuss petroleum history. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation. © AOGHS, This Week in Petroleum History.

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