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April 20, 2022  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 4

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our latest look back at U.S. petroleum history, the people and events that shaped the energy industry. This month’s article links include technology breakthroughs, first oilfield discoveries, and two inventive brothers in the early Pennsylvania oil region. An offshore article notes how a converted drilling platform launched a rocket in 1999. Finally, whether kerosene saved the whales can be debated, but kerosene saved lives by replacing a popular but volatile lamp fuel.

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

Links to summaries from five weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers. 

April 18, 1939 – Patent for perforating Well Casing

Ira McCullough of Los Angeles patented a multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system. He explained the object of his oilfield invention was “to provide a device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well in which projectiles or perforating elements are shot through the casing and into the formation.”…MORE

April 11, 1957 – Oklahoma Independent William Skelly dies

William Grove Skelly died in Tulsa after a long career as an independent producer that began as a 15-year-old tool dresser in early Pennsylvania oilfields. Prior to World War I, Skelly found success in the El Dorado field outside Wichita, Kansas. He incorporated Skelly Oil Company in Tulsa in 1919, and helped make the Oklahoma boom town the “Oil Capital of the World.”…MORE

April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin

After eight months of drilling in weather that included severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered a North Dakota oilfield. The well revealed the Williston Basin two miles beneath Clarence Iverson’s farm near Tioga. Exploration companies rushed to the region and leased about 30 million acres within two months. The petroleum-rich geologic basin proved to extend into Montana, South Dakota, and Canada…MORE

March 28, 1886 – Discovery launches Indiana Natural Gas Boom

A drilling boom began at Portland, Indiana, after the Eureka Gas and Oil Company found a natural gas field at a depth of only 700 feet. The discovery arrived just two months after a spectacular natural gas well about 100 miles to the northeast — the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio…MORE

March 21, 1881 – Earth Scientist becomes USGS Director

President James Garfield appointed John Wesley Powell director of the United States Geological Survey, a federal scientific agency established two years earlier. Powell, a respected geologist and expedition leader, led USGS for the next decade, laying the foundations for modern earth science research…MORE


Energy Education

Densmore brothers oil tank railroad car, circa 1865.

The first functional railway oil tank car was invented and constructed in 1865 by James and Amos Densmore at the Miller Farm along Oil Creek, in northwestern Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum, Titusville, Pennsylvania.

First Oil Tank Railroad Cars

As U.S. oil production skyrocketed following the Civil War, the new petroleum industry’s infrastructure struggled to keep up. Railroad tank cars designed and fabricated by two brothers helped improve shipment volumes from oilfields to kerosene refineries. On  April 10, 1866, James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, patented their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum.” The dual wooden tank design did not last, but greater success came when Amos invented the “QWERTY” keyboard arrangement, leading to the Densmore Typewriter Company.

Learn more in Densmore Brothers invent First Oil Tank Car.

Featured Articles


Converted Offshore Platform launches Rocket

The Ocean Odyssey, a self-propelled, semi-submersible platform designed to endure massive North Atlantic waves, became a floating equatorial launch pad on March 27, 1999. The former ARCO drilling platform launched a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket, fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen, placing a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit from a remote Pacific Ocean launch site.

Learn more in Offshore Rocket Launcher.

Kerosene replaces Explosive Lamp Fuel

In the years leading to the Civil War, most Americans could only afford light emitted by animal-fat, tallow candles. The most popular lamp fuel by far was the “burning fluid” called camphene, a mixture of turpentine, alcohol and camphor oil extracted from camphor trees. It was inexpensive but had a tendency to explode. Kerosene, patented by Canadian Abraham Gesner in 1854, would soon illuminate the world.

Learn more in Camphene to Kerosene Lamps.

As summer approaches, new energy education opportunities are emerging at community oil and gas museums. Help them by visiting this summer. Consider hosting an educational event like a teacher workshop at their facilities. Thank you again for subscribing to this newsletter — and for visiting our AOGHS website, which has been adding content, new links (and visitors) thanks to financial help from our annual supporting members.

— Bruce Wells


© 2022 American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, District of Columbia 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996

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