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April 19, 2023  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 4, No. 4


Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our April look at events that helped shape the modern energy industry. Thank you for subscribing. Although this month begins with a fatal well fire in 1861, important infrastructure advancements follow. Also featured is the 1951 discovery of the Williston Basin on a North Dakota farm; the invention of kerosene a century earlier; and the 1919 establishment of the American Petroleum Institute. And with SpaceX launches making headlines, our photo is the Ocean Odyssey, an offshore drilling platform converted for launching rockets in 1999. We conclude with a promotion of community museums, a history symposium next month, and some research help requests. As always, your comments are welcomed.


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 17, 1861 – Oil Well Fire Tragedy in Pennsylvania

The early lack of technology for controlling wells led to a deadly oil well fire at Rouseville, Pennsylvania — and a painting today in the collection of a Smithsonian art museum. Among the 19 people killed was leading citizen Henry Rouse, who had subleased land along Oil Creek. When his well erupted oil from a depth of just 320 feet, the good news attracted Rouseville residents…MORE

April 10, 1866 – Brothers patent Railroad Oil Tank Car

James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, patented their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum” developed a year earlier in the Pennsylvania oil region. Using two large wooden tanks, the Densmore car improved oil industry transportation infrastructure before being replaced by the more practical metal horizontal tank. Amos later invented the modern typewriter keyboard…MORE

April 4, 1951 – North Dakota Oil Well finds Williston Basin

After eight months of drilling in weather that included severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered a North Dakota oilfield. The state’s first commercial oil well revealed the Williston Basin two miles beneath Clarence Iverson’s farm. It was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II. By 2008, the basin would  produce more than five billion barrels of oil…MORE

March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist trademarks Kerosene

Canadian physician and chemist Abraham Gesner patented a process to distill coal into kerosene. “I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaimed. Because his new illuminating fluid was extracted from coal, consumers called it “coal oil” as often as kerosene…MORE

March 20, 1919 – American Petroleum Institute founded

Tracing its roots to World War I when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort, the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded in New York City. Within two years, API had improved upon an 1876 French scale to measure petroleum density relative to water…MORE


Energy Education

1999 rocket launch from converted offshore drilling platform.

With an orbital test on March 27, 1999, the Ocean Odyssey, a converted semi-submersible drilling platform, became the world’s first floating equatorial launch pad. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

Converted Offshore Drilling Rig launches Rocket

The Ocean Odyssey, a self-propelled, semi-submersible drilling platform designed to endure 110-foot North Atlantic waves, became a floating rocket launching pad. On March 27, 1999, a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket — fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen — placed a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit from the Ocean Odyssey’s remote Pacific Ocean launch site (Latitude 0° North, Longitude 154° West). “The Sea Launch rocket successfully completed its maiden flight today,” Boeing announced. “The event, which placed a demonstration payload into geostationary transfer orbit, marked the first commercial launch from a floating platform at sea.”

Learn more in Offshore Rocket Launcher.


Featured Articles

An 1886 Indiana Natural Gas Field

Exploration companies rushed to Portland, Indiana, on March 28, 1886, after a giant natural gas field was found at a depth of only 700 feet. The discovery came just months after a spectacular gas well about 100 miles to the northeast – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio, that revealed the multistate Trenton limestone formation.

Learn more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

Spindletop Boom leads to Texaco

About one year after the famous gusher at Spindletop Hill, Texas, Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan and Arnold Schlaet established The Texas Company on April 7, 1902. Headquartered in Beaumont, the company driller Walter Sharp — future partner of Howard Hughes Sr. — would discover another giant oilfield at the spa town of Sour Lake Springs.

Learn more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.

“Wild Mary Sudik” featured in 1930s Newsreels

On March 26, 1930, highly pressured natural gas from the 6,500 foot-deep Wilcox Sand proved too difficult to control in the giant Oklahoma City field. Within a week of the “Wild Mary Sudik” gusher, Hollywood newsreels featured it in theaters across the country. A radio program gave daily updates on efforts to control the well.

Learn more in World-Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.”


Museums & Events

Summer brings Energy Education

As summer approaches, staff and volunteers at community oil and gas museums are preparing exhibits, visitor programs, and other educational events. Support these energy educators and their museums by visiting. Plenty of oil patch festivals are taking place too, including last week’s 38th Annual East Texas Gusher Days at Gladewater, Texas. Next Wednesday, Corsicana’s Derrick Days celebrate an 1894 oilfield discovery.

Oil History Symposium and Field Trip

The annual gathering of a dedicated group of historians is set for May 11-13 in New Harmony, Indiana, as the Petroleum History Institute (PHI) hosts its popular Oil History Symposium and Field Trip. The latest gathering will include an Illinois Basin field trip and presentations to be published in the next PHI journal, Oil-Field History. It’s not too late to register.


History Research

In addition to encouraging comments on articles, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society updates its website forums for sharing research information and leads. 

Old Star Oil Company Sign

A Chicago college student seeks oil history research suggestions about a porcelain sign from the Star Oil Company. “All I have to go off of is the sign with the name of a building in Chicago in the bottom corner,” he explains in his email. “I’m hoping you could help me find out even a little information about this company, I’m not looking to sell or anything.”

Learn more in Seeking Star Oil Company.

Identifying a Circa 1915 Gas Pump

The lead mechanic at the San Diego Air & Space Museum writes, “I’m hoping someone visiting the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s website can help me identify the gas pump we are restoring here at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. I believe it’s a Gilbert and Barker from 1915 or so.”

Learn more in Petroleum History Research Forum.

Thanks for reading our latest newsletter. Special thanks to new subscribers and supporting members who are linking their personal and business website to the AOGHS site. This helps expand our online presence, as does any mention of our articles on social media — and sharing of this monthly newsletter with your friends. We hope you enjoyed reading the April issue! — Bruce Wells

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