September 21, 2022 – Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 9
Oil & Gas History News
Welcome to our Fall newsletter. Thank you for subscribing, which helps support the historical society’s website. This month’s articles examine first oilfield discoveries in Louisiana (1901) and Texas (1866), and a 1919 Pennsylvania natural gas field described as “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.” Also featured are petroleum industry pioneers and the 1910 founding of a utility holding company that became today’s Citgo. There’s an article about development of spherical tanks — a key industry technology for storing and transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). Our September newsletter concludes with a brief look at two excellent community oil and gas museums.
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.
September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well
W. Scott Heywood, already a successful independent operator thanks to wells drilled months earlier at Spindletop Hill, Texas, completed the first Louisiana well, which produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day on the farm of Jules Clement. Drilled six miles northeast of Jennings, the Clement No. 1 well found the oilfield at a depth of 1,700 feet. “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” noted the Jennings Daily News…MORE
September 12, 1866 – First Texas Oil Well
Although people often think of the oil discoveries at Spindletop or Corsicana, the Texas petroleum industry was born when Lyne Taliaferro Barret’s Melrose Petroleum Oil Company completed a well east of Nacogdoches. It produced 10 barrels of oil a day. The Confederate Army veteran’s No. 1 Isaac C. Skillern well, drilled in area known as Oil Springs, found the prized resource for making kerosene at a depth of 106 feet. The well’s modest oil production and limited access to markets led to the failure of Melrose Petroleum Oil Company…MORE
September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Gas Pump
Modern gasoline pump design began with inventor Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to grocery store owner Jake Gumper of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” Bowser’s pump included a 42-gallon tank, marble valves, a wooden plunger, and an upright faucet. Thanks to his pump’s success, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. The Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” would become known to motorists as a “filling station.”…MORE
August 30, 1919 – Gas Boom (and Bust) in Pennsylvania
The “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, revealed a natural gas field that attracted hundreds of petroleum companies and new ventures. The discovery well southeast of Pittsburgh produced more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, and the drilling frenzy it inspired resulted in $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area. “Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” the local newspaper reported. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses.” The excitement ended in early 1921 when gas production declined…MORE
August 24, 1892 – “Prophet of Spindletop” founds Oil Company
Patillo Higgins, who would become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop,” organized the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company and leased 2,700 acres near Beaumont, Texas. Higgins believed oil-bearing sands could be found at a geologic salt dome four miles south of town. A self-taught geologist, Higgins had noticed oil and natural gas seeps at Spindletop Hill while taking his Sunday school class on picnics…MORE
On September 23, 1947, a company already well known for building water towers and iron bridges patented the “Hortonsphere,” the trademarked name for its improved design of pressurized storage vessels named after company founder Horace E. Horton (1843-1912). Patent image detail courtesy U.S. Patent Office, Washington, DC.
Chicago Bridge & Iron Company Spherical Pressure Vessels
The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I), founded in 1889 by Horace Ebenezer Horton, built the world’s first “field-erected spherical pressure vessel,” according to the company. The giant storage globes were once constructed by riveting together wrought iron plates. Highly pressured spherical vessels are key to storing and transporting liquified natural gas (LNG) produced by cooling natural gas at atmospheric pressure to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit. A safe and efficient storage globe was one of the great innovations to come to the oil patch. Led by Horton’s son George, CB&I officially named the “Hortonspheres” after his father.
Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.
Cities Service discovers Giant Mid-Continent Oilfields
Founded in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1910 as a public utility holding company, Henry L. Doherty’s Cities Service Company quickly expanded into oil exploration and production. The company’s fortunes skyrocketed in 1915, when a subsidiary, Wichita Natural Gas Company, discovered the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in Kansas. By 1918, the El Dorado field produced 29 million barrels of oil — almost nine percent of the nation’s oil. In 1928, the Cities Service subsidiary Empire Oil & Refining discovered another giant Mid-Continent field at Oklahoma City. Cities Service, renamed Citgo Petroleum in 1966, was acquired by state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela in 1991.
Learn more in Cities Service Company.
Return to In-Person Energy Education
Community oil museums have been returning to hosting special student and teacher programs. One example was the September 3rd “Kids’ Day and Educators’ Day” at the East Texas Oil Museum at Kilgore College. Designed to teach the science, geography, and history behind the region’s 43-mile-long oilfield, events included a program about postcards from the oil patch, according to Director Olivia Moore. Collector and petroleum geologist Jeff Spencer also lectured on the life of pioneering Texas photographer Jack Nolan. “To learn about postcards, which our special exhibit currently showcases, we had the kiddos during Kids’ Day color and mail postcards at our Henderson Post Office in Boomtown, USA!”
Visit the East Texas Oil Museum.
West Virginia Museum Improvements
Repairs are planned for the antique tin ceilings of the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, thanks to a $16,000 local economic development assistance grant awarded this month by West Virginia legislators. Built in 1899, the building was home to the W.H. Smith Hardware Company until the 1980s. Today, four floors of exhibits educate visitors about the state’s petroleum history, which began with finding oil in brine wells. The museum notes that by the early 1900s, natural gas production had risen, and from 1906 to 1917, “West Virginia was the leader in gas production in the United States.” More oilfield exhibits can be found along the scenic Little Kanawha River on the grounds of 31-acre Burning Springs Park, site of a restored 1860 oil well.
Visit West Virginia’s Oil & Gas Museum.
Thank you for reading our latest highlights from the website’s updated chronology, “This Week in Petroleum History,” which is posted every Monday. Let us know your thoughts about this month’s edition. And once again, a special thank you to the historical society’s annual supporting members!
— Bruce Wells