Oklahoma museums preserve oil and natural gas history in Bartlesville and Ponca City.
As part of Oklahoma statehood centennial celebrations, ConocoPhillips opened two petroleum museums in 2007. The state-of-the-art energy education facilities preserve oilfield technologies, rare artifacts and images. Education programs focus on the petroleum industry’s past and future at the Ponca City and Bartlesville museums.
“These museums reaffirm our Oklahoma roots,” proclaimed Jim Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, on May 12, 2007. The major oil company built the Conoco Museum in Ponca City and the Phillips Museum in Bartlesville as “gifts to the people of Oklahoma, visitors to the state, and our employee and retiree populations around the world.”
The Conoco Museum includes five areas exhibiting the evolution of the company’s business identity, marketing – and onshore and offshore technologies. Oklahoma’s first oil wells were drilled near oil seeps when the state was still Indian Territory.
One exhibit recreates a 1950s R&D laboratory; another depicts an outdoor scene of a “doodlebugger” at work; a third explains the technology behind the world’s first tension-leg offshore platform.
These and other Conoco Museum exhibits tell the story of a major oil company’s development from a small kerosene distributor serving 19th century pioneer America into a diversified global energy company. Conoco — founded as Continental Oil Company in Utah — merged with Oklahoma’s Marland Oil Company in 1929.
Conoco’s roots reach to the 1870s when Isaac Elder Blake — a young speculator in Pennsylvania and West Virginia oilfields — moved to the Utah Territory. Blake found that residents of Ogden paid $5 a gallon for kerosene refined several hundred miles away in Florence, Colorado, and hauled in barrels by bull team to Ogden.
In 1875, Blake stared a venture that would purchase bulk kerosene in the cheaper eastern market, then ship it by rail to Utah Territory. In Ogden, the oil was put into manageable containers and delivered to grocery stores, which could dispense it to customers by the gallon, profiting accordingly.
The Continental Oil and Transportation Company purchased two railroad tank cars, the first such cars to be used west of the Missouri River (learn about early designs in Densmore Brothers invent First Oil Tank).
By the late 1920s, the Utah company was adding gas service stations — and attracting the attention of a rapidly growing Oklahoma venture.
After discovering several prolific Oklahoma oilfields, Marland Oil Company acquired Continental Oil and Transportation on April 30, 1929, and established a network of service stations in 30 states.
Future Oklahoma Governor Ernest W. Marland had founded Marland Oil in 1921. Headquartered in Ponca City, the new company retained the name of Continental Oil, but adopted the well-known Marland red triangle trademark, replacing the “Marland Oils” text with “Conoco.”
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1874, Marland’s interest in geology led him to the oil exploration industry, where he made his first fortune in the oilfields of West Virginia, “only to lose it all in the panic of 1907,” according to the Marland Estate in Ponca City.
The historic site has noted that in 1908, Marland came to Oklahoma, “with not much more than belief in himself and a letter of credit. Mr. and Mrs. Marland made their home at the Arcade Hotel, and E.W. set out to explore for oil.”
After finding renewed success in Oklahoma oilfields and becoming Oklahoma’s tenth governor in 1934, Marland died of a heart ailment in 1941. His combined Marland Oil and Continental — Conoco — would merge with Phillips Petroleum Company, which had incorporated in 1917.
Phillips Petroleum, once headquartered in Bartlesville, 70 miles east of Ponca City, merged with Conoco in 2002 to become ConocoPhillips. Phillips had been founded during the early months of World War I, after the price of oil climbed above $1 per barrel.
The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum tells the story of the company’s founders — brothers Frank and L.E. (Lee Eldas) Phillips, who began their quest for oil in 1903, after hearing of vast oil deposits in Oklahoma.
In 1905, the Phillips brothers hit the first of 81 wells in a row without a single dry hole. Twelve years later, they founded Phillips Petroleum Company, headquartered in Bartlesville. Frank Phillips served as president of the company until 1938.
In June 1917, the brothers consolidated their Anchor Oil & Gas Company and Lewcinda Oil Company holdings into the new company, which began operating with assets of $3 million, 27 employees, and oil and natural gas leases throughout Oklahoma and Kansas.
After a decade as an exploration and production company, Phillips Petroleum entered the highly competitive business of refining and retail gasoline distribution. In 1927, the company introduced a new line of gasoline – “Phillips 66″ – at its first service station, which opened in Wichita, Kansas.
The gasoline is named “Phillips 66″ after it propels company officials down U.S. Highway 66 at 66 mph in route to a meeting at their Bartlesville headquarters. In the coming years the company will drill the deepest wells onshore and among the farthest wells offshore – while making petrochemical advances. Phillips chemists initially researching gasoline additives developed Marlex, a revolutionary polypropylene plastic. See Petroleum Product Hoopla.
The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville today exhibits its company heritage in seven areas:
A Pioneering Attitude – showing how the company became an industry leader, transforming basic oil and gas resources into many useful products.
Growing Strong – examining the evolution of Phillips Petroleum and how the company survived an intense series of corporate battles.
One Big Family – exhibit describes how Phillips became known for promoting the well-being of its employees.
Bucking the Odds – what was it like in the rough and rowdy days of the Burbank oilfield? The museum offers insights about petroleum boom towns.
Energy Provider – from refined petroleum fuels to super-cooled natural gas, creating ways to deliver energy to consumers.
Taking to the Skies – the Phillips Company actually produced its aviation fuels before its automotive fuels. Its high-octane Avgas helped power Allied aircraft to victory in World War II.
Selling 66 – from street corners to sports stadiums, the Phillips 66 brand has been seen everywhere. The company’s various marketing campaigns are on exhibit.
Phillips Petroleum also left its mark on the aviation industry by designing the refueling trucks and developing a new, lighter, more efficient Phillips aviation fuel. The company’s Nu-Aviation Gasoline powered the first sponsored “race for cash” flight between the United States and Hawaii (learn more in Flight of the Woolaroc).
ConocoPhillips — created through the merger of Conoco and the Phillips Petroleum Company on August 30, 2002 — was the fifth largest integrated oil company for a decade. In 2012, ConocoPhillips split into two companies, creating Phillips 66, which today owns refinery, chemical and pipeline assets of the former ConocoPhillips.
Recommended Reading: Conoco: 125 Years of Energy (2000); Phillips, The First 66 Years (1983); Oil in Oklahoma (1976). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join today as an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. Contact email@example.com. © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/conocophillips-petroleum-museums. Last Updated: May 22, 2023. Original Published Date: May 12. 2008.