September 20, 2023 – Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 4, No. 9
Oil & Gas History News
Welcome to our latest look at U.S. petroleum history milestones and thank you for subscribing. We begin with America’s first company founded to drill for oil — it was reorganized in 1855 after having trouble finding investors; the 1866 establishment of the future Mobil Oil; a look at early cable-tool “jarring” technology; Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom of 1919; and the 1897 founding of Olds Motor Vehicle Company. Also featured this month is how a World War II anti-tank weapon evolved into a well perforating technology. We conclude with historic discoveries in three states: the first oil wells completed in California, Utah, and Louisiana. Thanks again for joining this unique history education network.
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 18, 1855 – First U.S. Oil Company reorganizes
In need of more capital, George Bissell and partner Jonathan Eveleth reorganized their New York-based Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company — America’s first oil exploration company — into the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. They continued to seek investors for drilling a well to produce oil that could be refined into kerosene…MORE
September 11, 1866 – Distilling Kerosene in Vacuum leads to Mobil Oil
Carpenter and inventor Matthew Ewing patented a new method for distilling kerosene in a vacuum to produce lubricants. His innovation would lead to Mobil Oil. Three weeks after receiving his U.S. patent, Ewing and partner Hiram Everest founded the Vacuum Oil Company in Rochester, New York. Their first product was “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil,” a leather conditioner…MORE
September 4, 1841 – “Rock Drill Jar” Patent for Percussion Drilling
Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris of West Virginia patented his “Rock Drill Jar.” It was an innovation he had been experimenting with while drilling brine wells. “The mechanical success of cable tool drilling has greatly depended on a device called jars, invented by a spring pole driller,” according to oil historian Samuel Pees, who in 2004 noted Morris began using the technology as early as the 1830s…MORE
August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom at McKeesport, Pennsylvania
The “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, revealed a natural gas field that attracted hundreds of exploration companies — and speculators. Drilled near the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh, the discovery well produced 60 million cubic feet of gas a day. The drilling frenzy the gas field inspired resulted in $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area…MORE
August 21, 1897 – Olds Motor Vehicle Company founded
American automotive pioneer Ransom Eli Olds (1864–1950) founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan. Renamed Olds Motor Works in 1899, the company became the first auto manufacturer established in Detroit. By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one powered by steam, electricity, and gasoline…MORE
Henry Mohaupt in September 1951 applied to patent anti-tank technologies he developed during World War II, including a conically hollowed out explosive “rocket grenade” fired from bazookas.
Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology
When World War II veteran Henry H. Mohaupt patented his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun,” he brought anti-tank technology — the bazooka — to the petroleum production industry. Mohaupt, a Swiss-born chemical engineer, had led a secret U.S. Army program to develop the weapon. His design to improve perforation of well casing used conically hollowed-out explosive charges to focus each detonation’s energy. This “rocket grenade” battlefield technology would greatly improve earlier oilfield perforating “bullets,” described in a 1938 Popular Science Monthly article as “another of the latest scientific aids to oil men, the underground machine gun.”
Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.
California’s First Oil Boom
The earliest petroleum exploration companies often drilled near natural oil seeps. Discoveries of “black gold” after the Civil War launched the California petroleum industry. Even earlier, Pico Canyon, less than 35 miles north of Los Angeles, produced small amounts in 1855, but there was no market for the oil. The first California oil boom arrived a decade later in the northern part of the state.
Learn more in First California Oil Wells
Oil discovered in Uinta County, Utah
After decades of failed attempts by major oil companies, J.L. “Mike” Dougan of Salt Lake City on September 18, 1948, discovered Utah’s first significant oilfield. He had searched the state for more than 25 years before finding the Uinta Basin field about 10 miles southeast of Vernal. The Uinta Basin witnessed Utah’s first drilling boom following the discovery. A boom would later return later thanks to coalbed methane.
Learn more in First Utah Oil Wells.
Start of the Louisiana Oil Industry
Nine months after the headline-making January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill in Texas, another giant oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana. W. Scott Heywood completed a wildcat well on the farm of Jules Clement that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day from 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.”
Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Wells.
Thanks for reading and sharing September’s newsletter articles. Our website also has been updated with new state and national resource links, including Story Maps from the Texas General Land Office. As always, your feedback and suggestions are welcomed as we continue to expand the society’s network of oil patch historians. Help preserve petroleum history by supporting our efforts. Even a small contribution makes a real difference.
— Bruce Wells
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