Milestones of American Petroleum History (in progress)
Although some early pioneers who drilled brine wells sometimes found oil instead, the U.S. petroleum industry began with an 1859 Pennsylvania well drilled specifically for oil for refining into kerosene lamp fuel. This oil and natural gas history chronology is a limited sample of the industry’s milestones — exploration, production, technologies, products, transportation, etc.
The petroleum industry history timeline is part of an on-going project of the American Oil & Gas historical Society’s Energy Education Committee (you are invited to join the research effort). Importantly, fossil fuel history provides a context for understanding modern energy challenges. Comments, suggestions — and additions — are welcomed.
“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
1817 America’s first public street lamp (fueled by manufactured gas) lit in Baltimore, Maryland. Illuminating gaslight brought dazzling “gems of light” to Rembrandt Peale’s art museum.
1821 First U.S. natural gas well dug near Fredonia, New York.
1829 A spring-poled well seeking brine found oil instead (bottled for medicine) from Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well.
1836 Manufactured “coal gas” street lighted Philadelphia streets.
1846 Canadian Abraham Gesner refined illuminating fuel from coal and named it kerosene (trademarked in 1855).
1850 Samuel Kier distilled oil into “carbon oil” for medicine in Pittsburgh.
1855 George Bissell studied oil seeps, organized Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company.
1859 Edwin L. Drake completed first U.S. oil well on August 27, at Titusville, Pennsylvania, launching the U.S. petroleum industry.
1859 On August 30, John Grandin drills first “dry hole” exploring for oil.
1863 Confederates raided oilfield in western Virginia, burning derricks and storage tanks.
1863 First oilfield pipeline (2.5 miles, 2-inch cast iron) operated in Pennsylvania.
1864 Union Col. E.A.L. Roberts uses down-hole explosives to fracture oil-bearing sands, “shooting” the well.
1866 First Texas oil well drilled in Nacogdoches County by Lyne Taliaferro Barret.
1876 First major California oil well competed in Pico Canyon after limited production in 1850s.
1878 Haymaker brothers well discovered massive natural gas field, making headlines, “Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.”
1882 John D. Rockefeller established Standard Oil Trust.
1885 Lima Oilfield discovered in Ohio.
1886 Indiana’s Trenton natural gas field proved to be 5,000 square miles (13,000 km).
1886 “Great Karg Well” natural gas discovery made in Findlay, Ohio.
1892 First Kansas oil well drilled at Neodesha.
1894 New rotary method used for drilling discovered first major Texas oilfield at Corsicana, Texas.
1896 Piers used for offshore drilling on California beaches.
1897 First Oklahoma oil well drilled at Bartlesville, Indian Territory.
1900 New York City hosted first U.S. auto show.
1901 Giant Spindletop oilfield revealed by “Lucas Gusher.”
1901 First Louisiana oil well revealed giant Jennings oilfield.
1902 First Alaska oil well drilled in rugged territory known for oil seeps.
1905 Glenn Pool oilfield discovered in Oklahoma, helping Tulsa to become “Oil Capital of the World.”
1908 First Model T “Tin Lizzy” produced by Ford Motor Company in Detroit.
1909 Sharp-Hughes dual-cone drill bit patented, soon nicknamed the “rock eater.”
1911 Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil broken up into 34 companies.
1911 Lakewood oil gusher in California (uncapped for 18 months).
1911 667,000 automobiles registered in United States (8.5 million by 1920).
1912 USS Texas launched, last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers.
1913 First gas station opened by Gulf Oil in Pittsburgh.
1913 Carl Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company in California.
1917 “Roaring Ranger” oil discovery in North Texas.
1917 American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) founded; 38,000 members in 2018.
1920 Permian Basin oilfield discovered in West Texas.
1920 Huntington Beach oilfield discovered in California.
1921 El Dorado, Arkansas, oilfield discovered, boosting career of H.L. Hunt.
1921 First seismograph geologic experiments made near Oklahoma City.
1922 First New Mexico oil well brought more discoveries.
1923 Permian Basin Big Lake oilfield revealed by Santa Rita No. 1.
1923 Anti-knock leaded gasoline patented.
1923 First Tulsa International Petroleum Exposition (last in 1979).
1923 Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey first used Esso trademark.
1926 Armais Arutunoff patented electric submersible pump; soon founded Reda service company.
1926 Greater Seminole oilfield discovered in Oklahoma.
1927 Schlumberger brothers invent down-hole electronic “logging tool” in France.
1927 Phillips Petroleum high-octane aviation powers Woolaroc, winner of air race from California to Hawaii.
1929 Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
1929 First recorded true horizontal oil well, drilled near Texon, Texas.
1930 Headline-making “Wild Mary Suddik” oil well erupted in Oklahoma City oilfield.
1930 East Texas oilfield discovered, proved to be 43 miles long and 12.5 miles wide.
1930 George E. Failing invented first portable rotary rig (used at Conroe, Texas).
1930 Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) founded; 14,000 members in 2018.
1931 Ram-type blow-out preventer patent by James Abercrombie.
1933 Sinclair Oil’s popular “Dino” debuted at the Chicago Century of Progress Fair.
1933 Hughes Tool Company patents tri-cone bit patent.
1937 Tragic New London school explosion in East Texas.
1938 DuPont Corp. introduces “Nylon.”
1939 Young geologist helps discover first Mississippi oil well.
1940 First Nebraska oil well completed after 57 years of dry holes.
1941 Frank Christensen and George Christensen developed diamond bit.
1943 First Florida oil well completed after state offers $50,000 bounty.
1943 World War II top-secret mission sent Oklahoma roughnecks to drill in Sherwood Forest.
1944 First Alabama oil well completed by wildcatter H.L. Hunt.
1947 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil industry began.
1949 First commercial hydraulic fracturing of oil well (Oklahoma).
1951 The first North Dakota oil well endured blizzards on Cliff Iverson’s farm northeast of Williston.
1951 Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America organized.
1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act became law.
1954 Shell Oil Company completed the first Nevada oil well.
1954 “Mr. Charlie” launched, world’s first practical mobile offshore drilling unit.
1955 American Association of Petroleum Landmen (AAPL) founded in Fort Worth, Texas.
1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act created “system of interstate and defense highways.”
1957 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) founded (164,000 members in 2018).
1958 First down-hole drilling motors used.
1960 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) founded in Baghdad, Iraq.
1960 Shell Oil and Hughes Aircraft modified a Manipulator Operated Robot (MOBOT) for offshore.
1967 Hall of Petroleum opened at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology.
1967 U.S. government tests nuclear “fracking” of natural gas wells.
1968 Prudhoe Bay oilfield discovered.
1969 Massive oil spill occurred six miles off Santa Barbara, California.
1970 Environmental Protection Agency established.
1974 Construction began on 800-mile Alaska pipeline system.
1975 Petroleum Museum opened in Midland, Texas.
1977 Improved diamond-tungsten carbide drilling bits.
1979 Exxon experimental subsea structure led to “Rigs to Reefs” program.
1980 Hydraulic fracturing used in horizontal wells in the Barnett Shale, Ft. Worth, Texas.
1988 Deadly fire at Piper Alpha platform in North Sea; 167 workers died.
1989 Exxon Valdez super tanker ran aground, creating massive oil spill.
1999 Exxon and Mobil corporations merged.
2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster began 41 miles off the Louisiana coast.
2013 Average time to drill 21,000-foot-deep well falls to 18 days or less.
2016 Energy companies agreed to reduce methane emissions from natural gas operations.
2018 Shale oil and natural gas production made U.S. energy independent.
2019 United States became top petroleum producer in world.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Milestones of American Petroleum History.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/oil-riches-of-merriman-baptist-church. Last Updated: June 6, 2021. Original Published Date: October 15, 2019.