Businessman’s service station artifacts preserve U.S. transportation history and educate visitors.
Ed Jacobsen, once an oil company sales representative in the Chicago area, bought his first service station in the late 1960s. More than three decades and six stations later, he retired to his wife’s hometown of Three Lakes in the Northwoods region of upper Wisconsin.
But Ed missed the world of service stations. He began visiting flea markets and garage sales before creating a Wisconsin petroleum museum.
Ed Jacobsen’s expertise – and love for “the world of service stations” – resulted in the 2006 opening of Wisconsin’s Northwoods Petroleum Museum. The museum has help attracted nearly 2,000 people to an annual car show.
By 2006, as Ed’s petroleum-related memorabilia climbed above 2,700 items. He (and his wife) realized there was a looming storage problem — although he still maintained that technically, he was not a collector.
“Many collectors buy, sell or trade memorabilia to make money,” he says. “I believe in the educational value of these items – and preserving a history many people may have forgotten.” (more…)
Exploring circa 1914 oilfield production technology found in Pennsylvania woods.
The search for new technologies for pumping oil from wells – pump jacks – began soon after America’s first commercial discovery in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania. For that well, Edwin Drake used a common water-well hand pump from a nearby kitchen.
By the turn of the century, a wide variety of methods, including pumping multiple wells from a single power source, helped meet growing demand for petroleum.
A 1992 photograph of a circa 1914 oil pumping jack, gears and flywheels. The oilfield technology artifact remained intact east of Powder Mill Creek in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Photo by Patrice Gilbert, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
By the turn of the century, a wide variety of methods, including pumping multiple wells from a single power source, helped meet growing demand for petroleum.
In 1992, photographer Patrice Gilbert discovered an abandoned circa 1910 pumping machinery in the lush Pennsylvania countryside southeast of Youngstown. The heavy iron equipment must have been too difficult or expensive to move from the site when the well was capped decades ago, according to the National Park Service.
A park service historian noted the remarkably preserved pump’s advanced design was “technologically significant as representing an early gear-driven pumping jack, designed during a period of great pumping jack experimentation in the early 1900s.”
Gilbert’s photograph was among 12 from the Library of Congress collection featured in a limited-edition “Today in American Petroleum History” calendar published in 2015 by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society to support the society and energy education.
Butler County Oil Wells
The rusting pump jack near Powder Mill Creek and Connoquenessing Creek recalls one of many Pennsylvania petroleum booms.
The Bald Ridge field in Butler County was one of the state’s top three oil-producing counties from 1889 into the 1920s. Prolific discoveries beginning as early as 1872 eventually brought hundreds of steam-powered, cable-tool drilling rigs.
On this site circa 1914, on land owned by a man named Heckert, a Bream Oil Company drilling rig reached 1,566 feet and struck an oil-producing geological formation – a “pay sand” – six feet thick. (more…)
“Most books about the oil patch usually fall into one of two categories,” noted Robert Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, in a comment on the back cover of the 234-page Tornados, Rattlesnakes & Oil, published in August 2018. “The first are tributes to the ‘greatest gamblers.’ The others are tomes about the earth sciences. Rarely do we get a full-bodied peek into real life in the oil patch.”
Blackburn added that the book’s author, Thomas E. Cochrane, produced “a fast-paced and lyrical stroll through several decades of searching for oil and gas, punctuated with stories about the greatest gamblers, and insights into petroleum geology.” Another reviewer, Will Schweller, past president of the Northern California Geological Society, said this about Cochrane:
“His descriptions of his co-workers and how they put together deals is something that very few people in the modern oil and gas companies have much or any experience with. He gives apparently frank accounts of how many projects didn’t work out as well as a few that did, so I give him lots of credit for not exaggerating his successes and being honest about how hard it was to make a living doing what he did. I enjoyed reading the author’s experiences in the Oklahoma oil patch. ”
Cochrane, a longtime member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and former editor of “The Shale Shaker,” the journal of the Oklahoma City Geological Society, continues to work as a consulting geologist in his coastal region of Northern California. Cochrane is in his 80s. The former teacher also is author of Shaping the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast – Exploring the Coastal Geology of Northern California, a regional bestseller.
1917 oil discovery brings new exploration companies, drillers, speculators, and bankruptcies.
Ranger Extension Oil & Gas Company got its start thanks to the “Roaring Ranger” oilfield discovery of October 1917 at Electra, Texas. When a wildcat well on the McCleskey farm produced 1,200 barrels of oil in a single day, newspaper stories worldwide excited interest in the region’s oil riches, encouraging highly speculative ventures.
After the McCleskey No. 1 well found oil ay a depth of 3,432 feet, “development progressed rapidly, resulting in the extension of the Ranger field over several square miles of territory,” according to Contributions To Economic Geology (1922, Part II.) Ranger’s population soon grew from less than 1,000 people to more than 30,000 people.
Meanwhile, in Roanoke, Virginia, a group of entrepreneurs registered a new oil exploration company, Ranger Extension Oil & Gas Company, on September 13, 1919. The company secured a permit to do business in Texas and established headquarters in Sweetwater. By July 1920, leases had been acquired drilling begun at two wells, the No. 1 Woodrum in Nolan County, and the No. 2 Renner about 200 miles north in another booming region, the northwest Burkburnett oilfield.
Drilling with cable-tool technologies, the No. 1 Woodrum’s well bore soon “sanded in” at 780 feet deep, requiring a clean out. Operations were suspended and attention shifted to the No. 2 Renner. This exploratory well well fared better and was reported to be drilling beyond 1,500 feet by October 1920.
However, drilling deeper was not cheap, and from October until Christmas, Ranger Extension Oil & Gas suspended operations. For many newly formed exploration companies, drilling interruptions often were linked to a lack of funding, which often prompted increasingly vigorous stock sales. The company’s No. 2 Renner was given up as a “dry hole” and abandoned in February 1921.
The future of Ranger Extension Oil & Gas now depended on its remaining well, the No. 1 Woodrum in Nolan County. According to “The Oil Weekly,” drilling operations at the well restarted and had reached a depth of 2,485 feet by the end of April 1821. By mid-May, the well was reported to be 2,760 feet deep, reaching a depth of 2,835 feet by the end of the month.
Despite no sign of oil or natural gas, Ranger Extension Oil & Gas struggled along for months, drilling another 170 feet before giving up the No. 1 Woodrum well in November 1920. It was the end for the Roanoke, Virginia, entrepreneurs — and their stockholders’ investments. The company joined hundreds of other failed petroleum exploration ventures of the time, leaving behind paper stock certificates instead of dividends.
Salt wells, oil wells, and salted wells bring excitement & controversy to western New York in 1890s.
Oil ruined saltwater wells long before petroleum became a profitable commodity. Then in August 1859, “Colonel” Edwin Drake drilled specifically for oil, found it in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. petroleum industry was born.
Crude oil, whether retrieved by a spring-pole or cable-tool derrick, could be refined into the new wonder of illumination, kerosene. While drilling for salt brine remained a viable proposition, the new oil business brought spectacular tales of enormous wealth for a lucky few.
By 1878, Vacuum Oil Company (the future Mobil Oil) came looking for oil and natural gas in western New York’s oddly-named Wyoming County. Near the village of Bliss, drillers hit a 70-foot-thick bed of rock salt instead of petroleum. Vacuum Oil wasn’t in the brine business and promptly sold its interest to Wyoming Valley Salt Company. Other salt ventures followed, bringing Bliss new prosperity. Oil exploration companies moved on.
E.J. Wheeler and T.W. Lawrence – described as “two wide-awake business men of Bliss” – joined with prominent local insurance man, Norman R. Howes, to incorporate Bliss Salt & Oil Company in 1892. Stock sales would support drilling for salt, but striking oil or natural gas would be even better. In March 1892, capital stock was authorized at $4,000. “The company has over 3,000 acres of land leased and the shareholders expect to receive a good income from their investment,” reported the Wyoming County Times.
Bliss Salt & Oil Company’s first well was drilled on Stephen Bliss’ farm between Wiscoy Creek and the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh railroad tracks. The company hired F.J. “Fitch” Adams as driller. He was a 14-year veteran of Pennsylvania’s giant Bradford oilfield, 50 miles to the south. At depth of 635 feet, Adams drilled into natural gas, but continued deeper using the gas to fuel the rig’s 25-horsepower boiler.
The company reported to investors, “Salt will no doubt be reached at about 2,500 feet and as we have an abundance of water and a good supply of gas for fuel, this will be one of the best locations for salt plants in America.” Drilling went on to a total depth of 2,956 feet, passing through a second gas sand layer (100 feet thick) on the way to becoming the deepest salt well in Eagle Township.
The presence of natural gas excited shareholders, who held a vote in August to increase capital stock to $6,000. Bliss Salt & Oil announced it was “Going After Gas.”
In April 1893, the company’s second well discovered natural gas at less than 600 feet deep. The Wyoming County Times featured “Booming Bliss” and declared, “A natural gas expert from Buffalo has advanced the opinion that this well will furnish 170,000 cubic feet of gas every twenty-four hours, and that the supply will last for years.”
The news drew Standard Oil Company’s attention. Agents were rumored to be scouting the area. Driller “Fitch” Adams was cited in the Times as believing the wells were “in the gas belt” and that the supply would be permanent. “He backs his opinion by buying stock….A number of experts have given their opinion that the supply is inexhaustible,” the newspaper added.
Bliss Salt & Oil secured a boiler and steam-engine and prepared to drill a third well; but by August, U.S. financial markets were deep into the Panic of 1893 (a harbinger of the Great Depression). Oil Well Supply Company sued both Fitch Adams and Bliss Salt & Oil Company to recover unpaid debts and won.
But then an unexpected show of oil at Bliss Salt & Oil No. 2 well convinced Standard Oil Company agents to make their move. The Times reported, “That was enough for them. They immediately wanted all of the remaining unissued stock and would pay cash for it.” In a quickly engineered takeover, Standard Oil bought out Bliss Salt & Oil shareholders.
However, subsequent Standard Oil exploration efforts suggested the No. 2 oil well discovery was a scam. It was reported the oil was likely poured from a can into the well’s borehole to fool oil scouts. During the gold rush, when crooked miners planted nuggets in worthless mines to fool investors, it was called, “salting the mine.” The local newspaper defended its readership and excoriated the Standard Oil Company.
Amid the controversy, Bliss Salt & Oil Company elected a new board of directors in March 1894. Investors meanwhile read a litany of corporate skulduggery in competing newspapers, including one in nearby Arcade, where the Wyoming County Herald noted:
“Left His Creditors – Norman R. Howes, A Prominent Citizen of Bliss, Absconds. – Becoming Involved in Financial Matters He Leaves Everything behind. – His Defalcations Aggregate, a Large Amount – Attachments on His Goods.”
For the next few years, the absent Howes was repeatedly and unsuccessfully summoned by the court. On May 10, 1895, “in pursuance of a judgment and decree of foreclosure and sale,” the remaining assets of Bliss Salt & Oil Company were auctioned in a sheriff’s sale by direction of the court.
The Wyoming County Times opined, “The truth of the matter seems to be that Mr. Howes became involved in business enterprises which have proven unrenumerative to save himself from what he had already put in them, borrowed money in hopes that business would soon revive and that as a consequence he would be able to retrieve that which he had lost.”
New England history lessons left behind in failed petition effort.
Community activists in Connecticut tried but could not preserve a Standard Oil barn. Town officials approved a plan to establish a new plaza at Mead Park on the former site of the “Brick Barn” in October 2019.
The demolished structure was once a Standard Oil Company of New York storage and distribution facility built around 1910 and now part of a city park. “Save Mead Park Brick Barn” organizers learned a lot of petroleum history in their failed preservation cause.
The demolished structure was once a Standard Oil Company of New York storage and distribution facility built around 1910 and now part of a city park. “Save Mead Park Brick Barn” organizers learned a lot of petroleum history in their failed preservation cause.
They were trying to save among the last circa 1900 horse drawn oil delivery facility in Connecticut, according to Andrea Sandor in a January 30, 2018, email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. Attached were documents about a Standard Oil Company facility in New Canaan at Mead Park, 64 Richmond Hill Road. Among the petitioners for preservation was Robin Beckett.
Beckett, who has lived in New Canaan for more than two decades, is committed to promoting the town’s “unique sense of place and character among the other towns in Fairfield County and the State of Connecticut.”
For years Beckett has advocated preserving the Standard Oil barn, a brick structure built by the company in circa 1910 — “a time when the company shipped kerosene from its refineries by rail car to bulk stations from where horse-drawn tank wagons distributed it to local hardware stores thence sold to the consumer,” she explained.
Beckett discovered many little-known details about the barn during her research to prevent its being demolished: The selection of New Canaan in 1901 as a site for Standard Oil’s kerosene and gasoline facilities made available to residents (about 2,000 at the time), “the opportunity to have a new fuel source and to have life-style altering modern age products.”
The 800-square-foot building is similar in design to a 19th century carriage house. Twenty-four acres of the Mead family land surrounding the Standard Oil property was sold to the town for one dollar in 1915 by the widow of Benjamin P. Mead, upon his death. It became a park in 1930.
During World War II, volunteer women sewed clothes for refugees and folded bandages there; the American Legion held meetings there after the war; the VFW Fife and Drum Corps and the Town Band practiced at the site; and the New Canaan Garden Center planted a Gold Star Walk memorializing war casualties.
“There is no other structure like The Barn in New Canaan,” Beckett maintained. It also could be the last remaining structure of its type and style in the state. She has located a 1927 Standard Oil Company of New York map of the barn’s site on Richmond Hill Road. “The complex of six buildings that Standard Oil constructed in New Canaan in 1901 could be considered a precursor or early version of the now ubiquitous filling station thus yielding another piece of information about history.”
The Barn is the last of the original six, “and now the structure, its cultural history — both local and in the context of the national history are understood,” proclaims Beckett. It was almost demolished in 2009 until a delay was granted by the Historic Review Committee. It has been used as a city garage most of the time since.
“I feel the town has a responsibility to listen to the nearly 500 petitioners who recognize The Barn’s historical significance and support it productive, adaptive reuse,” she concluded. Beckett also believes the building should be placed on State Register of Historic Places. The Friends of the Mead Park Carriage Barn launched their petition drive in 2010, according to the New Canaan Patch.
“We’re talking to different organizations and researching public and private funding for the renovation. Whatever its future use would be, if preserved and restored it would remain a piece of New Canaan’s history and past and that’s worth saving,” noted activist Mimi Findlay. The small community has been home to several leading petroleum industry executives (learn more in Oil Executives in Connecticut).
Since its incorporation in 1901, New Canaan has attracted many corporate leaders from nearby New York City. Oil executives in Connecticut have include top industry leaders, according to Andrea Sandor, who in 2018 was part of a ultimately unsuccessful local effort to preserve a circa 1900 Standard Oil Company carriage house (see Preserving a Standard Oil Barn).
Among leading oil and natural gas company executives who have lived in New Canaan, about 50 miles northeast of New York City, at least three played important roles at Standard Oil of New York’s successor, ExxonMobil.
Rawleigh Warner Jr. (1921-2013) spent most of his career helping transform Mobil Oil into one of the world’s largest corporations. Another New Canaan resident, Edwin C. Holmer (1921-2008) served as president of Exxon Chemical Company in the 1970s and later as a vice president of Exxon Corporation.
Arthur R. Mardoian (1927-2014) joined Socony Vacuum Oil in 1954, long before it became Mobil Oil. Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) Vacuum Oil Company was one of the 34 companies formed after the Supreme Court broke up the Standard Oil Trust in 1911. Mardoian led a Mobil task force, which “designed, erected and successfully operated the world’s first commercial zeolitic catalyst plant,” noted the New Canaan Advertiser in his June 4, 2014, obituary. Known by chemists as molecular sieves, zeolites can be found in most of the major catalytic processes in modern petroleum refineries.
“Today, the worldwide petroleum industry is dependent on the use of zeolitic catalysts to produce vastly increased gasoline yields and other valuable products,” explained the New Canaan Advertiser. “In addition, Mr. Mardoian authored Mobil’s company-wide Transportation Emergency Response System to react, within minutes, to company hydrocarbon spills within the United States.”
Edwin Holmer received a chemical engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, in 1942. He worked at Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now ExxonMobil) and became president of the Exxon Chemical Corporation. In the 1980s he served as chairman of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, which became the American Chemistry Council in 2000.
Rawleigh Warner Jr. graduated from Princeton and followed his father into the oil business. By the 1980s he helped make Mobil Oil Corporation the second-largest American company after Exxon (the companies merged in 1999).
As Mobil chair and CEO from 1969 to 1986, Warner enhanced the company’s image by introducing “Masterpiece Theater” to public television in 1971. Sponsorship of the WGBH Boston program, encouraged by Mobil Vice President Herbert Schmertz, proved to be a major public relations success.
Warner’s father had been chairman of Pure Oil Company, which began by marketed illuminating oil by tank wagons in the late 1890s in Philadelphia and New York — successfully competing with the Standard Oil monopoly. Warner Jr.’s oil career began in 1948 when he joined the financial department of Continental Oil Company in Houston, Texas. In 1953, Warner was recruited by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, where he eventually became a regional vice became president of the renamed Socony Mobil Oil Company in 1965. The company changed its name to Mobil a year later.
Warner replaced the corporate logo of Pegasus with simple block red and blue letters; however, many ExxonMobil company products still feature the winged red horse, a trademark since its affiliation with Magnolia Petroleum Company in the 1930s. The Vacuum Oil Company trademarked the Pegasus logo in 1911. Learn more about the logo’s petroleum heritage in Mobil’s High Flying Trademark.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Executives in Connecticut.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/oil-executives-connecticut. Last Updated: April 20, 2020. Original Published Date: February 15, 2018.
There would be no East Coast oil boom, despite enthusiastic promotions of a fake New Jersey oil well after a family in Millville decided to expand from real estate into oil exploration business on their farm in Cumberland County.
As early as August 1916, a West Coast newspaper covered the unusual attempt to find oil East Coast oil. “Lewis Steelman, the man who has been prospecting for oil near Millville, N.J., for some time, has begun active work to locate an oil well and he confidently expects to strike the fluid,” reported California’s Santa Ana Register.
Steelman Realty Gas & Oil Company
“Steelman has secured options on the property in the vicinity of his estate at Cumberland, near here, and has erected a derrick 75 feet high, by which the drilling will be done,” the newspaper explained.
A New Jersey “oil well” drilled in 1916 was said to have found a previously unknown geologic oil-bearing formation.
Steelman Realty Gas & Oil Company officially incorporated on November 13, 1916, with $300,000 in capital. Most of the company’s stock was sold to Pittsburgh independent producers. Officers included Lewis Steelman, Merton Steelman and Leroy Steelman. Their objective was to “drill for natural gas and oil on lands of the company.”
When a Steelman exploratory well reportedly discovered oil 800 feet deep on a 1,500-acre tract, the Petroleum Gazette in Titusville, Pennsylvania, took note of the discovery. “Lewis Steelman struck oil on his estate four miles east of Millville in the depths of a big forest. Experts who were here several months ago assured Steelman that there was oil on the property and he built a derrick and today struck a deposit which it is believed will yield 25 barrels of crude oil daily.”
The Petroleum Gazette (published where the first U.S. oil well had been drilled in 1859) added that Steelman was not satisfied with the oil strike and would “go a few feet lower to protect himself from prospectors who might drain his well.”
Geologic Predictions of Dr. von Hagen
With Steelman Realty Gas & Oil said to be buying hundreds of acres of forest land surrounding Steelman property, company stock sales were buttressed by the declarations of geologist Dr. H.J. von Hagen, cited as “one of the world’s greatest living geologists and petroleum engineers.”
Dr. von Hagen also predicted this previously unknown geologic oil-bearing formation extended into Maryland and West Virginia, varied in width, “but is nowhere more than fifteen miles across.” Dr. von Hagen had spent two years in tracing it, the newspaper added.Covering news of the New Jersey wildcat well from North Carolina, the Durham Morning Herald reported Dr. von Hagen as one of the men who had struck oil at Millville. The newspaper quoted the geologist as saying the petroleum came from “a great belt which starts near Moncton, New Brunswick, reappears at the eastern end of Long Island, runs near Lakewood, N.J.”
Newspapers as far away as California reported the dubious New Jersey oil discovery.
“Dr. von Hagen says he and his associates have received a $100,000 offer for the well which they are sinking, and from which they can get about fifteen barrels of oil a day, though the final depth has not been reached,” reported the Morning Herald. Dr. Von Hagan himself leased thousands of acres of land east of Millville, as well as nearby Hammonton.
It looked like the beginning of New Jersey’s first commercial oil production. Then Bridgewater’s Courier-News reported startling news. “Dr. von Hagen and His Bag Gone,” the account began. “Residents of this city, Millville and other places in this section are puzzled over Dr. von Hagen and his oil locating scheme. The doctor is away, his offices here are unoccupied at the present, no oil has been struck, and no one has been asked to buy stock.”
The Courier-News also had something to say about the geologist and his unusual methods. “The story about the doctor sinking his wells for wireless communication with Germany is all rot. He claims to have discovered the secret of locating oil under ground. He has a little bag with a golden cord attached. When that Is held over ground where there is oil the bag becomes agitated and swings violently.”
Meanwhile, another account of the well from the Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter said the discovery had “brought considerable notoriety to a locality in which geologic conditions, as promptly announced by the State geologist, are unfavorable to the occurrence of oil in commercial quantities…No instance of oil seepage and no oil-bearing shales have ever been observed by any worker on the State Geological Survey.”
The publication added that the survey had been “continuously active since 1864” and the geology of New Jersey had been studied “to a more minute degree than that of any other State, the conclusion seems irresistible that they (oil-bearing formations) do not occur.”
No New Jersey Oil Boom
Articles describing a successful oil well in New Jersey nonetheless excited investors and apparently attracted more drillers and cable-tool rigs. “Discovery of Flow Near Millville, N.J., Starts Rush of Prospectors,” proclaimed the Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Times. “The Steelman Realty, Gas and Oil Company, which recently struck oil at their well on the 1,500 [acre] tract three miles east of Millville, has received pipe for a second well which will be started at once.”
“The old timers called the woods road leading to the site Oil Well Road,” notes one Millville resident.
The newspaper said pipe and drills had arrived “for three independent concerns, and prospectors from Oklahoma and elsewhere will sink the wells on leased ground near the location of the well where oil has been struck.”
However, the state geologist remained dubious. “All drilling for oil here is extremely speculative and should be undertaken only by those who fully understand the hazards of the game and can afford to lose their entire venture,” he warned. “The public should therefore beware of stock-selling schemes based on reported discoveries or assumed occurrences of oil in New Jersey.”
An October 1917 report on the well’s status noted technical problems. “For months no work was done at the well owing to the loss of tools and obstruction of the casing (see Fishing in Petroleum Wells).” Despite this trouble, “the sale of stock in an oil and realty company controlling adjoining territory was actively pushed by some of the persons interested in the company which sank the well.”
Millville resident George Martin tracked down the abandoned New Jersey well.
Perhaps the New Jersey State Geologist had the last word about the well when:
“Facts have come to his knowledge which verify what he formerly suspected, namely, that the reputed discovery at Millville was a fake pure and simple, although not all of the persons interested in drilling the well had knowledge of the fraud.”
Steelman Realty, Gas and Oil Company stock certificates today are valued by collectors as remnants of a failed petroleum speculation scheme. “New Jersey Not a Good Field for Oil Investments,” concluded the April 1921 Oil Trade Journal.
For a thoroughly researched chronology of the Steelman well, visit the Millville Historical Society and see Paul M. McConnell’s “A Century Ago, Southern New Jersey Had Its Fifteen Minutes of Fame.”
Home to major East Coast refineries, New Jersey has never produced commercial quantities of oil or natural gas.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society thanks long-time Millville resident George R. Martin, who trekked the countryside to find the Steelman well in 2017. “”My father and my uncle took me to see it many years ago,” he recalled. “The old timers called the woods road leading to the site Oil Well Road.”
The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum in Walcott hosts an annual Jamboree attended by 30,000 people. The trucking museum has more than 100 antique trucks on display.
The museum’s collection was started in 1979 by Iowa 80 truck stop founder Bill Moon – who had an obvious and unmatched passion for trucks. He looked for a unique truck or artifact to add to his collection. Every summer, this museum at exit 284 on I -80 outside Walcott, Iowa, hosts a variety of events for truckers and other travelers, teachers, students – and transportation history buffs.
“If you are the least bit into cars you will find the museum interesting and well worth the stop,” notes a visitor from Legendary Collector Cars.”From what we could tell, it looks like this I-80 Exit at Walcott Iowa is about to become the over the road truckers Disneyland in a few years.”
The museum attracts all kinds of visitors, from those interested in antique trucks to those wanting to learn the history of modern, big rigs. Exhibit spaces, which expanded in March 2012, now offer a free app for iPhones and Androids with audio narratives. (more…)
Volunteers are key to Oblong museum’s exhibits and energy education events.
Building a community oil museum is not for the faint of heart. “Money and volunteers, volunteers and money,” are the biggest challenges, according to John Larrabee, board president for the Illinois Oil Field Museum and Resource Center on the outskirts of his hometown of Oblong, Illinois.
The Illinois Oil Field Museum is located in Oblong, Illinois, on Highway 33, southeast of Effingham. First opened in 1961, the museum moved into a new building in 2001. Photo by Kris Wells.
“The first thing you have to have is a goal and the determination to keep at it, no matter what. Don’t give up, whatever happens,” Larrabee explained in a 2004 interview with Kris Wells, American Oil & Gas Historical Society volunteer researcher and contributing editor. (more…)
A shallow Oklahoma field produced industry service company giant.
After World War I, a young oilfield worker in Oklahoma’s booming Healdton oilfield began experimenting with a new method for cementing oil wells. Years later he would lead a worldwide oilfield services companies.
The story began in 1919 when Erle Palmer Halliburton (1892-1957) arrived in Ardmore, Oklahoma, to take part in the frenzied drilling of the Healdton oilfield. He came to the small town 20 miles east of Healdton after experiencing another nearby headline-making boom town in Burkburnett, just across the Red River border in Texas.
The Healdton field had been revealed by the Wirt Franklin No. 1 well in August 1913 about northwest of Ardmore. The well, drilled by another future leader of the petroleum industry, revealed an easily reached oil-producing formation. The Healdton field would be known as the “poor man’s field,” thanks to its shallow depth and consequent low cost of drilling. The area attracted independent producers with limited financial backing – leaving out many major oil companies.
The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts annual oil history events.
“Within a 22-mile swath across Carter County, one of the nation’s greatest oil discoveries was made – the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Field,” notes historian Kenny Arthur Franks.
“Encompassing some of the richest oil-producing land in America, Healdton and Hewitt, discovered in 1913 and 1919 respectively, produced an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” he explains.
In addition to launching Halliburton’s petroleum career, it also helped independent producer Wirt Franklin became the first president of the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 1929.
Among those who established themselves at Healdton were Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner and former Governor Charles Haskell. The Healdton Oil Museum preserves their petroleum exploration and production heritage.
Thanks to the Healdton drilling boom and its many shallow wells, Halliburton established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan. He was soon experimenting with technologies to improve oil well production.
Water intrusion hampered many wells, requiring time and expense for pumping out. Water, he noted in a 1920 patent application, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”
Awarded a U.S. patent the next year for his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” the 28-year-old inventor was just beginning. The cementing innovation – at first resisted by some oilfield skeptics – isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life.
The city of Duncan, Oklahoma, dedicated a Halliburton statue in 1993.
Halliburton’s well cementing process revolutionized how oil and natural gas wells were completed. He went on to patent much of today’s cementing technology – including the jet mixer, the remixer and the float collar, guide shoe and plug system, bulk cementing, multiple-stage cementing, advanced pump technology and offshore cementing technology.
In 1938, Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company moved offshore with a barge-mounted unit cementing a well off the Louisiana coast.
In 1949, Halliburton and Stanolind Oil Company completed a well near Duncan, Oklahoma – the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing (also see Shooters – A “Fracking” History).
“Halliburton was ever the tinkerer. He owned nearly 50 patents,” notes William Pike, former editor-in-chief of E&P magazine. “Most are oilfield, and specifically cementing related, but the number includes patents for an airplane control, an opposed piston pump, a respirator, an airplane tire and a metallic suitcase.”
Pike adds that Halliburton’s only real service company competitor for decades was Carl Baker of Baker Oil Tools. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.
Another Oklahoma oilfield service company, the Reda Pump Company was founded by Armais Arutunoff, a close friend of Frank Phllips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artifical lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump. Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump.
Canadian author preserves history of Alberta Energy Industry.
After extensive research and interviews with key sources, Joyce Hunt of Calgary, Canada, in 2012 published a 400-page illustrated book Local Push-Global Pull: The Untold Story of the Athabaska Oil Sands, 1900-1930.
“If the Oil Sands have been a curiosity to you and you want to fully understand and appreciate the events that shaped the development of the oil sands industry in Alberta, this book is a must read,” noted a February 2012 book review of her work.
Joyce Hunt’s introduction to petroleum came at an early age in New Brunswick, Canada.
“In order to have an educated opinion about the Oil sands, one must first understand the history that led to the development of this massive resource,” the reviewer added.
While the time period Hunt focuses on is different from the significant growth of modern oil sands projects, there are common threads. “The major issues 100 years ago were not that different from the major issues the big players face today,” Joyce Hunt proclaims. She among the sources she cites is a 1920 article in Imperial Oil Review (Canada:
“It is expected that the history of the petroleum industry will again repeat itself and that the higher crude oil prices now prevailing will stimulate production and bring into existence new sources of supply which will ultimately overtake the increasing consumption.
The high price did indeed stimulate exploration throughout the world, and Alberta, Canada, was no exception, says Hunt, who reviews the role of technologies, economics, regulations, war and energy demand that shaped the energy resource.
Although conventional drilling methods were used in most of Alberta, she notes, experiments with extraction processes characterized development work in the Athabasca region throughout the 1920s.
“This economic environment provided the global pull that furthered the local push for ways to develop the Athabasca tar-sands. The deposits had been the subject of examination by curiosity seekers, investigation by government officials, attempted exploitation by promoters, as well as analysis by scientists,” Joyce explains.
“These deposits, unlike conventional petroleum sources, were visible, and well known throughout the petroleum industry, although they were still misunderstood,” she adds. “While many recognized the potential value of the deposits and pushed to develop them, others struggled with suitable terms to describe them, where as some searched for an explanation of their origin.”
Citation Information – Article Title: “History of Alberta, Canadan Tar Sands.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/history-of-canadian-oil-sands. Last Updated: May 3, 2021. Original Published Date: September 1, 2012.
If you are seeking information here, chances are you will not find lost riches – see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, depends on your support, and (alas) does not have resources to research all oil corporate histories.
Eagle Oil and Gas Company is notable for having drilled the first natural gas well in Van Buren County, Arkansas, in 1923. The well was reported to have production of four million cubic feet, but company president W.E. Hall (William Edward) died that year and the company soon disappeared. Hall bequeathed to his widow (Leona) property and mineral rights in Section 32, Township 9 North, Range 13 West, of Van Buren County.
Seventy-five years later, 15 heirs and about 65 other claimants created a leasing nightmare when SEECO Inc., a subsidiary of Southwestern Energy, wanted to drill for natural gas on the property. It proposed drilling deep into the Fayetteville shale formation. Each claimant had to be found, an audit trail substantiated, and lease agreements made in order to proceed. Hundreds of pages of research and documentation ensued, followed by litigation. SEECO ultimately drilled five producing gas wells on the property. Information about the early days of Eagle Oil & Gas Company may be found at the Van Buren County Historical Society in Clinton, Arkansas.
E.A. Johnston Oil Company
E.A. Johnston Oil Company was a relatively short-lived venture, incorporated January 27, 1919, with $1 million capitalization. The company held a lease for 500 acres in Archer County, Texas, just south of oil discoveries a year earlier around Wichita Falls (learn more in Boom Town Burkburnett). Records at the Texas Railroad Commission may have details of E.A. Johnston Oil drilling operations – if any were ever undertaken.
At the end of August 1919, enthusiastic E.A. Johnston Oil stock promotions briefly appeared in both the Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette, as well as the Washington Post, and the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle. Each newspaper featured a prominent advertisement extolling the oil exploration company’s opportunities in Texas. The ads made a persuasive case in pursuit of investors and were headlined by the attention-grabbing “Oil or Money Back.” Little more is known about the abrupt disappearance and mysterious of the E.A. Johnston Oil Company. (more…)
Chicago business seeks shaky shale opportunities during WWI.
As the end of the 20th century, record-breaking petroleum production from shale grew thanks to drilling and production technologies that produced from low permeability “tight oil” formations. But a century ago, oil shale was an unconventional resource mined, crushed and transported to a retorting facility.
At the beginning of the 20th century, mining shale was an oil extraction process that converted organic matter within the rock (kerogen) into synthetic oil and gas, which could be used as a fuel or upgraded for an oil refinery feedstock. By 1912, the strategic importance of America’s mined oil shale production led to establishment of the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves in 1912, “to insulate the United States from foreign dependency on oil during times of war.”
Meanwhile, fuel oil also began replacing coal in U.S. warships (See Petroleum and Sea Power), as World War I erupted in Europe. After more than three years of neutrality, America entered the war on April 2, 1917. Recognizing wartime demand for oil, Van H. Manning, director, U.S. Bureau of Mines, declared, “We have as yet untouched our great reserves of shale that contain oil…and are conservatively estimated to contain many times the amount of oil that has been or will have been produced from all the porous formations in this country.”
Central Oil Shale Refining Company formed with $500,000 capitalization and set up offices in Chicago. The venture saw a financial opportunity in mining oil shale and secured leases on 480 acres in Garfield County, Colorado, an area with known deposits. Central Oil Shale Refining also leased a total of about 5,000 acres in Kentucky, Kansas, and Texas. These investments were a gamble on the margins of supply and demand.
Despite the risks, Central Oil Shale Refining presented “Expert Information on Oil Shale” to stockholders and potential investors at Chicago’s Palmer House hotel. Company executives promoted the mining and distillation of Colorado oil shales as an opportunity not to be missed. It helped that publications like Oil Field Engineering (December 1917) proclaimed oil shales as “A New Source of Gasoline.”
Oil shale operator Joseph Bellis presented a business model to the Palmer House audience, describing oil shale production process and economics. Bellis, a veteran of Colorado oil shale mining in the Piceance Creek Basin, later published a paper in the Colorado School of Mines’ quarterly magazine. His presentation may have helped Central Oil Shale Refining stock sales, but the company’s trajectory had already been determined on a farm near Ranger, Texas.
Concerns about U.S. wartime oil supplies declined — along with oil prices — soon after an October 17, 1917, gusher halfway between Abilene and Dallas. Still annually celebrated by area residents, “Roaring Ranger” J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day. Other wells in the oilfield would yield up to 10,000 barrels of oil daily. The North Texas drilling boom opened giant fields near Desdemona and Breckenridge (Conrad Hilton would buy his first motel in Cisco). An even bigger oilfield was found in 1918 at Burkburnett, near Wichita Falls. With suddenly abundant supplies, oil sold for less than $2 per barrel — five cents a gallon.
Central Oil Shale Refining was in deep trouble. Even if every ton mined resulted in 50 gallons of oil, it would take more than 1,300 tons of shale every day to match the McCleskey’s well production alone. The numbers didn’t work and debts need to be paid. In a last effort to survive, Central Oil Shale Refining reorganized with the same officers, moved its offices, and subtly changed its name to Central Oil Shale and Refining Company. The new company quickly failed, leaving a brief shadow in financial records.
In the 1980s, new technologies revolutionized petroleum production from low-permeability shales. Although geologists had known of the potential of drilling in these “tight oil” formations, only one percent of U.S. natural gas production came from shale as late as 2000. But by applying horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques, in 2010 shale gas production reached more than 20 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which has predicted that by 2035, almost 50 percent of the United States’ natural gas supply will come from shale gas.
The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center (CSRHC) in Enid, Oklahoma, preserves the story of settling the Cherokee Strip — and includes a wide variety of petroleum history exhibits. The museum opened in 2011 in partnership with the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Enid’s heritage center stands on “one of the most historic spots in the history of the American West,” overlooking a Chisholm Trail watering hole and the only remaining 1893 U.S. Land Office, according to CSRHC, staking a claim to a piece of land on the day of the land run and hard journey for those who poured over the border on September 16, 1893.
Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center Chairman Lew Ward addressed a crowd gathered at the latest cultural addition to Enid on April 1, 2011: “Opening the heritage center is the closing of one chapter, but just the beginning of another to fulfill our pledge of claiming our past and inspiring our future,” announced the independent oilman who was instrumental in its establishment.
Hundreds gathered for the April 1, 2011, opening of the $10 million Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center on the east side of Enid, Oklahoma.
The $10 million center’s opening followed six years of dedicated work, explained Ward, who died in March 2016 after leading state and national energy industry associations and receiving numerous lifetime achievement awards.
“Exhibits and programs will make a significant impact on future generations,” noted Ward, who founded Enid-based Ward Petroleum in 1963. The past chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) received many awards, including the petroleum industry’s Chief Roughneck Award in 1999 (the American Oil and Gas Historical Society awarded him its “oil patch preservationist” award in 2007).
The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center includes a 1927 portable drilling rig created by petroleum technology pioneer George E. Failing, who added a drilling rig to a Ford farm truck. The same engine that drove the sturdy truck across the oilfields was used to power its rotary drill.
Thanks to Ward’s help, in 2005 the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center Inc. was created through partnerships with the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Sons & Daughters of the Cherokee Strip Pioneers Association, and the Phillips University Legacy Foundation.
Annually awarded since 1955, the U.S. petroleum industry honored Heritage Center Chairman Lew Ward in 1999 as “Chief Roughneck.”
The heritage museum at the new center’s location at the eastern edge of Enid and became a property of the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1976. As a result, Ward noted the center’s oral history library contained more than 260 interviews capturing the stories of the Cherokee Strip from those who have lived them. “This growing library is an invaluable component of historical research for our region,” he added.
“Trained staff and volunteers collect the oral histories of people from the Cherokee Strip and Northwest Oklahoma,” Ward said. “The interviews are then transcribed and made available to the public and for use in the Research Center.”
Further, a the center has hosted teachers seminars on the Enid campus of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, according to Ward. The seminar explained to teaches how to incorporate lessons of leadership into their curriculum through the study of history,” he explained.
In November 2013, the center was selected by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board (OERB) to partner in the statewide school education programs – OERB Homeroom.
In 1917, Herbert H. Champlin purchased a small refinery on the outskirts of Enid. By 1944 his company operated service stations in 20 states.
OERB spends millions of dollars annually to provide teacher training, curricula and programs that bring the petroleum industry to classrooms across the state – and offers free field trips to selected museums. “We are thrilled that the Heritage Center has been chosen to partner with OERB in their school education program,” said Museum Director Andi Holland.
“The heritage center’s Dave Donaldson Oil and Gas Gallery is well equipped marking the beginnings of oil and gas production in the Cherokee Strip through its economic importance to Northwestern Oklahoma today,” Holland added. The center’s gallery includes a series of interactive features about how natural resources are found, produced and refined.
A program already created by the heritage center’s education department is called “Boom and Bust, Natural Resources in the Cherokee Strip,” said Cody Jolliff, the Enid museum’s education director.
“This partnership will allow more students to attend the heritage center and learn more about Northwest Oklahoma and the rich natural resources that impact our lives,” Jolliff added.
The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center’s exhibits include: The Outlet – Learn about life before the land run, and how the run changed the course of history; The Land & the People Gallery – Hear the stories of settlers in the years after they staked their claims.
Also among the exhibits, the Thelma Gungoll Phillips University Gallery – Celebrate the founding and history of the first private university in the state.
Finally, the Dave Donaldson Oil & Gas Gallery offers a Champlin Oil exhibit. “The Champlin Refining Company, which for many years held the distinction of being the nation’s largest fully integrated oil company under private ownership, was based at Enid,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/cherokee-strip-regional-heritage-center. Last Updated: May 18, 2021. Original Published Date: June 1, 2011.
Readable energy education resources from the Society of Petroleum Engineers.
“Oil and Natural Gas is SPE’s fun, colorfully illustrated, and information-filled book on the history and uses of oil. This hardbound book is appealing to kids of all ages and adults! Currently available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese.” – Energy4me
Detailed illustrations tell the story of the industry’s heritage in Oil and Natural Gas – a book from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Best of all, it can be downloaded for free, thanks to Energy4me.
Discovering the story of petroleum – and the many ways it shapes the world – is the theme of this illustrated guide to the industry’s past, present and future.
“Our world is ruled by oil. People have used oil for thousands of years, but in the last century we have begun to consume it in vast quantities,” begins the first chapter, which explains one of the world’s largest and most complex industries.
Oil and Natural Gas is an educational book specifically targeted for students. The book, adapted for SPE from a 2007 edition by DK Publishing, London, features such topics as ancient oil, oil for light, natural gas, deepwater technology, piped oil, refineries, global oil, electricity, oil substitutes, and job opportunities.
In 74 pages, the hardbound edition offers young people a surprisingly comprehensive introduction to the history and many uses of oil. Detailed illustrations tell much of the story.
With more than 79,000 members in 110 countries, SPE shares technical knowledge about the upstream oil and natural gas industry. The society’s energy education website is for students, teachers.
Oil and Natural Gas is available at the “essential energy education” SPE website Enery4me, designed to help Americans become more educated energy consumers. SPE members are available to make presentations at a schools — and can provide copies of the book for the library or classroom.
Citation Information: Article Title: Legend of “Story of Petroleum.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/spe-story-of-petroleum. Last Updated: December 8, 2020. Original Published Date: June 1, 2005.
Alas, there is very little chance your newly found old oil stock certificate will lead to petroleum riches here at Old Oil Stocks in progress G. Few come close to Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock about a certificate that spawned lengthy litigation with the Coca-Cola Company.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends on your support, does not have resources for extensive research. As AOGHS looks into forum queries as part of its energy education mission, investigations have revealed interesting stories like Mrs. Dysart’s Uraniu Well and Buffalo Bill’s Shoshone Oil Company; others have found questionable dealings during booms and “black gold” fever epidemics like Arctic Explorer turns Oil Promoter.
The Oklahoma business records department can provide incorporation information on the Garfield Oil & Refining Company, which had properties near Nowata but does not appear to have prospered.
Gate City-Wyoming Oil & Gas Company
The Gate City-Wyoming Oil and Gas Company incorporated in Idaho July 10, 1917, with Pocatello, Idaho, physician Dr. O.B. Steeley as president. The company acquired leases in Wyoming’s Lost Soldier Dome (640 acres); Rattlesnake Dome (640 acres); Laramie Dome (160 acres); and Rock Springs Dome (640 acres). Curiously, the company’s officers and property were also recorded as the Gate City Oil & Gas Company. Dr. Steeley died suddenly in June 1920. The Idaho secretary of state may have further information, but the company’s last filing was in September 1923. Its charter was forfeited on December 1, 1924. Read about other Wyoming wildcatters in First Wyoming Oil Wells and Buffalo Bill’s Shone Oil Company.
Gatex Oil Company
Gatex Oil Company incorporated in Delaware March 1, 1920. The company undertook exploratory “wildcat” drilling in northeast Texas’ Hopkins and Bowie counties with plans to drill in Hunt County. But in Hopkins County, its Davis No. 1 well was abandoned after reaching 2,020 feet deep without finding oil. Similarly in Bowie County, its Perkins No. 1 well was shut down at 1,570 feet deep with no success. Wildcat drilling on unproven land has always been risky; early failures have often exhausted under-capitalized ventures. This seems to have been the case with Gatex Oil Company, which was dissolved on June 4, 1936. (more…)
People seeking obscure financial information probably will not find riches here – see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends on your donations, doesn’t have resources for extensive research.
One company named Fairchild Petroleum was incorporated in 1921 capitalized at $120,000 in Paintsville, Kentucky, a few miles from the town of Oil Springs (also known as Medina) and home to the Big Sandy Oil & Refining Company. Although there was substantial interest in Johnson County’s petroleum prospects, there is little trace of Fairchild Petroleum activity in Kentucky.
More information may be available from the Kentucky secretary of state business services. This notwithstanding, in 1922 a Fairchild Petroleum Company drilled the No. 1 Boggs well in Brazoria County, Texas, and also drilled in Liberty County, near Nome. The No. 1 Boggs reportedly produced oil from a depth of 4,550 feet. The Texas Railroad Commission maintains records that may provide further insights. (more…)
Old Oil Stocks in progress H will not lead to lost riches – see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends on your support, simply does not have resources to provide free research of corporate histories.
The Hale Petroleum Company from 1917 is not related to today’s Hale Petroleum Company of Columbus, Kansas. It also has no relation to the Standard Oil-affiliated Frank Hale Oil Company in Louisiana. In a 1918 text published by the Kansas City Testing Laboratory, Hale Petroleum is identified as having a refinery in Wichita, Kansas, and pipelines to Wichita from nearby El Dorado – site of Butler Country’s Kansas Oil Museum.
A Hale Petroleum is identified as part of Sterling Oil & Refining Company. Sterling Oil was created by Ross Shaw Sterling, the founder and president of the Humble Oil and Refining Company, which eventually became the Exxon, now ExxonMobil. In the 1920s, he sold his interests in Humble, although he served as president of Sterling Oil & Refining Company until 1946. (more…)
Life before and after independence from Standard Oil.
John D. Rockefeller in 1870 founded Standard Oil Company, and by 1890 his complete dominance of the U.S. petroleum industry put every small oil venture in his path at risk. The Ohio Oil Company was founded to fight back.
As U.S. petroleum production grew, independent producers found themselves with only one market — Standard Oil Company — and their own oversupply of crude oil driving prices down. Rockefeller believed only a few large, vertically integrated oil companies could survive and prosper; smaller companies simply could not. “We will take your burden,” Rockefeller told these companies. “We will utilize your ability; we will give you representation; we will all unite together and build a substantial structure on the basis of cooperation.” (more…)
In July 1953, Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries first challenged the government of Fulgencio Batista with organized guerrilla resistance and revolution. Three years later, United Cuban Oil incorporated with Ted Jones as president and offices in Los Angeles. The investment banking firm of S.D. Fuller & Company underwrote the venture, investing $534,694 to control 66 percent of United Cuban Oil stock.
The new petroleum company’s objective was “to consolidate production, development and exploration of oil and gas on concession rights (38 leases) in Cuba.” Jones had existing but independent ventures working on the north coast of the island, including Companie de Fomento Petrolero.
United Cuban Oil filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to register 2,573,625 common stocks and an initial public offering of 2,000,000 shares at $1.25 a share. The company exchanged 573,625 shares of stock one-for-one to absorb Jones’ Companie de Fomento Petrolero and make it a subsidiary.
Jones’ holdings in Cuba also became subsidiaries: Empresas Petroleras Jones de Cuba and Compania Perforadora Jones de Cuba. A group headed by James J. McBride bought 1,200,000 shares to be held in escrow for three years.
On June 13, 1957, United Cuban Oil announced plans to drill in California. The selected site was on the 111 acre Muller ranch, about three miles west of La Honda. Drilling of the Muller No. 1 well began on June 29. Interviewed by the Santa Cruz Sentinel, company president Jones took the opportunity to promote United Cuban Oil’s prospects with its six producing wells in Cuba.
Six weeks later, Jones, “reportedly stated that oil was struck at 2,610 feet in 45 feet of oil sand. Officials would only say that it was producing a ‘couple of hundred barrels.’” Regardless of production, by the end of August 1957, United Cuban Oil had plugged and abandoned the Muller well after water intrusion and a failed re-drilling effort.
In Texas, United Cuban Oil completed its No. 1A Coker well in Coleman County, five miles northeast of Novice. But the wildcat well turned out to be just a brief producer. It too was abandoned. At the time, United Cuban Oil was selling for about 56 cents a share on the American Stock Exchange, but for any business operating in Cuba, everything changed on January 1, 1959. Fidel Castro seized power, dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island, and the Cold War became more dangerous.
Back in the United States, United Cuban Oil was reorganized by three wealthy entrepreneurs from El Paso, Texas. In May 1959, they merged Balcones Corporation, Dell City Gas Company, and United Cuban Oil to form a new company while retaining the United Cuban Oil name and Ted Jones as president. The company planned to move its headquarters to El Paso.
Although United Cuban Oil’s underwriters, S.D. Fuller & Company, offered analysis of prospects to potential investors in the Commercial and Financial Chronicle, few were willing to gamble on Cuba’s uncertain future. By November 1959, the Law 635 of the Batista government effectively stripped United Cuban Oil of its Cuban operations.
The National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics is a nonprofit organization. NCAC hosts a popular monthly luncheon.
“Adam Sieminski, the originator of the Rock Oil Tour, developed the following release about the tour,” noted Mark Lively, NCAC treasurer, and chief organizer of a monthly luncheon for NCAC members, a lot of students and special guests. Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank, invited the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s Bruce Wells, executive director, to share oil history during the Rock Oil Tour.
Nearly 50 enthusiastic oil history buffs set off for an education-packed bus ride from Washington, D.C., early morning on August 21, heading for Oil City and Titusville, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the U.S. petroleum industry 150 years ago on August 27, 1859.
John Jennrich of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission photographs the group during a 2009 visit to the Edwin L. Drake Memorial in Titusville, Pennslyvania. “The six-hour trip from Washington to the Pennsylvania oil region was enlivened by a series of videos presented by Bruce Wells, executive director of the American Oil and Gas Historical Society.”
The Rock Oil Tour two-day excursion was hosted by the National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics.
“There are a quite a few members in our chapter with a passion for energy history and our industrial heritage” said Adam Sieminski, Deutsche Bank energy analyst, who helped organize the trip along with Michelle McCaughey from the American Petroleum Institute (API), John Jennrich, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who volunteered to be the official photographer, and NCAC treasurer Mark Lively, at Utility Economic Engineers.
The tour included many stops at historic “oil patch” landmarks. John Felmy of the American Petroleum Institute, left, was among those who inspected the McClintock No. 1 — the world’s oldest continuously producing oil well. It has been producing just off PA 8 south of Rouseville since August 1861. Photos by Bruce Wells.
The six-hour trip from Washington to the Pennsylvania oil region was enlivened by a series of videos presented by Bruce Wells, executive director of the American Oil and Gas Historical Society, covering the early days of oil development in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Texas. The group learned how whale oil and coal oil gave way to rock oil as Col. Edwin Drake made drilling for oil practical by coming up with the innovation of casing his cable-tool drilled well with iron pipe.
John Felmy from API gave a short lecture on one of the next big technical breakthroughs, the Tidewater Pipeline, built in 1878-79 from the Bradford field to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This was the first true long-distance pipeline (six-inches in diameter, 109 miles) that eventually helped open up the East Coast markets for safer and less expensive energy for lighting.
At the Drake Well Museum, Susan Beates, at left, a curator and historian, led a tour of the grounds and buildings. The museum tells the story of the beginning of the modern oil industry with operating oil field machinery and historic buildings in a beautiful park setting.
After the lunch stop, our crew was kept fully alert as they tried to complete the “Oil Industry Folklore Quiz” handed out Branko Terzic and concentrated on a rousing testimonial to the medicinal value of petroleum products from Sarah McKinley. Upon arrival in Oil City, the group was welcomed by the staff of the Venango Museum, dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the oil region’s industrial legacy and rich cultural history, including its beautiful beaux arts building.
After lunch, “our crew was kept fully alert as they tried to complete the ‘Oil Industry Folklore Quiz’ handed out Branko Terzic,” notes Adam Sieminski. Branko is a past chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Photo by Bruce Wells.
That evening, Wells outlined the efforts underway at the AOGHS to encourage the preservation of the history of U.S. oil and natural gas exploration and production. The Society provides advocacy for museums and other organizations across the entire United States that work to preserve that rapidly disappearing early history through exhibitions, material preservation and educational programming.
On Saturday morning, Marilyn Black, of the Oil Region Alliance, joined the tour to provide a running commentary as the group explored the Oil Creek Valley. First stop was the McClintock Well No. 1, spudded in 1861 and believed to be the oldest well in continuous production in the world. These days, the well is only pumped a few times a year, produces more brine than crude, but supplies enough for souvenir bottles sold at the celebrated Drake Well Museum.
After visiting the impressive memorial to Drake that was erected in Woodlawn Cemetery by his friends, the group saw the Titusville homes of John Mather, a famous oil region photographer who recorded the early days of the oil boom in Pennsylvania, and Ida Tarbell, a journalist, writer and social reformer known for her articles against big business and often credited with starting the movement that ultimately caused the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust.
The tour included a chance to “make hole” using a spring pole outside the Drake Well Museum. Photo by Bruce Wells
At the Drake Well Museum, Susan Beates, a curator and historian, led a tour of the grounds and buildings. The museum tells the story of the beginning of the modern oil industry with operating oil field machinery and historic buildings in a beautiful park setting. Standing in the historically accurate replica of Drake’s first well was a highlight of the trip.
“We ended our tour to the area with a talk by regional experts at the oil ghost town of Pithole,” said Sieminski. Pithole went from woods, to a town of 15,000 people and back to woods again in the space of about two years in the mid-1860s, according the exhibits at the Pithole Visitors Center.
“It was a perfect reminder of the boom-and-bust, precarious and often controversial nature of the oil business,” Sieminski noted.
Sara Banaszak was widely praised for coming up with the “Rock Oil Tour 2009” baseball cap. More photographs are posted on NCAC’s website.
Joe Dukert and Larry Spancake made the front cover of Oil City’s newspaper on Saturday morning- in a feature article on the NCAC tour. Sara Banzakwas widely praised for coming up with the “Rock Oil Tour 2009” baseball cap that served as our admission ticket at all the stops. Adam claimed to have been particularly impressed with an early description that turned up of our beloved first President, George Washington, as one of the nation’s early ‘oil speculators’ who bought land in what is now West Virginia because it was known to have oil seeps.
Mark Lively couldn’t get over the fact that the gasoline component of petroleum was initially considered to be a waste product dumped into Oil Creek, because early refiners only wanted the kerosene cut. John’s photos from the trip will be posted on the web soon, and in the meantime we have a great video from Kevin Book who says he is still sorting through the voluminous video footage he shot — but he has already loaded a short clip on hydraulic fracturing in its early days that made an explosive impression on him.
The overwhelming consensus opinion on the trip was that the camaraderie and educational value were exceptional, and many suggestions were made for a follow-up trip, including these possibilities: underground coal mine; LNG import facility; nuclear power plant, solar manufacturing factory, oil refinery. Brankosaid he will come up with an appropriate quiz for any eventuality!
Editor’s Note — In addition to being part of this group of oil patch enthusiasts, a AOGHS Executive Director was fortunate was invited to speak at the 36th annual institute of the National Association of Division Order Analystsin Washington, D.C. He also participated in Titusville’s 150th oil discovery anniversary and was interviewed by Cleanskies.tv — now EnergyNow — where he described the significance of America’s first oil discovery.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Energy Economists Rock Oil Tour.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/oil-history-ncac-rock-oil-tour. Last Updated: January 27, 2020. Original Published Date: September 15, 2009.
A 1918 oil discovery near Wichita Falls joined earlier discoveries at Electra (1911) and Ranger (1917) to make Texas a worldwide leader in petroleum production.
At the start of the 20th century, a growing number of Mid-Continent oilfields began their long history of oil discoveries. With them came the drilling boom and bust cycles of the industry.
Although oil wealth helped build schools, community infrastructure, hotels, banks, churches, and civic pride, competition made drilling prospects harder to come by. Equipment costs rose as rapidly growing production lowered oil prices. Many companies would arrive too late and go bankrupt without drilling single well.
In North Texas, the oil boom began when the giant Ranger oilfield was discovered in October 1917 near Electra – where an April 1911 discovery already had brought a drilling frenzy. The “Roaring Ranger” well alone reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Conrad Hilton, who visited the region intending to buy a bank, saw the crowds of Ranger oilfield roughnecks and bought his first motel in nearby Cisco instead. Read more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel. (more…)
Mid-continent oilfield discoveries by a famed Oklahoma wildcatter inspired the founding of new exploration companies, many with little experience in the “oil patch.” Most would fail, including the Cushing-Webb Oil Company.
In 1912, Thomas Baker Slick, formerly known as “Dry Hole Slick,” became Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters when his Wheeler No. 1 well led him to an oilfield that changed America’s future. Production from his Cushing-Drumright field peaked in May 1915 when 3,090 wells produced 310,000 barrels of oil every day. The field would help fuel the 1918 Allied victory in World War I.
The lure of petroleum wealth was irresistible and investors rushed to the area between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Newly formed exploration ventures included the Cushing-Webb Oil Company, chartered in Stillwater two months after Slick’s discovery. David R. Webb, Sam Meyers and Paul A. Wintersteen incorporated their company with capital stock of $25,000, according to a report in the Texas Trade Review and Industrial Record. The new company advertised for stock sales agents in the Wichita Daily Eagle:
A 1917 oilfield discovery near Cushing, Oklahoma, by independent oil producer Thomas Slick led to creation of new exploration companies, some with dubious promises of oil riches.
SALESMEN WANTED – Is there a live-wire salesman who wants to clean up $1,500 or more in the next 90 days? Get in communication with us. We have the best oil lot and stock proposition on the market Cushing field and our literature and commission has every other company beat. We have the proposition to make you a chunk of money. Cushing-Webb Oil Co., Stillwater, Okla.
With elaborate promotions, Cushing-Webb Oil reached out for new investors. The company claimed ownership of a 40-acre tract amidst the vast production of the Cushing-Drumright oilfield. A purchase of one share offered a 400-square-foot lot, and a promise to drill. It would be three years before the company erected a drilling rig.
In his 1979 book Hurry Home Wednesday; Growing Up in a Small Missouri Town, 1905-1921, Loren Reid, recalled a visit from a Cushing-Webb Oil agent:
In the Spring of 1917, a nice-appearing soft-spoken man in his late 30s stepped off the train from Kansas City and checked in at the Harmon, no doubt delighting the innkeeper with the information that he planned to stay a few days. From there he fanned out into our Miracle Mile, starting with the professional men and moving on to the merchants, introducing himself as a representative of the Cushing-Webb Oil Company of Oklahoma.
The stranger told an exciting story of the millions to be made in oil, starting with the narrative of the millions that had already been made in oil. He had a map showing the location of the productive Cushing field with dots indicating the size of its many gushers. The choice acreage that he represented hovered above. As the company’s geologists confidently believed, a seven-thousand barrel a day vein.
Cushing-Webb Oil secured a lease on the Lon McGilbray farm in Creek County and built its first oil rig about five miles northwest of Oilton, across the Cimarron River.
Reid noted that his small town had been prospering and the local newspaper, the Gilman City Guide, was running more and bigger ads than it had for quite a while. “Everybody had a little more money on hand than he was accustomed to. It was a heady feeling,” he explained, before continuing:
And here was Cushing-Webb, offering a chance to get in on the ground floor. To be sure there were risks, dry holes had been dug before and would be again, but then…
Within twenty-four hours the whole business district was aware of the stranger’s visit. Everybody was talking oil. Father and Mother were among those honored by a call. I heard part of the sales talk. Afterwards they conversed excitedly, their spirits exalted. “Just imagine,” Mother said, “if they did strike oil and we made some real money.” Even if they got only five-thousand barrels a day, added Father, “that would be pretty good.” And so on, into the night. What if …just suppose… imagine.
In another twenty-four hours rumors of a different sort flowed through the town like oil through a pipeline. This individual had bought shares, and so had this one, and that one. The rumors were readily confirmed by the proud possessors of the shares. Then at some point, another entirely different line of fantasizing took over: What if Jones bought shares and struck it rich, and we bought no shares and were left out? Here was a thought to make strong men and women shudder. No one with idle money could look such an outcome squarely in the face.
When the stranger returned, Father and Mother bought shares.
It took three years of energetic promotion, but by February 1919, Cushing-Webb Oil secured a lease on the Lon McGilbray farm in Creek County, and erected its first oil derrick northest of Cushing, near Oilton (S.W. corner of N.W. quarter of S.E. quarter of Section 19, Township 19 North, Range 7 East). Then nothing.
In April 1919, the trade magazine National Petroleum News was reporting about false advertising claims and other predations of oil stock hucksters. “Aroused to action by complaints of the many victims, local, federal and state authorities are tightening their grip on the stock jobbing charlatans who have mulcted their victims of millions in cash and Liberty Bonds in exchange for worthless stocks. Fake oil promotions schemes figure prominently.”
Despite many promotions over several years, Cushing-Webb Oil constructed only one derrick. No drilling was reported before the company failed.
Meanwhile, between February and July 1919, the Oil and Gas News noted in recurring reports that Cushing-Webb Oil Company’s McGilbray No. 1 well, “is still a rig” with no drilling undertaken and no progress made, but stock sales continued.
The Illinois Secretary of State published a list of 35 oil companies that since January 1919 had been “denied licenses to do business under the Illinois Blue Sky Law,” which regulated the offering and sale of securities to protect the public from fraud. Cushing Webb Oil was on the list, and the company folded along with many other failed oil speculations.
Back in Gilman City, Missouri, author Loren Reid concluded, “Little or no oil was found. Father and Mother were taken to the tune of two or three hundred dollars, which for them was a serious loss.”
Although what was known of Alabama’s petroleum geology did not encourage exploration, independent oil companies tried and failed for decades before commercial production began in 1944. Albany-Decatur Oil & Gas Company drilled its first exploratory well in Alabama on March 23, 1921.
The independendent exploration company’s No. 1 English well was spudded in suburban Decatur (Section 6, Township 6 South, Range 4 West), near where today stands a Walmart Supercenter. The company did not limit its speculation to Alabama, but quickly expanded with plans for a second well near Mulberry, Tennessee.
This May 5, 1921, photo shows members of the Alabama Press Association during a visit to the Albany-Decatur Oil & Gas Company well “drilling four miles south of Decatur.
National Petroleum News reported, “In spite of of more or less discouraging governmental geological reports and in the face of a financial depression which makes new financing difficult, the Albany-Decatur Oil & Gas Company with headquarters in Decatur, Alabama, is proceeding with a stock selling campaign and in the meantime drilling a test in the wildest of wildcat territory in middle Tennessee.”
The company’s distant gamble was on a site in Lincoln County near Mulberry, about 13 miles from a railroad in Fayetteville.
By September 1921, Albany-Decatur Oil & Gas Company’s rank wildcat well (far from any successful well), the Robert T. Moore No. 1, reached a depth of about 750 feet using a “grasshopper rig” – an inexpensive and rudimentary derrick apparatus, less capable than a standard cable-tool rig, but better than a springpole (see Making Hole – Drilling Technology).
“Persons in Fayetteville reasonably conversant with the company’s affairs state that the sale of stock is progressing, though slowly, and further state that the securities marketed are offered as shares in a speculative project which may or may not be profitable,” explained the National Petroleum News.
“To Lincoln county people they are selling ‘test for test’s sake’ inasmuch as the lease is 75 or 100 miles from production,” the publication added. “Besides, the shares sold carry an interest in the company’s other test being drilled with a standard rig near Decatur, Alabama. The literature circulated in Tennessee to promote stock sales is patently blatant, however.”
The terminology referred to highly exaggerated claims that lured unsuspecting investors – referred to as Blue Sky laws – which varied from state by state.
Meanwhile, back at the company’s other test well in Decatur, drilling on the No. 1 English well continued, but intermittently.
Albany-Decatur Oil & Gas Company’s Tennessee wildcat venture ended abruptly when the Robert T. Moore No. 1 encountered a common oil field hazard: “stuck tools.” All fishing efforts to clear the borehole of obstructions failed (learn more in Fishing in Petroleum Wells). The wildcat well was lost and abandoned.
Despite the failure, stock sales continued to fund drilling on the No. 1 English well, which had begun with an envisioned total depth of 1,500 feet. But finding no oil and financed by operating funds from stock sales, Albany-Decatur Oil & Gas continued drilling deeper. By December,1926, the No. 1 English well was the deepest oil well in North Alabama – reportedly reaching a depth of 4,130 feet.
And there the document trail ends. The Alabama Oil and Gas Board has no record of any oil or natural gas coming from the No. 1 English well: no permit Issued; no Information about plugging (Bulletin 50, P. 34-36 & Sr 15, P. 164-165 for Driller’s Log).
Alabama’s first oilfield would not be found until February 17, 1944, when independent producer H.L. Hunt, who had found great success in the earliest Arkansas oilfields of the 1920s and even greater success in the East Texas oilfield of 1930, discovered the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to Hunt’s wildcat well, 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.
According to the man who first envisioned the amazing Spider-Man, the life of Harry S. Stonehill “would make a great movie by someone like Oliver Stone.”
World Way II veteran Harry Stonehill founded American-Asiatic Oil in 1957 – and offered 100 million shares to the public.
Stan Lee, creator of the famed comic book web-slinger in 1962, was an old Army buddy of Lt. Stonehill. They had served together in the Philippines during World War II.
Although Stonehill returned to the country after the war and became rich from business ventures, he eventually was forced to flee the Philippines – and several other countries.
In 2011, Lee told Forbes magazine:
After the war, he said to me, “Hey Stan Come to the Philippines with me.” I said, “Why?” And he said, “I found out that they don’t have Christmas cards there. I’m going to buy a batch of Christmas cards and start a business.” I said, “I love ya, Harry, but you’re a lunatic.” And I went back to my comics and he went off to the Philippines.
By 1957, Stonehill was a multimillionaire when he organized American-Asiatic Oil Corporation. He had built a $50 million fortune in more than a dozen enterprises, including cotton, textiles and real-estate development. He also owned U.S. Tobacco, which held a virtual cigarette monopoly in the country; it would lead to his troubles. (more…)
Chances are people seeking financial information here at Old Oil Stocks in progress I will not find lost riches (see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock). The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends on donations, does not have resources to provide free research of corporate histories.
More than 70 years ago a query about Imperial Drilling Company stock resulted in the Robert D. Fisher Manual of Valuable and Worthless Securities noting that the Texas secretary of state and the county clerk in Cisco, Texas, “informed us: ‘Unable to give you any information regarding above company, but don’t think it is active, as I have not heard of it.’ (October 10, 1939).”
Imperial Drilling Company was likely one of many ventures born of the “Roaring Ranger” a 1917 oilfield discovery well near Cisco that launched drilling booms at many Eastland County towns. A host of such companies and stock speculations had brief lifespans and left behind now obsolete stock certificates. Cisco was a tough town, its citizens hung Santa Clause…twice. See Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.
Indian Oil & Gas Company
Indian Oil and Gas Company was incorporated on January 29, 1913, by J.D. Boxley, H.E. Brinson, and O.D. Smith. The Tradesman, a contemporary periodical also reported J.J. Jackson to have been an incorporator.
With only 400 shares of common stock were issued, this under-capitalized venture ($10,000) would have been known as a “poor boy” operation, likely using cable-tool equipment that limited drilling depths. Read more in “Making Hole” – Drilling Technology.
Within two months of incorporating, Indian Oil & Gas acquired an 80 acre lease in Hughes County and 40 acres in Creek County, Oklahoma. The Hughes County lease was about 12 miles southwest of Holdenville; the Creek County site about 60 miles away, near Bristow. Because these drilling sites were far from proven territory and producing wells, it would have been a very speculative gamble – wildcat drilling. (more…)
Texas Production Company was incorporated on June 18, 1917, with $1 million in capital. It would find oil in booming North Texas oilfields – but not survive the competition.
By 1919, Texas Production completed the Renner No. 1 well at 475 barrels of oil a day from the Waggoner oilfield, near Electra and the recent extension of the Burkburnett field (Electra would someday be declared the Pump Jack Capital of Texas).
According to the Texas Historical Commission, exploration and production in this area was minimal until April 17, 1919, when the Bob Waggoner Well No. 1 blew in producing an astounding 4,800 barrels of oil per day. It was the first well in what became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprised of approximately 27 square miles.
Oil had been found in 1912 west of Burkburnett in Wichita County, followed by another oilfield in the town itself in 1918. The Wichita Falls region’s drilling booms inspired a 1940 Academy award-winning movie. Learn more Boom Town Burkburnett.
The company also appears to have drilled productive oil wells in the in the Humble oilfield of Harris County, bringing in the Bissonnet No. 1 well to a depth of over 4,000 feet, one of the deepest – and one of the most expensive – in the field at the time.
Although that well reportedly produced up to 2,000 barrels of oil a day in 1921, competition for leases and equipment intensified amid falling oil prices. In the same year, a Texas Production Company investor sought advice from a leading financial publication. The answer was not promising.
“So far as we can make out you bought into an oil production of little or no merit, which has simply gone the way of any number of such enterprises,” United States Investor noted.
“Shares of the Texas Production Company are now being offered at a few cents a share by unlisted brokers which would indicate that a sale of your stock would net you little,” the magazine added. “There is no way for you to get your money back.”
United States Investor encouraged its readers to avoid investing in any questionable petroleum-related bonds. “This may be a time for strong companies to invest in oil at a low figure,” Investor proclaimed, “but a company which must bond itself to pull itself out of a hole can’t do much in the way of speculation on the future price of oil to get back for its stockholders what has been already taken by unscrupulous promoters.”
What began as a venture into Colorado’s risky petroleum exploration business ended even quicker than most. Boulder Petroleum Company had intended to repeat the success of a 1923 Union Oil Company discovery about 70 miles north of Boulder.
The Union Oil Company well revealed the prolific Wellington Dome field — and ignited a frenzy of Colorado oil and natural gas speculation. On a single day, five thousand spectators visited Union Oil’s well, a “gasser” that initially produced 1 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.
“Great excitement prevails, and land and leases have gone soaring sky high,” reported the Craig Courier newspaper as Boulder businessmen Julius Williams, S.E. Collier, H.A. Gibson and others incorporated Boulder Petroleum Company; they secured a 600-acre lease along Lyons Road on the Spurgeon farm, near the town of Altona. The company’s acreage, about nine miles north of Boulder, was 60 miles south of the Union Oil discovery.
By May 1925, after delays caused by equipment delivery problems, the cable-tool derrick was ready to spud (start drilling) an exploratory well. A crowd of about 300 people joined Boulder Petroleum officials for the spudding. The well was named the Spurgeon No. 1 (or the Haystack Well after a nearby landmark). As with similar speculative petroleum ventures, securing capital to finance drilling was a challenge. A lot depended on a successful first well.
A bad omen for investors came in October when Julius Williams, secretary-treasurer of Boulder Petroleum, was apprehended in Denver for “a short check charge.” The company had insufficient funds to pay $50 owed to the driller. The matter apparently was resolved, however, as Williams was was back at work by the end of 1925. As Christmas approached, the company well reported good news at its well.
According to newspaper accounts, the company had an encouraging “showing of gas at 1,300 feet.” In February 1926, even better news came with a healthy showing of oil at 2,100 feet – believed to be in commercial quantities. Such signs were encouraging to potential investors and good news usually had a positive affect on stock prices. Plus, according to reports in the Niwot Tribune, the company was pursuing additional leasing opportunities.
To complete the well and begin production, the intermediate step of cementing the casing in place had to be completed (see Halliburton Cements Wells). But bad luck struck Boulder Petroleum when the cementing job failed to properly harden, the casing split, and work had to be suspended. By June, the company had survived a tool (reamer lug) stuck in the borehole for six weeks (learn more in Fishing in Petroleum Wells).
Meanwhile, company debt continued to accumulate. Then it got worse.
In 1925, McAllister Lumber & Supply Company had sold lumber and supplies to Boulder Petroleum for construction of the Spurgeon No. 1 well. Boulder still owed then more than $1,000 ($14,350 in 2018 dollars.) McAllister sued and won, but Boulder Petroleum was broke and their only well no longer producing commercial quantities of petroleum.
In an April 1927 “Sheriff’s Sale,” McAllister Lumber & Supply was awarded all Boulder Petroleum Company assets. The well continued operating for another few months, but was shut down and abandoned by March 1928, leaving shareholders with worthless stock certificates instead of royalties.
It trucks petroleum history from the oil patch to teachers and students. It educates them about the modern exploration and production industry. It’s the interactive Mobile Energy Education Training Unite from the heart of the Pennsylvania oil patch. Nice to MEET-U.
The traveling exhibit includes a colorful exterior and the internal exhibits that “went from papers taped on the wall in 2009 to 14 televisions and three-dimensional objects,” notes the MEET-U newsletter.
When Pennsylvania students cannot find time to visit a museum to learn about energy, an 18-wheeler brings their state’s petroleum history to them: MEET-U.
Since its updated version in 2011, the Mobile Energy Education Training Unit annually tours schools.
The traveling exhibits include bright exterior graphics and internal age-adaptable exhibits that “went from papers taped on the wall in 2009 to 14 televisions and three-dimensional objects,” notes Drake Well Museum’s MEET-U website page.
Thanks to museum staff, the trailer includes historical exhibits and oil patch artifacts that educate visitors about Pennsylvania’s rich petroleum heritage – and the evolution of modern exploration and production technologies. The students’ reviews have been positive.
MEET-U includes historical exhibits that educate visitors about Pennsylvania’s rich petroleum heritage.
“Since opening in the summer of 2009, over 90,000 people have visited the educational exhibits in MEET-U in a number of cities, towns, fairs and other events in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio,” the museum proclaims. “In 2012 over 20,000 people saw MEET-U.”
MEET-U also has developed winter programs. The rig travels into classrooms targeting 4th graders and meeting state and national standards in social studies, economics, and science.
Improvements include a second touch-screen monitor. MEET-U is designed to be divided into three zones: the using zone, the finding/production zone, and the energy zone.
The energy zone asks visitors to choose energy source for the future – and presents the pros and cons to their choice.
The tractor-trailer truck logged more than 7,000 miles in 2010 – and participated in three forums, three industry functions, four fairs and five festivals to educate about 30,000 adult visitors.
MEET-U participated in the 2010 Boy Scouts of America camp at Moraine State Park in September, where 9,000 scouts registered for the three-day event.
“Due to the overwhelming success of the project, MEET-U is already scheduled for 23 schools visits, six industry events and 14 community fairs or festivals in 2011,” the website notes. “The key word here is already, because we know there will more.”
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation.
Lloyd N. Unsell (1923-2007), a founding member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, in 1986, he received the industry’s prestigious Chief Roughneck Award in 1986 — the only person not affiliated with an oil company to do so since the award began in 1955. He joined the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 1948 and soon managed public and media relations; he was promoted to executive vice president in 1976 and president in 1985. Unsell was part of key industry industry debates — and also helped win final approval for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s design and construction in 1982. In December 2004, Unsell gave AOGHS exclusive permission to publish the draft forward and early chapters of his then in-progress memoirs, Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell.
Chapter Four: “Glitter of the Oil Capital”
When I went to work on the Tulsa
World, I learned very quickly what it meant to be a little frog in a big
pond. The dynamics of downtown Tulsa were fascinating for a small town
reporter. The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce stationary still proclaimed that the
city it served was “The Oil Capitol of the World.” Houston may have been edging
up on that claim, but all the elements on which Tulsa had based the title were
still in place – headquarters for Skelly Oil Co., Carter Oil Co., the SONJ
domestic production subsidiary, Stanolind Oil & Gas, the Standard of
Indiana production arm, Mid-Continent Petroleum Corp., Service Pipeline Co.,
National Tank, Bovaird Supply, Hinderliter tool, Unit Rig, and production headquarters
for a dozen other medium to large integrated companies. But Tulsa was also
headquarters for dozens of highly successful independent oil companies, and
managers of the hundreds of phone book listings of oil-related enterprises
which were competing for space in the bristling downtown area where business offices
were at a premium.
Tulsa was headquarters for the then
world’s largest commercial magazine, the Oil & Gas Journal which now only
has a printing plant there, and a half dozen major industry associations. But
one of the crown jewels of Tulsa’s claim as the major oil city was the
International Petroleum Exposition (IPE) which had been a world renowned
industrial exposition since 1923. When I arrived on the scene, feverish plans were
already under way for the first postwar Exposition in May 1948, many months
away. Tulsa had endemic housing and hotel room shortages, and an IPE Housing
committee had been formed to find space for oil show visitors from 33
countries. It wasn’t going to be easy. Downtown Tulsa was a fascinating place
in 1947. Major department stores and speciality shops lined Main Street and
Boston Avenue for blocks, and shopping throngs crowded the streets on most
days, giving the city the flavor of a bustling “big little town.” Great
downtown theaters that matched any west of the Mississippi, particularly the
Orpheum and the Ritz, attracted sellout throngs with long lines of movie-goers waiting
for the next show. The downtown was blessed with eating establishments serving
the after-theater crowds, and a favorite was Bishops, a spotless eatery open 24
hours, seven days a week. So popular was this restaurant that it almost always
had lines of waiting patrons. Some of its waitresses were institutions, on
their jobs there for decades.
The Tulsa World and the competing Tulsa
Tribune both had daily oil pages, but neither had a business page. The two
papers’ oil editors, Paul Hedrick at the World and Andrew Rowley at the Tribune
were known to everyone in the Tulsa oil community, and had no problem
filling their respective spaces with industry developments fresh to their
readers. I was a assigned a “beat” that included the local banks, travel organizations,
the railroads and airlines all of which had busy downtown offices competing for
the patronage of the traveling public, and represented the World at the
weekly luncheon meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, to cover
anything of interest on which the group may act.
My earlier oil experience had consisted of lowest echelon work as an oilfield truck swamper, floor hand on oil well servicing rigs, and a small cog position in manufacturing oil tools at the Hinderliter plant in Tulsa. Now, I was getting to know some of the leading lights in the management of production operations of some of the largest oil companies in the land, exposed to their personalities, and learning about their backgrounds and experiences in the industry. Oil and gas leaders indeed were dominant in the Tulsa business community, and in the forefront of civic and business organizations in the city. It was my good fortune to get to know many of them well.
Chapter Five: “Mr. Tulsa”“
When I moved to Tulsa, Skelly Oil
Co. was a familiar name, not because I was a customer, because I didn’t own a
car, but because a family friend had operated a Skelly service station in
Seminole. The name W. G. (Bill) Skelly, however, meant nothing special to me,
though to every long-term Tulsa resident he was known as the city’s top
booster, and to many as “Mr. Tulsa.” Before long I would come to learn that
Skelly earned that title because he simply loved the City of Tulsa, and for
years had sought to express this affection in many visible ways.
Tulsa was making great plans to
host the first post-war International Petroleum Exposition (IPE) scheduled in
May of 1948, and the President of IPE since its founding in the 1920’s, W. G.
Skelly, was worried. The IPE housing bureau had rapidly run out of hotel space,
and many Tulsans had discovered they could schedule vacations during the “oil
show” and rent their homes to exhibitors, oil companies and foreign visitor
delegations for good money. Trouble was, this opportunity was becoming too much
of a “good thing” to some folks, and Mr. Skelly’s phone and post office box
were overloaded with complaints of outlandish demands being made by some who
apparently were determined to “get rich” renting their homes to oilmen. It
nettled Skelly that anyone living in Tulsa would make demands that would “alienate
our visitors to the city,” so he called the Tulsa World seeking its support in
appealing to the “civic conscience” of Tulsans to treat prospective oil show
visitors as they would wished to be treated. I was sent to interview Skelly and
do this story.
It wasn’t a long walk. The Skelly
building, a rustic red brick structure, was on a corner adjoining The Tulsa
World building. A secretary more than twice my age at the time, a clearly
competent, pleasant lady having behind her long years of service to the founder
of Skelly Oil, ushered me into the presence of “Mr. Tulsa,” introduced me, and
announced my purpose. Mr. Skelly motioned me into a chair, and said, “This is a
very simple story. We have some people trying to pick the pockets of folks
wanting to come to the oil show. We want visitors to Tulsa to feel good about
being here. We want them to want to come back. If they leave feeling they’ve
been fleeced, they’ll never come back. That’s it; simple story.”
I told Mr. Skelly he had given me
one paragraph, and that we needed to discuss the problem at some length so I
could get the feel of it, and develop his philosophy about it since he was so
incensed about the problem. He had other things to do, and saw little need of
this extended conversation, but agreed, so he responded to my questions for the
better part of an hour.
Mr. Skelly was a curious
interviewee. He was bald, for the most part, with wisps of hair above both ears,
had a very large head with an oversized W. C. Fields nose, astride which sat
heavy thick-lense eyeglasses. To a visitor, the thick glasses magnified his
eyes which appeared to be enormous, a little bulgy, and somewhat rheumy. He had
a nervous habit of quickly stroking the side of his nose with the knuckle of his
index finger, sniffing as he did so. He always stroked his nose twice, and
sniffed twice, simultaneously, while making a point in the conversation. When
he thought I had notes enough to do the story, he said so, and dismissed me
when his secretary announced that a visitor with an appointment was cooling his
heels in the anteroom.
I went back to the World newsroom,
itself a little antiquated in those days. Every reporter used an old Underwood
upright, any one of which could be heard on the street. All of them going at
once created an indescribable racket, augmented by the clacking of a half-dozen
AP teletype machines along one wall. To make matters worse, the city editor,
Loren Williams, was near deaf (no doubt because of all the racket) and kept a
police radio receiver on the wall behind his desk blaring at full volume. As a
defense mechanism, I learned to consciously shut out all this tumult when I was
concentrating on a story at deadline, and the habit sticks to this day.
I called the oil show office, and
got a few examples of complaints about excessive rental demands, then went to
work on the story. It was late morning on Friday and relatively quiet when I
finished W. G. Skelly’s appeal to Tulsans not to abuse the pocketbooks of
visitors to the much-heralded oil show, still many months away. I roughly
edited the article, pasted the succeeding pages together which was the practice
in those non-computerized days, tossed it into the city editor’s in-basket, and
went off to cover my regular news beat.
When I returned to the newsroom in
late afternoon, the Skelly article had been bounced to the managing editor, Lee
Erhard, who called me over and said, “This reads good to me, but do me a favor.
Take it over and let Mr. Skelly read it.”
I said I had several stories to
write, and feeling a little offended by Erhard’s suggestion, I said if he wanted.
Skelly to read the piece, he should send it over by a copy boy.
Erhard wasn’t persuaded. “Look,” he said, “Mr. Skelly is a special person in this city. If he wanted to add something to the story, the guy who wrote it ought to be there. So as a personal favor to me, take it over and let him read it.” There was a note of finality in his voice, as he handed me the copy.
In the stroll back to Skelly’s
office, I unconsciously rolled the story into a cylinder perhaps an inch and a
half in diameter. The same gracious secretary rang Mr. Skelly, and inquired
whether he wished to read the story I had written. He did indeed. So she
ushered me into his office, and I handed him the rolled-up copy. This suited
him fine, because he held anything he read about 8 to 10 inches from his face,
so he slowly unrolled the story as he read it, a process that seemed
interminable. When he finally finished, he stroked his bulbous nose, sniffed,
tilted his head back, and scrutinized me through those heavy eyeglasses.
Finally, he said, “You’re a very fortunate young fella. I wouldn’t change a
word of this.”
Still smarting from an immature notion that my professionalism had been compromised, and stillnot fully appreciative of W. G. Skelly’s exalted status in the community, I said, “You’re pretty lucky too, Mr. Skelly.”
“How’s that?” he asked.
I said, “You’re the only person I
know who has editing privileges at the Tulsa World.”
The president of Skelly Oil Company
looked at me for a long, tortuous moment, while I was biting my tongue at
having made such a petty remark. “Just a minute,” he said. He pulled out a
drawer of his desk, rummaged around in it a moment, then handed me a misshapen
“Put this in your pocket,” he said,
“and rub it now and then for luck.” Not knowing what he had given me, I dropped
it into my pocket, thanked him, and departed.
Walking through the newsroom, I ran
into Paul Hedrick, the World’s oil editor for many years.. Paul said. “I hear
you’ve been interviewing Mr. Skelly.”
I said the rumor was true, and I
pulled the brown nut from my pocket and showed it to Paul, asking if he knew
what it was. He smiled and said, “I’ll be darned (strong language for Mr.
Hedrick). You mean he gave you a buckeye? He only gives those to people he
likes.” Paul went on to explain that Mr. Skelly was a native of Ohio, where the
buckeye is the state tree, and
had absolute faith that the buckeye
seed was a working good luck charm.
Mr. Skelly’s appeal to the “civic
conscience” of Tulsans ran on Sunday, two columns wide down the left side of
page one. At midweek, Mr. Skelly called me and said, “Young fella, your story
is working. The housing office says what people are demanding to rent their
homes is moderating already, and I’ve had some good response too. I thought you’d
like to know.”
I thanked Mr. Skelly, who immediately
changed the subject. “I called you because I wanted to offer you a little civic
duty, young fella.” In the considerable time I was around Mr. Skelly, he never
called me by name. He addressed me simply as, “Young Fella.” When he referred
to me in conversation with others, he would tilt his head in my direction, and
say, “…this young fella thinks,” or “this young fella says..”
This was before television found
its way to Tulsa, but Mr. Skelly owned radio station KVOO, where perhaps the
only broadcast “celebrity” other than Bob Wills was Sam Schneider, the farm
editor. Sam had an early morning broadcast which had an enormous following
among farmers all over the southwest, since KVOO had 50,000 watts of clear
channel power. Sam was in constant demand as a speaker before farm groups, knew
what he was doing, and was an all-around nice guy.
Skelly asked if I knew Sam, and I
said yes that I knew him very favorably. “Well, this is good. We’re going to
have the first Tulsa Fat Stock Show and Exposition next March. It’s developing
well, but we need a publicity committee. I’d like you to serve as co-chairman
with Sam. You can handle the newspapers, and Sam will be responsible for radio.
Does that make sense?”
“I suppose so,” I said.
“Then I can count on you.”
I was already beginning to learn
that not many people said “no,” arbitrarily, to Mr. Skelly.
“I suppose so,” I said again.
“Good,” he said. “the planning
group meets at my house, sometimes every week. You must attend those meetings.
My secretary will advise you.” He hung up the phone.
Mr. Skelly’s home, built in the
teen years of the 20th
as I recall, suited him perfectly. It was furnished in turn-of-the-century
decor, one memorable example a massive teakwood dining room suite. The chair
backs, hand carved, featured elephants in a curved line up both sides, the
elephants increasing in size as both lines met at the center top of the massive
chairs. I was told that Mr. Skelly personally bought the suite in India. The
elephant motif was well-suited to him; he had been a Republican national
committee member for as long as anyone could remember.
The stock show group met in the
basement, where a huge table had been set up conference style. Two of the
principals were Jay P. Walker, founder of the National Tank Co. who had an
Angus ranch west of Sand Springs, and J. W. Sharp, whose ranch was on Mingo
road northwest of Tulsa. Sharp raised Herefords, as I recall. These meetings
were run loosely, and one quickly got the impression that plans for the Tulsa
stock show were being developed without a plan. The only thing certain about
this project was that it was near to the heart of W.G. Skelly. More than once
in these meetings, he would declare with complete confidence that one day the
Tulsa stock show would be “bigger than the Kansas City Royal,” which, of course,
was then, and still is the granddaddy of all stock shows. But Mr. Skelly had
such uncompromising faith in Tulsa that he could not imagine the city not
spawning and nurturing to greatness a stock show measuring up to his boundless
vision. He had for years given dozens of 4-H Club youngsters their first purebred
calf, from his own ranch along the Verdigris river. It was a certainty in his
mind that Tulsa was destined to have a stock show that would incubate and
encourage the rise of young and successful ranchers the length and breadth of
the “Magic Empire” of which his beloved city was the hub.
I recall that the central subject
of the first meeting I attended was “money.” There wasn’t any in the till, so
plans were progressing to have a dinner in the Mayo hotel to which all the city
fathers would be invited, there to be pep-talked on the grand vision of Tulsa’s
first annual Fat Stock Show and Exposition, then appealed to for funds which
were needed to open an office and hire an exposition manager. Somehow, I got
the feeling that all this deadly-serious planning should have been started a
year earlier, at least. There was so much to do; animal categories to be
designated, premiums to be established, catalogs to be printed (not to mention
distributed), ribbons printed, trophies designed and ordered, and on and on ad
I learned also at the first meeting
what I suspected when I accepted the co-chairmanship of the “publicity
committee.” Mr. Skelly advised that Charlie Border, who ran the agricultural department
at the Chamber of Commerce in those days, had arranged a room complete with
phone and typewriters where Sam Schneider and I could write the stock show
publicity. I tried to reason privately with Mr. Skelly that I had a full-time
job occupying me for l0-plus hours six days a week, and had little time to write
press releases, work up newspaper mailing lists, and stuff envelopes, but he
waved these protests off with assurances that it wouldn’t be that big a job.
Sam Schneider and I quickly came to
the conclusion that what Mr. Skelly expected of us was beyond our doing, but
Sam was on wobblier footing than I because he worked for Mr. Skelly. So it fell
to me to suggest hiring a part-time person to build and maintain mailing lists,
write publicity, and do all the follow-up work that was needed. We found a
woman who had been a reporter on the Tulsa Tribune, and had quit the newspaper
to start a family. She agreed to work four to five hours a day, for a nominal
$3 an hour. Mr. Skelly fumed about this, and argued that we could get a
journalism student from the University of Tulsa for 50 cents an hour, pleading
the poverty of the stock show coffers. But reasoning the thing through, showing
that we clearly had much work demanding experienced help, we prevailed and
hired the former reporter. I breathed a sigh of relief, and so did my wife who
had developed disdain for two things: l) morning newspapers with midnight
deadlines, and 2) “civic duty” as defined by W. G. Skelly.
I forget the exact time, only that
it was very cold, the night of the fundraising dinner held in a nice room on
the mezzanine of the Mayo hotel, overlooking Fifth street. Jay Walker had
arranged for special cuts of aged beef, and the Mayo supplied all the
accompaniments. There were about 60 of Tulsa’s leading citizens there to be fed
and solicited.. It was more than half a century ago, but I still remember a few
of them: A. E. Bradshaw, chairman of the National Bank of Tulsa; R. Otis
McClintock, president of the First National Bank; L. W. Grant,
founder/president of Sooner Savings & Loan; R. W. McDowell, president of
Mid-Continent Petroleum Corp., L. C. Clark of Clark-Darland Hardware (later to
be mayor of Tulsa) C. H. Wright, founder of Sunray Oil, my boss Eugene Lorton,
publisher of the Tulsa World, and others of similar stature.
There were three people at the head
table including Mr. Skelly and Jay P. Walker, a natural born promoter who was
there to preside. The third person was the “show piece” of the evening, a young
man named Ray Gene Cinnamon, a farm boy from the hamlet of Garber, OK., who had
taken his prize steer to the Kansas City Royal, was awarded the grand
championship for the animal, and in recognition of his achievement had been
named “Star Farmer of America” by the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
Jay Walker had found young Cinnamon
and prevailed on him to come to Tulsa for the purpose of telling the city’s
business luminaries what a wonderful thing they were about to do for young
people like himself. Ray Gene didn’t disappoint. He said it was caring people
just like those in his audience who had generated his interest in his life’s
pursuit. Such men, through the Oklahoma State Fair at Oklahoma City, he said,
had sparked the interest and shown the way to hundreds of young men then
positioned to help elevate the quality of the livestock industry in Oklahoma.
He said he couldn’t say enough for the wisdom of the men seated before him, for
it was the interest of such men who had given him the vision which assured his
success in the cattle business. He concluded by saying he felt so strongly
about the mission of the Tulsa stock show, that he wanted the “privilege” of
making the first contribution. He then plucked a crisp new hundred dollar bill
from his shirt pocket, said “the first hundred dollars,” smiled, laid the bill
on the table, and sat down.
Sitting near the head table, I
turned to see if I could read the reaction. Ray Gene Cinnamon had Tulsa’s elite
in his pocket. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It was only left for Jay
Walker to say, “Well, gentlemen, it couldn’t have been said any better. If you
see the point of what we’re up to now, we need your checks or your pledges.’ In
a very few minutes, some $68,000 was put on the table, a lot of money in 1947. The
Tulsa Fat Stock Show and Exposition wasn’t broke any more.
After the crowd had dispersed, I
straggled into the cloak room in the corner of the mezzanine, and Jay Walker
was there retrieving his topcoat. In a low voice, I told Mr. Walker he had done
a great job of salting the mine.
“Whatta you mean?” he looked at me
“Well, boy reporters don’t walk
around with hundred dollar bills in their shirt. I know, because I am one, and
I don’t think boy farmers do either.”
Jay Walker looked a little
flustered, then took my arm and pulled me over against the wall. He said, “Mah
gawd, boy, you ain’t gonna put anything like that in the paper are you?”
I told him heavens no, that I just
wanted him to know there was a little skepticism left in his audience. Jay
Walker walked out of the cloakroom grinning and shaking his head.
A few days after this, I was
standing at one of the AP tickers which was moving a story about an entrepreneur
in Denver who had sponsored a big winter carnival-type event to which nobody
came because of blizzard conditions. The only thing that had saved this fellow,
according to the story, was weather insurance. I made a mental note of this,
and at a subsequent meeting of the stock show planners in Mr. Skelly’s
basement, I broke my usual silence and reported on the Denver showman’s
experience, then asked if any consideration had been given to such insurance.
Mr. Skelly looked at me with a
strained tolerance, and declared such a thing would be a waste of money. He
said they had looked back 20 years at conditions in the March time-frame when
the stock show was scheduled, and the weather was always perfect, so there was
nothing to worry about. Truth be told, W. G. Skelly just could not conceive
that Providence or the elements would or could betray the city of Tulsa by
spoiling an undertaking so important to its future.
Somehow, we all muddled through and
things got done, and it was hectic every day, but
as the big opening day approached,
everything had fallen into place. The epic (opening) day for Bill Skelly’s great
outreach to farm youth of the Magic Empire and beyond was to be Friday the 13th
of March. If that day means bad luck, it was sure set to justify its reputation
Nobody could remember anything like
the great Oklahoma blizzard of 1948. Almost seven inches of snow fell on
Wednesday, March 11. By Thursday morning it was gauged at more than l0 inches,
but much of it had been driven by winds of nearly 70 miles per hour, and
drifting was a major problem. The low early Thursday was in the teens.
Following the snow came sleet and ultimately the ground layer was like packed
ice. Everything in Tulsa closed – the refineries, businesses, schools, all
local traffic, and inter-city buses. Three youngsters from Washington County,
stalled with their pigs in a truck bogged in a snowdrift, and one had severe
frostbite. Volunteers pitched in to see that the hardy youngsters who braved
the storm had three hot meals a day. The judging went forward, and 4-H and FFA
boys and girls took home more than $112,000 in prize money for stock shown and
sold at the first — and last — Tulsa Fat Stock Show.
Continuance of Bill Skelly’s dream
depended on a large public turnout and a heavy gate at the turnstiles, but the
crowds never materialized. As a fallback, the show’s officials thought attendance
at the then popular Verne Elliott Rodeo, a highlight of the stock show, with
the Lone Ranger himself a featured attraction, would be a big revenue
generator. But the bitter cold kept the public away, even for this extravaganza.
When the show was over and the thaw had come, the Tulsa Fat Stock Show was
worse than broke, it was deep in the red. The blizzard of ‘48, so fierce in its
biting ways, had killed Bill Skelly’s dream.
One of the things I remember was,
with two other reporters on phones gathering and passing on information, I
wrote the story of the blizzard and its devastating impact. It was the only
news story I ever wrote with an eight-column headline, page one. Three or four
weeks after the death of the Tulsa Fat Stock Show, I ambled into the Skelly
Building barber shop for a haircut. Mr. Skelly was just getting out of one of
the chairs, and the barber asked him if they would try to hold the stock show
“No, nobody thinks the city would
put up the money to try it again,” he said.”We’re goin’ to have problems just
paying the bills.”
“Really too bad,” the barber
“Yes, a big disappointment,” Mr.
Skelly said. Then nodding in my direction, he said “This young fella thinks the
weather broke us, but we really could have used better publicity.” With that,
he winked at me and ducked through the door leading to the building lobby.
It was a private joke, and as near
as he would ever come to acknowledging that weather insurance wasn’t such a bad
idea after all.
While Bill Skelly’s dream of founding a major stock
show in Tulsa died aborning in the great blizzard of 1948, just six weeks later
his International Petroleum Exposition opened, playing to sellout crowds for
ten days, and was a success by all standards. And I was thrust, unexpectedly,
into the midst of the “Big Oil Show,” as the Tulsa World’s key reporter on the
I took on that assignment a little bleary-eyed.
This concludes the first five chapters of “Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell,” provided by the author, who continued writing his fascinating his memoirs until his death at 84 in 2007. Lloyd, a founding member and sponsor of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society in 2003, a year later gave AOGHS exclusive permission to publish the forward and first five chapters of his in-progress memoirs, “Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell.”
The Rest of the Story
A skilled journalist and long-time leader of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), in 1986 Lloyd received the industry’s prestigious Chief Roughneck Award – the only person not affiliated with an oil company to do so since the award began in 1955. He lived in historic Coltons Point, Md., where he wrote about his career on behalf of the industry.
Fortunately, thanks to the help and encouragement from his son Lloyd N. Unsell Jr., the senior Unsell completed another 10 chapters (and participated in several video interviews). In 2018, Lloyd Jr. of Delmar, Maryland, preserved his father’s “Anecdotes from a White-Collar Roughneck” for future publication.
Lloyd N. Unsell (1923-2007), a founding member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, was the long-time president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America in Washington, D.C. In 1986, he received the industry’s prestigious Chief Roughneck Award in 1986 — the only person not affiliated with an oil company to do so since the award began in 1955. He joined IPAA in 1948 and soon managed public and media relations; he was promoted to executive vice president in 1976 and president in 1985. In December 2004, Unsell gave AOGHS exclusive permission to publish the draft forward and early chapters of his then in-progress memoirs, Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell.
For those who never met Unsell or heard him speak at countless industry gatherings on testifying on Capitol Hill, read his memoir’s Forward and and Chapter One, “Oil on My Boots” describing his early exposure to the petroleum industry and oil patch summers in Oklahoma, and Chapter Three, “Lifting Some Spirits.” Visit AOGHS again to read more chapters, which will be posted throughout 2019.
Chapter Two: “A Different Seminole”
The interview with the publisher of The Seminole Producer took all of five minutes. I had bought a new blue topcoat, and James T. Jackson asked me to take it off, hang it in the corner of his office, and just leave it there. He was smiling, but years later, he told the editor of the Tulsa World, Norris Henthorne, at a meeting of the Oklahoma Press Association that he only hired me because I was wearing a topcoat that he thought he could trade away from me. He remembered my coat better than I did.
James T. had spent the war as a public information officer at Kelly Field in San Antonio, with the rank of captain. The wartime duty had sharpened his appetite for the grape, and one of his drinking buddies was a columnist and the military editor of the San Antonio Express, an Oklahoman named Emery Winn, one of the most talented writers I have ever known. At the war’s end, James T. brought Emery Winn to Seminole as editor of The Producer. Emery usually was pickled by noon, but he could write a perfect headline and edit copy style-perfect without losing a beat. For editorial staff, Emery and I and a young lady who put together a society page were all of it, far different from the raucous boom days when James T. had at least eight reporters on the paper.
Everyone in their lives can name individuals who gave them meaningful help and support, and Emery Winn came into my life at precisely the right time. I didn’t know it right off, but later learned of his extensive admirers in the newspaper field, people who recognized his talents not just as an all-around newspaperman, but his knowledge and competence in use of the English language. As a wannabe newspaperman, the tutelage of Emery Winn was the best thing that ever happened to me.
The war had reduced the domestic oil industry, particularly the independents who had always found most of the oil, to a near standstill, and this showed nowhere more than in the Seminole field. Crude oil had been controlled at a dollar a barrel during the four wearisome war years, and nearly all the available steel had been allocated to the building of tanks, army vehicles, troop and liberty ships, and all the other hardware so essential in war. One American regret: We had sold Japan millions of tons of scrap steel in the 1930s, much of it turned on us as weapons of war beginning at Pearl Harbor.
Most domestic oilfields, Greater Seminole no exception, had been produced beyond their efficient rates, stripped of their natural reservoir pressure to squeeze out the vast quantities of fuel required by the far-flung allied armed forces on two sides of the planet. U. S. oil supplied 85 percent of the oil used by all the allies in pursuit of their victory. Large quantities of domestic oil could have been found and developed, except for pressing shortages of tubular goods needed to drill and equip wells. Used pipe was at a premium, and much of the pipe available could be had only at black or gray market prices. Drilling materials at unaffordable costs with oil fixed at a dollar a barrel had brought drilling to a virtual halt.
The independents and small drilling contractors in Seminole were a dispirited lot in January 1946 when I joined the staff of my hometown newspaper. They could drive by huge racks of fenced-in pipe stockpiled by the major companies operating in the field. The majors had pipe because they had the connections, and the purchasing power. A sign that Seminole had seen its glory years was the pulling of production strings from depleted wells sapped by over-production in the war years. Such pipe was scavenged, cleaned and sold to wildcatters who had prospects to drill that they had sat on for years. The frustrations that went with trying to revitalize a virtually deactivated industry were not much fun.
But on top of these frustrations came new headaches from a cadre of the AFL-CIO dispatched to Seminole to organize drillers and roughnecks. A dozen union representatives, including a goon squad of at least six shipped in from the Midland/Odessa area and opened an organizing office in February, 1946. They got no support from The Seminole Producer, which exposed their heavy-handed tactics after a union goon squad paid a midnight visit to a working rig operated by a local contractor, and proceeded to beat the drilling crew to force them in line, putting two in the local hospital. We wrote that story for several days. When it became apparent that drillers and roughnecks would not flock to the union to be “organized,” the agents gave up and left town.
Nobody was sorry to see them go.
End of Chapter Two, posted February 2019.
Chapter Three: “Lifting Some Spirits”
Wanting to be involved in civic affairs at the right levels, I joined and was active in the Seminole Junior Chamber of Commerce (now the Jaycees), and the local Lions club. At a meeting of the young businessmen in the Jaycee group in March 1946, a discussion was held about appropriate projects to serve the community. I told the group that Seminole had celebrated the tenth anniversary of the local oil discovery in 1936, and here it was ten years later so the Junior Chamber should sponsor a twentieth anniversary oil bash and schedule it for July 16, the day the Fixico No. l had come roaring in two decades earlier.
I argued that the oil industry was having a struggle, had managed to abort a union organizing drive that — if successful — would have killed off the local drilling contractors, was scrabbling for scarce pipe and materials to try to jump-start field activity again, and was in need of a boost and a shot in the arm in the form of community recognition. The room was quiet for a minute, than smiles spread over all the faces in the room. Coaxing the Seminole Junior Chamber of Commerce to sponsor a Discovery Day blowout recognizing the contributions to Seminole of the oil industry was the easiest sell I ever made.
James T. Jackson was looking for a change of scenery in 1946, and was quietly casting about for a buyer for the newspaper. He finally sold the paper to Tom and Milt Phillips, brothers who owned two other small but thriving daily newspapers in the state, and Milt had come to Seminole to be the on-site publisher of The Producer. The sale price was $100,000, a lot of money in 1946, and James T. Jackson, affectionately known as “Jack” to his staff, took the money to Pauls Valley, Okla., where he used a sliver of it to buy a radio station and the local newspaper, the Democrat. When I told Milt Phillips about the Jaycee project, he enthusiastically endorsed the idea as something the newspaper should support with all its resources.
Committees were appointed, and frequent meetings held by the Jaycees to discuss ideas for the big celebration. I suggested at one meeting that we order a few hundred inch-and-a-half buttons declaring that “Discovery Day is July 16,” and that the Main street merchants should ask their employees to wear these. The idea was that store customers would ask what this was all about, and the employees would tell them it would be a community celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Seminole oil discovery with entertainment for everybody. Seminole was the shopping center for a wide area of Seminole county, and on Saturdays the town overflowed with people and automobiles. The bright colored badges had the desired effect, and had the added value of involving store clerks throughout the city in promoting the big celebration.
When “Discovery Day,” July 16, 1946, arrived, it started with a parade that lasted three hours. The major oil companies and big supply houses had come in with colorful floats, high school bands were there from a number of schools, rodeo enthusiasts from riding clubs all over central Oklahoma, and huge trucks laden with the latest, heaviest and shiniest oilfield equipment, paraded for an audience estimated at 40,000 crowding the downtown streets. The equipment featured in the parade was displayed in a special area for viewing by the public and industry personnel. Adjoining this was a carnival with a half dozen makeshift cash gaming emporiums manned by Jaycee members. In the Civic Auditorium in the evening, Harold B. Fell, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, made a rousing industry appreciation speech to the city dads and town merchants, and in the Seminole American Legion’s spacious hall the younger set held a “Petroleum Ball,” elected a Miss Petroleum from a dozen candidates, and danced to a big band from the University of Oklahoma.
Harold B. Fell, the CEO of the IPAA, was one of the most effective public speakers the independent oil industry ever produced. A native of Wilkes Barre, Pa., and a Princeton graduate, he immigrated into Oklahoma in the 1920s and settled at Ardmore. As speaker at the Seminole celebration, he fascinated the audience with an accounting of the lore of the local oil boom, saluting the Greater Seminole field in 1927 as the “second largest oilfield in the world.” If he said which field was first, I have forgotten that. But at the time, little could I have suspected that I would spend most of my adult life in the service of IPAA, and precisely 30 years later would inherit Harold Fell’s position and title in the association.
The event rejuvenated the spirits of the Seminole oil community, and local industry leaders lavished praise on the Junior Chamber for its sponsorship of the anniversary celebration. The Jaycees, when the dust had settled, had profited from the Discovery Day activities, gaining about $1100, a lot of money for a young men’s civic organization in 1946. A week after the event, Homer Clauser, a young insurance man who was president of the Jaycees, wrote The Producer’s publisher, Milt Phillips, a letter of thanks for the newspaper’s support. The note began with this sentence: “It was a great day for the Seminole Junior Chamber of Commerce when Lloyd Unsell of your staff came to us with the suggestion that we sponsor the anniversary celebration of the Seminole oil discovery.” Phillips passed the letter to the editor, Floyd Gibson, who replaced Emery Winn (Emery left when James T. Jackson sold the newspaper) after penciling a note on it, “Gib, I didn’t know Lloyd was the daddy of this.”
Being “the reporter” on the local daily newspaper, known to everyone in political, business and social structures of the city, was a lot of fun. Like a lot of small cities, the power structure was sometimes blatantly serve-rewarding, and I tangled with the then mayor of Seminole, J. C. Cravens, who owned the local Ford dealership, over some of his self-dealing. He presided over a five-member elected City Council, and I attended these meetings. It was from Cravens that I first learned about “body language,” before I ever heard that term. He presided from a chair that tilted back, and if he tilted that chair, laced the fingers of both hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling; this communicated his disinterest in whatever was before the Council. It was a given that there would be a motion to kill or table whatever proposition was under discussion.
At one such meeting, the Council discussed and approved the purchase of two very expensive hydraulic garbage trucks from Cravens’ dealership. The mayor, of course, was careful not to participate in this discussion. The next morning, I wandered into City Clerk Herman Sullivan’s office and asked if there was not an ordnance prohibiting the Mayor and/or Council members from doing business with the city. Sullivan said there was, and recited from memory the book and page number where the ordnance was filed. He retrieved it, assured me it was still in force, and opened the book so I could copy the essential purpose of the ordnance. I subsequently wrote an article, which ran on page one, saying the Council’s purchase of garbage trucks from Seminole (Ford) Motor Sales was in apparent violation of an ordinance prohibiting the mayor and council members from doing business with the city.
It was just the first of many things I did which upset Mayor Cravens, the last being its action declining an offer by the state health department to spray the city for mosquitoes at no cost, then acting two weeks later to pay local grocer and feed store owner $2,100 to do the job. When I pointed this out in a story, Cravens made his customary call to complain, but refused to make a statement of his views. I suggested that if he was unhappy about the way I did my job he should talk to the publisher. “I already have,” he said, “and he told me to take it up with you.”
That kind of support from my boss made life worthwhile, and the sheer fun of covering the small-time shenanigans of the local politicians made reporting for a small town newspaper a delightful pursuit. But Seminole was losing a lot of its old luster for me. Changes from the hurly-burly days were visible in many ways. The oilfield trucking business was on the wane. The Hazelrigg truck camp that had so fascinated me with its bustle in the 1930s was in decline and Sid Hazelrigg was holding on but clearly phasing down a business afflicted by eroded demand. The mobile rig builders were introducing new self-contained jack-up rotary rigs of all sizes, and oilfield trucking, which roared into existence in the ‘20s to replace the six-mule teams in the oilfields, was itself now becoming obsolete. The rise and fall of entrepreneurial oilfield trucking occurred over a span of only a little more than two decades.
Other changes had robbed Seminole of its old spark, so I was ready for a change when Lee C. Erhard, managing editor of The Tulsa Daily World, called me one day and invited me to consider a reporting job that he had open. He said that I needn’t come for an interview, that he was familiar with my work, and the job was mine if I wanted to make a move. I accepted he offer, and we agreed on a starting date in two weeks.
When I broke the news to Milt Phillips, I told him I was going to Tulsa in hope of doing something supportive of the oil industry, which – despite its incredible war record – was under political and press attacks in Washington, evidence of which I had read frequently in reports coming into the office on the UP teletype. The Producer’s op-ed page was dominated by the infamous muckraker, Drew Pearson, who liked nothing better than to belittle the oil industry and its imaginary “influence” in Washington.
Milt Phillips wished me well, and said I would always have supporters in the Phillips brothers. He remained a fast friend and frequent correspondent until his death many years later.
End of Chapters Two and Three. Continue reading Chapters Four and Five! Visit AOGHS for more chapters to be added in 2019.
Lloyd N. Unsell (1923-2007), a founding member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, was the long-time president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America in Washington, D.C. In 1986, he received the industry’s prestigious Chief Roughneck Award in 1986 — the only person not affiliated with an oil company to do so since the award began in 1955. In December 2004, Unsell gave AOGHS exclusive permission to publish the draft forward and early chapters of his then in-progress memoirs, Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell. His writing in the forward alone reveals (and preserves) a skilled Oklahoma journalist’s inside view of the tumultuous politics of the industry for half a century. This opening chapter describes his youthful introduction to the industry, his early newspaper reporting, meeting and marrying the love of his life, Nettie, and his Army service during World War II.
Chapter One: “Oil on My Boots”
Lloyd N. Unsell in 1948 joined the staff of Independent Monthly magazine, official publication of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, established in 1929.
It is not true that I left journalism in 1948 to join the staff of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) because my wife wanted me to have a day job, which was one of her favorite stories. I took the job because I had done most of my growing up in Seminole, Oklahoma, one of the last and wildest of the oil boom towns in America, and this was where I acquired an appreciation of the oil industry and an affection for its people. Famed Oklahoman Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like. I never met an oilman I didn’t like, and oilmen and women that I knew came in many types and sizes, and found their niche in the business in a wide variety of roles. I also cultivated my interest in journalism, my first choice career, among the colorful characters who worked on The Seminole Producer, the local daily newspaper spudded by James T. Jackson not long after the Greater Seminole oil discovery.
Seminole roared to life on July 16, 1926, when a rank wildcatter named Robert F. (Bob) Garland drilled an exploratory well about six miles east of town that flowed 6,000 barrels a day from the Wilcox formation. He had a silent partner named Edward H. Moore, who would later become the first-ever Republican elected to the Senate from Oklahoma. Garland-Moore’s Fixico No. l ushered in the madcap development of the Greater Seminole Field that in the very next year, 1927, accounted for five of every seven barrels of the oil produced in the state of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma had seen oil booms before, at Cushing, Drumright, Glenn Pool in Tulsa County, Earlsoro, Healdton, and others, but none of these measured up to Seminole, not in the quantity of oil found, nor in the instant population growth from sleepy village to 40,000 strangers representing the best and the worst of humanity, all there to somehow get their slice of the pie. The con artists, gamblers, small time crooks, pimps and prostitutes soon established their own sub-culture in a strip of tents and lean-to emporiums called “Bishop’s Alley,” so-named for a local attorney who had owned the land. It was routine for drillers and roughnecks and some even in the oil management echelons, seeking their kicks in Bishop’s Alley, to wind up in a ditch somewhere, doped, and stripped of their possessions. Some of oil’s industrial leaders cut their first swath in Seminole, including two then-future Presidents of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, William M. Vaughey and Harold Decker.
The integrated oil companies, in order to keep competent help around, all established large company “camps” where they put up acceptable housing, built offices and maintenance shops for their trucks and equipment, installed multiple racks for their casing, tubing and drill pipe inventories, and sturdy warehouses where they could lock down all the fittings, valves and wellhead equipment that were frequent targets of oilfield thieves. Most of these compounds were encircled by high chain link fences These well-planned mini-communities were put in place with incredible swiftness by companies such as Gulf, Phillips, Amerada, Pure Oil, Cities Service, Sinclair, the old Standard Oil Co. (N. J.) production affiliate, Carter Oil Co., and others.
I discovered Seminole in the summer of 1933, when my parents moved there from Henryetta, my birthplace, a town unblessed by oil. Henryetta had a half dozen coal mines, a glass plant operated by Pittsburgh Plate, and an Eagle-Picher lead and zinc smelter. All of these enterprises had quickly closed down after the onset of the depression. Jobs were not to be had, and it was a given that in a state afflicted simultaneously by the Great Depression and the Great Dust Bowl, Henryetta had become one of the poorest of the poor towns. An older sister, Cleo, had married a Henryetta native named Herbert G. (Hub) Hazelrigg, who had joined his brother Sid in the oilfield trucking business in Seminole, and she persuaded my father to come there and open a small restaurant amidst the oil and truck camps east of the town.
From the beginning, Seminole was a captivating place to a not quite 12-year-old boy. Most of all, I was fascinated by the oilfield trucking business. Sidney Ross Hazelrigg, one of the most personable men I have ever known, the elder of the two Hazelrigg boys from Henryetta, had formed with O. L. Harvey the H & H Trucking Company, and together these two men literally invented the mechanical means of moving drilling rigs and equipment that elevated oilfield hauling out of the mule-team stage. After some four years together, Hazelrigg and Harvey parted amiably over differences never defined, and became competitors, but Sid Hazelrigg got the oil trucking camp that H & H had established on a 20-acre parcel between Highway 270 and the Frisco railroad, not quite a mile east of Seminole proper.
H & H had emulated the big oil companies. To keep competent drivers, welders and truck mechanics they built or moved in about 15 small “shotgun” houses which bordered the south and west perimeters of the truck camp, all occupied by the families of their best hands for very nominal rent. They bought trucks, mostly GM models, and Whites, that had nothing but the cabs, frames and the wheels underneath. The vehicles with short wheel bases were converted to haul pipe, and the long wheel-based Whites were equipped with heavy duty winches mounted just behind the cabs, under a welded steel structure called a “headache post,” then a long flat bed with a rolling tailgate. These trucks were used to move draw-works for drilling rigs, and the familiar heavy steel “dog houses” in which small tools and fittings were locked down at every drilling site.
In my first few years at Seminole, the Hazelrigg truck camp was my favorite place on this earth. It was a beehive of activity in which welders, mechanics, men adept at shaping thick oak timbers into fifth wheel and trailer bolsters for pipe hauling, and heavy duty oak flatbeds, all constantly innovating to do things better, make winches and draw lines safer, turning out an expanding fleet of trucks that looked good in addition to being equipped for the heaviest duty an often mud-covered oilfield could demand of any vehicle. While the truck yard remained my favorite place, at age 13 I was attracted to the idea of making a little pocket change, so became a carrier for the local newspaper.
After awhile, I began hanging around the newspaper more and more, and came to know all the teletype operators, the printers who ran the old flatbed presses, and the reporters and ad salesman for a small town daily newspaper that had prospered from its beginning. When James T. Jackson decided to start a newspaper in Seminole in 1927, he quickly decided that “good news” in the oilfield was a producing well, bad news a dry hole, so what better name for an oil town newspaper than The Seminole Producer. James T. hadn’t come to town to drill a dry hole, and he didn’t. He was an easy-going, likable man, and a natural promoter who was always thinking of ways to enhance the Producer’s fortunes. In 1936, my 14th year, he decided that Seminole should have a real “blowout” to commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of its discovery well. Among other things, the whole Producer staff set about the task of publishing an oil anniversary edition that had to be printed in eight-page sections, over time. When delivered to the community on July 16, the newspaper was more than 200 pages, comprised mostly of all the true and mythical tales of the Seminole oil patch, and perhaps 150 pages of advertising.
James T. Jackson had given me the “journalism bug” during my service as a carrier of the newspaper, but the Tenth Anniversary edition of his newspaper coincidentally provided me an opportunity to “get published.” I was hanging out at the Hazelrigg truck camp on a Saturday in June, after school was out, when one of Jackson’s ad salesmen came to sell Sid Hazelrigg an ad in the 10th anniversary edition. At that time, two of the dance crazes of the day were “The Big Apple,” and a zany thing called “Truckin’” in which one sort of shuffled along waving the index finger of the right hand in the air. When the Producer ad salesman braced Sid Hazelrigg, the truck operator was putting forth his best resistance. “I have more business than I can handle, I don’t have anything to advertise to your readers, and I don’t know what I’d say in a damned ad anyway,” was the sum of his argument.
Somehow inspired in my age 14 mind, I piped up and said, “I know what you could say.”
Sid looked at me and said, “You stay out of this kid.”
The ad salesman had argued that this was an industry “salute” edition of the newspaper in which all successful oil-connected businesses ought to be represented. Perhaps seeing a chance to press his case, he said “Let’s see what the kid has in mind. What are you talking about, boy?”
I looked sheepishly at Sid, and being a nice guy, he lifted both hands palms up, waved them up and down a time or two, and said, “Okay, what would you say?”
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, I’d say ‘We can’t do The Big Apple, but boy can we truck!’”
The owner of Hazelrigg trucks broke into a wide grin, and said, “Hell, that ain’t bad.” He bought a full-page ad with those eleven words in large type in the center of the page and the company name and phone number at the bottom of the page. I had the notion that somebody should give me a small commission, but that never happened.
Aside from publishing an immensely fat edition of his newspaper, the rest of James T. Jackson’s Tenth Anniversary “blowout” consisted of a 10-mile parade featuring oil company floats, public speeches by oil
industry leaders and politicians, and an “Oilman’s Blast,” in other words a stag affair on the local baseball field, Red Bird Park, south of the town. The park was encircled by an eight-foot wood fence, and by the time the big party got well under way, I (and a dozen other boys of like-age) had found a knothole through which to observe the goings on. Alcohol flowed freely in that part of dry Oklahoma, and after the crowd estimated at 12,000 had gotten itself “properly oiled,” the entertainment commenced, consisting of perhaps a dozen female wrestlers imported from Kansas City. The object of these women, paired off two at a time in the makeshift ring complete with referee, was to reduce each other to stark nakedness as quickly as possible.
One of the up-and-coming young lawyers in Seminole was Richard Bell. He had announced his candidacy for the state legislature, and was considered a shoo-in for the seat in the 1936 fall elections. But James T. Jackson persuaded Dick Bell to be one of the “referees,” and the naive young lawyer abandoned his judgment and took on the chore. In his particular “match,” the two women not only quickly disrobed each other, but then turned on Candidate Bell and removed everything he was wearing except his undershorts. By 1936, Seminole had gotten its raucous years behind it, most of the major church denominations had built places of worship, and the town had progressed from its “Bishop’s Alley” phase into a “Bible Belt” sort of mentality. It took no time for the whole town, and especially the church women, to become aware of the debauchery in which Dick Bell had participated in Red Bird Ball Park, and that was enough to end his political career. Years later, during my newspaper days, Bell and I became friends, but he never again ran for public office. And I don’t think I ever told him that I had watched his attempt at “refereeing” a female wrestling match through a knothole in the fence.
The Seminole Producer, for its first few years, had a very large cadre of reporters committed to putting as much “local color” as possible in each edition. All these reporters were needed because the newspaper had no wire service supplying statewide and national news, so a “stringer” was hired to cover the doings of Seminole county representatives in the state legislature in Oklahoma City, and a reporter was assigned to the Court House at Wewoka, the county seat eleven miles to the east.
The staff worked diligently on developing local “color,” and one example of this occurred during the Holiday Season each year when the paper would publish on page one a huge table of illegal liquor prices, along with the available brands and phone numbers of the bootleggers, most of whom ran taxicab companies for the primary purpose of delivering booze. This was an embarrassment to local police and the county sheriff, which pleaded that they had bigger fish to fry than chasing down every half-pint liquor sale. There were other reasons, of course: Seminole’s kingpin bootleggers were known for their generosity to the local constabulary. But the police chief and sheriff were elected every two years, and nobody knew better than they that if illegal liquor was denied to a town as thirsty as Seminole, they could forget about re-election.
As the decade of the 1930’s was coming to an end, times were improving nominally, and opportunity knocked for many of James T. Jackson’s well-trained reporters. The turnover was chronic by 1940, and though the newspaper had long since acquired the United Press’s wire service, vacancies were frequent. When Danny Harbour, a popular reporter whose beat included high school athletic contests, joined the Kiplinger organization and left for the Nation’s Capital, this left the paper without a sports reporter. My high school journalism teacher, Orville Dee, mentioned this out loud – so I made a deal to report high school football games, providing a box score along with the copy, until Harbour’s replacement could be found. I never got a “byline” for any of this, and felt cheated, but when I finished high school in the spring of 1941, James T. Jackson offered to take me on as a “trainee” reporter at the lofty pay of $12 a week.
I had plans to go to the University of Oklahoma, but knew I had to earn and save some money in order to accomplish this, and when I heard of an opening at the Hinderliter Tool Co., in Tulsa, paying 60 cents an hour, I couldn’t believe my good fortune when they hired me. Saying no to a reporting job, however low paying, was tough, but Hinderliter Tool, whose founder, the legendary Frank Hinderliter, had more than 80 patents for oil tools, offered the best financial opportunity – and put me in touch with another endeavor that was closely related to the oil business. I would hustle steel billets from a vast open air lot stocked with “stalks” of unfinished steel weighing from a few hundred pounds to as much as a ton. Through a system of overhead cranes, it was my job to deliver on order the billets needed by blacksmiths in Hinderliter’s huge forge shop.
This enormous shop, 200 feet long and 80 feet wide, had four blacksmith crews at work in 1941,primarily forging oil tools on order and passing them on to the machinists to be threaded and finished. The lead blacksmith was Walter Prater, a blocky little man with a muscular torso, who wore thick rimmed glasses, had an ever-present cigar in the corner of his mouth, and went about his work with the care and precision of an artist. His crew included Tom Miller, the “heater” who watched a steel billet in the mouth of a gas-fired blast furnace and could tell instinctively when it was ready to shape. Walt Prater would grasp the hot billet with a huge pair of tongs 12 feet long, suspended from an overhead crane at the clamp which held the billet. A steel handle with an oval center was driven by sledge onto the long handles of the tongs, and locked in place with a steel wedge. The blacksmith would then nod to his chain man who would lift the whole thing enough that Prater could swing it out of the furnace and onto the flat shaping surface under a 3600 pound air hammer. With a nod of the head, Prater orchestrated the shaping of the hot steel, letting the hammer driver know with the variation of his gestures, how hard – or how gently – he wanted the hot steel pounded. A ballerina on the fly at the Bolshoi was no more fascinating to watch than Walt Prater at work.
Outside the main gate at its huge plant on North Peoria in Tulsa, Hinderliter had a tool repair shop, equipped with a small (1200 pound) hammer and a coke fire for heating cable bits to be sharpened. An old blacksmith named Harris did this work, and during lunch breaks he would give me instruction on the operation of a blacksmithing hammer, which was operated by two long handles, one to control the air pressure, the other to control the downward stroke of the hammer. Harris had a dollar watch, and could remove the lens, lay it on the hammer block, and close the lens with the 1200 pound hammer. He would stand a Prince Albert tobacco can on the block, its lid open at a 30-degree angle, and close it with the hammer. “A good hammer driver can smash things to hell and gone, or hit whatever is there with a feather touch,” he would say. Simply for the asking, he gave me instruction on the hammer and taught me to finesse the controls to obtain the desired stroke, and on many days I would go to this little repair shop and practice on the air hammer after a very quick lunch from a brown paper bag.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, I was in peak physical condition, and knew I could kiss college goodbye until after the war. On Saturday, December 20, 1941, the blacksmith Walt Prater called me at the home of Tom Miller’s cousin where I rented a room. “I understand that you’ve been practicing on the
blackie’s hammer out in the repair shop and have gotten pretty good at it. I need you to run my hammer beginning Monday.”
Walt Prater played polo for relaxation. He boarded four polo ponies at the Tulsa fairgrounds, and several times I had gone with him in the evening to help feed them. I told him I was not good enough for his crew, so he said he would pick me up, we would go feed his horses, then stop for a beer and talk about it. When we finally entered the neighborhood bar not far from his home in East Tulsa, and climbed onto a bar stool, he said the magic words, “I’ll pay you 90 cents an hour.” Such an income was unheard of for a new high school graduate in 1941.
Then he told me why I had to help him. All the hammer drivers at Hinderliter Tool Co. had quit en masse on Friday evening and were headed for the Drop Forge Corp. in Chicago, a company that had a new contract to make cannon barrels for the army. Their Hinderliter pay would be at least doubled, and there were other benefits, including insurance and retirement benefits.
I told Walt Prater I planned to quit work and enlist in the army after the Christmas Holidays… He said, “Well, we have a rush order for a whipstock. A guy has some tools lost in a well in Pontotoc county and is shut down until we can deliver a whipstock.” I agreed to come in Monday and try to operate the hammer for him, but warned him that he would have to be extremely patient with me. The company had promised delivery on the whipstock the following Friday. With luck and the blacksmith’s forbearance, we delivered the whipstock on time. The 90 cents Walt Prater had promised was increased to $1.50, and when he handed me the check on Friday evening, he said, “Don Hinderliter wants you to come by the office. He wants to see you.” The son of the company founder, Donald R. Hinderliter was the general manager of the pioneer oil tool company. When I reported to him, he asked me to take a seat, then grinned across his desk, and said, “Walt Prater tells me you saved us this week, and I wanted to thank you for stepping into the breech. Now, I have some news for you.” He slid a sheaf of papers across the desk. “If you will sign these, we will have a long-term relationship in the making.”
I picked up the papers, and noticed right away that they had come from the Federal Government. “What are these?” I asked.
“Well,” Hinderliter said, “as of today we have a contract to make 75 millimeter gun barrels. This is critical work essential to the war effort. Your signature on these forms will get you a deferral from military service to help us do this essential work.”
“I can’t do it, Mr. Hinderliter,” I said.
“For Heaven’s sake, why not,” he gave me a puzzled look.
I told him the truth. Here I was six feet, one-inch tall, just 19, and the picture of health. Every time I walked down a street, women in their 40’s and 50’s who I felt had sons in the military, would eye me as if wondering why I was not in uniform. More than once, I had been bluntly asked why I was not in the armed services, and my limp explanation was that I had not received a draft notice, which was true. I told Hinderliter that I felt compelled to enlist, and would sign no deferral papers, but would stay until he found a hammer man, but no longer than three months. “I could get a draft notice next week,” I told him.
He argued that working on the fulfillment of the gun barrel contract would be more important to the war effort than military service, but even if true, that did nothing for my personal feelings in the matter. I repeated that I would stay until he could find a hammer driver, or until I was drafted, whichever came first, but I did remember to thank him for the pay increase.
On March 30, 1942, I gave up the job at Hinderliter to decide what service branch would be most to my liking, so I returned home to Seminole to spend some time with my parents before enlisting. But something happened on the way to the recruiting office, and her name was Nettie Marie Rogers. On Saturday, April 10, I walked into the NK Café, Seminole’s better appointed restaurant which was tastefully finished in all respects. The NK had about 30 comfortable stools, and on a single stool sat this beautiful young woman. She was reading the Sunday state edition of Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, which was printed first and delivered early state wide. It was summery for April, and she had dressed accordingly, and wore a broadbrimmed white hat, with a multi-colored band set off by a simulated bow at the back. She had cascades of auburn hair, shoulder length, and the most beautiful face I had ever seen, tastefully made up.
Though all the other stools were vacant, I summoned my courage and took one next to this lovely young woman. I ordered coffee, and asked her if I could borrow the comics section, then known as “funny papers.” She glanced at me, smiled, and asked if I was unable to afford a newspaper. I took a wad of bills from my pocket, laid them on the counter, and said, “If I’d have bought a newspaper I wouldn’t have had an excuse to start this conversation.” She looked at me and laughed, and I was hooked for life. It was a short walk to her home, and she agreed to permit me to walk her there. Nettie and I were instantly attracted to each other, and in the summer days to follow we were inseparable, spending as much time as possible together. I knew I would one day marry her, and we discussed this many times, our dilemma the same as that facing countless young people at the time – marry now, or after the war. We decided on the latter, an agreement that would later be abandoned.
The summer of ‘42 passed so quickly. What little money I had saved was going fast, and the inevitability of a draft notice was a constant reality. So in late August, I made a trip to Norman, Oklahoma, to explore whether there may be service-connected educational opportunities available. There were none, but I wandered into an army enlistment office and found a Captain Horn who was trying to put together an all-Oklahoma maintenance (ordnance) battalion for the 13th Armored Division. When he found I had just quit work forging gun barrels, he offered me a T-5 rating (corporal). This didn’t sound very exciting, and I explained that I was hoping to find some means of advancing my education. He asked if I had graduated from high school, and I confirmed that I had.
“Tell you what, I will put in your service record that you have an option to be tested for the Army Specialist Training Program (ASTP). If you pass the test, you’ll be sent to a major University and can choose from four courses.” As I recall, the remainder of the conversation went as follows:
“Does that include journalism?”
“Where do I sign?”
The maintenance battalion was the first unit formed in the 13th (Black Cat) Armored Division. I reported to Ft. Sill, where most of those recruited for the battalion were already on the ground. In early September 1942, the battalion was completed and comprised a full train load of troops headed for basic training
at Camp Perry, OH. After that, we took a six-day trip to Camp Beale, California, where we again found not a single new unit of the division had been formed, so we took basic training again. In early summer, I called on my company commander and told him I was ready to take the exam for the ASTP. He agreed, and I had enough right answers, so was shipped to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
About 600 ASTP applicants were on campus, and turned out to take further aptitude tests and apply for specific courses, my choice being journalism. Three days later I was called to the Armory office by a first lieutenant who informed me that the journalism course was closed to further applicants, and said the testing indicated that I was more suited to the engineering course anyway. The only other option being to return to Camp Beale, I quickly signed, and the next day began a course that the professor in charged call “mathematics renewal.” It was six hours a day, preceded by an hour of calisthenics, a schedule that lasted until September when 225 privates, of whom I was one, having given up my T-5 rating to enter the ASTP program, were assembled at Kalamazoo College, Michigan, to begin the regular engineering course. Ninety-five percent of the group consisted of raw recruits, 18 years of age. I was a “veteran,” 20 years old, so I was quickly nicknamed “pop.”
The program was not superficial. It consisted of 32 hours of academic class work, plus six hours of physical education including rigorous calisthenics. It was not easy for one whose last math course had been high school algebra, four years in the distant past, so “pop” found himself leaning heavily on the bright young recruits to whom advanced geometry, trigonometry and calculus presented no particular problem. We took mechanical drawing, and the required courses of English, world geography and American history. I would later decide that my continuous cramming experience at Kalamazoo College, added to my Army experience generally, equipped me far better to be a journalist than standard university journalism training; I already knew how to spell and how to write.
From the ASTP program, I transferred directly into the Army’s aviation cadet program, but as in much else that it did, the Army over-subscribed its training programs for pilots, bombardiers and navigators. After I had spent four months of comfort in Miami Beach where the Army Air Corp. had taken all the hotels, Air Corps Commander Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold shipped all aspiring pilots who were not in or beyond primary training back to the ground forces. More than 40,000 would-be pilots, bombardiers and navigators were moved from their posh hotels, loaded into box cars, and packed off to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, for reassignment, a letdown never to be forgotten.
By this time I was getting a large guilt complex because I had friends who had been in the thick of the fight for many months, a few paying the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the country. There were times when I wondered if I wouldn’t have contributed more to the war effort making gun barrels at Hinderliter Tool. But the greatest event of my life occurred when the love of my life, Nettie Marie Rogers, caught a train to Atlanta, GA., to become my wife in September 1944 – just 31 days before I was shipped off to Europe. My war experience consisted of delivering Sherman tanks to France, from our largest ordnance center,
designated U.S. Depot G-25, near Cheltenham, England. The monster rig for tank transportation, called a prime mover, was powered by five Chrysler engines, and had a cab encased with quarter-inch steel armor. The tank rode on a low-boy trailer sporting 32 wheels, 16 front and back. I would drive this rig to Plymouth or Weymouth, back it aboard a landing ship, and drive it off on a pier constructed by army engineers near LeHarve, on the Normandy coast.
Delivering fresh tanks to Patton’s armored force was not especially dangerous, but I was strafed by German fighter pilots on occasion, and I can still recall their bullets pinging off my hard-shelled rig. When the tank was unloaded, I would head back to G-25 to await another delivery, and as an assignee to the post’s motor pool, I was on call evenings to drive GI’s on pass to Cheltenham, Gloucester or Worcester, certainly not the most glamorous war-time job in the European theater. After Germany surrendered, my ordnance unit was sent to Southeast Asia, and I spent five months after the Japanese capitulation cooling my heels in Manila, the Philippines.
Happiness was getting off a train in Tulsa, at the end of December 1945, to be greeted by a wife who I was convinced was the most beautiful girl in Oklahoma. I was never very good Army material, but the experiences the Army gave me were of immense value. I had the feeling that I had matured, had acquired a broad base of knowledge that equipped me for life, and like most hopeful young men back from the war, I was ready and able to take on anything. After Nettie and I spent my mustering out pay for civilian clothing in downtown Tulsa, (I left my Army uniform with its seven service ribbons on a box at the haberdashery, S. G. Holmes & Sons) we “hid out” for a week before anyone in my family or hers knew I was once again a civilian. After all, we had never had a honeymoon.
When I finally called my parents home in Seminole, my sister was visiting there and answered the phone. After excitedly announcing to the household that her kid brother was home, her first statement to me was, “Hey, get yourself down here. James T. Jackson is advertising for a reporter.” I was about to begin my long-postponed journalism career.
Three petroleum exploration companies will risk everything on one well trying to become successful Oregon wildcatters.
The Morrow No. 1 well, an ill-fated wildcat well first drilled in 1952 in Jefferson County, Oregon. Photo courtesy Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, “The Ore Bin,” Vol. 32, No.1, January 1970.
Searching for oil has always been an expensive and risky investment, but the lure of black gold has invited speculators since the First American Oil Well.
Under-capitalized operations are often funded with public sales of stock to enable continued drilling. It’s a high-risk investment. About nine out of ten wildcat wells have failed to find commercial amounts of oil since 1859.
Many small ventures must bet everything on drilling a first successful well to have a chance at a second. A gusher means wealth; a dry hole means bankruptcy. And so it was on a remote hillside in Jefferson County, Oregon.
Three companies searched for riches from the same well.
Northwestern Oils Inc.
The first of these three Oregon wildcatters, Northwestern Oils, incorporated in 1951 with $1 million capitalization in order to “carry on business of mining and drilling for oil.”
With offices in Reno, Nevada, in early 1952 Northwestern Oils began drilling a test well about eight miles southeast of Madras, Oregon. Using a cable-tool drilling rig (see Making Hole – Drilling Technology), drillers reached a depth of 3,300 feet on the Baycreek anticline before work was suspended because of “lost circulation troubles.”
Circulation troubles continued with the Morrow No. 1 well – also known as the Morrow Ranch well – in Jefferson County (Section 18, Township 12 South, range 15 East). By March 1956, with no money and no additional drilling possible, Northwestern Oils’ assets were “seized for non-payment of delinquent internal revenue taxes due from the corporation” and auctioned off at the Jefferson County courthouse.
Central Oils Inc.
Central Oils (Seattle) also was formed in 1956. With plans to join the other rare Oregon wildcatters, the Central Oils registered with the Security and Exchange Commission on July 30, 1958. It sought to sell one million shares of stock to the public at 10 cents a share. Proceeds would finance leasing and drilling, just like Northwestern Oils.
The company received a permit to deepen Northwestern Oils’ old Morrow Ranch well in 1966 and planned to continue drilling with a cable-tool rig. Nothing happened.
“Commencement of this venture has been delayed until the spring of 1967,” one newspaper reported. But Central Oils had run afoul of the SEC. Oregon regulators recorded the well abandoned as of September 12, 1967, and Central Oils “out of business; no assets.”
Robert F. Harrison
In May 1968, Robert F. Harrison and his associates took over the same well – this time with plans to deepen it to more than 5,000 feet. But two years later the drilling effort was still stuck at 3,300 feet. Desperate, Harrison tried to clear the borehole by applying technologies for Fishing in Petroleum Wells.
On February 2, 1971, an intra-office report noted that R.F. Harrison “will abandon as soon as weather permits,” never having exceeded the original Northwestern Oils total depth of 3,300 feet. It would be a dry hole.
Harrison finally plugged and abandoned the Morrow No. 1 well as of October 12, 1971. Today, Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries identifies this stubborn dry hole as well number 36-031-00003. There has never been a successful oil well drilled in Oregon.
America’s First Dry Hole was drilled in 1859 by John Grandin of Pennsylvania – near and just a few days after the first commercial discovery. In 2014, U.S. oil wells produced more than 8.7 million barrels of oil every day, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The hour-long morning Exploring Energy radio show includes a Wednesday segment that offers energy education articles from the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. The show, which began in January 2012, in 2014 added weekly editorial contributions from AOGHS Executive Director Bruce Wells, who calls in on the last Wednesday of every month to talk history.
Listeners nationwide can find the show broadcasting online weekday mornings 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Eastern Time. The “Remember When Wednesdays” are also available an the online archive maintained by Shawn Wilson.
In addition to interviews of regularly scheduled guests from government and industry (from top executives to roughnecks and tool pushers) the Oklahoma radio program offers weekly looks at the industry’s neglected history.
As part of a partnership with the “Exploring Energy Network,” an energy education radio program and monthly publication, AOGHS contributes both feature articles and guest commentary. Since being added in April 2014, the Wednesday talk-radio show has included stories from the historical society’s “This Month in Petroleum History.”
The Elk City KECO 96.5 FM radio program Exploring Energy is live nationwide on the Internet on most weekday mornings.
Although the show hosts regularly discuss Oklahoma’s energy scene, they also look at national issues – and interview industry professionals often straight from the historic Anadarko Basin oilfields.
Elk City is above the deepest part of the Anadarko, which extends into Kansas, Colorado and the Texas Panhandle. A prominent Elk City tourist attraction is one of the largest drilling rigs in the world, the 180-foot Parker Drilling Rig 114 on display along Route 66.
Educating Listeners about the Energy Business
According to co-host Shawn Wilson, frank discussion often occur when owners and employees of area companies appear as guests.” Wilson came to Elk City working in the oilfields in 1981 – during Oklahoma’s deep-drilling natural gas boom.
“I’ve been accused of having a fairly good sense of recall, but will leave that to the judgment of those who may be sufficiently interested in these recollections as to actually read them.” — Lloyd N. Unsell
“It has been suggested that I…,” or “I have been urged to…,” are typical of the predicates often used by some writers, platform speakers, analysts, even occasional historians, in reference to some project or undertaking. It is a relatively harmless device that transfers a little of the blame to others for the quality, or lack of quality, reflected in such work. Well, it happens that since I left the Washington scene some 15 years ago, I have been encouraged by certain oilmen and women, a few politicians, several family members, and some just plain friends to write a political memoir covering some of my personal recollections and experiences in the service of the Nation’s independent oil and gas producers. Though I’ve finally succumbed to these persuasions, I shall not burden a single one of these well-meaning souls with an identity, for I should not want one of them held accountable for the accuracy, pertinence, relevance, or entertainment value of these recollections.
My past resistance to attempting such a memoir has been well known to some of my friends, who understand that I believe such a book should be accurate with regard to dates, months, years, statistics, quotations, individual and collective actions, results, wins, losses, and the like. Such detail requires a great deal of personal research, or the employment of researchers who know or can guess what you want. I’m now too lethargic to do it myself, and too impatient to keep some perfect stranger in the right groove to get it done. Unlike some politicians whose names may come to mind, I kept no diary and made no tapes, so I make no pretense of striving for precise detail and factual fidelity. I do have my reasons for this: First, as just stated, I’ve become too lazy and undisciplined to do painstaking research, and more important, I believe that writing burdened with such minutia is a sure cure for insomnia, anyway.
So this so-called “memoir” will be purely anecdotal. It will deal with my earlier life, and with some amusing entanglements growing out of legislative and political actions, and the players including oil personalities, politicians, journalists, and others as I recall them. It also will include reference to some industry legends on which I have an acquired knowledge. I’ve been accused of having a fairly good sense of recall, but will leave that to the judgment of those who may be sufficiently interested in these recollections as to actually read them.
Since I’ve confessed my resistance to fine detail, some may be moved to question the value of assertions devoid of documentation. I wouldn’t argue the point, except to say there are distinctions between value and purpose, and my purpose is to save some reference to past events to which I’ve been witness, some of them important, many more or less trivial. In Washington, the facade of one of our federal buildings is adorned with the much quoted engraving, “The Past is Prologue.” I believe this is a literal truth. Human beings, industries, and nations are what they are because of the forces, within and outside of their control, favorable and unfavorable, pleasant and unpleasant, moral and immoral, with which they’ve been buffeted, shaped, influenced, and at times maybe even brutalized, over times past. The domestic oil industry historically has been the target of as much unfounded criticism and counterproductive intrusions by Government as any economic entity in America, and most assuredly has been shaped in part by misguided political actions and effluvium. I hasten to add, because I’m not just an apologist for oil and gas, that the industry at times clearly invited some lumps by its own mistakes. I should add too that it has been the beneficiary of positive policies put in place by legislative leaders concerned for the country’s energy future. From a history of negotiating uncertain political seas, alternating between calm and storm-tossed, has emerged “the oil industry” of today, which certainly is light years different than when I entered the scene more than half century ago, or even from the day I “hung ‘em up,” in 1987. Even if it had existed in a neutral political climate continuously since World War II, the oil and gas industry would have faced daunting challenges, both economic and technological. But in long stretches of time, it experienced harsh treatment by political critics — some who could justify industry-bashing as a strategy to advance their controlling philosophies, and some who were opportunists adept at recognizing any vulnerable target when it entered their field of vision.
Aiding and abetting such attackers was the industry’s vastness and complex nature, with its disparate segments often at loggerheads and never reticent about airing their differences in public. This made it tough for oil’s political sympathizers, who detested demagoguery in their ranks, to get handles on constructive strategies. Much of that has changed now. In fact, sheer anti-oil demagoguery once rampant in Washington has all but disappeared, but environmental purism has become so identified with the public weal, that political actions addressing the nation’s energy policy dilemmas seem less likely than ever.
Like most everything ongoing in the human experience, political attitudes on energy issues grow out of individual and collective experiences. The great leaders of World War II, including President Dwight Eisenhower, came out of that conflict as eyewitnesses to the indispensability of oil in the conduct of warfare. Even Life Magazine, at war’s end, issued a coffee-table pictorial book on the success and complexity of the massive effort to supply petroleum fuels to allied forces on far-flung battlefields on both sides of the planet. Eisenhower would contend even late in the l950’s that U. S. oil producing capacity was tremendously important because it “makes war (with the Soviet Union) less likely.” He saw sufficient oil as a strength that dissuaded potential aggressors. It was access to oil that U. S. forces sought to deny both the Germans and the Japanese; one of the largest bombing raids in history was the massive attack on Rumanian refineries at Ploesti, which were fueling the axis armed forces in Europe. Oil was an essential ingredient in the U. S. military arsenal, and Ike’s experiences had convinced him that the Nation should never lag in maintaining a war-ready oil producing capability. He was joined in that resolve by dozens of his contemporaries in military command, by the first secretary of defense, James Forestall, and by numerous political leaders of the l940’s and 50’s.
But those perspectives are now just part of history. The now prevailing attitude toward energy resource development and public energy policies prove once again that “change” is the most reliable constant in our lives. The environmental activists and their financial and political supporters have fought to see that oil resources in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge will never be disturbed. American technology has lifted both Great Britain and Norway from zero production to net oil exporters, from production in one of the roughest patches of water on the globe, the North Sea, but drilling in much of our relatively benign but potentially oil rich offshore is prohibited. We strike deals for General Electric and others to sell nuclear power generators to China, and even look the other way when Russian nuclear power technology is peddled to unstable regimes, but build another nuclear plant in America? Never!
What about “energy security,” a tenet to which the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations were committed? Well, we don’t have to worry any more because America is “the only remaining Super Power.” And we proved in “Desert Storm” that if any little despot interferes with oil supply lines we can send our missile-bearing strike forces to take the situation in hand. As one of the Washington pundits wrote, Desert Storm might more aptly have been called “Oil War I.” The New York Times quoted one unnamed Washington observer as saying, “That is our energy policy – Desert Storm.”
Can America maintain its status as the only surviving Super Power while becoming progressively more dependent for basic energy supplies on unstable regimes both remote and insecure? That may be the most important but least discussed geopolitical question facing our country, having far and away more serious implications than “global warming,” one of the consuming topics of the day. Does energy contingency planning rest on some strategic hypothesis about what circumstance may justify “Oil War II?” How did we reach this new stage where our smugness about our presumably everlasting invincibility has become the apparent guiding principle of national energy policy? Well, it was a long road. With our future security and domestic economy depending on forced access to somebody else’s oil, a strange new ball game indeed, some may contend that everything that has gone before is irrelevant.
But as one witness to much of what has gone before over more than a half century, I think that in the end, and as some few may still believe, history will be the judge.
Read about Unsell’s introduction to the Oklahoma petroleum industry inChapter One, “Oil on my Boots.”
Fall 2017 gathering of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in Oklahoma City.
The annual meeting of AAPG, founded 100 years earlier, was attended by American Oil & Gas Historical Society Executive Director Bruce Wells, who joined a dedicated group of geologist-historians for a day-long field trip to Bartlesville and Frank Phillip’s Woolaroc Ranch.
The 2017 AAPG Mid-Continent Section Meeting in downtown Oklahoma City took place near the Devon Energy Center, the company’s 50-story headquarters.
A field trip into the heart of Oklahoma petroleum history (co-hosted by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society), combined with many earth science exhibits, presentations, and speeches from industry executives to highlight a September 2017 meeting of mid-continent geologists in Oklahoma City.
In Bartlesville, field trip members were joined by educator and historian Kay Little, owner of Little History Adventures. She provided insights about the life of Frank Phillips, his company, and the history of Woolaroc.
Staff members at the museum also answered questions – and introduced Jim Low, the grandson of Phillips, who happened to be visiting. Special access was granted to the building’s board room.
AAPG’s 2017 conferences have featured a special traveling mural: “In the Beginning…100 years, 100 AAPG Women Who Forged the Path.” The portraits are from the recently published book, Anomalies – Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917 – 2017 by Robbie Rice Gries.
Joan Bruns, a geologist with Baker Hughes, a GE Company, arranged a tour of the Mid-Continent Geological Library in the original 1923 home of the Oklahoma Cotton Growers Association.
The day-long field trip offered an opportunity to discuss the AOGHS energy education mission and the petroleum history articles posted on AOGHS.org.
During the bus ride Wells discussed the importance of oil history in energy education and played a selection of DVDs he collected over the years from community oil museums.
The AAPG meeting at the Cox Business Services Center focused on recent advancements in technology, “with some of the brightest professionals in out industry,” according the meeting chairman, Thomas Cronin. It began with five September 30 workshops.
A sixth special workshop was held for teachers. “More! Rocks in Your Head,” was led by Rochard Opalka at the Petroleum Club, which also hosted several receptions. Ninety-six exhibit booths opened at the Cox Business Services Center the next day.
After leading a field trip earlier, veteran geologists Robert Allen of Ardmore and Robert Newman of Ada, Oklahoma, spoke at the October 3 technical session, “The Arbuckle Mountains as a Laboratory for Geological Education.”
In addition to conference activities at the center, AOGHS’ Wells toured the nearby Mid-Continent Geological Library and visited the downtown headquarters buildings of Devon Energy and Continental Oil. AAPG generously sponsored his attendance at receptions, dinners, and other events.
Wells shared education outreach ideas with AAPG members, other speakers, and exhibitors. He attended alumni receptions of Oklahoma, Kansas State and Kansas universities. Wells also viewed mud-logging technologies in an Exlog company trailer, guided by Jami Poor, a geologist with MAP Royalty.
Among the exhibitors were Molly Yonker, education and outreach coordinator for the Oklahoma Geological Survey in Norman; and Angela Forrest of the Kansas Geological Society and Library in Wichita.
According to AAPG’s Joel Alberts, who organized the field trip and is a Jayhawk alumni, new geoscience facilities have been completed on the Lawrence campus; an Earth, Energy and Environment Center will open for classes in spring 2018. KU offered its first geology class almost 150 years ago.
Among the presenters at the meeting was geologist Ray Sorenson, who has spent years researching where in North America oil had been reported prior to America’s first commercial well of 1859. His extensive documentation of reports of natural seeps and other signs of oil or gas was the basis of an October 3 presentation.
AAPG Mid-Continent Section President Doug Davis Jr., at left, was among the visitors to the replica of Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well of 1897. Volunteer Randi Olsen, who recently moved to Bartlesville from Florida, assisted in an engine-running demonstration — and water gusher.
Dan Droege welcomed AAPG President Charles Sternbach to Discovery One Park. Also pictured are AAPG members Jami Poor and Joel Alberts, who organized the field trip. Droege was instrumental in the derrick’s reconstruction in 2008.
“Pre-Drake published accounts of oil and natural gas were known from thirty-one states and five Canadian provinces,” he explained, adding that production (not necessarily used) came from wells at 28 locations in 10 states and two provinces.
Sorenson’s on-going research is collected in 31 notebooks organized by topic. Some of his discoveries have been added to AOGHS articles, including the history of the First Alabama Oil Well.
Sorenson was among a group of earth science historians and educators, including 2015-2017 AAPG Mid-Continent Section President H.W. “Dub” Peace II, and Robert Allen, a consulting geologist from Ardmore and a close friend of Robert Newman, professor emeritus, East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma.
Allen and Newman hosted another AAPG September 30 field trip, “The Arbuckle Mountains As A Laboratory For Geological Education.” They took a group south along I-35 to quarries with rocks of every age, from pre-Cambrian to Permian. The geologists reportedly discussed the “three Fs: folding, faulting and fried pies.”
During his five days in Oklahoma City, Wells also met several top industry leaders and spoke to employees of the new oil and gas technology center of Baker Hughes, a GE Company (BHGE). He toured the center courtesy BHGE geologist Joan Bruns and Mike Ming, the general manager and former Oklahoma Secretary of Energy.
BHGE was created on July 3, 2017, when General Electric completed a buyout of Baker Hughes Inc. The combined company is the world’s second-largest oilfield service provider by revenue (behind Schlumberger), according to Fortune. BHGE built its Oklahoma City tech center above two specially drilled wells for on-going experiments. Scientists there are examing emerging oilfield digital technologies, including advancements in computed tomography core scans and 3-D printing. “Tomorrow’s Energy Company: A New Way of Doing Business” was the topic for October 2 luncheon speech by BHGE president and CEO Lorenzo Simonelli.
Another luncheon speaker leads a major petroleum company’s R&D program in shale gas and oil. Claudia Hackbarth, vice president of unconventional technology at Shell International Exploration and Production Inc. of Houston, also runs Shell TechWorks, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A dozen poster presentations were among the 96 company, university, and professional organization exhibitors in the Cox Business Services Center.
On Oct. 3, Hackbarth spoke on “Innovation in Unconventional Resource Development: Data, Nano, Sensing, Trial and Error; And Good Old Fashioned Hard Work.”
Steve Wyett, a senior vice president at the Bank of Oklahoma, was the meeting’s opening day keynote speaker. He discussed “Oil Price Dynamics in a Changing World.”
Among AAPG leadership attending the Mid-Continent Section Meeting was current national AAPG President Charles A. Sternbach, who updated members about current AAPG activities. He is an expert on the life of Amos Eaton, a pioneering New York State geologist who created geological maps based on the excavation of the Erie Canal in the 1820s.
A week earlier Sternbach attended the AAPG Easter Section Meeting in Morgantown, West Virginia, and presented “The Erie Canal’s 200th Anniversary and the Map that changed the New World – Pioneering Geology Mapmakers across the Atlantic.” It has been posted on YouTube: Charles Sternbach – Amos Eaton Maps the Erie Canal. On October 15, he would be giving the presidential address at the opening session of the 2017 AAPG International Conference & Exhibition in London.
The Oklahoma City meeting featured member awards, including the 2017 Robey H. Clark Award. The 2017 recipient was Ernie Morrison, “for his long time, dedicated service as a Councilor Member and as the President of the AAPG Mid-Continent Section.”
Among the 280 new oil wells at Spindletop in 1902, Buffalo Oil completed a producing well at a depth of 960 feet on a lease of only 1/32 of an acre.Buffalo Oil had quickly formed with $300,000 capitalization and stock listed with par value of 10 cents.
Encouraged by the first well’s success, speculators invested in the company’s second. but by May 1902 the second Buffalo Oil well was “dry and abandoned” after reaching 1,400 feet deep.
However, as at least one expert noted at the time, the average life of flowing wells was short, “frequently but a few weeks and rarely more than a few months, with constantly diminishing output.”
Meanwhile, competing companies drove up the cost of drilling equipment and leases. Spindletop Hill was crowded with wooden derricks, oil storage tanks, and roughnecks.
With signs of Spindletop production dropping, Buffalo Oil shifted operations to nearby Batson, but the exploration company’s luck did not improve.
Fire engulfed the Batson oilfield in 1902, destroying the equipment and future of Buffalo Oil Company. Photo courtesy Traces of Texas.
As the Batson field reached its peak monthly production of 2,608,200 barrels of oil in early 1902, a fire swept through the crowded oilfield on March 16.
“The fire burned furiously for several hours and though there were no fire appliances on the field, it is doubtless if equipment could have been used owing to the intense heat generated by the flames,” noted the Petroleum Review and Mining News.
Buffalo Oil Company’s well, derrick and equipment were completely destroyed. Often caused by lightening strikes, oil tank fires were sometimes fought using cannons (learn more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires). After the Batson fire, the annual Buffalo Oil Company stockholder’s meeting took place in April 1904.
“The company states that their recent investment at Batson so far has proved a serious loss to them, and the present outlook is very unfavorable,” reported the Petroleum Review and Mining News. But it got even worse.
Two weeks after the dire report to share owners, a second Batson fire destroyed another Buffalo Oil producing well and two 1,200-barrel storage tanks. Petroleum Review and Mining News concluded the fire “probably originated through an explosion in the pumping plant.”
The Batson oilfield would continue to produce for many years, but without Buffalo Oil Company. As late as 1993 the field yielded almost 200 barrels of oil a day, but Buffalo Oil was history without having paid a dividend.
The stories of many exploration companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found in an updated series of research in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?
As America fought the Korean War, the West Coast Pipeline Company received a government “certificate of necessity” in April 1952. Company President Lowell M. Glasco planned to build a 953-mile oil pipeline from Wink, Texas, to Norwalk, near Los Angeles. (more…)
Years of unsuccessful pursuit of oil in Michigan led Petroleum Magazine to give up on the state’s potential by 1920. “Oil Hunt In Michigan Is Hopeless – Oil projects in Michigan are but dreams which fail to materialize, in the opinion of those connected with the state geological survey, and that conclusion is base on its scientific research,” the trade magazine explained. Then, the 1928 discovery of the Mt. Pleasant oilfield suddenly enabled Michigan to become a significant oil producer – and attract new exploration companies. More oilfields would be discovered, including one in 1957 almost 30 miles long.
According to the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University: Mt. Pleasant became a hub of Michigan petroleum activity, first as an accident of geology and later as a convenience of geography. The community lies close to the geographical center of the “mitten”, thus located equal distance from anywhere in the Lower Peninsula. Primary oil and gas explorationists, petroleum supply and service companies, geologists (and later geophysicists), drilling contractors all headquartered in Mt. Pleasant.
Similar to earlier oil booms in Texas, the 1928 Michigan oil well attracted new and often inexperienced companies. Among those seeking Michigan’s oil riches was Charles Van Keuren, who in 1933 established the Morris-Van Keuren Oil and Gas Syndicate. The 1902 graduate of Michigan University and former member of the Michigan House of Representatives had earlier been a partner in a Detroit securities investment firm.
Van Keuren’s syndicate spudded its first well on November 14, 1933, in Vernon Township of Isabella County on a 340-acre lease near the Ann Arbor Railroad. A cable-tool rig reached a total depth of 3,750 feet and the well was completed April 17, 1934, producing an “initial flow of 130 barrels per hour.” Three days later, the Clare Sentinel newspaper reported the Bowman Heirs No. 1 well was producing 3,000 barrels a day. Morris-Van Keuren Oil and Gas Syndicate planned three additional wells nearby to tap into the prospect.
Michigan oil and natural gas fields.
However, the syndicate’s Bowman Heirs No. 2 well proved to be a dry hole at 3,788 feet deep. When two additional wells left no indications of production, exploration efforts moved to the challenges of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Intermittently drilled since 1903, the “U.P” had never produced commercial quantities of oil.
“Recent rumors of a large ‘play’ to test the oil possibilities of the contact area of Michigan’s sedimentary and outcrop area in the upper peninsula took substantial form this week when it was announced that Charles Van Keuren, oil operator of this city, has leased lands of the Hiawatha Sportsmen’s club for oil prospecting,” noted the Republican-News and St. Ignace Enterprise on May 21, 1936.
The newspaper reported the syndicate had leased tracts comprising more than 26,000 acres covering most of Garfield township, Mackinac county, and extending into Pentland township in Luce county.
However, a 1937 lawsuit alleging “fraud in the sale of certain syndicate certificates” delayed drilling operations. The syndicate’s Hiawatha Club No. 1 well, drilled between August 15, 1936 and June 9, 1937, proved to be a dry hole at 1,500 feet. The well had reportedly “showed oil saturation in the Trenton and underlying formations, but did not develop into commercial production.”
Undeterred, the company soon began to drill a followup well. By August of 1938, the Detroit Free Press noted, “After a series of arduous labors, including the building of a road through virgin forest and swamp land and the clearing of a site in ‘cutover,’ Charles Van Keuren’s north land explorative campaign on the 12,000-acre Hiawatha Club tract in Mackinac County of the Upper Peninsula, is in the active drilling state.”
The new well was in Section 17, Township 44 North, Range 8 West. “The production possibilities are thought to be somewhat like those of the Texas Gulf Coast field, where similar geological conditions obtain,” one newspaper proclaimed. “The development of commercial production would substantially advance the expectancy of deep drilling to these stratas along the ‘highs’ now producing in the central part of the State.”
Two months later, the Escanaba Daily Press reported, “Oil Outlook Is Favorable – Trace Of Petroleum Is Found In Well In Mackinac County” and “Indications in Garfield township have proved so good that, in case the first Van Keuren well does not prove productive, others are likely to be drilled in the adjacent area.”
Despite the optimism, Morris-Van Keuren Oil and Gas Syndicate, like many to follow, did not find oil in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 1939, the company undertook exchanges of Syndicate stock to support continued operations, but apparently to no avail. The Robert D. Fisher Manual of Valuable and Worthless Securities records Morris-Van Keuren Oil and Gas Syndicate No. 1 as dissolved on September 1, 1943. No commercial quantities of oil have ever been found on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The largest Michigan oil and natural gas field was discovered in January 1957 on the dairy farm of Ferne Houseknecht. Her first oil well revealed Michigan’s golden gulch of oil that proved to be 29 miles long.
In 1917, the American Industrial Oil Company of Oklahoma City reportedly drilled several shallow “test wells” east of the Healdton oilfield, which had been discovered in August 1913 about 20 miles northwest of Ardmore.
The Healdton oilfield, which helped launch the career of service company giant Erle P. Halliburton, produced oil from shallow formations. It became known as the “poor man’s field” because of the low cost of drilling, and hundreds of small, independent oil companies would compete for leases and equipment.
Similar to an oil boom that made national headlines in 1911 in Electra, Texas, many new, inexperienced oil exploration companies rushed to region. Desperate for capital, a lot of them made extravagant claims to lure investors. Most would fail.
The 1917 well drilled by American Industrial Oil Company reportedly found small quantities of oil at a depth of 685 feet about five miles west of Lone Grove, west of Ardmore, Oklahoma.
A year earlier (October 23, 1916), the Daily Ardmoreite newspaper, noting company officers as “J. B. French pres; J. C. Tinkle, vice-president; Reid Wallace; secretary and treasurer,” had reported other leasing activity in Harmon County.
On July 16, 1917, the trade publication Oil Paint and Drug Reporter also reported the company active “east of Enid, in Garfield County, (where) some important tests are under way. The American Industrial Oil Company has a rig up for a test if the Boyle farm in section 26-22-3 west.”
More reports followed, including a January 15, 1918, Texas Trade Review and Industrial Journal statement that “American Industrial Oil Co. purchased Kenthoma property and is completing plans for erection of oil refinery in Ardmore. Total cost including pipeline will be about $700,000.”
In February 1918, American Industrial Oil was reported to be committed to building a new refinery north of Ardmore on the Santa Fe railroad tracks. Work was predicted to start January 1919 with the objective to produce “lubricating oil, lampblack, axle grease and a number of other byproducts of petroleum.”
On May 15, 1918, the Industrial Record reported that American Industrial Oil Company was bidding for oil leases. But despite these and other reports of the company’s activity, little evidence can be found of American Industrial Oil building a pipeline, refinery or drilling a commercial successful oil well.
After several attempted mergers, American Industrial Oil went into receivership and disappeared by 1927.
A former head of state and national oil industry associations has penned the story of a Texas wildcatter’s trek through the East Texas boom of the 1930s and beyond.
From a July, 8, 2017, San Antonio news release:
For Texas oilmen like Gene Ames Jr., A Wildcatter’s Trek: Love, Money and Oil, reads more like fact than fiction. Plucked from the authentic experiences of Texas wildcatters, Ames’ recently-published novel follows the life and career of a young oil-field pipe salesman-turned-wildcat driller, who gambles on a hunch in East Texas and discovers the largest oil field in the world.
Suddenly an unwitting player in the greedy, gritty world of big oil, this overnight oil magnate embarks on a page-turning journey through a minefield of great wealth, high-stakes gambling, and an insatiable drive toward the next major oil discovery.
It’s a subject oilman/author Ames knows well. A fourth-generation wildcatter, raised in the East Texas oilfield, Ames braids first-hand oil industry insights into the dramatic tale of one wildcatter’s trek through spectacular booms and busts in business and in his tumultuous life.
History, politics, geological science, technological advances and economic realities, provide a factual backdrop for the novel’s fascinating characters — many based on oil legends like Columbus “Dad” Joiner, Tom Slick, Clint Murchison, Hugh Roy Cullen and H.L. Hunt. The central character, Jordan Phillips, represents an amalgam of these early wildcatters — a fraternity of quiet, calculated drillers, who sealed high-stakes deals with a handshake and struck dry holes with a gamblers’ countenance.
Ames dedicates his book to “that generation of real oil wildcatters who, during one short era of our nation’s history, risked everything to join the drilling boom. Several made fortunes, but many wildcatters went broke trying.” What’s more, he contends “that the oil fields the wildcatters found made America the most prosperous nation in the history of mankind.”
Gene Ames Jr. continues seeking to acquire oil and natural gas fields, with bypassed undeveloped reserve potential while never stopping the search for unexplored giant frontier reserve drilling prospects.
Ames has served as chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, where he received the Chief Roughneck Awardin 1995, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association. He is on the board of directors and is a former chairman of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
For more information or to interview the author, contact Nina Flournoy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Wildcatter’s Trek.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/a-wildcatters-trek. Last Updated: May 1, 2018. Original Published Date: August 2, 2017.
Chickaloon Oil Company sought to be part of Alaska petroleum history, which includes milestones beginning with the territory’s first oil well in 1902, an important oilfield discovery in July 1957, and completion of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 2007. Many small, independent exploration companies tried to become part of state’s oil producing history, and many failed, including Chickaloon Oil.
Seeking investors, Chickaloon Oil’s first advertisement appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner of January 31, 1953. The new company proclaimed it had chosen an area near Chickaloon, about 75 miles northeast of Anchorage, “as one of the most promising drill sites” for petroleum exploration.
“Not only do our studies show a favorable structure in this area, but United States government geologists have marked this area as a probable oil producing land,” added the company, which claimed to have obtained leases for four sections of land, “where we can drill more than 300 wells if oil is found.”
Chickaloon was a coal-mining ghost town in the Alaska Territory. It had mostly perished in the 1920s after the U.S. Navy converted to oil-fired boilers for its ships (see Petroleum and Sea Power). The remains of Chickaloon were on federal property and later became part of Roosevelt’s New Deal community farming experiment, the “Matanuska Valley Colony.”
Around 1930, the U. S. Navy drilled an exploratory oil well in the Matanuska Valley. It was a “dry hole” and capped, but the U.S. Geological Survey cited reports on several other efforts. “A well drilled near Chickaloon in the Matanuska Valley is reported to have struck gas in association with coal,” the USGS noted. In 1929, the Peterson Oil Association had also drilled, but failed to find any oil.
Almost 25 years later, Chickaloon Oil and other exploration companies, returned to the Matanuska-Nelchina area in search of Alaska’s first major oilfield. To find investors for its highly speculative wildcat drilling, Chickaloon Oil advertised as far away as Oregon, offering $250,000 in stock to fund operations. In its ads, the company advised investors that the “veteran oilman from Texas,” Frank Dillard, would supervise the drilling of a 5,000-foot-deep test well in the summer of 1953.
In June 1953, a competitor, Alaska Oil & Gas Development Company, spudded a well just 50 miles down the Matanuska Valley near the Eureka Roadhouse. That well and several later ones would not strike oil.
However, Chickaloon Oil Company could find sufficient funds to actually launch drilling operations. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has no record of the company and it would be another four-years before Richfield Oil Corporation (today’s ARCO) completed its Swanson River Unit No. 1 well, which produced 900 barrels of oil per day and changed Alaska’s future.
Chickaloon Oil Company, Alaska Oil & Gas Development Company, and many other small exploration ventures ultimately became small footnotes in Alaskan petroleum history.
Like many small oil exploration companies in the years before the Great Depression, Neilan Oil & Refining Company struggled to survive in highly competitive Texas oilfields. One of the company’s founders in 1922 was M.H. Gubbels of Houston, upon whose Fort Bend County land the new company’s first exploratory well would be drilled. Gubbels was joined by partners P.A. Neilan, J.J. Chadil, and C.H. Chernosky.
Capitalized with only $150,000, the company chose a drilling location south of Houston, two and one-half miles southeast of Thompson, and about a mile southeast of Smithers Lake. To protect Neilan Oil & Refining investment, drilling operations were conducted in virtual secrecy on the Marvel No. 1 well.
When the well reportedly “blew out at 3,833 feet” it had to be abandoned. Neilan Oil & Refining tried again less than yards 30 yards from the first site with the Marvel No. 2, “for the purpose of checking up on the lay of the cap rock.” Drilling reached 1,475 feet deep before being shut down.
In July 1922, Neilan Oil & Refining completed a well that produced natural gas. The Gubbels No. 1 well produced gas close to the two earlier test sites. “Until recently little was known relative to the identity of the company drilling these wells, and they were generally referred to as the ‘mystery wells,’ ” the Houston Post noted. It was even reported that “good gas sand was encountered at about forty feet.”
This unlikely shallow production “success” enabled further exploration; Neilan Oil & Refining extended operations 25 miles away to the area of Pliant Lake, Lockwood Mound, and Big Creek. But soon after another well, the Brown No. 1, began drilling, Neilan Oil & Refining virtualy disappeared from all accounts. The company reappeared two years later, brandishing a newly developing technology from Oklahoma that promised a great future.
“According to a current rumor, another salt dome has been found in the well of the Neilan Oil company,” reported the Houston Post reported in 1924. “It was located about three miles south of Orchard and about five miles west of Rosenberg.”
The newspaper account went on to describe a remarkable oil patch innovation (learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves). “Charges of dynamite were placed in the ground and exploded. The seismograph, which is an apparatus to register the shocks and undulatory motions of earthquakes, furnished data which indicated the presence of salt domes. After interpreting the data from the seismograph, the wells were drilled,” the article explained. It continued:
“In one case, the salt dome was found at a depth which varied only 30 feet from the instrument’s prediction. In both cases the lateral location of the domes, as given by the seismograph were correct Though the general principles Involved in the operation of the seismograph are known, the detailed mechanism of the instrument yet remains a mystery to all but a selected few in the oil industry. These few refuse to disclose the secret workings of a machine which has accurately pointed out the location of salt domes.
“Practically all oil found in coastal Texas has been found off the edge of salt domes. As used in the location of salt domes, the seismograph embodies the principles of the conventional instrument, but it also involves the use of a certain German patented improvement which makes the interpretation of impressions and sound waves more accurate…all interests using the seismograph in the United States and elsewhere have retained scientists trained in Germany to operate the instrument, it is understood. The two exception have trained men from their own geological departments for the work.”
But as with the latest innovations in oil field exploration technology, there are no guarantees in the high-risk, high-reward oil patch. What happened to Neilan Oil & Refining Company thereafter is hidden in U.S. petroleum history. Brief mention was last made in July 1929, just before the Great Depression.
Developing Wyoming petroleum riches…until the Great Depression.
The future of Wyoming’s young petroleum industry must have looked promising to the Producers and Refiners Corporation (PARCO) in the early 1920s.
Although oil had been discovered earlier, Wyoming’s first real drilling boom began north of Casper in 1908. “Initial development of Salt Creek oil field commenced in 1889 with the majority of primary development occurring between 1915 and 1930,” notes the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Since it earliest days, the oil and gas industry has drawn writers, photographers, painters, sculptors, movie makers…social media.
Community museums, historians, writers, and educators across the country are dedicated to preserving the heritage of the petroleum industry, a history that has defined the 21st century. Oilfield artists have been important recorders and interpreters of petroleum’s influence in the United States.
It was big news in North Texas when a wildcat well discovered an oilfield on S.L. Fowler’s farm on July 29, 1918. A drilling boom along the Red River would soon make Burkburnett world famous. Over The Top Oil Oil Company wanted in on the action.
‘‘Land values in and near town took a jump at once and all available land in and near that townsite has been either leased or offers have been made upon same,” reported the Burkburnett Star.
Over The Top Oil Oil was one of dozens of speculative ventures that quickly followed up the discovery. About 60 drilling rigs were at work within three weeks of the strike.
By June 1919, Burkburnett, Texas, had more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.” Twenty trains ran daily between the town and nearby Wichita Falls.
Six months later, Burkburnett’s population had grown from 1,000 to 8,000. A line of derricks two-miles long greeted visitors.
With few skilled petroleum engineers, the rush to tap into oil wealth ignored reservoir management and conservation techniques. The Over The Top Oil Company was among those in a rush.
The company, with J.B. Thomas president and J.E. Lake secretary, issued $40,000 in par value $1 stock. International Petroleum Register noted the company’s holdings to be one lot encompassing only three-fourths of one acre, “out of block No. 21 on the Outer Block subdivision to the town of Burkburnett, Wichita County, Texas.”
The company began drilling its first well on its small lease.Then came the Spanish Flu. Amidst the boom town crowds and many hazards of drilling, the Wichita Daily Times of October 16, 1918, reported Burkburnett to be, “at a standstill on account of the epidemic.”
It was the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which would kill an estimated 675,000 in the United States alone. In Burkburnett, “Despite the millions of dollars that awaited to be tapped, the only economic activity that occurred was the sale of “bottled drinks….at soft-drink stands.”
Nonetheless, Over The Top Oil Company brought in a small producer in March 1919 – the No. 1 McKinney at 300 barrels. It was before overproduction, reduced reservoir pressures, and shrinking margins took their toll on Burkburnett.
By 1920, Oil and Gas in the Mid-Continent Fields reported how the town had experienced “that history which all oil fields go through, particularly those controlled by the small operator, namely, the location of far too many wells to the acres.”
Noting that “every little building lot has a rig upon it” and “every back door yard has a well all its own,” the author continued that “from a distance, the stranger would swear that the legs of the derricks were ‘crossed.’
A popular 1940 MGM movie was based on the 1918 Burkburnett oilfield discovery.
“The fact is, many derricks are set up 20 feet apart. One derrick is squeezed in between two little houses, so that the legs are within a foot of a house on either side.”
Although Over The Top Oil Company remained in the American Oil Directory of 1922 at the same Wichita Falls address, no further drilling was apparently made and references fade from records. The Texas Railroad Commission maintains an archive of oil well records and may be able to assist with deeper drilling into the history of Over The Top Oil Company.
The Kansas petroleum industry began in 1892 with an oil discovery at Neodesha. Later discoveries near Wichita revealed the giant Mid-Continent field, but it took years for business sense to arrive, according to the editor of a 1910 History of Wichita and Sedgwick County, Kansas.
“Sedgwick county has run the gamut of the hot winds, the drought, the floods, the grasshoppers, the boom, the wild unreasoning era of speculation, the land grafters, the oil grafters, the sellers of bogus stocks, speculation, over-capitalization, and all of the attendant and kindred evils,” observed Editor-in-Chief Orsemus Bentley. He added that from all these scourges, Kansans had “emerged into the clear noon-day of reason, out of a fool’s paradise into business sense.”
Although Wichita and Sedgwick County’s economies would remain dependent on farming and ranching, the age of oil soon began. In 1915, the Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, drilled with a cable-tool rig on the John Stapleton farm northeast of town. The company’s Stapleton No. 1 exploratory well (at a site chosen using the emerging science of petroleum geology) struck oil and launched a true Kansas oil boom.
“Day after day the tools stomped their way into the solid earth until a depth of 670 feet oil was discovered,” explains a historian in neighboring Butler County. “Word spread like a wind-whipped prairie fire and the black gold rush was on.”
Wichita Oil & Gas Company
Just a few months after the Stapleton well, Wichita Oil & Gas Company began drilling its first exploratory well on January 8, 1916. The Wichita Eagle reported company capitalization to be $100,000 with stock for sale at par value of $1.10 a share, adding the company would be “ready to start work on a derrick next week.”
Wichita Oil & Gas’ drilling fortunes depended on a portable Star Drilling Machine, a cable-tool drilling technology. The company leased land south of Wichita – just southeast of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad station at Schulte, Kansas.
Despite claims of a “2,000 acre lease around the town,” all Wichita Oil & Gas drilling would take place within a 500-foot radius of a spot on the 319-acre Folkers farm. (The well site was in Section 17, Township 28 South, Range 1 East.) After many months of making hole, the company updated its investors in November 1916.
Wichita Oil & Gas Company drilled southeast of the train station at Schulte, Kansas, in 1916. About 50 miles away, citizens of Anthony had gathered in 1902 to celebrate the driving of the first spike on the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railway. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.
“Peter Schulte was up from the town Schulte today and reported the oil well near there progressing nicely. The drill is now down over 1,400 feet and far as can be judged at this stage, the drilling prospects for a strike are good.”
The company further assured investors, “The field is entirely new of course and no one can tell what may be discovered. If oil or gas found here it will put Wichita oil the map.”
For “poor boy” companies with limited capitalization like Wichita Oil & Gas, the costs of continued drilling were often financed through increased stock sales and hyperbole. Accurate newspaper accounts were rare. One Wichita Oil & Gas executive appealed to potential investors on Christmas Eve in 1916.
After declaring that the company stock had been selling for $10 per share, Secretary-Treasurer A.L. Tuttle predicted it would advance to $15 per share. “This is the company that has been drilling the well at Schulte,” he noted. “We are down 1,400 feet.”
But when its well failed to find oil, the company relocated the cable-tool rig and tried again nearby. This well, the Folkers No. A 1, was plugged and abandoned after reaching a depth of 1,404 feet. The search for investors and loans continued even as drilling reports from the company began to dwindle. A decline in stock sales and financing woes may help explain the intermittent reporting.
Ultimately, the Kansas Attorney General launched a suit against Wichita Oil & Gas Company.
The American Gas Engineering Journal of September 7, 1918, reported the state was seeking a receiver for Wichita Oil & Gas with action “brought against the company, the directors and against each director individually.” The suit also noted, “A Star Rig was used, and when the company ran short of finances the depth was approximately 1,400 ft.”
It was the end of Wichita Oil & Gas Company.
The Kansas Geological Survey notes the Folkers farm well site drew new drilling activity even after Wichita Oil & Gas had failed. On May 12, 1919, White Oil Corporation spudded a well not far from the last dry hole drilled by Wichita Oil & Gas, but it had no better luck even 3,400 feet deep.
Few newly formed oil exploration companies would succeed in the risky wildcatting of the Mid-Continent (see Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company, formed by three Wichita businessmen). Oil fever also reached southeastern Kansas, where Missouri investors saw opportunities in 1904 and organized the Cahege Oil & Gas Company. Two years later, the boom town of Caney made headlines – and attracted tourists with a Kansas gas well fire that at night could be seen for miles.
A 1918 directory praised Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company executive W.M. Jamieson.
A Mid-Continent oil discovery in 1915 revealed the giant El Dorado field and launched a Kansas oil boom. A subsidiary of Cities Service Company completed the Stapleton No. 1 well on October 5, 1915, in Butler County.
The discovery attracted many new and established companies to El Dorado and nearby Wichita, including Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company. According to the Kansas Oil Museum, the El Dorado oilfield, which proved to be 34-square-miles, was the first ever found using the science of petroleum geology.
“Before 1915, geologists were seen in the same vein as witching and doodlebugs. They were just charlatans,” explains Warren Martin in a 2015 Butler County Times-Gazette article on the centennial of the Stapleton No. 1 well. “It fundamentally transformed it from that point going forward. Geology was established as one of the great science industries.”
The earliest geological map of North America had been made in 1809. Geologic mapping in California began as early as 1826. Petroleum geology in the United States first gained status as a profession in 1917, when the American Association of Petroleum Geologists was organized.
Kansas oil discoveries (including an 1892 well at Neodesha), and gushers in North Texas, demonstrated existence of a petroleum-producing geologic region in the central and southwestern United States. Production from the Mid-Continent today includes hundreds of oilfields reaching from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas into parts of Louisiana and Missouri.
Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company
Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company was formed in the summer of 1917 by three Wichita businessmen: A. Sautter, A.J. Engler and W.M. Jamieson. Sautter was associated with Piedmont Petroleum Company, which reportedly had drilled wells near Tussy, Oklahoma. Jamieson was among those featured in theIllustrated Directory of Kansas Oilmenin 1918:
“In writing up Mr. W.M. Jamieson, secretary of Otter Creek Oil and Gas Company, it is unnecessary to resort to flower epigrams and dig up camouflage sensations,” noted the booklet featuring selected leaders of Butler County exploration companies and refineries, “with their commercial interests and homes.”
Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company had incorporated with a declared a capital par value of $1 per share and offered 100,000 shares. The company recorded 43 stock holders and holdings of 580 acres in Greenwood County, Kansas, Otter Creek township. Greenwood County borders Butler County to the east.
Although the company’s establishment corresponded with a surge in demand for petroleum that had begun at the start of World War I, production from a series of oilfield discoveries, including the “Roaring Ranger” in Texas, brought the industry’s familiar boom and bust cycle in prices.
Contemporary periodicals intermittently reported on Otter Creek Oil & Gas drilling operations in Greenwood County. Some reports included section-township-range descriptions, but records about the company’s exploratory wells have been elusive; reporting errors at the time also were frequent. There were other similarly named exploration companies in the region, too.
In November 1918, when the trade publication Oil & Gas News reported an Otter Creek Oil & Gas well to be shut down, company President Sautter demanded a correction. “I do not know where you got your information, but whoever gave it to you was wrong,” he declared, adding that “we have never been shut down,” and “for the information of our stockholders and the general public, I ask you to rectify this statement.”
An Otter Creek township map shows properties owned by the McMillen family, who leased their mineral rights to Otter Creek Oil & Gas for oil exploration.
The November 20, 1919, Oil Distribution News reported the company’s well on that property to be shut down at 1,300 feet deep (Section 5, Township 28 South, Range 9 East), Greenwood County. The company’s outlook improved by April 1920, when another well attempt, again on the McMillen lease, drilled to a depth of 2,500 feet and reportedly set casing, indicating some oil production.
However, oilfield fortunes could change suddenly, leaving little explanation as to what happened. Intense competition throughout the Mid-Continent fields made good prospects hard to come by and expensive. Contracted drilling costs typically skyrocketed during booms. Many companies arrived too late, and some went bankrupt without drilling a single well. On August 10, 1921, when the Wichita Beacon newspaper published a list of 37 companies that had failed, Otter Creek Oil & Gas was among them.
Promoting the Kansas Oil Industry
Although it did not resort to “flower epigrams” in its praise of W.M. Jamieson, secretary of Otter Creek Oil and Gas Company, the Illustrated Directory of Kansas Oilmen came close. The booklet, published in 1918 by the Muncipal Publicity Company, was intended to “truthfully depict the facts of the Oil Industry in our State.”
In 96 pages, the directory featured leaders of Wichita and El Dorado-based oil companies, Butler County refinery owners, and “their commercial interests and homes.” It also explained the significance of the giant oilfield’s production, noting it provided Buttler County with $130 million in 1917.
Mr. W.M. Jamieson, featured on page 25, was reported to have first arrived in Kansas in 1883, but left to mine coal in New Mexico. In 1903 Jamieson “served as superintendent of excavation and tracks in building the great filtration plant for the city of Washington, D.C.”
He also worked for a railroad construction company in Cuba and “the swamps of the Amazon” and other parts of South America, where he reportedly drilled oil wells in 1908, according to the directory’s biography. His page notes that returning to Kansas by 1916, he found “some of the choice acreage” in Greenwood County.
The booklet’s final description of Jamieson was the praise and prediction that “he always attempts such big things and, somehow, has a knack of putting them thru – all contribute to the conviction that his association with The Otter Creek Oil and Gas Co. is enough to ensure its success.”
The stories of many exploration companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found in an updated series of research in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?
The importance of preserving petroleum history, one story at a time.
Millions of Americans have worked in the petroleum industry and many have left family records and photographs of their “oil patch” careers. The AOGHS American Oil & Gas Families project and museums listing offer help in locating suitable homes for preserving the histories of America’s oil families.
Adding Family Petroleum Heritage to Museum Collections
Albert Jeffreys in Texas, Louisiana, Romania, Pennsylvania and England, 1904-1913. Family photography preserved by his granddaughter, Sheila Morshead.
Finding the Right Oil and Gas Museum
In 2016, California resident Sheila Morshead contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society about preserving her family’s photo albums — a significant photo collection of petroleum-related images documenting her grandfather’s early 20th century career.
After finishing scanning circa 1910 images, Sheila said she hoped to find a good home for preserving her increasingly fragile originals. Many of her grandfather’s images came from the Beaumont, Texas, region (with others from Louisiana and as far away as England and Romania). She hoped someone would want to preserve the original album pages.
Thanks to Troy Gray, director of the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, Sheila accomplished her preservation mission.
Some of Sheila’s photos depict early refineries at Beaumont. Others show oil terminals in Galveston Bay, a 1909 pumping station under construction near Moores, Louisiana, and even the apparently good fishing at Port Bolivar in the Gulf of Mexico (a few examples out of more than 120 pages are below).
One of the more than 120 family album pages of the petroleum-related career of Albert Jeffreys to be part of the permanent collection of the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum thanks to his granddaughter.
One page from the album depicts photos from a survey camp with tents and an equipment wagon on “the bald prairie” of Texas in July 1911. It includes a photo of “Mississippi Slim,” her grandfather’s co-worker.
Sheila Morshead continues to research details about her grandfather’s career. She believes this is a 1912 photo of Albert Jeffreys with his surveying tripod.
“My Grandfather was Albert Jeffreys from Great Britain,” Sheila explains about the family images, adding that Albert “Jeff” Jeffreys first arrived in the United States in 1908. The next year he got married in Shreveport, Louisiana. Albert’s wife Florence – “Flo” – also was from Great Britain, Sheila adds. “Their daughter Dorothy Kathleen Jeffreys – my mother – was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in January 1912.”
After a few busy years in Texas, Albert’s oil patch career took him to the Caucasus region of southwestern Russia in 1914. “He was sent there by the British government to work in the oilfields for his service to the country during World War I,” explains Sheila, who studied early chapters of Dan Yergin’s The Prize, to learn petroleum industry history.
“Albert eventually escaped during the Bolshevik revolution by way of Norway and returned to England,” adds his granddaughter. “I am trying to decipher the many stamps on his old passport. Needless to say, I am getting pleasantly lost in looking up British oil companies.”
After talking with Troy about his museum’s collections at the Lamar University, she removed a few original images to keep for siblings. She plans on donating all the rest as she continues to research dates and other family documents.
Albert Jeffreys Family Collection
“Here are some annotations about the scanned pictures,” Shelia noted when she emailed AOGHS seeking help in locating an appropriate oil museum or library to preserve them. “There are lots more pictures, and I can do more exact research on dates, but as you can see most have locations written on them and some dates.”
The family album includes a cable-tool oil well (with walking beam). Next to it is a photo of two unidentified men with surveying equipment. A third photo shows men standing in front of a New York Central and Hudson River Railroad car; another depicts a pipeline laying work crew.
Undated images from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, include Albert Jeffreys (in heart) and his surveying co-workers along with an “Ida Bunch” family photo and riding a roller coaster in Shreveport.
After returning from England to Louisiana oilfields in 1909, the family made stops in Handley and Electra, Texas, which included a rare blizzard, before moving on to New Orleans.
Three of Albert Jeffreys’ images documenting the Magnolia Company refinery in Beaumont, Texas, circa 1912.
In addition to images of the Magnolia oil refinery, Albert Jeffreys photographed other circa 1910 refineries, including one near Corsicana and the “Chaison Refinery” below.
Both Albert and wife Florence enjoyed fishing in Galveston Bay between his frequent surveying trips in Texas in 1910 – and a visit to the pipeline pumping station in Moores, Louisiana.
Albert “Jeff” and “Flo” Jeffreys lived in Kirksville, Texas, and enjoyed fishing out of Port Bolivar around 1911.
With many family photos in the process of being preserved for posterity, Albert “Jeff” Jeffery’s petroleum career continues to fascinate his granddaughter. “I still intend to do more looking as it is a puzzle full of interesting pieces,” says Sheila.
“For example, my grandfather’s father worked for a British oil company and my grandfather’s son Stanley Rex Jeffreys was a geologist with the landmark geology survey of California, which I believe was completed sometime in the 1950s and was part of the concerted effort to identify oil producing areas in California,” Shelia explains. “So, there were three generations of Jeffreys oil men.”
Geologic mapping in California began in 1826 when the first geologic survey in the state was done by a British naval officer, according to History of Geologic Maps of California of the California Geological Survey.
1901 Gusher at Spindletop
Albert Jeffreys worked in Texas oilfields just a few years after a famous oil discovery about three miles south of Beaumont. The January 10, 1901, “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill would soon lead to southeastern Texas producing more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s oilfields combined. Major petroleum companies like Texaco got started there.
In the early 1950s, Alaska Oil & Gas Development Company offered 300,000 shares of stock at $1 per share, advertising in newspapers.
Years before Alaska became a state, petroleum exploration companies drilled expensive dry holes. The Alaska Oil & Gas Development Company was among them.
The Alaska territory’s first commercial oil well arrived in 1957, two years before statehood.
Before switching to a rotary rig in 1954, the Alaska Oil & Gas Development Company drilled its Eureka No. 1 using this Walker-Neer Manufacturing Company cable-tool “spudder.” Photo courtesy the Anchorage Museum.
The discovery well, drilled by the Richfield Oil Company – today known as ARCO – successfully drilled at Swanson River on the Kenai Peninsula. The first well, which produced 900 barrels of oil a day from 11,215 feet, revealed an oilfield.
Beginning in the 1950s, many Alaskans had tried their hand at wildcatting, notes one historian. (more…)
A Canadian, C.C. (Courtney Chauncey) Julian, formed the Julian Petroleum Company in May 1923 in Los Angeles.
After witnessing the excitement created by the state’s booming petroleum industry, Julian created a vast Ponzi scheme camouflaged as an investment opportunity. Julian bilked millions of dollars from eager investors through aggressive sales and a continuous newspaper advertising blitz.
In what became known as the “Julian Pete Scandal,” the con man by April 1927 had peddled almost four million worthless stock certificates. There are many newspaper and magazine articles – and at least one book – about the Julian Petroleum Company and the swindle “that rocked Los Angeles.”
As Julian’s fraud collapsed, a well-known Los Angeles lawyer, Joseph Scott, was appointed by the court to serve as receiver along with H.L. Carnahan, a former California Corporation Commissioner. Scott and Carnahan created Sunset Pacific Oil Company from the remains of Julian Petroleum Company.
Sunset Pacific failed with $12 million in debt to Associated Oil Company (see AOGHS stock list) and was ultimately reorganized into Sunset Oil Company in 1934. Shareholders of the former company received common stock shares in the new, with the former certificates cancelled. Learn more in the 1994 book The Great Los Angeles Swindle by Jules Tygiel.
Over the years and despite advances in drilling technologies and the science of geology, nine out of 10 wildcat wells would be dry holes.
Despite the risk, thousands of companies and investors took the expensive gamble and drilled exploratory wells. A few of these wildcatters became legendary, but most were soon forgotten. They almost always were men. Almost always.
Irene Hathaway decided to become a Texas wildcatter while visiting a small town in 1918. She was a single woman in her 50s from Kansas City, Missouri, who went to Texas to peddle encyclopedias. She came across the tiny hamlet of Callisburg, populated by about 100 hardy farming souls. After hearing rumors of “huge untapped reservoirs of oil,” she began searching for anyone who would gamble on a lease.
“One of my favorite stories of Cooke County is that of wildcatter Ms. Irene Hathaway,” notes Jayleane Mays Smith, director of the Morton Museum in Gainesville, who researched the oil-patch business woman. She found that Hathaway had begun leasing land in 1919 near Callisburg in northeastern Cooke County.
In 1922 the encyclopedia saleswoman convinced representatives of the Big Indian Oil & Development Company to drill two miles east of Callisburg. She also convinced farmer Bud W. Davis to lease his land for drilling, “which at that time was sheer speculation,” Mays Smith notes in a 2014 article.
Drilling started at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 15, 1922, reported the Gainesville Daily Register. “The machinery and the bit began boring into the earth. The vibration could be felt over a wide area.”
Hathaway took up residence in Gainsville, just a few miles from the well. She visited often as drilling continued month after month – for two years.
“The company was ready to abandon the location, but Irene was convinced oil was there,” Mays Smith reports. “She strongly encouraged them to continue drilling just a little while longer, even making them an offer to pay the workers with money from her own pocket.”
On November 9, 1924, Big Indian Oil & Development brought in an oil gusher from 3,535 feet deep. Mays Smith says the Davis family reportedly was seated at the kitchen table, “leisurely enjoying a Sunday dinner when their 16-year-old son, Ray, looked out the window and shouted, ‘The well’s blowin’! Let’s run down and see it!'”
Mays Smith further reports that Bud Davis calmly said, “‘Eat your dinner, son. They’ll take care of that well ‘til we get through eatin. ‘”
News of the wildcat discovery spread quickly. Within days more 5,000 spectators had come to watch the company tame its No. 1 Davis well. Lease prices skyrocketed for miles around as oil fever spread.
“I believe this story lives on because people were fascinated not only by the drilling process, but also by Ms. Hathaway and her vision,” concludes Mays Smith.
Irene Hathaway was 80 when she died in 1949 in Gainesville – without great wealth, but with a story that survives in the Bob Bullock Museum Texas Story Project, Ms. Irene Hathaway, Wildcatter. In 2012 Cooke County oil revenues reached more than $575 million.
Today, a Texas Historical Commission marker commemorates Cooke County’s first oil-producing well, noting a “carnival atmosphere prevailed while sightseers and reporters flocked to the lease. One enterprising man charged admission until questioned by a worker.”
Big Indian Oil & Development Company
A 1976 Texas Historical Commission marker documented Cooke Country’s first oil well of 1924.
Big Indian Oil & Development had been formed in Kansas City, Kansas, on April 8, 1920, with C.A. Doudrick as president and Harry Doudrick as secretary-treasurer. Stock sales were key to financing the company and promising oil prospects like Hathaway’s were key to its success – and survival.
Although the Cooke County 1924 well settled into producing just 10 barrels of oil a day, production would last until 1970. Interviewed in 1979, land owner Bud Davis remembered the feverish investing caused the county’s first oil well:
“It caused a lot of money to be spent there because people come in there and bought acreage…some of them eight to ten miles away,” he said. “They didn’t know where that oil went to and they was just so anxious to get a little interest in some oil there they just buy whatever they could buy.”
Only a month after completing the No. 1 Davis well, Big Indian Oil & Development sold it and other suddenly valuable holdings near Callisburg. The company wanted to finance further drilling using more advanced rotary technology.
This January 1935 Big Indian Oil & Development Company newsletter to investors was among the last.
By June 16, 1926, a Sherman, Texas, newspaper noted Big Indian Oil & Development had signed two year extensions on several leases with Vacuum Oil Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil. It also was announced the company (now with offices in Gainsville) had received an offer to expand exploration efforts into Mexico.
However, the company struggled during the Great Depression and with production from the giant East Texas oilfield lowering oil prices. One of the last company newsletters advised shareholders in January 1935: “The industry thus approaches the new year with courage and with hope. It has experienced a year marred to some extent by hot oil and price wars…”
Big Indian Oil had completed its Cooke County well when Texas oil sold for $1.52 a barrel. The East Texas oilfield soon produced more than 216 million barrels of oil, driving prices even lower. When prices reached 94 cents per barrel in 1935, Big Indian Oil & Development did not survive.
Legendary Oilmen & Women
Oilmen like Thomas Slick became famous when they beat the odds and struck oil. Once known as Dry Hole Slick, in 1922 he discovered the giant Cushing oilfield and became known as Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters. By 1929 his net worth was between $35 million and $100 million.
But Slick was the exception in the high-risk U.S. oil patch, where far more exploration ventures struggled by or went bankrupt. With investors and speculators paying the bills in this male dominated industry, it took determined women like Irene Hathaway to succeed. Earlier there was Mrs. Byron Alford.
During the industry’s earliest days in Pennsylvania, Alford was the “Only Woman in the World who Owns and Operates a Dynamite Factory,” proclaimed a Bradford newspaper in 1899. As owner of Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory, she was an astute businesswoman in the midst of America’s first billion dollar oilfield, which in 1881 supplied 77 percent of the world’s oil.
Another example is a former piano teacher who gained control of the Los Angeles oilfield – and for decades was known as the California Oil Queen. Emma Summers’ first Los Angeles well was drilled about a mile west of today’s Dodger Stadium.
“I saw a chance in the oil business and sunk a well, and that carried me on and on until I couldn’t stop,” she later explained. Her wells produced 50,000 barrels a month.
At first she sold her oil through local brokers, but eventually took on that challenge in addition to managing her supplies, 40 horses, 10 wagons and a blacksmith shop. “There are men in Los Angeles who do not like Emma A. Summers,” noted a 1911 issue of Sunset magazine as her petroleum interests grew.
Summers, who died in a Glendale nursing home in 1941 at age 83, had a “genius for affairs.” Her control of Los Angeles oilfields earned the former piano teacher her title.
Treasure State Oil & Gas Company (a.k.a. Treasure State Oil Company) had a brief but extensively advertised life as an oil exploration company. It was a venture headed by Frank Hoopes, a former Oklahoma City real estate developer and advertising manager for the Daily Oklahoman newspaper. Hoopes incorporated the company in Oklahoma in January 1917, and soon followed it up by incorporating the Wonder State Petroleum Company. The ad man also launched Proven Lease Oil Company.
Hoopes promoted his companies with expensive, full-page newspaper advertisements. Lots of them. They all urged investors to act quickly. He also happened to be president of the Oklahoma City Ad Club.
The ads – which targeted both unwary investors and oil industry speculators – ran in newspapers like the Oklahoma City Times, Daily Ardmoreite, Muskogee Times-Democrat, Wichita Daily Eagle, El Paso Morning News, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. They artfully proclaimed:
“Six Big Paying Producing Wells Now…Production Nearly 100 bbls. Per day now… Production should be 200 bbls. per day by January 1.” (Daily Ardmoreite, November 18, 1917);
“Practically every share of Treasure State stock has been sold through the United States mail, and not by the usual method of smooth-tongued salesmen.” (Oklahoma City Times, December 1, 1917);
“Here’s the Fairest, Squarest Oil Proposition You Ever Read – Practically no Risk – Immense Profits Almost Sure” (Wichita Daily Eagle, December 9, 1917);
“A safe investment with sure dividends” – “A chance for 10 to 1 in real genuine profits” — “Actual Cash Earning Now 2% a month” (El Paso Morning Times, May 5, 1918);
“Play the Oil Game On This Great 50-50 Plan – Half Cash and let your Dividends Pay Balance” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 5, 1918).
However, a prominent trade magazine scolded Hoopes and his sales pitches. “Another method of the promoter is to sell a form of pre-organization stock to prominent business men for about one-fifth the price at which it is to be offered to the public,” noted the September 18, 1918, National Petroleum News.
“The majority of the business men named by Frank Hoopes of Oklahoma City in his advertising of the Treasure State Oil Company, secured their stock at a special price,” the magzine added. “Hoopes then featured them in his advertising as stockholders, but without informing the public at the same time of the real terms under which they and secured their shares.”
Amidst these extensive stock selling campaigns, Treasure State Oil & Gas Company did drill a few wells, including a dry hole in Kay County, near Newkirk, and another in Grady County. One well did show for gas but apparently did not produce commercial quantities.
Frank Hoopes career continued, even if his oil exploration companies did not reach expectations. By May 1919, he was with Reliable Oil Investments in Oklahoma City, selling Pawnee-Osage Oil & Gas Company stock (it went into receivership on January 21, 1925).
Charles Nathaniel Haskell, Oklahoma’s first governor, struggled in the oil and gas business.
Already a successful lawyer, railroad promoter, and politician, Charles Haskell ventured into the Indian Territory in 1901 looking for business opportunities. He advocated statehood and when it came in 1907, Haskell became Oklahoma’s first governor. He is remembered by some as a progressive Democrat who introduced child labor statutes and graduated income tax; by others as a supporter of Jim Crow laws who took bribes from Standard Oil Company.
In 1911, after leaving the governor’s office in Oklahoma City – had moved the capitol from Guthrie one night in 1910 – Haskell went to work for Harry F. Sinclair “investigating and negotiating for properties in the oil fields of the state.” Five years later, Sinclair incorporated Sinclair Oil & Refining Company (also see Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon).
A year later in 1917, Haskell incorporated Middle States Oil Corporation as a Delaware holding company. Meanwhile, the growing number of giant discoveries in Osage oilfields attracted Sinclair and other future oil barons to lease auctions beneath what became known as the Million Dollar Elm.
With Haskell chairman of the board, Middle States Oil initially authorized 1.6 million shares (par $10) to capitalize at $16 million. In November of 1919, he assumed the same role for the Dominion Oil Company, “already operating in Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana and Texas fields, in all of which it has producing properties.”
By April 1922, Middles States Oil had raised capitalization to three million shares and reported assets of $2,362,220 with liabilities of $185,000. Haskell incorporated Southern States Oil Company in Delaware as another holding company operating through subsidiaries such as Sure Oil Company and Southern States Drilling Company.
Southern States Oil reportedly was operated by “the same interests which control and operate the Middle States Oil Corp.” It traded on the New York Curb Market with capitalization of $20 million.
Four months later, Moody’s Manual wrote that as of July 1922, Southern States Oil had 116 producing oil wells, two producing natural gas wells, “and 19 new wells drilling.” Daily production was 3,326 barrels at $1.85 to $2.45 per barrel with 3,100 acres leased nearby.
The Oil Trade Journal added, “The Southern States Oil Co., completed on July 12 two wells in the Hewitt field, Carter County, Okla., one doing 2,032 bbls. And the other 150 bbls., these wells more than doubling the production of this property. The company has six more wells nearing the top of the sand in this locality.”
In January 1923, Western States Oil Company joined Middle States and Southern States as part of a complex and growing network of holding companies and subsidiaries. “This corporation has been formed by the Haskell interests to bring under one management oil producing properties in Wyoming, California and Montana, with occasional interests in other Western States.”
However, by the end of 1923, Haskell’s business was in trouble with investors. Newspapers reported “Stock Trading Firm Hard Hit: Probe Opened; Southern States Oil Stock Sales Stop, Company Goes Under.”
Another article added that trading in C N. Haskell’s Southern States Oil company stock was suspended on the New York Curb market, explaining, “Suspension of Southern States transactions is due to the sensational fluctuations on this stock during the past two weeks. Financial circles, according to reports received in Muskogee have been informed that during the period of the wild scramble approximately seven million dollars profit was made in the trading.”
A cascade of lawsuits ensued. Haskell, who conducted the market operations of the stock, resigned as chairman of Middle States Oil after the company had acquired control of Southern States Oil.
“In less than one year the assets of the company have dwindled to the extent of over $77,000,000,” declared the presiding judge of U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. “Middle States Oil Corp. has already defaulted in the payment of principal and interest due on these notes on August 1, 1924.”
More litigation followed as shareholders alleged fraud and mishandling, demanding receivers be appointed to manage the failing companies.
“The receivership grew out of the collapse of the system of oil, railroad, and land companies, security and holding companies, controlled by C. N. Haskell, formerly governor of Oklahoma,” court documents reported. “The system had comprised some fifty-five corporations, of which Middle States Oil Corporation and thirty-eight others which were, in August 1924, wholly or partly owned by Middle States Oil directly or through sub-holding companies, eventually were placed in receivership in this District.”
The receivers were faced with about 90 lawsuits against the former governor’s corporations and $15 million in federal tax claims, “based upon the false-and-inflated earnings statements which Haskell had caused to be issued to aid in sales of securities of the companies.” Stockholders lost their investment and their stock certificates became worthless. It would be 1952 before a final U.S. District Court decision resolved the matter, but Charles Nathaniel Haskell had died in 1933 at the age of 73, still in the oil business, leaving the complications behind.
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.
The 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.
A state historical marker near Saginaw commemorates the birth of Michigan’s petroleum industry in 1925. E. Brown Oil Development Company would drill nearby five years later. The marker notes the Mt. Pleasant field, “helped make Michigan one of the leading oil producers of the eastern United States” and that Mount Pleasant became known as the “Oil Capital of Michigan.”
E. Brown Oil Development of Midland in April 1930 reportedly secured a lease about six miles northeast of Saginaw and drilled a well. Another well, the Grubb No. 2, was drilled in Isabella County, Chippewa Township (NE¼ of the NW¼ of the SW¼ of Section 2, Township 15 North, Range 4 West), according to Public Land Survey System online maps.
As wells drilled into the prolific Mt. Pleasant field reached 162 in June, E. Brown Oil Development reported completing a producer at 3,594 feet deep with initial production of 300 barrels of oil in 12 hours. In September, the company’s Grubb No. 3 well produced 325 barrels of oil an hour.
“Michigan Oil & Gas History,” a 2005 Clarke Historical Library exhibit at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant.
By October 1931, E. Brown Oil Development’s earlier successes helped fund drilling of its No. 1 Homer Campbell well (in the center of the NE¼ of the NE¼ of Section 35, Township 14 North, Range 3 West). At depth of 1,360 feet, the well struck a 600,000 cubic foot initial flow of natural gas.
Two years later, E. Brown Oil Development expanded its search for 100 miles east to Sanilac County, at the base of a Michigan map’s “thumb.” It leased 160 acres from William Herdell in Sanilac County and began to drill on October 3, 1933. The well was sited in Argyle Township (SW¼ of the SW¼ of the SW¼ of Section 15, Township 13 North, Range 13 East).
But at a time when about 90 percent of U.S. exploratory wells ended as expensive failures, E. Brown Oil Development drilled a 2,353-foot-deep dry hole on November 4, 1933. The well was plugged and abandoned.
What happened to E. Brown Oil Development after that is a mystery, but in 1931 oil prices had dipped to a 13-year low of about $10 per barrel (in 2013 dollars) and Great Depression unemployment reached almost 25 percent.
Faced with low oil prices in a highly competitive industry, many oil companies failed and disappeared, leaving investors with stock certificates now only valued by collectors. E. Brown Oil Development appears to be among them. Today the state has several productive oil and natural gas fields, and Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant preserves Michigan Petroleum History.
Oil from the giant El Dorado oilfield was often featured in petroleum industry news as America prepared to enter World War I in April 1917. The mid-continent field, discovered two years earlier east of Wichita, had made headlines and launched a Kansas oil boom.
More than 200 miles to the northwest, the Delhi Oil Company would soon bet its fortunes on a wildcat oil well in Osborne County – and lose. In a chronology not unlike many small, community-based oil speculations, Delhi Oil began by seeking investors to fund its exploratory drilling.
The venture was started by Isaac M. Mahin, a state senator, and F.W. Mahin, both lawyers who owned the North Kansas Land & Loan Company in Smith Center. In November 1917, the Topeka Daily Capital reported the two men and other businessmen had “proposed to enter the oil hunting industry” by incorporating the Delhi Oil Company “with a capital stock of $60,000, all of which will be expended in drilling.”
Delhi Oil secured leases in Smith and Osborne counties and by March 1918 had contracted for an 84-foot drilling rig. The company advertised in earnest for potential investors. “This is good news for the people of this county as it marks the beginning of actual oil development in Osborne County,” proclaimed one editorial ad in the Salina Evening Journal.
The newspaper also noted, “the Delhi Oil company which is composed of local men with headquarters in Osborne seeking to develop the resources of Osborne County, should have the support of every businessman and land owner in this community.”
Although the first Delhi Oil well had yet to be spudded by early 1919, efforts to secure funds and investors continued. “Salina stands to benefit greatly by the development of the field,” stated one promotion. “Should gas be found, Salina’s fuel bill would be cut in half. Should a good oil field develop, Salina will become a refining and distributing center. And further, you have the assurance that every dollar you invest in this venture will be used in development, and also that your interest applies to the entire 5,320 acres.”
The newspaper’s praise continued: “This is to certify that we have thoroughly investigated the organization and plans of the Delhi Oil Company, are interested in their success and believe their stock to be a good, clean investment, one well worth your careful consideration.”
Sufficient working capital was finally secured and by May 1919, Delhi Oil’s wildcat rig was erected in Osborne County on the Dorman lease (Section 20 of Township 10 South, Range 11 West). It took eight months of drilling for the Dorman No. 1 well to reach 1,510 feet, ostensibly having seen a “show of oil” at just 500. Enthusiastic testimonials appeared in January 1921 newspapers:
“This news, together with the rumors that the company nine miles east of the Delhi lease is building oil tanks, has caused no little excitement among the people who are interested in the projects. There are real indications that a big field is about to be opened and the men who have their money invested are beginning to take heart over the outlook.”
“At this time they are drilling at a little more than 2,000 feet, in limestone,” reported the Western Kansas World in WaKeeney. “Delhi oil prospects are getting brighter and brighter each day. Sunday a large number of stock holders and others interested in the well were out watching the drill go down.”
Echoing a popular theme, the newspaper said the well “may mean untold wealth to Osborne County,” and on June 30, 1921, noted “the Delhi Oil Co. well near Luray is down 2,800 feet and it is said you can smell gas when you get near it.” But within four months, drilling at the Dorman No. 1 well was shut down at 2,930 feet. Securing working capital from investors remained a problem.
On April 13, 1922, the Salina Evening Journal reported Delhi Oil was “organizing in every town and township in Osborne county in an attempt to raise the necessary funds to complete the well on their leases. It is estimated that $20,000 will be needed to complete the project and one-half of that amount has already been raised, so that the big drive will have for its object the raising of the final $10,000.”
The newspaper added that “the money must be raised in the next two weeks, and if it is not forthcoming the well will be abandoned, as the company can no longer finance the drilling, although within 300 feet of what is believed to be a paying pool of oil.” Four days later the paper announced, “The Delhi Oil Company is making a county-wide drive in an endeavor to raise funds to complete their project within the next ten days.”
Somehow, Delhi Oil was able to drill its Dorman No. 1 well deeper, adding another 320 feet to a total depth (TD) of 3,250 feet, according to World Oil, Volume 33, 1924, or another 548 feet to a TD of 3,478 feet, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. At either depth, the hole was dry and shareholders lost their investment. Kansas Corporate Commission records show that Delhi Oil forfeited its charter to do business for failure to file required annual reports.
During World War I, the Winona Oil Corporation set up operations in Casper, Wyoming, with holdings of 1,200 acres of “selected land in the heart of Powder River.” The company reported having one rig ready to drill and another ready to be “rigged up” at another site. With capitalization of only $200,000, Winona Oil was considered a “poor boy” drilling venture dependent upon investors to fund continued drilling despite setbacks and risks. The company offered stock at 5 cents a share. Advertisements in the Ogden Standard enticed investors with “Winona Is Here to make Money, Money, Money.”
In February 1918, C. Kirchner, secretary of the Winona Oil, conducted a promotional demonstration of the reduction of shale oil to gas for about 50 onlookers. “This gas was lighted and burned during the entire experiment to such an extent that a couple of engineers in the party made the remark that the gas itself would furnish 90 per cent of the fuel necessary for the original reduction,” it was later proclaimed. This Winona Oil interest in shale oil did not develop, although other contemporary ventures did pursue it (see Ute Oil Company).
Winona Oil by 1919 had only been able to drill 700 feet in its first drilling effort somewhere “on the north side of the railroad.” In March it was reported that “the Powder River Syndicate has undertaken to finish the well commenced by the Winona Oil Corporation at Powder River, Natrona Co., according to reports current in Casper.” Another article in the Oil & Gas News noted, “In the Powder River field, the Winona Oil Corporation has announced the purchase of a drilling machine which will be used to complete the company’s first well, which has been underway for months. The Winona claims to have solved all its difficulties, and expects to go with its work without further delay.”
By the end of May 1919, Winona Oil was reported to have survived its financial difficulties and reentered the field. Plans were by then underway to drill a second well. Good news came the following month when the first well was described as “gassing heavily, and Casper people interested in the enterprise are very optimistic over the prospects. Should the well prove a good one, a large tract north of Powder River station would be added to the territory considered proven.”
But by August the good news had gone bad; the gasser well had to be was abandoned, “as the hole was started with a casing too small to see it thoroughly.” A second well was spudded by the Powder River Syndicate with Winona Oil a fifty-fifty partner. “The Winona Powder River Syndicate well No. 2., which was begun when the first hole pinched-out, is making 100 feet a day, according to reports from the field, and is down about 500 feet. This well is located north of Powder River, on Winona holdings,” noted the Oil & Gas News on September 4, 1919. The trade publication reported bad news several months later.
“The Winona well at Powder River is also shut down, but it is claimed that drilling will resume in the spring. This is the second well, the first having been lost on account of a bit wedged in the hole,” Oil & Gas News reported on January 29, 1920. Drilling did not resume in the spring or anytime thereafter. Despite the efforts of Winona Oil and the hopes of its stock investors, the company did not survive. Cities Service Company bought Winona Oil and moved the Winona division to St. Paul, Minnesota.
In February 1920 in Farrell, Pennsylvania, lawyers, doctors, business men and farmers formed Yankee Oil & Gas Company as a Delaware corporation.
Then and today, Delaware’s general corporation laws make it the preferred legal host for many new companies. Among the provisions are simplified procedures, low corporate taxes, and broad powers granted to the corporation by the state. More than 50 percent of all publicly traded U.S. companies incorporated in Delaware.
Yankee Oil & Gas organized with $300,000 capitalization and leased 3,000 acres near the state line between Sharon, Pennsylvania and Brookfield, Ohio. The plan was to drill 15 exploratory wells in hopes of finding natural gas. The company advertised for “responsible drilling contractors.”
However, the Record-Argus of Greenville, Pennsylvania, on June 18, 1921, reported that “Yankee Run Oil and Gas Company abandons operations In Brookfield district. Will try Kentucky next.” Kentucky has no record of any drilling by Yankee Oil & Gas. Energy Information Administration records show that while oil sold for an average of $3.07 per barrel in 1920, it dropped by almost in half in 1921.
Natural gas sold for only about 10 cents per thousand cubic feet at the wellhead. With such market pressures, it appears Yankee Oil & Gas Company did not survive.
While resisting federal intervention in the marketplace, Kansas and other states in 1911 began legislating “Blue Sky” laws to protect investors from predatory and fraudulent stock sales schemes. But the problem continued to grow, especially in a post-World War I economic boom.
About 20 million people set out to make their fortunes in the stock market during the 1920s, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These investors, both large and small shareholders, were “tempted by promises of ‘rags to riches’ transformations and easy credit, most investors gave little thought to the systemic risk that arose from widespread abuse of margin financing and unreliable information about the securities in which they were investing.”
Of the $50 billion in new securities offered in the 1920s, about half evenually became worthless, notes the SEC, which was established in 1934. The federal commisssion’s enforcement soon deterred many – but not all – scurrilous efforts to fleece unwary investors.
The often outrageous claims made by earlier oil stock promoters such as Seymour “Alphabet Cox” and former Arctic explorer Frederick Cook were constrained after establishment of the SEC and incarceration of offenders. “Caveat Emptor” nonetheless remained a primary mandate in the stock speculation as it did in decades past.
Homestead Oil Company of Dallas, Texas, ran afoul of the SEC in 1983. The company was charged with violating “the registration and antifraud provisions of the securities laws in the offer and sale of approximately $1.2 million of investment contracts in five oil and gas drilling programs to at least 125 investors.”
The Internal Revenue Service also pursued Homestead Oil for unpaid taxes amounting to “$247,532.37, plus statutory additions as allowed by law.” The company declared bankruptcy.
Litigation followed as Homestead Oil’s president sought to appeal his conviction “for common law fraud and for violations of the federal and state securities laws, (and) the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. (RICO)”
But on appeal, the court noted, “Homestead had offered to investors interests in oil and gas properties in eastern Oklahoma without proper SEC registration. They had failed to disclose investment information to Homestead’s investors and had made misrepresentations.”
Surviving stock certificates from Homestead Oil Company leave only scripophily value and a cautionary tale for investors to contemplate.
The Pennsylvania Oil & Development Company began during a banking crisis and had a brief life in the Montana oilfields. Established in 1922, the exploration company was capitalized at $1 million with its stock offered at 10 cents per share.
Principal operations were out of Forsythe, in south central Montana, with $200,000 of the capitalization subscribed by the incorporators and directors of the company, C.E. Morse, H.G. Young and Margaret Young. Holdings included leases in the “Porcupine Dome” in Rosebud County, Montana, as well as in Greybull, Wyoming.
Pennsylvania Oil & Development was one of several petroleum companies drilling “wildcat” wells in Carbon County, Montana. The county, established in 1895, was named after the abundant coal supplies in its 2,026 square mile area. It was also home to the state’s first oil well, drilled in 1901 at Kintla Lake, now part of Glacier National Park.
Trade publications followed Pennsylvania Oil & Development’s Carbon County drilling operations, including an apparently noncommercial oil well in 1922 (Northwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 37, Township 7 South, Range 24 East, Public Land Survey System, PLSS). A year later, the company continued its wildcat drilling with another attempt, now joining with the Red River Oil Company for a test well in Section 35, Township 7 South, Range 24 East (PLSS).
By June 1922, Red River Oil had abandoned the project while retaining a one-eighth working interest. Two years later, Pennsylvania Oil & Development was still solvent and drilling on Black Butte in Carbon County. Its latest well reportedly reached a depth in excess of 2,000 feet with a producing zone anticipated in the “Madison Lime” formation.
Then news about Pennsylvania Oil & Development abruptly stopped. After 1924, drilling reports about the company’s wells disappeared from trade publications. A clue may be found in the 1920s banking crisis, described by Montana’s superintendent of banks as a “veritable nightmare.”
Between 1921 and 1926, no state had more bankruptcies than Montana – with 191 banks failing in the last few months of 1924 alone. It seems likely under these circumstances that both the founders of the petroleum exploration company and the shareholders were left with worthless stock certificates.
About 1,000 miles west of Minneapolis, the town of Shoshoni, Wyoming, and the potential of oil wealth in the nearby Lower Muskrat oilfield inspired “a syndicate of Minnesota men” to form Minnesota-Western Oil Company in the summer of 1918.
Shoshoni, population 600, was about 90 miles west of Casper and on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Line. The Minnesota State Securities Commission licensed 50,000 shares of the new company with a sales price of $10 per share.
Stock purchases would underwrite the risky venture, so drilling progress would likely be slow and sometimes intermittent. Securing the necessary Minnesota licenses from the state securities commission was problematic and bureaucratic with multiple applications, denials, denial rescission, licenses, and license cancellations.
By September 1919 the company’s first well was about 1,000 feet deep. By January 1920, it was down another 200 feet. In March, Petroleum Magazine noted the well had an encouraging “showing of oil” before weather intervened.
“Heavy snows have hampered work in the Muskrat region the last few weeks,” reported the trade magazine. In May, water intrusion was a problem and drilling was “tied up with cementing operations for several weeks.” In September, the well “has been held up by a long fishing job, but is about ready to drill again.”
Months of slow progress were rewarded in April 1921 when the well found a “considerable showing of gas” at 2,000 feet in the geological “first sand.” Drilling continued toward the second sand, expected at 3,000 feet.
By November 1921, drilling reached a depth of 2,750 feet. An article in the December National Petroleum News reported “The Minnesota-Western Oil Co. is running 4.75 inch casing at 2,775 feet in a test in this county (Fremont). The second sand is expected within 100 feet.”
Minnesota-Western Oil Company’s progress had been covered by industry trade publications since its 1918 incorporation, but it abruptly disappeared after December 1921. The company struggled with debt and tried to reorganize into the Interior Oil Company with stockholders’ subscriptions. But litigation was immediate and extended.
The Minnesota State Securities Commission revoked the Minnesota-Western Oil Company’s license for the final time on July 25, 1923. Four years and multiple appeals later, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled against Minnesota-Western Oil’s appeal, saying that although out of business, the company “owes the debt and that it remains unpaid.”
An experienced independent oil producer, W.D. Richardson orchestrated the merger of his own company, Lake Park Refining (incorporated 1918), with Dunn Petroleum and Davenport Petroleum to form Meridian Petroleum Company in September 1920.
Merger terms dictated one share of Dunn Petroleum for two shares Meridian Petroleum; one share of Lake Park Refining for two shares Meridian Petroleum; and one share of Davenport Petroleum Co. for 20 shares Meridian Petroleum.
The combined organization held assets valued at about $13 million, including refineries in Oklahoma: Okmulgee (3,500 barrel), Ponca City (2,500 barrel), and Hominy (1,500 barrel). There also were producing wells in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, as well as “promising acreage” in Wyoming.
With offices in Kansas City, Missouri, Delaware-chartered Meridian Petroleum was capitalized at $25 million. By the end of 1920, the new company reported a net profit of $1,076,828. At the company’s annual meeting in April 1921, at least 3,000 Meridian Petroleum stockholders re-elected W.D. Richardson and the company’s officers.
“Rarely have stockholders made so plain their confidence in the management of an oil company,” noted the The Oil & Gas News reported. At the same meeting, stockholders approved the issue of $2.5 million dollars in “first mortgage bonds to be used in retiring present outstanding indebtedness and to give the company additional working capital.”
Trade publications carried advertisements for Meridian Petroleum products such as “No. 1100 Straight Run Auto Oil” and “No. 22-600 S. R. Cylinder Stock (Light Green).” These and other lubricants were promoted with the Meridian motto, “The Line that Circles the World.”
But all was not well. The Oklahoma refineries depend upon crude oil deliveries, which were decling. Throughout 1921, only one of Meridian’s Petroleum’s three refineries operated at all, and it at half capacity.
Oil production from Meridian Petroleum’s own leases proved insufficient, although in July 1921, Oildom reported a hopeful development.
“The company’s big well in the Hominy district of Osage county, Oklahoma, which came in at 10,000 barrels and ceased flowing after several days, due to a caved hole, was put in commission again and was reported making 3,000 barrels natural (flow),” the publication noted.
A report in the American Investor valued the company’s stock at about 13 cents a share on the New York Curb Market in December 1921, down from a high of 22 cents a share for the year and far less than the original offering at $2 per share.
On April 1, 1922, Meridian Petroleum defaulted on a $100,000 debt and in June, U.S. District Court appointed a receiver as the $2.5 million mortgage approved by stockholders a year earlier went into foreclosure. The company also carried unsecured debt of $600,000 and never paid a dividend.
Despite predictions of a reorganization, by 1927 Meridian Petroleum was gone for good. W.D. Richardson quickly went on to form the Richardson Refining Company, capitalized at $250,000 in November 1922.
Home Oil & Development Company left better tracks in legal documents than in the oil patch.
“For quickness of action in the formation of an oil company and the sale of stock the Home Oil and Development Company holds the record,” declared the The Lafayette Gazette on October 5, 1901. “This company was organized last Friday morning and by Saturday evening, the ground had been secured for drilling and a man sent to purchase the necessary machinery for drilling. Monday morning they were authorized to sell seventy thousand shares at 33 and 1/3 cents per share. This morning all the stock is sold. They will begin work next week.”
Despite being at the heart of Louisiana’s first oil boom, which between 1902 and 1908 produced virtually all of of the state’s oil, the company failed. Louisiana court records reveal Home Oil & Development ‘s demise in cases (no. 4374, no. 5021, no. 4733), and finally in the Louisiana Supreme Court (no. 15,468). A Louisiana company born to exploit the newly discovered Jennings oilfield, Home Oil & Development was insolvent within five years of its creation. Irate stockholders brought suit to recover some part of their lost investments.
“Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901 – 1946” by Kenny Arthur Franks and Paul F. Lambert includes images of Home Oil & Development Company.
Among the complainants were the Heywood brothers, whose discovery of the first Louisiana oil well in September 1901 had spawned a boom in drilling – and speculation.
By 1902, Home Oil & Development litigation in the Louisiana Supreme Court revealed that at the time of the bankruptcy, “The only asset owned the corporation consists of the amounts owing to it by its stockholders on the unpaid portion of the purchase price of the stock held and owned by them.”
With this rationale, those stockholders whose subscriptions were fully paid, “seek to obtain a personal judgement for the amount…against some few of its individual stockholders, claiming that they have not paid to it the full amount of their subscription to stock.”
The court did not agree, noting “the proper result should not be for individual creditors to institute individual actions inuring to their separate benefit and advantage.” The court concluded that the affairs of the corporation “should be placed in liquidation in the hands of some officer or officers acting in the interest of and for the benefit of all parties concerned.”
The land around Bristow, Oklahoma, was once dismissed as “condemned territory” and deemed unproductive by geologists. Thirty-five dry holes had substantiated their judgement, despite the location between two of Oklahoma’s most productive oilfields, Cushing-Drumright and Glenn Pool.
The Cushing-Drumright field, about 30 miles northwest of Bristow, was discovered by Oklahoma’s “King of the Wildcatters,” Tom Slick, in 1912. Once known as “Dry Hole Slick,” his Wheeler No. 1 well revealed an oilfield that produced a lot of oil for the next 35 years, reaching 330,000 barrels of oil every day at its peak. With its pipelines and vast storage facilities, Cushing today is the trading hub for oil in North America.
Thirty miles east of Bristow, the Glenn Pool field was discovered on the Creek Indian Reservation south of Tulsa in 1905 – two years before Oklahoma statehood. Combined with the earlier “Red Fork Gusher,” Glenn Pool would help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”
Despite the Bristow area’s dry holes between the giant oilfields, Continental Petroleum Company attempted an exploratory well just east of the town. On October 17, 1921, its Ben Sharper No. 1 well was completed with oil production of 1,000 barrels a day. It was the discovery well for what became known as the Continental Pool. The success soon drew many competitors and Bristow’s population soared.
Continental Petroleum had been formed as a Delaware corporation in January 1919, with former Colorado banker A.A. Rollestone as president. Rollestone had also purchased and was president of Continental Refining Company, which operated a 2,500 barrel-a-day refinery in Bristow, where both companies were located.
One Rollestone company was in the oil exploration business and the other was refining crude oil piped in from the Cushing-Drumright field. Moody’s Analyses of Investments reported Continental Petroleum had about 6,000 acres under lease in Oklahoma and another 3,000 acres in Texas.
Continental Petroleum’s success with the Continental Pool brought suitors. In January 1922, stockholders approved purchase of the company by Michael L. Benedum’s Transcontinental Oil Company.
Benedum, a successful independent oilman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1924 formed the Big Lake Oil Company, which built the first oil company town in the Permian Basin in West Texas. A 1923 wildcat well there, the Santa Rita No. 1, had uncovered the 300-mile basin. He would also be known as “King of the Wildcatters.”
The Transcontinental Oil buyout of Continental Petroleum made A.A. Rollestone a wealthy man, according to the trade publication the Petroleum Age, which said the deal gave him an address “on a prominent Easy Street corner.”
In 1936, the Ohio Oil Company (later Marathon), acquired Transcontinental Oil Company. Although Continental Petroleum stock certificates, redeemed and canceled long ago, have no value as negotiable securities, the company’s Oklahoma oil patch history may help make them collectable.
As early as September 24, 1917, the trade journal Oil, Paint, and Drug Reporter reported that Clark Producing & Refining Company would be drilling a well on the “Old Woman Creek dome, adjoining the Norbeck-Nicholson holdings,” about 35 miles north of Lusk,Wyoming.
The journal added the company held “acreage to the amount of 5,560 acres, and has two additional drilling outfits in transit for work as soon as they arrive on the property.”
The first Wyoming oil wells had arrived in 1890 near ancient “tar springs” north of Casper. Although Clark Producing & Refining’s leases were to east, near the border with Nebraska, the company was enthusiastically endorsed by newspapers, trade journals, and in advertisements soliciting investors.
In Lead, South Dakota, a quarter-page ad in the Lead Daily Call proclaimed in bold print “a harvest of profit awaits the investor in the Clark Producing & Refining Co.” and described holdings of more than 6,000 acres “in the heart of the Old Woman Creek Dome in the North Lusk Oil Field.”
The ad also promoted the company’s leases adjoining a 1916 local sensation, the Norbeck-Nicholson well at Cow Gulch. With one Clark Producing & Refining well about to be spudded (begin drilling) and a second rig planned, potential investors were advised to buy stock at only 26 cents per share to insure “Quick Profits.”
Drilling began on the company’s first well on Old Woman Creek in the southwest of the northwest quarter of Section 10, Township 36 North, Range 62 West. This lease location, described in Public Land Survey System terms, can be viewed in Google Earth and similar applications.
To fire the steam boilers to begin “making hole,” teamsters for Clark Producing & Refining’s hauled fuel oil from the Mule Creek field, about 15 miles to the northeast. By January 1918, a company rig had reached 1,200 feet deep.
When the Lusk Stock Exchange opened in February, Clark Producing & Refining was the first local petroleum stock to be placed on sale (see also the “Curb Market” described in Consolidated Petroleum Company). Drilling on the “Old Woman” well would continue into April 1922 as the company looked for more lease opportunities.
“COW GULCH STILL ALIVE,” proclaimed the Lusk Standard of November 26, 1920. The Oil Distribution News also reported events, noting, “The Clark Producing & Refining Co., composed mainly of Lusk citizens, is making headway with a test of the Young Woman dome, material has been assembled, and gas piped from the so called ‘Cow Gulch’ well completed some time ago by Norbeck and Nicholson.”
Powered by gas-fired boilers, drilling of the “Young Woman” well began. But at 1,472 foot depth, water intrusion into the well bore ruined the attempt. Meanwhile, the “Old Woman” well reached 1,900 feet deep and found a “considerable showing” of natural gas.
Managing multiple operations consumed Clark Producing & Refining Company’s the company’s rigging, equipment and casing supplies without yielding oil. In March 1922, National Petroleum News noted the company’s slow progress at the “Old Woman,” but predicted drilling would begin again “as soon as road conditions to the region are improved.”
A month later, Clark Producing & Refining was the only company still drilling in the eastern part of the Lusk oilfield, the other exploration companies having chased oil strikes further west into the Lance Creek field.
The company decided to use a down-hole explosive to “shoot” the “Old Woman” well at 2,100 feet deep to stimulate oil production, but fracturing did not succeed. The well “reached a depth of 2,160 feet when shut down for the winter. It is now waiting for the roads to become passable so as to move in fuel oil from the Mule Creek field.” No reports followed to indicate drilling ever began again. Like many of its contemporary high-risk petroleum ventures, Clark Producing & Refining likely just ran out of money.
With hopeful prospects and properties in six petroleum-producing Oklahoma counties, Champion Oil Company began on October 25, 1919. The Muskogee-based company “engaged in the production of oil and the manufacture of casinghead gasoline.” Its balance sheet reflected more than $2.5 million in assets and the equivalent debt.
There were many exploration and production investment choices for investors seeking to cash in on the post-World War I Oklahoma oil booms. “For twenty-two years between 1900 and 1935 Oklahoma ranked first among the Mid-Continent states in oil production,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society. “The state produced 906,012,375 barrels of oil worth approximately $5.28 billion.”
United States Investor proclaimed Champion Oil Company President Albert T. Woods as a highly regarded man of experience and ability. The magazine reported that Champion Oil had leased 2,000 acres of promising land in prolific Mid-Continent oilfields. The company’s stock sold for as much as $1.50 per share, with assurances that it would go to $2 a share.
Looking for investors to fund operations, the company peddled a prospectus promising 12 percent per year dividends. Sales were especially substantial in Cleveland and Syracuse, where salesmen earned a 15 percent commission.
Although the company apparently looked good to many investors, just two years later Poor’s Government & Municipal Supplement reported the company as “inactive at the present time.”
After stockholders had poured several hundred thousand dollars into the venture, Champion Oil Company was foreclosed upon and rendered bankrupt. U.S. Investor published a blistering indictment of Champion Oil and its president.
“Albert T Woods, the president and general manager, had shaken the dust of Muskogee and of Oklahoma from his feet, and had moved with his family to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he set himself up as an independent oil operator, under the name of the Albert T. Woods Company,” the magazine noted.
With Champion Oil stockholders left with worthless paper, Woods made a brief effort to exploit the loss. He pitched an idea to exchange obsolete Champion Oil stocks for shares of the Revere Oil Company. This Revere Oil scheme is described in Arctic Explorer turns Oil Promoter.
According to the Commercial & Financial Chronicle of July 10, 1926, Champion Oil’s final curtain came when company shares were offered in lots of 12,000 shares for $5 (common) and 7,000 shares of preferred for $15.
“Oil Excitement at Rocky Ford Field Near Sundance,” proclaimed a front page of the Moorcroft (Wyoming) Democrat on September 14, 1917.
“Rocky Ford, the seat of the oil activities in Crook county is about the busiest place around,” the newspaper continued. “Cars come and go, people congregate and the steady churning of the two big rigs continues perpetually. Excitement has reached the zenith of tension, and with each gush of the precious fluid, oil stock climbs another notch. The big drill of the Wyoming-Dakota Co. has been pulled from their deep hole until spring. The drill reached 600 feet and was in oil.”
The Rapid City, South Dakota, company was capitalized $500,000 with a nominal par value of 25 cents per share and reported to have one producing well and three more drilling. All the leases were in Crook County and included 3,200 acres in Lime Butte field; 10,000 acres in Rocky Ford field; and 4,000 acres in Poison Creek field.
Since Wyoming would not pass its first “Blue Sky” to prevent fraudulent promotions until 1919, Wyoming-Dakota Oil’s newspaper ads often rivaled patent medicine exaggerations. For example, one ad noted “geologists claim this showing indicates alone 500,000 barrels to the acre.”
Wyoming-Dakota Oil further enticed investors with, “Your Chance Has Come if you want to make money in Oil.” In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Sells Investment Company offered Wyoming-Dakota Oil Company stock reportedly after “a careful selection of conservative issues from among the thousand prospects, offering same to you before higher prices prevail or its present substantial position has been discounted by professional traders. A good clean cut speculation of this character may mean a fortune. Watch this company for sensational developments.”
The United States had entered World War I in April 1917; by November newspapers reported Francis Peabody, chairman of the Coal Committee of the Council of National Defense, was telling the U.S. Senate Public Lands Committee that the country was not producing enough oil to win the war.
“He said if nothing were done to develop new wells the reserve supply would he exhausted in twelve months and production would be 50,000,000 barrels less than requirements,” one newspaper noted. Wyoming-Dakota Oil Company executives took advantage of the opportunity.
“The (war) situation outlined leads us to suggest that you investigate Wyoming-Dakota Oil. ‘We are doing our bit’ by drilling night and day. Ours is an investment worth while. The allotment of Treasury stock at 25 cents is almost sold out and the Directors will advance the price of stock to 50 cents a share (100 per cent on your present investment) on December 15th, 1917.”
The Wyoming-Dakota Oil promotion continued: “By that time our newspaper announcement in the Eastern cities, pointing out the enormous acreage, present production and negotiations for additional valuable holdings will be made known to millions of seasoned investors in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh. We feel confident this will result in a demand for this stock that will send the present market price skyward. We trust you will see the wisdom of prompt action before all available stock at 25 cents per share has been purchased by other investors.”
In early 1918, Wyoming-Dakota Oil Company’s had drilled wells in the Upton-Thornton oilfield and was “holding out high hope of bringing in a gusher in few days.” In July, the Laramie Daily Boomerang reported the company had “two rigs going steadily in Crook County’s Rocky Ford field” – but no oil gushers came in. Investor pessimism was reflected in Wyoming-Dakota Oil Company’s stock prices, which fell in over-the-counter markets from 75 cents bid in June 1919 to 50 cents bid at the end of September. By March 1920, brokers offered 5,000 shares or any part thereof at 5 cents a share.
A final blow to the company was reported in the Laramie Republican of July 25, 1921: “Wyoming-Dakota…has completed pulling the casing from the well which it has been drilling north of town, after having struck a formation said to be granite, at a depth of 715 feet. While this has a tendency to retard the activities of other interests, it is by no means stopping them entirely and it is to be hoped that another well will be started this summer.” It wasn’t.
Wyoming-Dakota Oil Company disappeared into history until a Summons was published 24 years later in the January 25, 1945, Sundance (Wyoming) Times. It advised that Wyoming-Dakota Oil – address or place of residence to plaintiff unknown – was being sued in the Sixth District Court of Wyoming. The company’s stock certificates today are valued only by scripophily collectors.
For the true story behind a Texas oilfield that did play a vital role in the “War to End All Wars,” read Roaring Ranger wins WWI.
Prior to becoming an aspiring Kansas oilman, William Seyler wrote a book admonishing others about speculating in the petroleum industry. Then he started his own oil company.
Seyler was a self-proclaimed capitalist and investment expert who in 1919 published Danger Signals – A Key to Investing Money to Make Money.
His book (today available free online) offered several chapters about America’s rapidly expanding petroleum industry, including chapter 12, “Oil Land Get-Rich-Quick Schemes.”
Seyler advised potential investors to be wary. “The alluring possibilities of the oil business is, at this very writing, causing so many inexperienced men to engage in the promotion of wild-cat oil companies that haven’t the remotest chance to succeed,” he proclaimed. “Experience and constant practice alone make experts in judging the soundness of stocks and securities; of this there is no doubt.”
Within a year of publishing his book of investment advice, Seyler incorporated Elbukan Oil Company in Delaware (June 5, 1920). He began operations in El Dorado, Kansas, where the Stapleton No. 1 well of 1915 had launched a major Kansas Oil Boom.
His company was initially capitalized at $750,000 with par value assigned at $1 per share. But by March 1921 Elbukan Oil had increased its capital stock to $1.5 million to fund acquisition of more properties in the prolific Mid-Continent field.
The company successfully completed its Millheisler No. 5 well, which produced 100 barrels of oil northeast of El Dorado. Although production declined to 50 barrels a day, the success enabled the company to drill another well, the Millheisler No. 6, on the same 40-acre lease.
By December 31, 1921, Elbukan Oil Company had sold approximately $1.6 million of stock to investors nationwide, apparently including a large number from Wisconsin.
Seemingly prospering, the company owned a number of leases and pipelines in Kansas and Oklahoma. By 1923 it was producing and selling oil and natural gas. Then questions were raised about its accounting practices.
Elbukan Oil was prohibited from selling its stock in Wisconsin and Indiana, “as a result of continued delays by the Seyler company in presenting the semiannual audit of the financial conditions require by the state commission of all companies selling stock.”
The company’s difficulties compounded when it was alleged in court that Seyler had set up his company’s $120,000 purchase of a well valued at only $6,000. The deal included Elbukan Oil paying him personally $42,500 in cash and stock.
The U.S. District Court ultimately appointed receivers to manage Elbukan Oil assets as extended litigation followed. Undeterred, Seyler returned in 1930 – only to have the Milwaukee Journal report expose “William Seyler’s latest scheme.”
The Wisconsin newspaper illustrated Seyler’s intricate structure of company ownership, liens, properties, mortgages and stockholders. “Seyler’s Puzzle” appeared in a March 31, 1930, article.
Although Elbukan Oil Company stock was worthless by 1932, Seyler was not finished. He returned to Wisconsin investors one last time five years later, according to the Milwaukee Journal.
“Seyler, Oil Promoter, Again is Active Here,” the newspaper noted on April 15, 1937, adding that the investment adviser turned oilman was back “with a brand new scheme.” Editors again cautioned readers: “State authorities say Seyler and his many associates at one time took in $3,200,000 from about 9,000 Wisconsin residents.”
The stories of other companies and attempts to join highly speculative petroleum exploration booms (and avoid busts) can be found in an updated series of research at Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Texas wildcatters had fruitlessly pursued oil between Abilene and Fort Worth. They drilled mostly dry holes until 1917 when a gusher brought thousands to the arid region of cattle, cotton and mesquite trees.
In October 1917, the McClesky No. 1 well in Eastland County revealed a massive oil-bearing sand 3,432 feet deep. The “Roaring Ranger” discovery made headlines worldwide just six months after America’s entry into World War I.
A find in nearby Desdemona soon added to North Texas oil discoveries. “The tiny peanut-farming hamlet of Desdemona in Eastland County was transformed when oil was struck in 1918,” noted one Texas historian. “Tents and shacks sprang up all around the town to house speculators and workers who flocked to the area.”
Located along Hog Creek, Desdemona (once called Hogtown) and the Ranger oilfield attracted new companies, some with little or no oil-patch experience. Among many others, the Hog Creek Carruth Oil Company profited by enthusiastically advertising stock sales to unwary investors.
A detail from one of Ranger-Rock Island Oil and Refining’s circa 1920 newspaper ads (see below).
Ranger-Rock Island Oil and Refining
Eager to drill in the Ranger oilfield, E.R. Crosby, C.W. Brooks and A.H. Kirby formed the Ranger-Rock Island Oil & Refining Company in Fort Worth, Texas. With Crosby named president, the company was capitalized at $750,000.
By February 1919, half-page advertisements in the El Paso Herald solicited investors, noting the company’s leases were in close proximity to proven oil-producing wells.
“Every farmer, merchant, business and professional man, mechanic, and investor knows that this company is designed to produce oil and dividends and will be a success from the start,” declared the company’s newspaper ads.
A map illustrated proposed drill sites. “Note The Selected Acreage – This Company Cannot Miss Production,” the company crowed about its 40-acre lease northeast of Eastland. The ad included a convenient cut-out application to send with a check for purchasing stock at $1 per share.
Another map depicted Ranger-Rock Island Oil’ and Refining’s second lease south of Ranger – “in the Hog Creek country” – declaring that “drilling begins on this tract as soon as rig and tools can be moved in.”
Success came west of Fort Worth when Ranger-Rock Island Oil and Refining’s Wright No. 1 well reached 3,483 feet into the McClesky sand (by September 8, 1919, daily production was 3,000 barrels of oil). Then the Wright No. 2 well was completed for 2,700 barrels a day. Another oil strike soon followed.
“The headliner of the Ranger pool, the W.W. Wright No. 3 of the Ranger-Rock Island Oil [and Refining] Company came in with an initial flow 1,700 barrels of oil at around the 3,500 foot level,” noted the Oil & Gas News. “This is the third producing well brought in by that company.”
By April 1920, Ranger-Rock Island Oil and Refining had drilled three successive producing wells, but total production had dropped from an initial 8,000 barrels a day to only 1,400 barrels a day. The Ranger oilfield was being depleted by overproduction and the company was feeling it. As drilling and production costs rose, oil prices fell from about $3 a barrel at the beginning of 1920 to less than $1.75 by the end of the year.
By 1921, Oil Distribution News reported that Ranger-Rock Island Oil and Refining shares, originally sold at one dollar each, were being bid at 50 cents per share by stock traders. After investor litigation in 1924, the company disappeared from financial records.
Among others also seeking riches in the Ranger oilfield was a young World War I veteran, Conrad Hilton. Witnessing roughnecks waiting in line at an Eastland County motel convinced him to purchase what became the first Hilton Hotel.
Read about another North Texas discovery, the 1911 April Fool’s day oil gusher near Electra, Texas, that would help earn that town the title of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”
Southern Rose Oil & Gas Company incorporated on April 17, 1920, in Arkansas. By the end of June 1921, the company had secured a 25-acre site to build a refinery near El Dorado.
The company planned on using the “Edwards System of Refining Petroleum” reportedly perfected by Dr. E.A. Edwards, who had been termed the dean of refiners.
Southern Rose Oil & Gas then looked to Texas’ Mexia oilfield to drill its own oil wells to supply its refinery. The Mexia field in northwestern Limestone County, Texas, later introduced the concept of fault-line production in the Woodbine sands, notes the Handbook of Texas Online.
The Mexia field had begun producing oil moderately in 1920, but in August 1921, Western Oil Corporation’s Desenberg No. 1 well blew in at 18,000 barrels of oil a day, followed by the Adamson No. 1 well with 24,000 barrels of oil a day.
City historians later noted, “Little wonder that all roads led to Mexia and that they were jammed.”
The United States Investor of October 1, 1921, noted a variety of offers proposing Southern Rose Oil & Gas share owners exchange their stock for shares of Manhattan-Texas Petroleum Company, Manhattan Consolidated Petroleum Company, and/or Desdemona Oil & Refining Company.
Although such consolidations were not an uncommon effort to save under-capitalized ventures, investors had to be wary. “Neither the company itself or those companies, for the stock of which its stock is to be exchanged, have been receiving dividends,” noted U.S. Investor editors. “We are not favorably impressed with any of them as a medium of profit or investment either.”
On August 18, 1922, another company discovered oil in Mexia’s Kosse district (Jones No. 1 well). By November, Southern Rose Oil & Gas had a derrick of its own up with hopes to exploit the find.
The Jones No. 1 well however, “never fulfilled its initial promise and is still a text-book example of a one-well field,” according to the Handbook of Texas Online.
Southern Rose Oil & Gas Company’s well, the W.D. Allen No. 1, never progressed beyond construction of its derrick. To investors’ dismay, mounting debt ensured the demise of Southern Rose and loss of their investment. In May 1923, company assets were auctioned at an Eastland County, Texas, sheriff’s sale. Debt amounted to more than $24,500 ($342,000 in 2016 dollars) of which about half was recovered.
The first Arkansas oil gusher, the Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well, blew in on January 10, 1921, near El Dorado and launched the Arkansas petroleum industry. By 1925 the 68-square-mile field led U.S. oil output – with production reaching 70 million barrels.
Continental Oil and Refining Company incorporated in Delaware in February 1919; by May its stock was advertised in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, offering shares for $1.50 each with projected earnings of “approximately $1,000,000 annually on present production.”
With potential investors admonished to “buy before increase in price,” the company advertised in trade publications like Oil and Gas News, established in 1916 in Kansas City, Missouri, and published every Thursday (a 52-week subscription was $4). The first of several Continental Oil and Refining full-page advertisements appeared in the August 18, 1919, issue.
“This entire page has been purchased for one year by Houston, Haverbeck & Company, Inc., Securities Underwriters, New York City,” proclaimed the ad, which noted the underwriters “would advise those interested in the drilling and development program of the Continental Oil & Refining Co. to watch this space.”
By January 1920, the new company’s stock shares sold for as much as $2.50 each – but editors at another trade magazine expressed concern, declaring, “Although the company appears to have some experienced men in its management, there are two features which do not appeal strongly to us.”
United States Investor editors reported that Continental Oil and Refining was incorporated in February 1919, but “could not have started operations until some time later, yet on May 15 the company started to pay monthly dividends of 1.5 percent, and on November 15 this was increased to 2 per cent, or at the rate of 24 per cent per year.”
Further, the publication accused the company of “making no provision (for) any contingency , but is declaring dividends as fast as any profits are obtained.” The editors concluded, “We feel that you would find a more satisfactory speculation in oil stocks in the shares of companies that have a longer record of successful operation.”
According to the International Petroleum Register, Continental Oil & Refining owned eight producing wells and “is interested in lease acreages, thru stock ownership in the Borealis Oil Producing Company, Wichita, Kan., in the following fields: Butler County, Kan.; Chautauqua County, Kan., Osage County, Okla., and Homer, La.”
United States Investor also reported in August 1920 that “Continental Oil & Refining Company now has production of about 250 barrels daily. It is paying dividends at the rate of 24 percent yearly. The authorized capital stock of the company is $10,000,000 all common, par value $1. Recent quotations for the stock cover a very wide range from about 65 cents to $1.25. This indicates the speculative aspect of the shares and future developments must be awaited in order to determine whether or not the company is likely to become a steady earnings and producing oil company.”
The Directory of Obsolete Securities (originally published from 1927 to 1969) reported Continental Oil & Refining Company’s demise as “no longer in existence having become inoperative and void for non-payment of taxes March 22, 1922.” Share owners were left with worthless paper.
Back in the 1920s, assets of failed oil ventures were often auctioned from county court house steps. Pieces of defunct companies could be scavenged from abandoned leases, equipment and debts to start new companies with new investors. It was a convoluted business of extraordinary risk and many casualties. (more…)
The first Louisiana oil well revealed the Jennings oilfield in 1901 – just nine months after the historic “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill in nearby Beaumont, Texas. The discovery launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. Read more in First Louisiana Oil Well.
Louisiana’s young petroleum businesses boomed in the early 1920s, energized by discoveries of the Monroe natural gas field in 1916, the Homer oilfield in 1919, and Haynesville gas field in 1921.
With abundant investment opportunities – thanks in part to the public’s fascination with “black gold” – oil companies drilled wells to meet growing demand for gasoline. But high exploration and production costs, transportation, refinery hazards and price fluctuations created an unforgiving business environment, then as now. (more…)
The Sooner State’s petroleum industry began a decade before statehood when the first Oklahoma oil well was completed at Bartlesville in 1897.
On April 16, 1917 – ten days after the United States entered World War I – the Murdock Oil & Gas Company was registered to do business by J.P. Wolverton, T.H. Williams, and B.W. Fesler, all of Chickasha, Oklahoma. They hoped to find oil with money from people willing to take the risk.
Their newly formed petroleum exploration venture, with capitalization of just $25,000, depended upon investors to fund wildcat drilling (away from proven production). (more…)
In the early 1900s, the Ohio-Kansas Oil & Gas Company financed drilling operations with capital raised from stock sales. It had wells 12 miles southeast of Burlington, Kansas, and secured a franchise to supply natural gas to the town.
The Burlington Republican newspaper in April 1905 reported that “a prospectus of the Ohio-Kansas Oil and Gas Co., advertising its stock for sale, is in circulation, and a copy has been received here. It is circulated by J.H. Andrews & Co, Broker, 40S Fidelity Trust Co. Building, Kansas City, Mo., who will give all necessary information concerning the matter.” (more…)
The Stutz Motor Car Company of Indianapolis, manufacturer of the famed “Stutz Bearcat” automobile, was briefly taken over by Allan Ryan, chairman of the Ryan Petroleum Corporation.
A 1920s Wall Street tycoon will lead Ryan Petroleum Corporation, hit a gusher in Texas, take over the Stutz Motor Car Company – and rip off his fellow tycoons.
When Ryan Petroleum Corporation was created in April 1919, its assets included 60 percent ownership of the Morton Petroleum Company whose president, A.D. Morton, became president of both companies.
Chairman of the Ryan Petroleum board of directors was a well-known Wall Street tycoon, Allan A. Ryan.
Ryan was the majority owner and on the boards of several companies, including Continental Candy, Republic Match, American Tobacco, and Stromberg Carburetor, among others. His tenure in the petroleum business would not be long.
The newly formed Ryan Petroleum leased about 41,000 acres in the Ranger, Texas, oil district as well as small leases near the Burkburnett oilfield close to the Red River border with Oklahoma.
The company brought in a 2,000-barrel-a-day gusher on the R.E. Waggoner ranch a few miles from Burkburnett. The wildcat well opened the “Northwest Extension” of the giant oilfield and launched yet another North Texas drilling boom.
By June 1919, there were more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.”
Discovered in 1918, the Burkburnett oilfield had joined earlier major discoveries in nearby Electra (1911) and Ranger (1917) that would make North Texas a worldwide leader in petroleum production. The drilling booms attracted the attention of Hollywood. See “Boom Town” Burkburnett.
But as contemporary reports noted, the North Texas oil booms had intensified competition for leases and equipment as growing oil production threatened to lower prices.
“The Ryan shares are a speculation, of course, and the company is so new that no earnings figures are available.” explained one observer. “The wild scramble for oil shares, which is a feature of the curb trading, should benefit Ryan still further, if nothing else.”
The company had drilling operations in Texas and Oklahoma and brought in several producers. Ryan Petroleum also had 40 wells in Kansas – but overproduction drove prices down as drilling costs went up.
In 1920, both Ryan Petroleum Corporation and Morton Petroleum stock certificates were replaced on the basis of a ten-for-one exchange with shares of Ryan Consolidated Petroleum, incorporated in Delaware.
The Magazine of Wall Street speculated about the company, noting, “Reasons Why a Well-Backed Oil Producer Has Not Made Good – Decline in Ryan’s Production – Was the Burkburnett Acreage Worth the Price Paid?”
When Allan Ryan declared personal bankruptcy in 1922, he was more than $32 million in debt.
Meanwhile, Ryan Petroleum Chairman Allan Ryan had become embroiled in an escalating Wall Street war with his business associates over a failed “short selling” stock scheme. He had fooled his fellow tycoons – presumably savvy New York Stock Exchange members – and cost them millions.
With lawsuits pending, Ryan was expelled from his seat on the Exchange.
His troubles, far from the Texas oil patch, involved a brief but scandalous “curb the market” takeover of the Stutz Motor Car Company that was subsequently adjudged, “conduct inconsistent with just and equitable principles of trade.”
One newspaper headline about the ousted broker noted, “Corner on Stutz Stock Leads to Downfall.”
The one-time Wall Street Wunderkind’s fortunes promptly deteriorated and he declared personal bankruptcy in 1922 with debts of more than $32 million. Charles Schwab was among investors who gained control of Stutz Motor Car the same year.
Ryan Consolidated Petroleum Corporation was sold by the Guaranty Trust Bank to a group of private investors (including A.D. Morton) and ultimately merged with Morton Petroleum Company in 1926. Company holdings were sold off by the Guaranty Trust Company of New York. Allan A. Ryan died October 13, 1981.
The stories of other attempts to join petroleum exploration booms (and avoid busts) can be found in an updated series of research at Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and this website with a donation.
When a shady publisher decided to become a wildcatter seeking oil riches, the end of his story might have been predicted.
Ft. Worth publisher Chester R. Bunker, head of the World Company, began by seeking to expand subscriptions to his trade journal, which ostensibly offered readers insights into the booming Texas oil business. The 1917 “Roaring Ranger” discovery well between Ft. Worth and Abilene had brought oilfield discoveries close to home.
Bunker’s Texas Oil World (formerly Western World) was in fact a tip sheet largely for promoting his own business interests. To increase circulation, beginning in 1922 Bunker successively added memberships in his “Texas Oil World Marathon Fold Club” or “Texas Oil World Marathon Fold Drilling Club” as premium inducements for potential subscribers.
These clubs entitled each subscriber to a miniscule interest in any profits that might be drawn from his company’s distant oil leases: “a 1/10,000th interest in all emoluments and profits accruing from certain oil and gas leases of 10,000 acres, more or less in Crockett County, State of Texas, and held in trust for all members by the undersigned trustee.”
Court documents later noted that with Bunker the trustee, “the interests given to the subscribers were simply for the purpose of promoting the circulation of the oil journal and its business, and that neither Bunker nor his corporation were to benefit or profit from the promotions.”
Accordingly, Bunker undertook an unlikely wildcat drilling venture on the company’s remote Crockett County lease in 1923, prompting the offer of another subscription inducement, the “Crockett County Lease Bonus.”
After two years of drilling and to the surprise of all, on June 8, 1925, Bunker’s L.P. Powell No. 1 discovery well was completed at 2,650 feet with daily production of 25 barrels of oil. The well opened the Powell Field and prompted a flood of investors and speculators.
Twelve days after the oil discovery, the World Company – now renamed Bunker Printing & Book Company – negotiated sale of its well and 2,500 acres of its leases in Crockett County to Humble Oil Company for almost $1.4 million. Within two weeks of the Powell No. 1 well, more than $5 million had been exchanged in lease and royalty trades. Humble Oil would later become Exxon thanks to other leases at the King Ranch in Kleberg County.
On June 29, 1925, Bunker chartered the World Oil Company using capital from “assets theretofore belonging to the three clubs.” Subscribers surrendered their membership certificates and became shareholders in World Oil on the basis of $10 for every unit of membership.
World Oil Company searched for oil beyond Crockett County, reportedly drilling wells in Glasscock, Hockley, Pecos, Reeves, Shackelford, Taylor and Tom Green counties. But the company failed despite these exploration efforts.World Oil offered stock to the public through advertisements in Bunker’s publications. The stock’s price advanced from about 70 cents per share to $2.60 per share by September 1926.
According to Oil in Texas: The Gusher Age, 1845-1945 by Roger M. Olien and Diana Davids Hinton, the company was bankrupted by Bunker’s inability to manage the businesses he created; he “drowned them in red ink.” The authors add that he was convicted of mail fraud a few years later. His wildcatting did leave a mark, however.
Today, a Texas historical marker dedicated in 1975 near Ozona notes Crockett County’s first producing oil well. “Powell No. 1 was the beginning of a vital new industry for Crockett County, before 1925 primarily a ranching area. The next important strike occurred in the Crockett Field in 1938. There are currently over 2,000 producing oil and gas wells in the county.”
Havana began as a general store in southeastern Kansas in 1870. The state’s first natural gas well was drilled nearby three years later. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reached the town in 1886, but oil discoveries in 1892 were the most significant events in Havana and Montomery County – at least until the Dalton Gang’s last raid on Coffeyville banks two years later. (more…)
Oil fever reached southeastern Kansas by the early 1900s. In October 1904, Missouri investors saw an opportunity in a new oil company with wells near proven oilfields at the Kansas-Oklahoma border.
Cahege Oil & Gas Company, headquartered in Carrollton, Missouri, leased 15,000 acres near Caney, Kansas, a region that had produced oil since the early 1890s.
According to the Daily Traveler newspaper in Arkansas City, Kansas, the recently formed company was drilling exploratory wells near Caney – and had “shot two wells on the Broome and St. John leases.” (more…)
Fraudulent promotion of Alaska Dakota Development served an important purpose regarding the state’s oil industry
The 1957 discovery of the giant Swanson River oilfield on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula excited interest from potential investors. As petroleum companies rushed to the new field, some shady promoters saw an opportunity.
By the end of the decade, New York Attorney General Carl Madonick noted that with securities fraud, the first big step was creation of a national market price via fictitious quotations and phony transactions.
Investors should be wary of shady promoters seeking to take advantage of the lure of “black gold.” Photo courtesy FBI.
Madonisk expained that such fictions helped to convince potential investors of a company’s legitimacy. He cited Alaska Dakota Development to illustrate such fraudulent schemes. (more…)
Hopeful of finding petroleum riches long before many others, George Tucker and Ralph Peterson incorporated Anchorage Gas & Oil Development Inc. in March 1954. They leased 86,000 acres and drilled about 40 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska.
To raise more capital, in 1955 (four years before Alaska became a state) Tucker and Peterson offered 450,000 “non-assessable” common voting shares of Anchorage Gas & Development Company Inc. at $1.50 a share. Records reveal little more about Tucker and Peterson’s oil exploration company.
A book about the history of Alaska’s petroleum industry, Crude Dreams: A personal History of Oil & Politics in Alaska, by Jack Roderick, has a few pages and pictures about these two independent oilmen and their tenacious efforts before “their money and luck had run out.” (more…)
The story of Nova Petroleum Corporation begins in the petroleum boom days of the early 1980s and ends decades later in the healthcare industry.
In October 1973, OPEC declared what it called “oil diplomacy,” prohibiting any nation that had supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War from buying oil.
The embargo marked the end of cheap gasoline. The price of oil, which had ranged between $22 per barrel and $25 per barrel since the 1950s, skyrocketed to $51 a barrel by February 1974. America’s energy crisis caused New York Stock Exchange share values to drop by $97 billion. A devastating recession followed. (more…)
The modern American petroleum industry truly began at the beginning of the 20th century. The Capitol Petroleum Company wanted to be part of it, but failed.
Although the first commercial U.S. oil discovery had taken place in 1859 in Pennsylvania (for making kerosene), demand for another refined product would create thousands of new companies. They searched for “black gold.”
In Texas, an 1894 discovery of the Corsicana oilfield launched the Lone Star State’s petroleum industry, including its first refinery. The town’s leaders had hired a contractor to drill a water well and found oil instead.
When the internal combustion engine arrived on the scene (the first U.S. auto show was in 1900) and electricity was replacing kerosene for illumination, new oilfield discoveries were providing oil for refining into gasoline. (more…)
Claiborne Parish made headlines on January 12, 1919, when Consolidated Progressive Oil Company completed the discovery well for northern Louisiana’s prolific Homer oilfield.
About 50 miles to the west, a 1905 oil discovery at Caddo-Pines near Shreveport had first brought oil exploration to northern Louisiana. Caddo Lake drilling platforms – completed over water without a pier to shore – have been called America’s first true offshore oil wells. Exhibits at the state’s Oil City museum tell that story.
Like Caddo-Pines, the Homer field was crowded with new companies just a few months after the discovery well. Oil production soon reached an aggregate of about 10,000 barrels of oil a day. Far from Louisiana, the Pittsburgh Press declared on September 21, 1919, the “Homer Field is Sensation of Oil Industry.”
Detail from a bird’s eye view of the Homer oilfield circa 1920s. Photo courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
Paramount Petroleum Company began when leadership of another company operating in the Homer oilfield decided to expand operations. Superior Oil Works officers, including President George A. Todd of Oklahoma City; Secretary and Purchasing Agent H.H. Todd of Vivian, Louisiana; and Treasurer D.C. Richardson of Shreveport organized the Paramount Petroleum Company.
Superior Oil Works had been formed to build and operate a refinery close to the Homer field. Capitalized at $300,000 with common stock issued, the company began construction in Superior, Louisiana, but its officers were by then contemplating the much expanded venture – formation of Paramount Petroleum to integrate exploration, production, transportation and refining under one organization.
The new company absorbed Superior Oil Works and looked for leasing potential near the Consolidated Progressive Oil Company’s successful discovery well. As construction of the Superior refinery progressed, Purchasing Agent H.H. Todd advertised that Paramount Petroleum was “in the market for oil refinery equipment, boilers, stills, pumps, and plant machinery, etc.”
Paramount Petroleum made a deal with Consolidated Progressive Oil in May 1919, securing one-half interest in more than 11,000 acres of both proven and unexplored territory in Claiborne Parish. The acreage was already producing about 40,000 barrels of oil, ensuring the refinery would be supplied.
“A giant refining company has been organized recently in Shreveport to be known as the Paramount Petroleum Company,” noted the Oil Distribution News. The venture was capitalized at $10 million with half of its stock subscribed.
“Stock in this company has been consumed by the largest business and banking men of Shreveport,” added the Oil and Gas News. But the best news for investors was the headline: “Paramount Petroleum Gets 10,000 Barrel Well And Will Build Big Refinery.”
In March 1920, the Petroleum Age reported Paramount Petroleum “recently took over the under-construction Superior Oil Works refinery at Vivian [Superior], Louisiana, 23 miles north of Shreveport, to service Pine Island production.”
The publication added that another refinery was to be completed in north Shreveport in November 1920 “with a four-inch pipeline from the Homer field where Paramount Petroleum holds 4,700 acres.”
The Paramount Petroleum’s new refinery will be struggling by May 1921.
Within a month Paramount Petroleum was drilling in Claiborne Parish and shipping 400,600 barrels of oil a day. The company secured a $1 million mortgage from the Commercial National Bank of Shreveport and advertised, “Paramount refineries are supplied through our own pipelines from our own production.”
Paramount Petroleum in July 1920 completed the No. 5 Shaw well, which produced 500 barrels of oil a day from 2,090 feet deep in the Homer field. In August the No. 9 Shaw well came in as another 500-barrels-of-oil-a-day producer from a depth of 2,100 feet. The company inked an agreement for 300 tank cars from Standard Tank Car Company of St. Louis, Missouri.
“Paramount has just closed a deal for one half interest in 24 producing wells in the old Caddo field with 1,200 acres of proven territory on which many wells can yet be drilled,” proclaimed the Petroleum Age in October 1920. “The production department of Paramount Petroleum is making splendid headway and with its large acreage, will no doubt greatly add to the earnings of the company.”
But the Petroleum Age reporter had got it wrong. By February 1921, Paramount Petroleum’s refinery at Superior was running at only about 50 percent capacity. A contemporary trade publication reported the company’s prospects as “not too bright.”
Shipments from the Paramount Petroleum’s Homer oilfield holdings dropped to just 168 barrels of oil a day. In May 1921 the struggling company leased its underused refinery and fleet of 390 tank cars to Lucky Six Oil Company for six months.
The Homer field attracted drillers from earlier discoveries at the nearby Caddo-Pines oilfields. Photo courtesy the Petroleum History Institute.
To the south, the Busey-Armstrong No. 1 oil gusher on January 10, 1921, had opened Arkansas’ El Dorado field and Lucky Six Oil Company had entered the scramble to exploit the new field’s huge production (578,000 barrels of oil in the month of May alone). The discovery 15 miles north of the Louisiana border was the first Arkansas oil well. It attracted even more exploration and production companies to the region.
As competition intensified, Paramount Petroleum struggled to pay debts. It was unable to make a required $200,000 mortgage payment to Commercial National Bank of Shreveport in July 1921. The deal Paramount had struck with Consolidated Progressive Oil back in 1919 had become toxic.
On September 7, 1921, National Petroleum News reported Consolidated Progressive Oil was seeking a court ordered receiver take over Paramount Petroleum based on “claims totaling $849,547 and averred acts jeopardizing the interests of creditors, and among the allegations is on to the effect that officials of the defendant concern have admitted in writing the company’s inability to meet present and maturing obligations.”
Paramount Petroleum’s epitaph was brief. “It is officially stated that this company is out of business,” reported Poor’s Cumulative Service in December 1921. “Its properties are to be sold by the sheriff December 24 and proceeds applied on the first Mortgage notes.”
The Texas oil patch was making headlines as World War I raged in Europe. An earlier major discovery at Electra had launched a drilling boom that brought new exploration and production companies to nearby Wichita Falls. (more…)
If your are seeking financial riches from an old oil stock, first see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society depends on donations – and does not have resources to provide free research on all corporate histories.
Warren Oil and Uranium Mining Company sold for six cents per share in 1955. It subsequently became Westminister Corporation, which was sued by Neptune Uranium Corporation of Uravan, Colorado (once a uranium mining town, now abandoned). The dispute involved the purchase of leases.
The Colorado Supreme Court noted on October 17, 1960, that a $5,000 initial payment by Warren Oil and Uranium Mining to Neptune Uranium was presented for payment, but was rejected due to “insufficient funds.” Westminister Corporation was adjudged liable for the $5,000. Neither Warren Oil and Uranium Mining nor Westminister succeeded.
Washington-Montana Oil Company
According to the 1922 American Oil Directory, Washington-Montana Oil Company of Roundup, Montana, was capitalized at $3 million with a nominal par value of $1 per share. Officers were Frank Darnell, George Fair, M.С Roberts, H.L. Allen, H.S. Turner, Silas Archibald, and W.W. Feiger.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Geological Survey Circular 172 reports that Washington-Montana Oil Company drilled only one well in Montana. It was a wildcat sited in Musselshell County’s Devil’s Basin. The well reached a total depth of 900 feet in 1921.
Although Washington-Montana Oil exploratory well had a showing of oil at 650 feet deep, drilling was stopped at 900 feet and the well abandoned as a dry hole. Nor did the company find commercial quantities of oil in the state of Washington – nobody did until 1957. Montana’s first oil well was drilled by Butte Oil Co. in 1901 in the Kintla Lake area that’s now part of Glacier National Park, notes a 2011 article, “Montana’s first oil well was drilled at Kintla Lake in 1901.”
Wellmington Oil was first established as a Delaware corporation February 5, 1926, and appears to have drilled only one well, the Fee No. 1, in Wyoming’s Freemont County. The first Wyoming oil wells had launched the state’s petroleum industry in 1883.
Drilling of a Wellmington Oil exploratory well was intermittent in 1935, reaching a depth of 3,115 feet without finding oil. The company’s charter was revoked in 1955 for failure to pay taxes.
Western Giant Oil Company
Western Giant Oil Company of Deadwood, South Dakota, began drilling an oil well northwest of Edgemont in September 1956, but found uranium. It was only a limited amount of uranium ore and the well was plugged in October never having exceeded 50 feet deep. By July 1957 the Billings (Montana) Gazette reported Western Giant Oil Company was actively drilling for oil about two miles north of Greybull, Wyoming, in the Spence Dome field. The company drilled three wells; the first was completed with initial production of 60 barrels of oil a day. This well was first to find the Amsden Formation pay zone.
However, Western Giant Oil’s next two exploratory wells were dry holes, neither exceeding 600 feet deep. Although the Spence Dome field was nonetheless a prolific producer, it does not appear Western Giant Oil was able to do any more drilling after the two consecutive failures. According to the Robert D. Fisher Manual of Valuable and Worthless Securities, by 1967 all company assets had been sold and the $3 million stock issue “was not worth the paper it was printed on.”
Western Natural Gas Company
There are and have been a number of companies that share the name Western Natural Gas Company. For example, in 1982 a company of the same name emerged from the bankruptcy of the Dowdle Oil Company, Midland, Texas, and established operations in La Jolla, California. It moved to Dallas in 1986 but went bankrupt.
Another Western Natural Gas Company incorporated in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1913. By 1934, this company owned natural gas wells and acquired a franchise to provide the gas to Checotah, Eufaula and Cathay. Western Natural Gas secured its $90,000 debt with a lien on its gas plants, franchises and field lines serving these cities. In 1935, the newly incorporated company established headquarters in Houston and began expanding its holdings in Kansas, Arkansas and other states as an integrated oil company engaged exploration, production, transportation, refining and marketing of petroleum products.
Records show that by 1963 Western Natural Gas directors and two-thirds of common stock holders voted to liquidate the company. Warren Buffett bought 266,000 shares and Sinclair Oil bought Western’s gas properties – but by 1969 the shareholders’ investments were still unresolved. As Western Natural Gas sold its properties, including leases, and went out of business, several court cases followed involving distribution of the company’s assets to debt and contract holders, tax issues, etc.
A new Western Natural Gas incorporation in Delaware followed litigation and in 1994 the company changed its name from Western Natural Gas Company to North American Gaming and Entertainment Corporation doing all its business in Shanghai, China. By 2001 it was a shell company with no substantial assets and no recent operating history and was purchased by Shaanxi Chang Jiang Petroleum Energy Development Joint-stock Company, Ltd.
Western Nebraska Oil Company
With $300 cash and a second-hand truck, Maurice H. (Bud) Robineau of Sidney, Nebraska, began operations as the Western Nebraska Oil Company in 1925 to market gasoline and other petroleum products to consumers in accessible small towns, farms and ranches. His company acquired a refinery in McPherson, Kansas, and built a refinery in Denver, Colorado.
By 1934 Robineau’s Western Nebraska had also purchased a small refinery in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Bay Petroleum Company absorbed Western Nebraska Oil in 1936, making Robineau a partner with financier Charles U. Bay of New York. In 1940 the men dissolved their partnership and formed Frontier Refining Company from its constituent parts, Bay Petroleum and Western Nebraska Oil.
In 1950 Ashland Oil & Refining Company purchased Frontier Refining. After Bud Robineau’s death in 1967, Husky Oil Company of Cody, Wyoming, purchased the Frontier Refining Company. The first Nebraska oil well was completed in 1940.
An oil company led exclusively by women, Woman’s Federal Oil Company of America named Mrs. H.H. Honore Jr. of Chicago president in 1915.
Wolf Butte Oil and Gas Company didn’t leave much of a petroleum exploration footprint after it incorporated in Great Falls, Montana, on July 8, 1929 with capital stock of $100,000.
The company’s timing was terrible, given September 18, 1929, when prices on the New York Stock Exchange abruptly plummeted and continued to do so, beginning the Great Depression. Thousands of companies failed and millions of stocks became worthless in the ensuing months. Wolf Butte Oil & Gas appears to be among the deceased.
Researchers can track the creation and history of Wyoming Chief Oil Refining Company by way of contemporary newspaper accounts online at the Wyoming Newspaper Project, which includes more than 800,000 pages of content. Search “Wyoming Chief Oil” on the website to find an abundance of information that can assist in research.
William Edmund Youle, former Superintendent of the American Oil Company in Oil City, Pennsylvania, came to California in 1877 as a successful oil man. He organized the Wyoming Consolidated Oil Company in Los Angeles on July 8, 1912, with capitalization of $3 million. Assistant U.S. Attorney General W.N. Mills endorsed Youle’s petroleum expertise. “I had rather have his opinion upon untested oil territory as a basis for investment than the opinion of any geologist of my acquaintance,” proclaimed Mills. Wyoming Consolidated Oil Company drilled six miles northwest of Fort Bridger in 1917, but by March 1918, the company’s charter had lapsed. This notwithstanding, in 1920 the company sold 58,000 shares of stock at between 35 cent and 40 cents per share. The company soon disappeared from financial records.
Wyoming Oil & Coal Company
The Wyoming Oil and Coal Company (capitalized at $500,000) filed articles of incorporation in September 1916 “for the purpose of engaging in the oil and coal development of Fremont County.” The new company secured rights to land southeast of Riverton, Wyoming.
By March 16, 1917, the Riverton Review reported the company “finding lots of encouragement in the way of capital, this company having large holdings near the Alkali Butte fields… opportunities come only once I a lifetime and you only have to strike it right once, after that the opportunities will come on their own accord.”
Wyoming Oil and Coal brought in Alfred Steele and W.F. Henning to manage its coal mining and delivery business, including seven coal delivery trucks. Steele became president of the Center Oil Company, which formed in March 1917. In June 1918 Center Oil acquired controlling interests in Wyoming Oil & Coal Company, including “15 quarter sections and the Brown coal mine.”
By May 1920, however, the Cheno Oil Company had acquired all properties and interests of the former Wyoming Oil & Coal Company, including its 2,500 acres in the Alkali Butte. By April 1921 the Brown Oil Corporation had in turn taken over stock control of Cheno Oil Company. Other companies, including the Myrin Oil Company, were involved in the complex maze of lease assignments, joint drilling efforts, mergers and changing ownership that often accompanied petroleum booms. None of these companies survived the Great Depression.
Wyoming Second Standard Oil Company organized as a Colorado corporation and by 1907 had leases on 3,685 acres in a number of producing oilfields, including Big Muddy, Denver Dome, and Lost Soldier in Wyoming, as well as sites in Kansas’ Montgomery, Franklin and Neosho counties.
The August 28, 1917, issue of The Mining American included promotions for Wyoming Second Standard Oil. The ads enticed investors to fund operations with purchases of stock offered at 10 cents per share. Some of the ads proclaimed the company was drilling near proven wells and already had eight oil and two gas wells producing.
“Owing to this showing the price of our stock will advance from 10 cents to 25 cents per share in August,” the company declared. The company continued into December with even more enthusiastic ads: “Announcement is made that Well No. 8 had come in with an estimated flow of 80 barrels. Well No. 9 is expected in at any time.”
Wyoming Second Standard stock fell from four cents per share in May, to two and one-half cents in August, to one cent in December 1917. The next year aparently was just as bad. The Chanute, Kansas Daily Tribune reported on the demise of Wyoming Second Standard Oil Company in a receiver’s sale notification of August 10, 1920, “at the hour of 10 o’clock a.m., of said day, at the west courthouse door, in Erie, in the county and state aforesaid, offer at public sale, and sell to the highest bidder.”
Information here at Old Oil Stocks – in progress “V” will not find lost riches – see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends on donations, simply does not have resources to research of corporate histories.
However, AOGHS continues to look into forum queries as part of its energy education mission. Some investigations have revealed little-known stories like Buffalo Bill’s Shoshone Oil Company,
The Clampitt brothers’ Ventura Oil Development Company in 1910 offered to sell blocks of 1,000 shares of stock at between 10 cents and 15 cents per share. The brothers published a variety of “quick sales” opportunities in newspapers and periodicals. An oil discovery a decade earlier had led to a flurry of drilling near Piru, California, had led to wild predictions of the largest oilfield in the state. (more…)
Welcome to Old Oil Stocks – in progress “U” – but it is unlikely research here will lead to finding lost riches – see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends donations, does not have resources to provide free research of corporate histories.
Henry Harrison Tucker Jr. (1878-1959) is a colorful and litigious character whose petroleum ventures included both the Texas American Syndicate and Uncle Sam Oil Company. He left reams of court transcripts and contemporary media reports either supporting or condemning his operations.
In 1905 Tucker was celebrated by some as an oil patch David taking on the Goliath of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. (more…)
Chances are people seeking financial information here Old Oil Stocks – in progress “T” will not find lost riches (Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock). The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends on donations, does not have resources to provide free research of corporate histories.
Tapo Oil Company was formed in April 27, 1900, with capital of $500,000. President was S.C. Graham and secretary was C.H. McKevett. The company was based in Santa Paula and drilled three shallow dry holes (about 700 feet deep) on Rancho Tapo north of Simi Valley, California, in 1901-1902. California records the wells as abandoned prior to 1913.
Graham was a Pennsylvania-born oilman and had several years of experience with the Hardesty & Steweart Oil Company, which would become Union Oil. Graham and McKevett had also founded the Graham-Loftus Oil Company in 1898 and found success in Orange County, California. One Graham-Loftus well reportedly produced 700 barrels a day. Union Oil was the principle buyer of all the oil.
Graham remained active in the oil business after the failure of Tapo Oil; he served as president of the Grador Oil Company, formed on August 16, 1908, and dissolved in 1922. Graham also served as president of Placentia Oil (formed in 1914) and Gilroy Oil of Los Angeles, which drilled six unsuccessful wells in Santa Clara County. Read about California oil history.
Texas-Bunger Oil and Refining Company
An upstate New York newspaper reported bad news to oil investors on January 21, 1923. “As the result of a rigid investigation by the local police department and a Pinkerton detective concerning the operation of a certain oil stock operator and salesman, William J. Harris, 31, of No. 927 State Street is under arrest at the City Hall awaiting the arrival of an officer from Defiance (Ohio),” the Watertown Standard noted. (more…)
Wellington Oil Company incorporated in Delaware on September 1, 1936, in order to merge the Wellington Oil Company (California) and Santa Clara Oil and Development Company (Texas).
The new company issued 850,000 shares of stock in exchange for the physical assets of the two previous petroleum exploration companies.
John T. O’Neil and C.W. Atkins were named president and vice president respectively; both were experienced and successful independent oil producers. The company’s main office was in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1942 Wellington Oil Company was sold to Seaboard Oil Company with one share of Seaboard exchanged for every four shares of Wellington. Seaboard Oil Company was in turn absorbed by the Texas Company (later Texaco) in 1958.
The Texas Company was most significant company started during the Spindletop oil boom according to one historian.
The company formed soon after the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” when Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan formed the Petroleum Iron Works, building oil storage tanks in the Beaumont area – where he was introduced to Arnold Schlaet.
Both men would later travel rom their offices in Beaumont to another major oilfield at Sour Lake. Cullinan and Schlaet formed the Texas Company on April 7, 1902, by absorbing the Texas Fuel Company and inheriting its office in Beaumont.
Texas Fuel had organized just one year earlier to purchase Spindletop oil, develop storage and transportation networks, and sell the oil to northern refineries.
There’s not much of a chance of discovering financial information here in Old Oil Stocks – in progress “R” that will lead to lost riches – see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society needs support, and does not have resources to provide free research.
In August 1951 the Stephens County district court clerk announced that among other absentee enterprises, Railroad Employees Oil Company was being sued (Case Number 14,886) and ordered to appear in court. “Defendants have been absent from Stephens County and the state of Texas for more than five years,” the suit alleged. “Defendants have not paid any taxes on the mineral interest.”
The many plaintiffs in the case, sought to have a receiver appointed, “for the purpose of selling, executing and delivering an oil and gas lease covering the undivided mineral interest of said Defendants.” The Texas Railroad Commission should have more information on the Railroad Employees Oil Company.
Railroaders’ Oil Company
Railroaders’ Oil Company, Railroaders’ Gas Company, and Railroaders’ Oil & Gas Company all appear to be variants of the same company. In 1920 Railroaders’ Oil was organized in Louisville, Kentucky, capitalized at $2 million. Officers were: T.J. Heaton, president and J.J. O’Malley, both of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Oil exploration operations were soon underway in along the Ohio River in Harrison County, Indiana, with more than 30,000 acres under lease.
By June 1921 Railroaders’ Oil had drilled five successful gas wells and was negotiating to provide natural gas from the Laconia field to New Albany, about 25 miles distant. National Petroleum News reported in 1926 the company – now called Railroaders’ Oil & Gas Company – “has about 50 gas wells in the southern part of the county and are drilling more.”
By 1928 Railroaders’ Oil & Gas had 40 wells in the Laconia field (Tobacco Landing and Dogwood areas) and the New Middleton field. But when Kentucky Pipe Line Company (an auxiliary of Louisville Gas & Electric) declined to buy its daily quota of natural gas for the city of Louisville, litigation ensued. Dry holes, pipeline costs and onset of the Great Depression then forced the company, by now known as Railroaders’ Gas Company, into bankruptcy and receivership. It was absorbed by the Indiana Utility Corporation in 1929.
Ramsey Oil Company
Both Ramsey Oil Company and Pecos Natural Oil Company pursued oil in West Texas, circa 1917 to 1925. Wells were drilled in the vast Permian Basin, in sparsely populated Loving County, 120 miles west of Midland (and about 40 miles from today’s Million Barrel Museum in Monahans). Loving County remains the least populous county in the United States.
Wildcatters James Jackson “J.J.” Wheat Sr. and Bladen F. Ramsey had earlier formed Toyah Bell Oil Company (1920), which became Ramsey Oil. The El Paso Herald reported Pecos Natural Oil’s interest in a Toyah Bell exploratory well in Pecos County. In 1921 Toyah Bell Oil spudded two wells in Loving County. With a showing of oil at their first well, the No. 1 L.B. Russell, and a second well (No. 2 Russell) underway, Toyah Bell Oil changed its name to Ramsey Oil.
Ramsey Oil contracted to sell oil to El Paso’s Rio Grande Oil & Refining Company for three dollars per barrel. The Oil Trade Journal called the Ramsey well, “one of the most promising wildcats anywhere in Texas” and noted that it had “stimulated wildcatting activities throughout the Pecos region.”
Despite its promising beginnings, the No. 1 L.B. Russell well’s casing collapsed in 1922 and the well could not be saved. It was shut down at 4,485 feet and never completed as a producing well. “Because of bad casing and improper drilling, it was abandoned in 1925,” noted the Bureau of Economic Geology.
Bad luck continued in 1923 when the Russell No. 2 well was capped at 705 feet deep without finding oil. Wheat and Ramsey sold out to Pecos Valley Oil Company and Ramsey Oil Company disappeared. In 1925, Pecos Valley Oil drilled a mile south of Ramsey Oil’s abandoned No. 1 L.B. Russell well – and completed Loving County’s first commercial producer, the No. 1 Wheat, opening the Wheat oilfield.
Pecos Valley Oil became part of Sinclair Prairie Oil Company. Production from the Permian Basin’s Wheat oilfield peaked in 1931 at more than 1.2 million barrels of oil. Although Ramsey Oil Company did not survive, the town it helped to create the town of Ramsey, named after oilman Bladen F. Ramsey. Now renamed Mentone, it remains the county seat of Loving County.
Ranger and Burkburnett Oil Company
Henry H. Hoffman was president of the Ranger and Burkburnett Oil Company, capitalized at $500,000. In 1921 he was sued by company stockholders. They soon objected to “the much discussed question of a promoter accepting blocks of stock in exchange for leases” in order to manipulate stock prices.
Shareowners alleged that leases, “costing Hoffman but little, were sold in the company for considerable blocks of stock.” Stockholders sought appointment of a receiver, a verdict of $250,000 in damages against Hoffman, and cancellation of documents that gave him 275,000 shares of Ranger & Burkburnett Oil.
Ranger-Vindicator Oil & Development Company
As North Texas continued to experience a drilling boom, in 1922 the Ranger-Vindicator Oil and Development Company drilled its Thornton No. 1 well to a depth of 3,300 feet in Navarro County. Water intrusion ruined the well, about two miles west of Wortham. It apparently was not followed by any successful attempts. Two years later another company struck a gusher (the Roy Simmons No. 1) revealing an oilfield that produced three million barrels of oil by 1925.
Red Rock Oil & Gas Company
In 1917 Investment Weekly reported Red Rock Oil and Gas Company to be “an excellent purchase for early speculative profits.” The company had incorporated in Oklahoma and issued 150,000 shares of stock (par value $1) in order to develop leases acquired in Neosho County, Kansas (160 acres); the Bixby oilfield, Oklahoma (80 acres); and Tulsa County, Oklahoma (80 acres).
These Mid-Continent field leases were near areas of proven production. Many nearby wells yielded both oil and natural gas. With producing zones ranging from 800 feet deep to 900 feet deep, drilling costs were about $1.25 per foot, according to Investment Weekly. The trade publication predicted the value of Red Rock Oil & Gas stock would sharply advance when the company brought in its first well, noting, “The unusual features of low capitalization, and evident early production are undoubtedly attracting attention to this (stock) issue.”
The Investment Weekly prediction did not pan out. Red Rock Oil and Gas drilled in Colorado and Louisiana as well as Kansas and Oklahoma. It was still a viable company in 1921 – but by then its stock sold on the New York curb market for about 75 cents a share. Investment Weekly’s enthusiasm waned.
“We do not believe that the prospects of Red Rock Oil & Gas Company, even as a speculation are particularly bright at this time,” the editors concluded. In 1922 the company had some modest success in Louisiana’s Webster Parish, but seems to disappear from financial records soon thereafter. A March 1905 oil discovery at Caddo-Pines near Shreveport had brought wildcatters to northern Louisiana. A museum in Oil City today tells the story.
Richey Oil Company
Richey Oil Company, a Montana corporation, formed in January 1952. Its founders may have been inspired by a Shell Oil Company oil discovery six months earlier near Richey, in Dawson County. Shell Oil’s wildcat well produced 1,400 barrels of oil a day from about 7,250 feet deep.
The 1951 Shell Oil discovery well was the first commercial oil found in the Montana portion of the humongous Williston Basin (a portion that produced 868,595 barrels of oil per day in 2015). The petroleum-rich basin had been revealed earlier that year by North Dakota’s first oil well.
The Shell Oil discovery prompted a rush of exploration companies to the county, including Richey Oil, which secured a lease in adjacent Richland County. On May 5, 1952, Richey Oil spudded its Otis Waters No. 1 well. Mr. Waters was the mayor of Richey. On June 25 the Helena, Montana, Independent Record reported bad news.
“The Richey Oil company’s drill stem test at its wildcat well seven miles east of Shell’s original discovery in the Montana part of the Williston basin was ‘a fizzle,’ Secretary-Treasurer John Whiteman of Richey reports,” the newspaper noted. The well had reached a total depth of 7,565 feet before being given up as a dry hole. Plugged and abandoned in accordance with state regulations, the documents close with, “Welded Steel Plate Over Surface Pipe.”
Montana secretary of state records show that Richey Oil Company was “Involuntarily Dissolved,” which usually means a dissolution carried out through a court ruling. Creditors often seek a judicial resolution because of non-payments…or fraudulent activities by the directors.
As newspapers everywhere published stories about the “black gold” found near Beaumont, Texas, Rockefeller Oil Company was chartered on April 23, 1901, capitalized with $200,000.
The Spindletop oilfield soon produced more oil in one day than all the rest of the world’s oilfields combined. In its first year alone, Spindletop produced 3.59 million barrels of oil – climbing to 17.4 million by its second year. Unfortunately for many companies and their investors, the unregulated oil production caused prices to drop from $2 per barrel to less than 25 cents per barrel.
Although Texaco, Gulf, Mobil and Sun oil companies can trace their roots to Spindletop and its nearby oilfields, hundreds lesser funded speculative ventures failed to survive. Oilfield service companies like Beaumont Confederated Oil & Pipeline Company also suffered. On November 30, 1901, United States Investor reported, “The Rockefeller Oil Co. is little known and as it owns no Spindle Top property, we do not think much of it.” On May 6, 1903, Rockefeller Oil Company’s charter do business was revoked by Texas “for nonpayment of franchise taxes.”
Rosson Oil Company
Along the Red River in North Texas, Wichita Falls grew explosively after the opening of the vast Burkburnett oilfield in June 1918. Within three weeks, 56 drilling rigs were at work as close as they could get to the discovery well. Entrepreneurs scrambled to get in on the opportunity.
The “World’s Wonder Oilfield” spawned many new oil companies as Wichita Falls bank deposits grew by 400 percent in 1919. There were nine refineries and 47 factories within the city limits by 1920. Oil companies cultivated investors to get money to drill a producing well before the inevitable exhaustion of the field.
Rosson Oil formed in early 1919 largely funded with investors’ money. By May 1919 its first well in the Burkburnett field (Van Cleave lease) reached 1,800 feet deep without striking oil – a dry hole, which often proved lethal to any under capitalized business. Rosson Oil sold stock to fund drilling and went broke after failing to find oil.
Ruby Hill Oil & Gas Company
Ruby Hill Oil & Gas Company stock was promoted at five cents per share in 1930 and the company drilled near Denver, in 1934. Its No. 1 Braden well in Jefferson County, stalled for a year – then resumed “making hole” in 1935.
The company apparently failed, as its stock certificates are valued only by collectors for their artistic and historic value.
Quick Development Syndicate was incorporated in 1923 in Houston by C.C. Cannon, J.C. Gibson, and others. Initially capitalized at $110,000, by March the company had issued more stock to increase funds to $170,000 for exploring for oil.
Quick Development Syndicate gambled on drilling a wildcat well in Brazoria County, just south of Houston.
Although there was a brief show of oil from its exploration attempt, commercial production was uneconomical and the well abandoned.
In December 1924, the Texas district court in Seguin ruled on a Texas Railroad Commission suit against Quick Development Syndicate for violation of Rule 37.
The rule “requires oil well drillers to secure permission from the commission before sinking a well within the prescribed 150 feet.”
The court issued a permanent injunction against Quick Development Syndicate and imposed a fine. The company disappears from financial records after the ruling.
If you are seeking financial information here at Old Oil Stocks – in progress “S” – you probably will not find lost riches (Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock). The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which depends on donations, does not have resources to research of corporate histories.
Sable Oil & Gas Company reportedly drilled three exploratory wells about one mile from Torrent, Kentucky. It was founded October 25, 1919, with 200,000 shares of stock issued.
The first, begun (spudded) on February 2, 1920, turned out to be a dry hole after reaching a total depth of 1,107 feet. The second well, begun on February 27, 1920, showed oil and proved productive at about 1,200 feet deep after it was “shot.”The third well of June 1, 1920, ended as another dry hole at 1,105 feet deep. The company failed to survive. Kentucky’s Wolfe County clerk’s office may be able to provide further information.
St. Elco Oil & Gas Company
“Development of oil wells within the city limits of St. Louis and in nearby Missouri (is) staked on the belief of oil men that the Dupo, Illinois, petroleum formation extends under the city and northwest into Missouri,” reported the Decatur (Illinois) Herald in October 1929. The Dupo field had proven prolific and led to further exploration efforts to the north of St. Louis. Here, in a bend of the Missouri River, St. Elco Oil & Gas drilled its only recorded well, which reportedly reached a depth 955 feet deep. The town of Florissant was the site of this long-abandoned well, just off of English Saddle Road, according to the United States Geological Survey. (more…)
In Memoriam: Charles W. Cookson, founder of the American Oil & Gas Reporter, who died July 17, 2015, in Wichita, Kansas.
A true leader in petroleum industry journalism, “Cookie” Cookson, founder and publisher emeritus of The American Oil & Gas Reporter, died July 17, 2015, in Wichita, Kansas. He was 92.
Together with his wife Joyce, he founded the award-winning industry trade magazine in 1958. He was inducted into the Butler County History Center and Kansas Oil Museum’s Legacy Gallery in 2010. Deepest condolences to the Charles W. Cookson family from all of us who had the privilege of reporting on the oil patch for him.
Among those who have served on the editorial staff at The American Oil & Gas Reporter with founder Charles W. “Cookie” Cookson (center) are, from left, Bruce Wells, Alex Mills, Bill Campbell and A.D. Koen. Cookson is holding the artist’s proof of a limited edition print, “Donkey in a Kansas Field,” by California artist JoAnn Cowans. It was presented to him by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which honored Cookson with its first Oil History Journalism Award in April 2006.
Wells founded AOGHS in 2003 and continues to serve as its executive director. Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers; Campbell remains with The American Oil & Gas Reporter as managing editor; and Koen is an independent energy writer and communications consultant in Houston. Photo courtesy of The American Oil & Gas Reporter.
People seeking obscure financial information probably will not find any petroleum riches here – see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stockabout a certificate that spawned lengthy litigation with the Coca-Cola Company.
One West Coast newspaper headline told the story. “EASTERN MEN ARE DUPES – Thousands Gained From Investors in a Worthless Oil Scheme in the State of Washington,” proclaimed the Sunday Oregonian on December 10, 1905.
Pacific Land & Oil Company reportedly was floating “vast quantities of oil mining stock upon a susceptible Eastern public” as part of a scheme manipulating federal placer mining laws. The company had been formed by converting fraudulently acquired Jefferson County territory into a “mammoth petroleum oil scheme” and “issuing thousands of shares of stock upon these worthless securities.”
Unsuspecting investors in Milwaukee and Chicago were allegedly fleeced by Stephen A. Douglas Puter, architect of this scam (and many others), who fled Oregon to avoid jail. Puter was captured and returned to serve a two-year sentence in the Multnomah County jail near Portland.
President Theodore Roosevelt pardoned Puter six months early to turn state’s evidence, which he did, implicating several prominent Oregon politicians and federal officials in a number of fraudulent transactions. The conman wrote Looters of the Public Domain – complete with incriminating documents and photographs of his co-conspirators. Puter was a free man by 1908.
Pacific States Oil Company
The Pacific States Oil Company was one of hundreds of petroleum companies that pursued oil unsuccessfully in the state of Washington. The company drilled south of Olympia in Thurston County in 1914. The attempt was widely promoted with ads in the Centralia Daily Chronicle Examiner.
“You can purchase Pacific Oil Company’s stock for 15 cents per share on easy payments. How high it will go, we will not attempt to say,” noted one ad, which added, “You know how oil stock went up in Calgary, from $12 to $200 in one week. There is no reason why ours should not go up proportionately when the well comes in.”
Pacific States Oil partnered with Morgan Oil Company to drill 750 feet deep with their first well, located southwest of Grand Mound, Washington. Despite enthusiastic newspaper advertising campaigns, the company could not raise sufficient drilling funds and folded.
Washington’s first and only commercial oil well didn’t arrive until 1957. The Sunshine Mining Company’s Medina No. 1 well flowed 223 barrels a day from a depth of 4,135 feet near Ocean City. “About 600 gas and oil wells have been drilled in Washington, but large-scale commercial production has never occurred,” reported the Commissioner of Public Lands in 2010.
Pacific States Petroleum Company
Two years after Pacific States Petroleum Company was founded, the Los Angeles Herald reported the company brought in a producing well in Coalinga – where an 1898 gusher flowed at 1,000 barrels a day and launched an early California drilling frenzy (see California Oil & Gas Company).
In Los Angeles, another of the company’s drilling sites was at the corner of today’s Florence Avenue and Pioneer Boulevard, although more details are elusive. California regulators identified one Pacific States Petroleum site in San Pedro as contaminated by industrial pollutants.
California regulators did substantial research in an effort to pursue Pacific States Petroleum – but results have not been found online. It is not unusual to find early companies whose name and origins have been adopted more than once by later ventures for example, another Pacific States Petroleum filed to do business in California in 2002.
Penn Bayless Oil & Gas Company
Penn Bayless Oil & Gas Company incorporated with a Delaware charter on May 26, 1952. Based in historic Titusville, Pennsylvania, home of America’s first commercial oil well, the new exploration company began by offering 10 million shares with a nominal par value of one cent per common share. An additional 2.25 million shares were offered as “proceeds for acquisition and additional work.”
On September 11, 1952, the Franklin (Pennsylvania) News-Herald reported “Penn-Bayless Oil and Gas Co. of Titusville announced yesterday the acquisition of 640 acres of oil leases in Williston Basin, North Dakota.” The newspaper added that a company spokesman said the leases were in Oliver County in the south-central part of the state near Bismarck. It also reported Penn-Bayless Oil & Gas “was formed this summer and has some 1,200 acres.”
North Dakota officials have no record of the company ever drilling a well. After six years of apparent inactivity, on April 1, 1959, Penn-Bayless Oil & Gas was reported to be “no longer in existence having become inoperative and void for non-payment of taxes.” Although the Robert D. Fisher Manual of Valuable and Worthless Securities in 1967 said the company’s charter was to be reinstated, there was no market for the stock and no subsequent operations evident.
Penn Royal Oil Company
The Penn Royal Oil Company drilled in West Virginia’s Doddridge (1921), Ritchie (1922), Wirt (1922) and Wood Counties (1927) with some limited success. Henry Hinds Peevey of Johnstown was president of the company, but few records survive.
Peoples Oil and Production Company
Contemporary advertisements soliciting investment in the Peoples Oil and Production Company are preserved in 1919 copies of the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, “Sentinel” (December 16, 18, and 20). Library access may be available in addition to online pay-as-you-go services. The ads proclaim operations in Texas’ prolific Burkburnett oilfield where new companies and speculators sought their fortune. Very few found it.
Petroleum Consolidation Company
Edwin L. Drake drilled the first American oil well near Titusville, Pennsylvania, in August 1859. His historic discovery prompted a frenzy of investment and speculation in what is still known as the “Oil Region.” In just five years,the region’s production rose from 4,450 barrels of oil to more than 2 million barrels of oil. Hundreds of new companies formed to capitalize on the drilling bonanza.
However, the petroleum marketplace was extremely volatile as increased production drove down prices. As small companies struggled to survive the fierce competition, seven combined in 1865 to form the Petroleum Consolidation Company (McKinley Oil Company, McKinley Oil Company No. 2, Clifton Petroleum Company, Fountain Petroleum Company, Loomis Oil Company, Barry Oil Company and Devon Oil Company).
The Titusville Herald newspaper, which began publishing in June 1865, made note of these small producers, “most of which were good dividend companies, and which at the time of organization were thought to have been made up on small capitals, representing excellent properties, have now consolidated themselves into one company, under the name of Petroleum Consolidation, reducing their capital to $700,000, or nearly two-thirds below their united original capital.”
The newly combined company’s stock sold for 38 cents per share – but fell to 10 cents in only a few months. Petroleum Consolidation lasted two years before losing its charter for failure to pay taxes. The Titusville Herald – still being published today – maintains an archive that could provide more information. Obsolete company stock certificates occasionally sell on Ebay for about $100.
Petroleum Production Company of America
Here’s an oil company that attracted a Chicago socialite and a U.S. chief geographer. It began with a February 25, 1918, announcement that Anna Thurstrup of Chicago and two other Illinois investors had applied to incorporate the Petroleum Production Company of America, capitalized with $500,000, for the purpose of acquiring and developing petroleum properties.
Joining Thurstrup in founding the company was Marion Luce, a Chicago socialite and investor in a number of companies of the era: 1916 – The United Battery Company (capital stock of $3 million); 1917 – Aristo Company of America (manufacturer of wall and interior decorations capitalized at $1 million); 1918 – The Ideal Laboratories Company (manufacturer of “Lura Toilet Preparations” capitalized at $2 million); and in 1921- Utility Battery Company of America, capitalized at $5 million.
Another of the Petroleum Company of America’s founders was Robert Bradford Marshall, who after graduating in 1888 from Columbian University in Washington, D.C. (now George Washington University) joined the United States Geological Survey. He became its chief geographer by 1918. His oil company soon disappeared – a common fate in the speculative and expensive business of finding petroleum.
Phenix Oil & Gas Company
The Phenix Oil & Gas Company incorporated in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on January 29, 1902. The business operated from Cheyenne with nine directors: A. Entwistle; Nicholas Herival (president); George Williams; J.A. Teagarden; C.B. Frantz; J.A. Naylor; E.N. Cook; C.L. Stewart; and J.A. Gillfillan.
During the turbulent year of Phenix Oil & Gas Company’s incorporation, the New York Times reported Wyoming’s oil drilling excitement – and the entrepreneurs who secured leases anywhere near producing fields to improve their chances of drilling a successful well. Most wells ended up as dry holes. It does not appear that Phenix Oil & Gas Company survived.
Philippine Oil Development Company
As is often the case, stock certificates like the Philippine Oil Development Company, which have no value as securities, may have scripophily value to collectors. Andrés Soriano had long before established ANSCOR (A. Soriano Corporation) as a holding company for investments such as Philippine Oil Development Company. The Philippine Oil Development Company’s 1952 annual report reflected continuing losses. For the colorful story about another Phillipines enterprise of the 1950s, see American-Asiatic Oil Corporation.
Phoenix Oil Company
Phoenix Oil Company’s history is in part obscured by the many companies using the same or similar names, but it appears the company began in 1910 as the Omar Oil & Gas Company in West Virginia and then reorganized in Delaware in 1916. Omar Oil & Gas Company’s fortunes diminished over the next decade.
“Announcement is made that stockholders of Omar Oil & Gas Co. can now exchange their shares for shares in the new company the Phoenix Oil Co.,” noted the Pittsburgh Press on March 14, 1928. The newspaper added that Omar stockholders could “exercise the rights under the plan of exchange and subscription.” Such exchanges usually took place at companies in financial trouble; it was likely the result of an oil surplus driving prices and margins down, spelling disaster for under-capitalized ventures. Along with drilling expensive dry holes, price drops and bad luck, another common hazard for exploration companies was litigation.
Phoenix Oil began with the old debts incurred by its predecessor. As court documents later noted, “The slump of 1921 played havoc with the oil industry and prices in that region fell from $3.50 per barrel to $1.50 per barrel and even less.”
Omar Oil & Gas became Phoenix Oil, but was unable to clear a reduced obligation of $200,142.05. The company entered into lengthy but unsuccessful efforts in court to be excused from payment. After a number of appeals, the debt was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Delaware and Phoenix Oil Company disappeared.
Pine Valley Oil Company
About 1920, investors in Burlington, Iowa, financed drilling of four exploratory wells by Pine Valley Oil Company in Webster Parrish, Louisiana, near the town of Cotton Valley. The company had 6,000 acres leased for oil exploration. See First Louisiana Oil Well for more detail on the first and subsequent oil booms that are part of the state’s petroleum history.
Pioneer Oil & Gas Company
Pioneer Oil and Gas Company organized in 1911 in Tulsa with $25,000 capitalization and David M. Hammatt as president. Pioneer Oil & Gas drilled three wells near Muskogee and Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission listed the company in its 1912 annual report, but not thereafter.
Pittsburgh-Youngstown Oil & Gas Company
The Pittsburgh-Youngstown Oil & Gas Company’s July 28, 1920, advertisement in the Lawrence (Kansas) Daily Journal-World proclaimed, “A FEW HUNDRED DOLLARS INVESTED MAY MAKE YOU WORTH THOUSANDS WITHIN THE NEXT FEW DAYS.”
The plan was to drill three wells on a 930 acre lease block, while offering to sell a one-fourth interest in the first well’s production for $50,000. Despite losing drilling equipment in the well that required “fishing” to retrieve, six days later the company found natural gas. The well hit a “4,000,000 cubic foot gasser” five miles northeast of Lawrence (near Six Corners) on the Hemphill farm.
The 1920 well had discovered natural gas at only 735 feet deep – eight feet into the “pay sand” – but the well could not be controlled. Burning natural gas flared from a 15-foot-tall, seven-inch-wide pipe while drillers awaited capping equipment from Independence. “At the present gas rate to consumers, the well is wasting $3,200 a day and will be until it is capped,” noted one observer.
After completing the well, Pittsburgh-Youngstown Oil & Gas filed to incorporate in Delaware on August 5, 1920. With a known natural gas producer, the likelihood of another successful well nearby was improved; the company planned to tie into the Kansas Natural Gas Company pipeline.
Pittsburgh-Youngstown Oil & Gas contracted to drill another well in late September 1921, about 1,200 feet northeast of their natural gas disccovery. But the well was a dry hole at 1,050 feet when “it was pretty definitely determined that the well was off the gas bearing structure. The casing was pulled and the hole was plugged up.”
The company was apparently unable to continue. Kansas state records indicate the Pittsburgh-Youngstown Oil and Gas Company charter was forfeited on December 31, 1924, for failure to file required annual reports.
Plateau Oil & Gas Company
Oil Trade Journal, November 1920, reported a wildcat well drilled by Plateau Oil and Gas Company – the No. 1 Friend well in Section 12 – shut down after drilling 350 feet 20 miles southeast of Ozona in Crockett County.
Plateau Petroleums Limited
In August 1956, Plateau Petroleums Limited was identified with about 150 other companies in a Changing Times Kiplinger Magazine article: “Don’t Be Fooled When You Invest: Here’s a money saver for anyone who likes to speculate in Canadian oil and mining stocks. Don’t buy any of the companies shown here without extra-special investigation. These stocks appear on the ‘Canadian Restricted List’ prepared and released by the SEC which is a list of stocks offered in the U.S. in violation of the Securities Act of 1933. In other words, the sellers have not provided the Securities and Exchange Commission or the public with certain basic information that a prudent investor would insist on having before he bought.”
Pongratz Petroleum Company
If the stock certificate for the Pongratz Petroleum Company names Gus Pongratz as an officer of the company, it is likely the same individual previously associated with the failed California Independent Oil Organization.
On February 24, 1934, California Independent Oil Organization had leased 560 acres in Crow Indian tribal land in Big Horn County, Montana. Pongratz operated the lease until operations ceased in April 1936.
California Department of Conservation (Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources) maps show the Pongratz Petroleum as once having several wells in Los Angeles with Newmark No. 1, Newmark No. 2, Martin No. 1, Dutch No. 1, and the Schelnik No. 1 well marked as “plugged and abandoned.”
Postal Employees Oil & Gas Company
Short-lived 1921 newspaper stock solicitations in New York urged investors to “Get in on the Ground Floor” by purchasing Postal Employees Oil & Gas Company stock, declaring that company owned 135 acres with interests in another 5,200 acres of potentially valuable leases.
One advertisement included annotated maps of Texas to show Postal Employees Oil & Gas Company properties located near famous oilfields like Ranger and Burkburnett as well as the Caddo field in Louisiana. Further inducements to invest noted the Postal Employees Oil & Gas of Texarkana, Texas, was “the only oil company in the world operated and controlled by men in the employment of the U.S. Government. This fact alone is a guarantee of a square deal.”
It does not appear that Postal Employees Oil & Gas was able to raise sufficient funding to drill any wells, but the Texas Railroad Commission may have further research.
Power Petroleum Trust Estate
The Power Petroleum Trust Estate, a creation of Edward H. Power, was sold to the Railroad Employees’ Oil Company of Dallas after an “involuntary petition in bankruptcy” was filed against Power in 1921.
Power Petroleum bonds were exchanged for Railroad Employees’ Oil shares: A face value of $1,000 in Power Petroleum Trust bonds could be exchanged for $666 in Railroad Employees shares. Investment reports noted, “the main difficulty with the Power Petroleum Company was mismanagement. It appears that those connected with the enterprise had very little experience in the oil business.”
There was never any commercial production, but the company’s properties in Texas had value, apparently warranting the Railroad Employees Oil Company gamble that did not pay off.
Powers Manufacturing Company
With the Korean War ongoing in April 1952, the Defense Production Administration approved the newly incorporated (March 31, 1952) Powers Manufacturing Company plan to build a $4.8 million plant in Longview, Texas. The plant was to produce “powdered metal and pipe fitting for use by the petroleum industry.”
Thanks to the East Texas oil boom that began in the 1930s, Longview continued to grow as a hub for oilfield service companies. The industrial park site for the new plant was near the Texas Eastman Company facility and the LeTourneau heavy equipment plant on Highway 149. By 1955, Trailmobile (a subsidiary of Pullman), bought “the huge plant of the Powers Manufacturing Company in Longview…the bid covered all buildings and other real estate formerly owned by Powers Manufacturing Company.”
Prescott-Peoria Oil Company
On March 20, 1920, about 14 miles south of the town of Vernon in Wilbarger County, Texas, the Prescott-Peoria Oil Company’s wildcat oil well blew in with great fanfare. “It gushed for several days and thousands of people flocked to Vernon in a scramble to make investments,” the Wichita Daily Times later noted. “City property soared to almost unheard of values. Lumber yards and stores were opened up overnight. Lease on lands miles from the well brought fabulous prices.”
In anticipation of oil wealth to rival that of nearby Wichita County’s Burkburnett and Electra oilfields, derricks sprang up as quickly as investment capital could be secured. However, Prescott-Peoria Oil’s Sigler No. 1 well proved to be a good but lonely oil producer. As drilling spread, speculators found only one dry hole after another. Prescott-Peoria Oil was one of the casualties.
“The boom collapsed,” reported the Wichita Daily Times. “Oil men folded their maps and slipped away overnight. Investors in acreage and town property found themselves in possession of holdings that were worth but a fraction of their cost.”
Provident Oil & Refining Company
In March 1921, a majority interest in the Provident Oil & Refining Company of Houston was acquired by the Chappell Oil Company of Wyoming. Provident Oil & Refining had been active with a test well in Eastland County, Texas – home of the “Roaring Ranger” well of 1917. The company planned further drilling operations in the Toyah Shallow field and Pecos Valley Territory.
Provident Oil had also searched for oil in central Montana (Cat Creek anticline) and Wyoming’s Salt Creek field. In 1922 the Mutual Oil Company of Denver, Colorado, acquired controlling interest in the Chappell Oil Company and its two wells in Salt Creek producing 6,300 barrels of oil daily.