Oklahoma oil history began when exploration companies rushed to Indian Territory in 1897 after a column of oil erupted from a well near Bartlesville, a small town on the Caney River just south of the Kansas border.

These wildcatters often used steam boilers to power heavy cable tools for Making Hole – Drilling Technology. It was an technique that had evolved from using a spring pole to drill brine wells for making salt. The 1897 Bartlesville oil gusher, which came a decade before statehood, was the First Oklahoma Oil Well, although some maintain a well drilled a decade early should be considered as Oklahoma’s Other First Oil Well.

As the turn of the century arrived, other oilfield discoveries followed, many making national headlines and attracting investors seeking petroleum riches in mid-continent exploration and production. Adding to the region’s oil fever, the 1901 Red Fork Gusher launched another drilling boom, soon Making Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World.” When Missouri investors saw opportunities in the oilfields at the Kansas-Oklahoma border, they formed Cahege Oil & Gas Company. Following statehood in 1907, more major discovers made the Sooner State famous worldwide.

oklahoma oil history

More than 50 refineries once operated in the Cushing area about 50 miles west of Tulsa. Pipelines and storage facilities have since made it “the pipeline crossroads of the world.” Photo from Cushing oilfield, 1910-1918, courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

In March 1912 near Cushing, the Wheeler No. 1 wildcat well produced 400 barrels a day from less than 2,350 feet deep. It marked the first gusher of an independent oilman once known as Thomas “Dry Hole” Slick.

oklahoma oil history

An historic marker commemorates the August 9, 1921, field testing of seismic technology. The site is located on I-35 about halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

Tom Slick would begin an 18 year streak of discovering some of America’s most prolific oilfields. –  and become known as Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters.

Thanks to a University of Oklahoma physicist, new earth-science technologies like reflection seismography began revolutionizing petroleum exploration in the 1920s. J.C. Karcher’s methods evolved from efforts to locate enemy artillery during World War I. He measured the first reflection seismograph geologic section during an experiment near Ardmore in 1921.

By the 1920s, auctions for Osage Nation mineral leases took place in the shade of a Million Dollar Elm near Pawhuska. Oil production Osage oilfields launched the careers of industry leaders like Frank Phillips, J. Paul Getty, Bill Skelly, E.W. Marland and Harry Sinclair.

South of Oklahoma City, the 1926 oilfield discovery at Seminole launched the Greater Seminole Oil Boom. More than 60 petroleum reservoirs were found in 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma – and seven were giants, producing more than million barrels of oil each.

America’s fascination with Oklahoma’s oilfields briefly switched to natural gas fields in 1906 after a lightning strike ignited a natural gas well fire at Caney, Kansas. Newspapers as far away as Los Angeles gave daily updates about efforts to extinguish the fire, which became a tourist attraction – and part of Oklahoma oil history. Read about the attempts to extinguish the Caney flame – which could be seen for 35 miles – in Kansas Gas Well FireLearn more Sunflower State petroleum history in Kansas Oil Boom.

Long after the the First American Oil Well in August 1859, nine out of 10 U.S. exploratory wells ended as expensive dry holes.  The fate of companies taking part in booms and busts can be found in the ongoing research at Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?

oklahoma oil history

Dozens of Oklahoma Petroleum Museums explore the state’s extensive oil and natural gas heritage. The largest is the Oklahoma History Center, which includes an outdoor exhibits of drilling and production equipment, Many are helped by retired geologists and petroleum engineers who serve as volunteer energy education experts.

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