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December 15, 2021  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 2, No. 12

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our last monthly chronology of U.S. petroleum history for 2021. Thank you again for subscribing and sharing these articles with others. This latest newsletter features a 1905 gas-electric hybrid auto, helium produced from natural gas, an early boom town entertainer, and a pipeline that would challenge Standard Oil’s monopoly of railroad tank cars. There’s a lot more in our December issue, which concludes with a holiday article featuring a waxy petroleum product.

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

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

December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears

“The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” declared a 1905 article in the Horseless Age. The popular monthly journal, first published in 1895, described early motor technologies, including compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam and diesel power, as well as hybrids…MORE

December 7, 1905 – Helium discovered in Natural Gas

Scientists at the University of Kansas revealed the importance of natural gas for producing helium when they discovered significant amounts of helium in a 1903 natural gas well drilled at Dexter, Kansas. The town’s “Gas That Wouldn’t Burn” led to a multi-million dollar industry, according to the American Chemical Society, which in 2000 designated the discovery of Kansas helium in natural gas a national historic chemical landmark…MORE

December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth arrives at Famous Oil Boom Town

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania, America’s first famously notorious oil boom town. A January 1865 oilfield discovery had launched the drilling frenzy that created Pithole, which within a year had 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania…MORE

November 22, 1878 –  Tidewater Pipe Company established

Byron Benson organized the Tidewater Pipe Company in Pennsylvania. In 1879 his company would build the first oil pipeline to cross the Alleghenies from Coryville to the Philadelphia Reading Railroad 109 miles away. The work – much of it done in winter using sleds to move pipe sections – bypassed Standard Oil Company’s dominance in transporting petroleum…MORE


Energy Education


Early petroleum technologies included cannons for fighting oilfield fires, especially in the great plains where lightning strikes often ignited storage tanks. Shooting holes in the tank allowed oil to drain until the fire died out. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum, El Dorado.

Fighting Oilfield Fires with Cannons

“Oil Fires, like battles, are fought by artillery,” proclaimed an 1884 student newspaper article at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The firsthand account, “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country,” described the problem of oilfield lightning strikes. The MIT article not only reported the fiery destruction, but also the practice of using solid shot from cannons to extinguish burning oil tanks.

Learn more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.

Featured Articles

Oil Queen of California

Emma Summers would become a woman to be reckoned with in the early Los Angeles petroleum industry. A refined southern lady who graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, Summers moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano. With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field in 1892, she caught oil fever.

Learn more in Oil Queen of California.

First U.S. Drive-In Gas Service Station

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold on December 1, 1913, when Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Unlike earlier simple curbside stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation.

Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

Rise and Fall of “Coal Oil Johnny”

The lucky life of John Washington Steele began in December 1844, when he was adopted as an infant to grow up on the McClintock family farm along Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. Fifteen years later, when the widow McClintock suddenly died, Johnny, at age 20, inherited a fortune in royalties. His petroleum wealth would not last, but for a time, “Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known,” reported the New York Times.

Learn more in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.”

Oleaginous History of Wax Lips

Paraffin from America’s earliest oilfields soon found its way from refinery to candles, crayons, chewing gum, and an unusual candy. When Ralphie Parker and his 4th-grade classmates dejectedly handed over their Wax Fangs to Mrs. Shields in “A Christmas Story,” a generation might be reminded of what a penny used to buy at the local Woolworth’s store.

Learn more in Oleaginous History of Wax Lips

As we head into 2022, show your support for the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and its energy education website. A special thanks to this year’s members who have contributed to our efforts to preserve the history of exploration, production, transportation, products, etc. Too often neglected, U.S. petroleum history offers a context for understanding today’s energy challenges.

— Bruce Wells

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“A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.” – San Francisco Call newspaper, July 21, 1901.

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