George Bissell’s Oil Seeps

Businessman founded first U.S. oil exploration company, launched new industry.


The stage was set in 1854 for the start of America’s petroleum industry when a lumber company sold 105 acres along a creek with oil seeps.

oil seeps oil map of Vanago County PA

Kerosene for lamps will replace the medicinal “Seneca Oil” product from an historic Pennsylvania oil seep.

On November 10, 1854, the lumber firm Brewer, Watson & Company sold a parcel of land at the junction of the east and west branches of Oil Creek southeast of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The buyers were George Bissell and Jonathan Eveleth.

Earlier, Joel Angier (a future mayor of Titusville) had collected and sold medicinal “Seneca Oil” from an oil seep on acreage near the company’s sawmill.

Kerosene Lamp Fuel

Bissell and his partners strongly believed oil could be used to produce kerosene for lamps (a safer fuel than the popular but volatile camphene).

If inexpensive to produce, oil refined into kerosene could compete with kerosene popularly known as coal oil. Bissell hired a scientist friend – a professor at Yale – to conduct early experiments. (more…)

California Oil Seeps and Santa Barbara

Examining the 1969 California offshore oil spill disaster and natural seeps producing oil for thousands of years.


A 1969 oil spill from a California offshore platform transformed the public’s view of the American petroleum industry and helped launch the modern environmental movement and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Natural California seeps leak thousands of tons of petroleum every day – and have for several hundred thousand years.

California oil seeps USGS geological oil seeps map

California’s major petroleum fields are included in this 2010 U.S. Geological Survey map.

On January 28, 1969,  after drilling 3,500 feet below the ocean floor, a Union Oil Company drilling platform six miles off Santa Barbara, suffered a blowout.

Between 80,000 barrels and 100,000 barrels of oil flowed into the Pacific Ocean and onto beaches, including Summerland – where the U.S. offshore industry began in 1896 with wells drilled from piers.

Problems at the Union Oil platform began when roughnecks began to retrieve the pipe in order to replace a drill bit and pressure became dangerously low,  according to a report by the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, January 20 to January 26

January 20, 1886 – Great Karg Well erupts Natural Gas at Findlay, Ohio

The spectacular natural gas well – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio – erupted with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet a day. The well’s gas pressure was so great that it could not be controlled by the technology of the day.

The flow of natural gas ignited into a towering flame that burned for four months – becoming a popular Ohio tourist attraction. Eight years earlier, a gas well in neighboring Pennsylvania had made similar headlines (see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh).

 petroleum history January Great Karg Well historic marker

A plaque dedicated in 1937 in Findlay, Ohio, commemorated the state’s giant natural gas discovery of 1886.

Although Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay in 1884 by Findlay Natural Gas Company, the Karg well launched the state’s first major natural gas boom and brought many new industries.

Glass companies especially were “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” according to a commemorative marker at the Richardson Glass Works in Findlay. “They included eight window, two bottle, two chimney lamp, one light bulb, one novelty, and five tableware glass factories.”

By 1887, Findlay became known as the “City of Light,” adds another historical marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company, which changed its name to Marathon Oil In 1962. The Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay includes Great Karg Well exhibits and is less than two miles from the site of the famous well. Read about other early natural gas discoveries in Indiana Natural Gas Boom

January 21, 1865 – First Roberts Torpedo detonated

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts detonated eight pounds of black powder 465 feet deep in a well south of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The “shooting” of the well increased daily production from a few barrels of oil to more than 40 barrels, according to Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine. The Titusville Morning Herald in 1866 reported, “Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo. The results have in many cases been astonishing.” Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History. (more…)

Signal Hill Oil Boom

Derricks were so close to one cemetery that graves “generated royalty checks to next-of-kin when oil was drawn from beneath family plots.”


In the summer of 1921, the Signal Hill oil discovery would help make California the source of one-quarter of the world’s entire oil output. Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s Long Beach oilfield south of Los Angeles was producing almost 260,000 barrels of oil every day by 1923.

signal hill oil

Signal Hill, a growing residential area prior to the 1921 discovery of the Long Beach oilfield, would have so many derricks people would call it Porcupine Hill. “Today you can see wonderful commemorative art displays of this era throughout the lush parks and walkways of Signal Hill,” notes a local newspaper.

signal hill oil

At 2300 Skyline Drive atop Signal Hill, California, two bronze roughnecks commemorate the men who brought petroleum wealth to the state following a 1921 oilfield discovery.

signal hill oil

“Tribute to the Roughnecks” by Cindy Jackson stands atop Signal Hill. Long Beach is in the distance.

signal hill oil

Signal Hill circa 1930 – at the corner of 1st Street and Belmont Street. Photo courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

The Alamitos No. 1 well erupted “black gold” in June 1921, announcing discovery of California’s prolific Long Beach field.

The natural gas pressure is so great the oil gusher climbed 114 feet into the air. The well produced almost 600 barrels a day when completed on June 25. It will eventually produce 700,000 barrels. Signal Hill incorporated three years after the Alamitos discovery well. (more…)

Conejo Hills Oil Company


Twelve miles inland of the Pacific Ocean in the Conejo Valley, Thousand Oaks, California, has more than 125,000 residents, "nestled neatly within a picturesque plateau, rimmed by scenic hills, mountains and trees," notes a local realtor.

Twelve miles inland of the Pacific Ocean in the Conejo Valley, Thousand Oaks, California, has more than 125,000 residents “nestled neatly within a picturesque plateau, rimmed by scenic hills, mountains and trees,” notes a local realtor.

Conejo Hills Oil Company’s history is the story of a single California well, spudded by one company and drilled for years by many others in what today is a residential neighborhood of Thousand Oaks, one the wealthiest cities in America.

This lush valley region – about 35 miles from Los Angeles on the stagecoach route to Santa Barbara – was part of the Karn Pederson Ranch near Rancho El Conejo. (more…)