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It’s Summertime and visiting Oil History is Easy

Take a 2017 summer vacation into America’s historic “oil patch.” Have fun and learn some petroleum history by visiting a host of U.S. oilfield communities, their museums and annual festivals.

Three days of country music highlight the annual festival in Midland, Texas.

Three days of country music highlight the annual festival in Midland, Texas.

In addition to maintaining an updated list of museums, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society draws attention to many big and small cities – and their annual festivals celebrating an industry that helped make them (and the United States) prosper since August 1859.

This list of community events – a work in progress – may not include all petroleum-related celebrations. Visit the community museum links for insights into local festivals and oil shows in your state. Please contact AOGHS to add one here!

Among the biggest oil patch festivals that take place in Texas, the “Crude Fest” just outside of Midland is one of the premier music festivals in West Texas, “featuring some of the biggest names from the Texas Red Dirt Country music genre,” declares its organizers. Begun in 1999, the three-day festival has grown every year. Before or after the music extravaganza and BBQ competitions, visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland. Read the rest of this entry »


Seuss the oilman? Thirty years before the Grinch stole Christmas in 1957, Theodore Seuss Geisel’s critters were seen in Standard Oil advertising campaigns.

seuss the oilman

Few know that Theodore Seuss Geisel created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil for many years. This Standard Oil Company “Essolube” oil change card was issued between 1930 and 1940.

During the Great Depression, the strange but wonderful creatures of the future Dr. Seuss helped sell Essolube and other products for Standard Oil of New Jersey. He later said his experience at Standard, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

seuss the oilman

Ted Geisel’s unique critters populated Standard Oil advertisements for “Flit,” once a popular bug spray.

In the cartoon that launched his career, Theodore Seuss Geisel drew a peculiar dragon inside a castle.

In the January 14, 1928, issue of New York City’s Judge magazine, Geisel introduced America to one of the many characters inhabiting his imaginative menagerie.

seuss the oilman

Dr. Seuss later said his experience working at Standard Oil “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

“Flit,” was a popular bug spray of the day – especially against flies and mosquitoes. It was one of many Standard Oil Company of New Jersey consumer products derived from petroleum.

Late in 1927, Standard Oil’s growing advertising department, which had focused on sales of Standard and Esso gasolines, lubricating oil, fuel oil and asphalt, reorganized to promote other products, according to author Alfred Chandler Jr.

“Specialities, such as Nujol, Flit, Mistol, and other petroleum by-products that could not be effectively sold through the department’s sales organization were combined in a separate subsidiary – Stanco,” noted Chandler in his 1962 book, Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”

Geisel’s fortuitous bug-spray cartoon depicted a medieval knight in his bed, facing a dragon who had invaded his room, and lamenting, “Darn it all, another dragon. And just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit.”

According to the curators of the Dr. Seuss Collection at the University of California, San Diego, an anecdote in Judith and Neil Morgan’s 1995 book Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, the wife of the ad executive who handled the Standard Oil account saw the dragon cartoon. Read the rest of this entry »


When the U.S. petroleum industry began on August 27, 1859, it launched many new industries for producing, refining and transporting the highly sought after resource. With demand growing worldwide, America for the first time exported oil (and kerosene) during the Civil War when a small Union brig sailed from Philadelphia to London.

Soon after Edwin L. Drake drilled the first American oil well along Oil Creek in northwestern Pennsylvania, entrepreneurs swept in and wooden cable-tool derricks sprang up in Venango and Crawford counties.

america exports oil

Launched in 1847 by the shipbuilding firm of J. & C.C. Morton of Thomaston, Maine, the Elizabeth Watts was about 96 feet long with a draft of 11 feet. The 224-ton brig made petroleum history during the Civil War.

“Doubt and distrust that preceded Drake’s successful venture suddenly fled before the common conviction that an oil well was the ‘open sesame’ to wealth,” reported Harpers New Monthly Magazine. Soon after his historic discovery near Titusville, Drake bought up all the 40-gallon whiskey barrels he could find to transport his oil on barges down the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh refineries. Read the rest of this entry »


Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas at the turn of the century, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler created oil town “aero views” – panoramic maps of many of America’s earliest petroleum communities.

oil town aero views

More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified. There are 324 in the Library of Congress, including Oil City, Pennsylvania. Source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.

oil town aero views

An 1896 Fowler panorama of Titusville, Pennsylvania, where Edwin L. Drake launched the U.S. petroleum Industry in 1859.

Fowler today has the greatest number of panoramic – “Aero View” or “Birds-Eye View” maps in the collection of the Library of Congress. Lithographs of his cartography (done without a balloon) have fascinated Americans since the Victorian Age.

Panoramic maps were a popular cartographic form used to depict U.S. towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Interestingly, many of what Fowler called “aero views” captured the small cities near America’s earliest oil and natural gas fields. Read the rest of this entry »


America’s first auto show opened in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in November 1900. Gasoline proved to be the least popular source of engine power.

first auto show

In 1906, a “Stanley Steamer” (above) set the world land speed record at 127.7 m.p.h. – still officially recognized as the land speed record for a steam car.

first auto show

Gasoline engines will take time to catch on with consumers.

Charles Duryea claimed the first American patent for a gasoline automobile in 1895. One year later, Henry Ford sold his first “quadri-cycle,” creating the auto industry. Meanwhile, New York City public workers were removing 450,000 tons of horse manure from the streets every year.

Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea test drove their gasoline powered automobile – built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop – on April 19, 1892.

Considered the first automobile regularly made for sale in the United States, a total of 13 of the model was manufactured by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers quickly followed the Duryea example.

Although their company would last only three years, according to the Henry Ford Museum, “brothers Charles and Frank Duryea became the first Americans to attempt to build and sell automobiles at a profit.”

It was reported two months after the company’s first sale in 1896 that a New York City motorist driving a Duryea hit a bicyclist. This was recorded as the nation’s first automobile traffic accident.

A growing number of the new “infernal machines” soon shared unpaved U.S. roads with startled horses.

Of the 4,200 new automobiles sold in the United States at the turn of the century, gasoline powered less than 1,000. On November 3, 1900, America’s first national automobile show opened in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Read the rest of this entry »


Failed oilman turns assassin! Not finding his fortune in the booming oilfields in the Union, did this once popular actor seek fame as a martyr to the Confederacy?

Dramatic Oil Company

John Wilkes Booth’s dreams of Pennsylvania oil wealth ended in July 1864. Photo by Alexander Gardner courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As the Civil War approached its bloody conclusion, in January 1864 John Wilkes Booth made the first of several trips to Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he purchased an oil lease on the Fuller farm.

Maps of the day reveal the three-acre strip of land on the farm, about one mile south of Franklin and on the east side of the Allegheny River. A small marker can be found at the site where he drilled an oil well, which is about 21 miles south of another marker – and museum – where the first commercial U.S. oil well was drilled by Edwin Drake.

Drake’s August 27, 1859, discovery launched a drilling boom that made newspaper headlines (the industry’s first “dry hole” a few days later did not).

Actor and Oil Investor

The 1863 theater season had brought a handsome, 24-year-old aspiring actor the fame he had long pursued. For years, he had struggled in the shadows of his renowned thespian father, Junius, and brothers, Edwin and Junius, Jr.

John Wilkes Booth had opened his stage career in 1855 at the Charles Street Theatre in Baltimore and became a member of the Richmond Theatre in 1858. Unlike the rest of his family, he would become a Confederate sympathizer as audiences in Richmond adopted him as one of their own. They loved the energy he brought to his Shakespearean performances – his sword fights and dangerous leaps from balconies. Read the rest of this entry »


The Anadarko Basin extends across more than 50,000 square miles of West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. It includes some of the most prolific – and deepest – natural gas reserves in the United States.

anadarko basin

The Anadarko Basin, among the most prolific in North America, includes the Hugoton-Panhandle field, the Union City field and the Elk City field.

Beginning in the late 1950s, when technological advances allowed it, Anadarko Basin wells in Oklahoma began to be drilled more than two miles deep in search of highly pressurized natural gas zones.

By the 1960s, a few companies began risking millions of dollars and pushing rotary rig drilling technology to reach beyond the 13,000-foot level in what geologists called “the deep gas play.”

Although most experts disagreed, Robert Hefner III believed immense natural gas reserves resided even deeper, three miles or more. Read the rest of this entry »


The search for new technologies for pumping oil from wells – pump jacks – began soon after America’s first commercial discovery in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania. For that well, Edwin Drake used a common water-well hand pump from a nearby kitchen.

A circa 1914 oil pumping jack, gears and flywheels remain intact less than a mile east of Powder Mill Creek in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Photograph by Patrice Gilbert, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

By the turn of the century, a wide variety of methods, including pumping multiple wells from a single power source, helped meet growing demand for petroleum.

In 1992, photographer Patrice Gilbert discovered an abandoned circa 1910 pumping machinery in the lush Pennsylvania countryside southeast of Youngstown. The heavy iron equipment must have been too difficult or expensive to move from the site when the well was capped decades ago, according to the National Park Service.

A park service historian noted the remarkably preserved pump’s advanced design was “technologically significant as representing an early gear-driven pumping jack, designed during a period of great pumping jack experimentation in the early 1900s.”


The 2015 “Today in American Petroleum History” calendar offers industry milestones with 12 oil patch photographs from the Library of Congress.

Gilbert’s photograph is among 12 from the Library of Congress collection featured in the 2015 “Today in American Petroleum History” calender published by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. The annual calendar features industry milestones, including oilfield discoveries, inventions, pioneers, and more. Sales (order here) support the society’s energy education mission.

Powder Mill Oil Well

The rusting pump jack near Powder Mill Creek and Connoquenessing Creek recalls one of many Pennsylvania petroleum booms.

The Bald Ridge field in Butler County was one of the state’s top three oil-producing counties from 1889 into the 1920s. Prolific discoveries beginning as early as 1872 eventually brought hundreds of steam-powered, cable-tool drilling rigs.

On this site circa 1914, on land owned by a man named Heckert, a Bream Oil Company drilling rig reached 1,566 feet – and struck an oil-producing “pay sand” six feet thick. Read the rest of this entry »