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October 19, 2022  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 10

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our latest newsletter. This month features some of the earliest oil companies, a post-Civil War drilling boom (and bust) in Pennsylvania, exploration in Arizona, the first oil well fire, and a family’s keepsake. October industry milestones include the founding of Union Oil Company of California in 1890; Samuel Van Syckel’s 1865 oil pipeline; the 1930 giant oilfield discovery on a widow’s farm in East Texas; and California’s first commercial oil well, the Pico No. 4, completed in 1876. Also featured is expanded coverage of community oil and gas museum news. Thank you for subscribing and sharing this newsletter!

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.

October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded

Lyman Stewart, Thomas Bard and Wallace Hardison founded the Union Oil Company of California by merging their petroleum properties to compete with Standard Oil of California, founded 20 years earlier. Union Oil made strategic alliances with small oil producers to build pipelines from Kern County oilfields to the Pacific coast. “This gave the independent producers an alternative to what they perceived as the low prices paid by Standard Oil and the high freight rates charged by the railroads,” explained a 1914 mining engineer bulletin. Union Oil moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1901…MORE

October 10, 1865 – Oil Pipeline constructed in Pennsylvania

A two-inch iron pipeline began transporting oil five miles through hilly terrain from a well at booming Pithole, Pennsylvania, to the Miller Farm Railroad Station at Oil Creek. With their livelihoods threatened, teamsters attempted to sabotage the pipeline, until armed guards intervened. Built by Samuel Van Syckel, the pipeline used 15-foot welded joints. Three 10-horsepower Reed & Cogswell steam pumps pushed the oil at a rate of 81 barrels per hour. With up to 2,000 barrels arriving at the terminal every day, more storage tanks were soon needed…MORE

October 3, 1930 – East Texas Oilfield discovered on Widow’s Farm

With more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, creditors and spectators watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 wildcat well was successfully shot with nitroglycerin near Kilgore, Texas. “All of East Texas waited expectantly while Columbus ‘Dad’ Joiner inched his way toward oil,” historian Jack Elder noted in 1986. “Thousands crowded their way to the site of Daisy Bradford No. 3, hoping to be there when and if oil gushed from the well to wash away the misery of the Great Depression.” The discovery revealed an oil-producing formation (the Woodbine) that would encompass more than 140,000 acres…MORE

September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well

After three failed attempts, Charles Mentry and his California Star Oil Works Company discovered the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles with California’s first commercial oil well. Drilled with cable-tools in an area known for natural seeps, the Pico No. 4 well produced 25 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 370 feet. Pico Canyon oilfield production led to construction of California’s first oil pipeline and refinery — riveted stills on a brick foundation today preserved by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, and among the oldest refineries in the world…MORE


Energy Education

Stereograph view of derricks at Triumph Hill, PA , circa 1870.

A circa 1870 stereograph by Frank Robbins (1846-1924) of the east side of Triumph Hill near Tidioute, Pennsylvania. Exploration companies and speculators rushed to the Allegheny River Valley after an oilfield discovery on October 4, 1866. Photo courtesy The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Derricks of Triumph Hill

As demand for kerosene soared after the Civil War, the nation’s new petroleum industry discovered a prolific Pennsylvania oilfield west of Tidioute (pronounced tiddy-oot). The quiet hillsides of hemlock woods began vanishing in October 1866 when “oil fever” came to Triumph Hill. Despite growing recognition that crowded drilling reduced production, the boom continued as investors tried to cash in before the oil ran out. The excitement at Tidioute was joined by the roughneck-filled towns of Triumph and Babylon, where “sports, strumpets and plug-uglies, who stole, gambled, caroused and did their best to break all the commandments at once.”

Learn more in Derricks of Triumph Hill.

Featured Articles

Exploring Arizona Oil History

Reports of natural oil seeps in the late 1890s encouraged exploration for commercial quantities of the resource long before Arizona statehood in 1912. But finding a productive oilfield would prove elusive until a part-time prospector from Pennsylvania drilled wells that showed traces of oil. The wells caught the attention of other exploration companies, including several arriving from a 1901 headline-making oilfield discovery at Spindletop Hill in Texas.

Learn more in First Arizona Oil and Gas Wells

First American Oil Well catches Fire

On October 7, 1859, the derrick and engine house of the first U.S. commercial oil well caught fire. The Titusville, Pennsylvania, well had been completed in August by Edwin L Drake for the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Drake worked with driller William “Uncle Billy” Smith, who used steam-powered cable-tools. The fire started when Smith inspected a vat of oil at the well using an open lamp. The flames also consumed the driller’s home. Drake would quickly rebuild at his already famous well site.

Learn more in First Oil Well Fire.

Preserving a Family Keepsake

While working as a foreman in the oilfield service industry in the 1950s, Charles Gerringer’s father Harold operated an innovative diesel-fueled tractor in New York and Pennsylvania. The family preserved the trade magazine advertisement featuring Harold driving the latest Caterpillar. “My Dad worked for N.V.V. Franchot and was a foreman in the oil and gas fields around Allegany, New York,” Charles wrote in 2019. “I have an advertisement of him using one of the first modern Caterpillar tractors to pull a well.”

Learn more in Oil Well Tractor Ad Keepsake

Museum News & Events

West Kern Oil Museum — Planning continues for events celebrating next year’s 50th anniversary of the 1973 opening of the West Kern Oil Museum (WKOM), according to Director Arianna Mace. The museum in Taft hosted Boom Town Days on October 15 and publishes The Pumper, a quarterly newsletter.

The Olinda Oil Museum and Trail — On October 6, the City of Brea celebrated the centennial of the Brea-Olinda Oilfield’s Field House, once a petroleum company office and now filled with exploration and production artifacts. The museum was awarded a Certificate of Congressional Recognition by U.S. Rep. Young Kim.

Drake Well Museum and Park — Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) members visited the site of America’s first commercial oil well in Pennsylvania during a September tour of Titusville, Franklin, and Oil City. Founded in 1971 at Michigan Technological University, the society preserves historic industrial sites, structures, and equipment.

Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center — Docked at Pier 20 in Galveston, Texas, the retired jack-up drilling rig Ocean Star operated in the Gulf of Mexico from 1969 to 1984. Owned by the Oilfield Energy Center (OEC), the offshore museum has resumed its in-person STEM and monthly Family Day programs, according to Education Director Doris Thomas.

Earth Science Week — Every October since 1998, the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) has organized Earth Science Week to promote understanding and appreciation of the earth sciences. Participants at this year’s October 9-15 events included museums, geological surveys, parks, colleges and universities.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Thank you for taking the time to read our October newsletter. Please share it with others and tell tell them about the AOGHS website. Help this ongoing effort to preserve America’s energy history and encourage its use by educators. Your commitment to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society ensures our future operations.

— Bruce Wells

P.S.  Special thanks to staff and directors at oil and gas museums. Please keep those emails and newsletters coming.

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