Union Oil Company (Unocal, 1890-2005) drilled the “Chapman Gusher” in March of 1919 near Placentia, California. When completed, the well produced 8,000 barrels of oil a day, prompting a landslide of investors and speculators. The well was southeast of Los Angeles oilfields discovered in 1892.

Los Angeles businessmen organized the Richfield-Union Petroleum Company in October 1919 to join the fray. Extensively reported in the Los Angeles Herald, the Chapman Gusher opened the prolific Richfield-Placentia oilfield. The discovery well would continue producing for 70 years, but not all oil companies were so fortunate.

The July 1919 Mining and Oil Bulletin noted the “tremendous rush for oil lands, the paying of unheard of bonuses and royalties, and the tieing-up of all property for miles around.” Richfield-Union Petroleum managed to secure a 40-acre lease south of Placentia (Section 31, Township 3 South; Range 9 West) and began aggressive promoting stock sales to fund drilling.

Richfield-Union Petroleum CompanyThe company offered an initial block of 50,000 shares of its stock for 50 cents per share in November 1919. Richfield-Union Petroleum was capitalized at $850,000 and raised the derrick for its first well within six months. It inticed investors with free sight-seeing trips and proclaimed, “You Should Buy Richfield-Union for its great speculative chances.”

However, relying on investor capital to sustain drilling operations made slow progress. New advertising offered company stock for $1 per share (or $1.03 “on time payments”) through the Los Angeles Stock Exchange. “Take our advice while you can – Get down on Richfield-Union’s Dollar Stock.”

By December 1920, the company’s first exploratory well was down to 2,150 feet, but “held up by a fishing job, the drill pipe having twisted off at 1,700 feet.” With dwindling finances, it took six more months to drill another 650 feet and still there was no oil.

The Los Angeles Herald of July 20, 1921, reported Richfield-Union’s properties were being taken over by the Comanche Oil & Refining Company, another Los Angeles venture. Comanche Oil & Refining subsequently reorganized as Comanche Oil Company with plans to drill more wells in the Richfield-Placentia field, but the California Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources has no record of this.

Today, Richfield-Union Petroleum Company stock certificates survive as collectible reminders of an oil venture that failed. The first California oil well that launched the state’s petroleum industry was an 1876 gusher north of Los Angeles.


The stories of exploration and production companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.


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