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January 18, 2023  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 4, No. 1


Oil & Gas History News


Welcome to our first newsletter of 2023. Thank you for joining this community of energy educators, researchers, industry professionals — and oil patch historians. This month features many milestones, including a 1911 oilfield discovery near Wichita Falls, Texas; the Union exporting oil in 1862; an early rotary rig design; and how famed journalist Nellie Bly is connected to the 55-gallon oil drum. Also featured is a 1954 depth record; “fishing” a well for lost tools; and oilfield history in Arkansas. We hope this month’s featured image encourages an in-depth look at the history of the offshore oil and natural gas industry. 


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. 


January 17, 1911 – North Texas Oil Discovery brings Boom


The Producers Oil Company discovered the Electra oilfield in North Texas, bringing the first commercial oil production to Wichita County. The Waggoner No. 5 well produced 50 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 1,825 feet on land owned by local rancher William Waggoner, who had found traces of oil while drilling a water well for his cattle…MORE


January 9, 1862 – Union Oil arrives in England during Civil War


The Elizabeth Watts arrived at London’s Victoria dock after a six-week voyage from Philadelphia. The brig carried 901 barrels of oil and 428 barrels of kerosene from Pennsylvania oilfields. It was the first time America exported oil. Within a year, Philadelphia would export 239,000 barrels of oil. The United States became a net importer of oil in 1948…MORE


January 2, 1866 – Patent describes Early Rotary Rig


Peter Sweeney of New York City patented his design for an “Improvement in Rock Drills” that included basic elements of the modern rotary rig, describing it as a “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.” His patent, which improved upon an 1844 British design, used a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”…MORE


December 26, 1905 – Nellie Bly’s Ironclad 55-Gallon Metal Barrel 


Henry Wehrhahn, a superintendent for the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company of Brooklyn, New York, received a patent that would lead to the modern 55-gallon steel drum. “My invention has for its object to provide a metal barrel which shall be simple and strong in construction and effective and durable in operation,” Wehrhahn noted. He would assign the patent to his employer, Elizabeth Seaman (Nellie Bly), the recent widow of the founder of Iron Clad Manufacturing…MORE


Featured Image

Offshore diver painting by Clyde Olcott.

Commercial divers once guided the drill pipe into the wellhead on the ocean floor, shown in this detail from “Stabbing In” by Clyde Olcott of Santa Barbara, California. New technologies would relieve divers of this dangerous offshore work. Illustration from The History of Oilfield Diving: An Industrial Adventure by Christopher Swann, published in 2007.


Offshore Technology and Deep Sea Roughnecks


The modern U.S. offshore oil and natural gas industry began in 1938, when Pure Oil and Superior Oil companies built a freestanding drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. After World War II, Kerr-McGee drilled the first well out of sight of land, and in 1948, underwater television cameras were first used for survey, inspection, and repair work. The Navy also developed deep sea technologies for submarine rescue as underwater robots began to evolve. The first floating drilling rig to use subsea well control spudded its first well in 1955 in the Santa Barbara Channel. The latest technologies require skilled men and women petroleum geologists, engineers, and offshore professionals.


Learn more in Deep Sea Roughnecks


Energy Education Articles


Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:


Ohio Oil Company drills to Record Depth


A 1954 well drilled by the Ohio Oil Company reached a world-record depth of 21,482 feet southwest of Bakersfield, California. The Kern County well was “halted by a fishing job.” Founded in 1887 in northwestern Ohio, a leading oil-producing region at the time, the company was headquartered in Findlay by 1930, when it purchased Transcontinental Oil with the “Marathon” trademark and slogan “Best in the long run.” Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 1962, the Ohio Oil Company formally adopted the name Marathon.


Learn more in Marathon of Ohio Oil


Gone Fishing for Downhole Tools


From the earliest days of America’s petroleum industry, drilling stopped when a tool got stuck downhole. The challenge of retrieving broken (and often expensive) equipment obstructing a well — “fishing” — began in Pennsylvania a few days after the first commercial well in 1859, drilled with cable-tools. Early well fishing methods often used wedges on a spear or in a cylinder for recovering lost tubing or casing. Many could be created on site since most cable-tool rigs already had a forge for sharpening bits on the derrick floor.


Learn more in Fishing in Petroleum Wells


 Oil Boom arrives in Arkansas


A well completed in the Union County field at El Dorado, Arkansas, on January 10, 1920, marked the true beginning of oil production in Arkansas. “Suddenly, with a deafening roar, a thick black column of gas and oil and water shot out of the well,” noted one observer. A young H.L. Hunt soon arrived from Texas (with $50 he had borrowed) and joined lease traders and speculators at the Garrett Hotel. “Union County’s dream of oil had come true,” reported the local newspaper.


Learn more in  First Arkansas Oil Wells


Thank you for reading this latest brief look at energy industry milestones. Your interest means a lot, especially as we expand the society’s online presence with new content. Help add to our outreach by sharing articles — at least the ones you like. Become a supporting member to make a real difference in energy education. As a friend of AOGHS recently observed, knowing America’s petroleum history is important so that “informed public policy decisions may periodically balance energy, economic, and environmental objectives.” 


— Bruce Wells

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