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May 17, 2023 –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 4, No. 5


Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our May newsletter — and thanks for sharing it with others. This month’s summaries begin with Standard Oil’s court-mandated breakup in 1911; the first well drilled in what would become West Virginia; and a history of petroleum-related minor league baseball teams. We also look at the founding of Magnolia Petroleum in 1911. Three articles feature U.S. patents, including one issued in 1877 for a two-spouted oilfield lamp; another in 1942 for a combination drilling rig and farm truck; and the third for an offshore drilling platform — in 1869. We conclude with a small natural gas museum in Kansas and the shallow Oklahoma oilfield that launched the career of Erle Haliburton.


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. 

May 15, 1911 – Break Up of Standard Oil

After reviewing 12,000 pages of court documents, the Supreme Court issued its majority opinion mandating dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey into 34 separate companies. The Justice Department had filed an antitrust lawsuit against Standard Oil in 1909…MORE

May 8, 1918 – Shreveport Gassers go Extra Innings

As baseball became America’s favorite pastime, the Texas League’s Shreveport Gassers played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was declared a tie. The Gassers were just one of many oilfield-related teams, including the Okmulgee Drillers, the Tulsa Oilers, the Independence Producers, the Beaumont Exporters, the Corsicana Oil Citys, the Wichita Falls Spudders, and the Iola Gasbags…MORE

May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well

Virginia’s oil industry began about one year before the Civil War when John Castelli ”Cass” Rathbone (1858-1948) completed an oil well near Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia. The Rathbone well reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day. Rathbone drilled more wells southwest of Parkersburg — the first petroleum boom to take place outside the Pennsylvania oil regions…MORE

April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum Company founded

Magnolia Petroleum Company began as a consolidation of several companies, the first of which began in 1898 as a kerosene refinery in Corsicana, Texas. As the company established service stations in southwestern states, Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) began acquiring the company in 1925 before merging with the Vacuum Oil Company in 1931. The new company, Socony-Vacuum Oil would later become Mobil Oil…MORE


Energy Education



Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, on May 3, 1870, received a U.S. patent for his safety derrick lamp, often called a “yellow dog” lantern in early oilfields because its two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. 

Oilfield Lantern with Two Spouts patented

Rare is the community museum with oilfield exhibits that doesn’t include at least one “yellow dog” lantern in its collection. Patented after the Civil War, the two-wicked “Derrick Safety Lamp” became an oilfield icon.. Some believe the lamp’s unusual design originated with the whaling industry, but neither the Nantucket nor New Bedford whaling museums have found evidence of this. Railroad museums include collections of cast iron smudge pots, but nothing quite like the heavy, crude-oil burning lanterns once prevalent in oilfields from Pennsylvania to California. The origins of the lantern remain in the dark.

Learn more in Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

Featured Articles

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website.

Inventing a Portable Drilling Rig

On May 19, 1942, George E. Failing (1889-1976) of Enid, Oklahoma, patented an innovative portable drilling rig he invented a decade earlier. His design combined a Ford farm truck and an assembly to transfer power from the engine to the drill. The concept had been put to the test in 1933, when a catastrophic fire threatened an entire Texas oilfield. Failing would be awarded more than 300 patents.

Learn more in Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”

Offshore Platform Patent of 1869

Any history of offshore oil exploration and production should include the “Rock Drill” platform design of engineer and shipbuilder Thomas Fitch Rowland (1831-1907) of New York City. Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works, on May 4, 1869, patented his “submarine drilling apparatus.” The design for a fixed, four-legged offshore drilling platform came just a decade after the first commercial U.S. oil well.

Learn more in Offshore Rig Patent of 1869.

Kansas Museum for Natural Gas

A museum in southwestern Kansas preserves the history of one of the world’s largest natural gas fields — and the greatest source of helium. The Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened in 1961 near a natural gas well drilled in 1945 and still producing. Founded by dedicated volunteers, the small museum and its exhibits serve “as a memento of the Hugoton gas field.”

Learn more in Hugoton Natural Gas Museum.

Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield

In 1919, the Healdton oilfield already was known as the “poor man’s field” because of its shallow depth and low cost of drilling when a 27-year-old entrepreneur arrived. Erle Palmer Halliburton (1892-1957) began applying his “Method and Means for Cementing an Oil Well,” which he patented in 1921. His service company would take the new technology to oilfields worldwide.

Learn more in Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield.

Thank you for taking the time to read (and hopefully share) these articles. Please visit the AOGHS website and stay tuned for more new research and articles about pioneers, technologies, and discoveries. Your continued interest in petroleum history is important, because the nation’s exploration and production heritage should be part of modern energy education. This historical society depends upon your support to deepen understanding of today’s energy challenges.

— Bruce Wells

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