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.

Pump jack art for AOGHS oil history website

The U.S. petroleum industry began on August 27, 1859, with a Pennsylvania well drilled specifically for oil.

“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.

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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.

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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 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: Last Updated: June 6, 2021. Original Published Date: October 15, 2019.


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