Oil discovery in Neodesha

Students visit the Norman No. 1 Well Museum in Neodesha, Kansas, to learn about the November 28, 1892, gusher — and about their state’s modern petroleum industry. Oil or natural gas is produced in 89 of 105 counties.

After 22 days of drilling near Neodesha, Kansas, the Norman No. 1 well comes in.

This November 28, 1892, oil discovery is considered by many Kansans to be America’s first significant oil well west of the Mississippi River. Colorado historians site their state’s Florence oilfield, discovered a decade earlier.

Both oilfields were among the earliest in the western United States – although rivaled by the April 1892 discovery of the Los Angeles City field near present-day Dodger Stadium – and eclipsed in 1901 by the “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas.

Mighty Mid-Continent

Beginning with a production of just four barrels of oil a day, from 832 feet deep, the Kansas discovery well was the first to uncover the vast Mid-Continent petroleum region, which includes oil and natural gas fields extending into Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

Norman No. 1 was the state’s first to produce commercial quantities of oil; it was soon joined by others to meet demand for refining oil into kerosene for lamps – and soon, gasoline. The very first Kansas oil well was drilled in Miami County as early as 1860.

Oil discovery in Neodesha

Oil flowing from the Kansas well “signaled the beginning of production from the immense Mid-Continent field.”

The 1892 oil gusher at Neodesha ushered in a new era for the small town and the entire state.

By 1904, Kansas was producing four million barrels of crude oil per year and, in 1925, ranked fifth among the states in oil production,” notes the Kansas Historical Society.

“William Mills arrived in Neodesha in 1892 and after examining several sites in the area, selected a garden plot belonging to T. J. Norman, a local blacksmith,” adds another historian. “On November 28, 1892, at just 832 feet, the steel bit chopped its way to find oil and the Norman No. 1 Oil Well.”

Mills immediately plugged the well and traveled east to show a sample to the experienced oilmen of Pennsylvania.

“It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard, making the area the richest bed of prehistoric decay,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum.

The Neodesha discovery attracts the attention of men willing to risk large amounts of money on Kansas as a source of oil, the museum notes.

“The first of these were John W. Galey and James Guffey of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These veteran oilmen, with their talent for developing petroleum resources on a large scale, put southeastern Kansas on the road to success.”

Oil discovery in Neodesha

A rare photograph shows a Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas. Built in 1897, it refined 500 barrels of oil per day – the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. From “Kansas Memory” collection of the Kansas Historical Society.

Today, the Norman No. 1 well site – added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on August 28, 1974, and designated a U.S. National Landmark on December 22, 1977 – is at the northeast corner of Mill and First streets in Neodesha.

“A museum has been built in a city park surrounding the site – a fitting recognition of Norman No. 1’s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history,” concludes the Kansas Historical Society.

The Norman No. 1 Museum and RV Park offers indoor and outdoor exhibits that include a replica of the original wooden cable-tool derrick.

Learn about another (far larger) Mid-Continent field discovered using earth science in Kansas Oil Boom.


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