• This Week in Petroleum History, May 25 – 31


    May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons

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    Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin will lead to Crayola crayons in 1903.

    It is a petroleum product that will lead to colorful childhoods. Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith receive an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

    Their 1891 refining process uses petroleum to produce a fine, soot-like substance intensely black – a better pigment than any other in use at the time.

    The booming Pennsylvania oil  industry supplies the feedstock for the Easton-based Binney & Smith Company’s carbon black – which wins an award for its quality at the 1900 Paris Exposition. More innovations follow.

    The company mixes carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker. It is promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named “Staonal,” which is still sold.

    Today known as the Crayola company, Binney & Smith will produce its first box of eight crayons in 1903 – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown…and black. Read Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

    May 26, 1934 – Diesel-Electric Power sets Train Speed Record

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    Chicago World’s Fair visitors admire the stainless steel Burlington Zephyr, which helped save America’s railroad passenger industry. Two-stroke diesel-electric engines provided a four-fold power to weight gain. Photo from a Burlington Route Railroad 1934 postcard.

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    During its “dawn to dusk” record-breaking run, the Zephyr burned only $16.72 worth of diesel fuel.

    A new diesel-electric “streamliner,” the 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 one eight-cylinder diesel engine, the 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 linked America’s coasts. Read more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.

    May 28, 1923 – “Oil Well of the Century” taps Permian Basin in West Texas

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    In 1958, the University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus, where it stands today. The student newspaper once described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

    It takes 646 days of difficult cable-tool drilling before U.S. petroleum history is made in West Texas on May 28, 1923.

    Near Big Lake, on the surrounding arid land once thought to be worthless, the Santa Rita No. 1 well strikes oil, discovers an oilfield – and reveals the vast Permian Basin.

    Until now, experts have considered West Texas barren of oil.

    Discovered after 21 months of drilling that averaged less than five feet a day, the Santa Rita – named for the patron saint of the impossible – will produce for seven decades.

    Within three years of the discovery by Texon Oil and Land Company, petroleum royalties endow the University of Texas with $4 million. In 1999, Santa Rita No. 1 is named “Oil Well of the Century” by Texas Monthly. Read more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

    May 29, 1940 – Nebraska’s First Oil Well

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    Nebraska’s oil production, which began in 1940 in its most southeastern county, was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil in 2012, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    After more than a half century of dry holes, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well is completed in 1940 near Falls City in the southeastern corner of the state.

    Eager to become an oil-producing state, the legislature has offered a $15,000 bonus for the first well to produce 50 barrels daily for two months.

    Drilled by by Pawnee Royalty Company, the Bucholz No. 1 discovery well produces an average of more than 169 barrels a day in its first 60 days. Richardson County enjoys an oil boom. The well is about five miles east of a “vein of petroleum” first reported in 1883.

    Today’s Nebraska petroleum production is largely in the southwestern panhandle – where a discovery well came in for 225 barrels of oil per day in 1949. Read more in First Nebraska Oil Well.

    May 30, 1911 – First  Indianapolis 500 Winner drives Alone

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    Although the 100-horsepower American Locomotive Company auto (19) won the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island in 1909 and 1910, it finished 33rd at the first Indy 500. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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    All of the cars except the winner had a mechanic to manually pump oil. More than 60,000 watched the first race.

    The first Indianapolis 500 begins with a 40-car field; only a dozen will finish the 1911 test of endurance and automotive technology. The winner averages almost 75 mph. The race lasts about seven hours.

    All the cars – except the No. 32 Marmon Wasp – have two seats. Drivers travel with “riding mechanics,” who manually pump oil.

    Created to showcase the new sport of automobile racing, early races emphasize engine endurance. Ray Harroun, driver of the winning Marmon Wasp, later develops a kerosene carburetor.

    “Let the fuel people fight it out amongst themselves, I’ll have a car soon that will burn anything they send,” he declares. Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in America just a decade before the first Indy 500,  gasoline powered less than 1,000. Learn more at Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

    Read about a record setting, natural gas fueled motor in Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

    May 30, 1987 – Million Barrel Museum Opens in West Texas

    In Monahans, Texas, the Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot main attraction, originally built to store Permian basin oil in 1928, became a water park for just one day in 1958.

    The Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot main attraction, originally built to store Permian Basin oil in 1928, became a water park for just one day in 1958.

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    The West Texas community of Monahans boasts of an oil museum like no other.

    The Million Barrel Museum opens in 1987 on a 14.5-acre site in Monahans, Texas. The museum’s main attraction is a large elliptical oil storage tank built in 1928 to store Permian Basin oil.

    The experimental concrete tank – 525 feet by 422 feet – is designed to hold more than a million barrels of oil. The highly productive West Texas region lacks oil pipelines.

    The tank’s 30 foot earthen walls slope at a 45 degree angle and are covered in concrete. It includes a roof made of California redwood.

    Unfortunately, repeated efforts cannot stop oil from leaking at seams. Shell eventually abandons the giant structure, which will be patched and briefly become a water park in the 1950s – until it leaks again.

    With the help of local teachers and historians, construction of the Million Barrel Museum began in 1986 – as part of the Ward County sesquicentennial. Read Million Barrel Museum of Monahans.


    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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