Established in 1932, the Lane-Wells oilfield service company created powerful perforating guns. 


Fifteen years after its first oil well perforation job, Lane-Wells Company returned to the same well near Montebello, California, to perform its 100,000th perforation. The publicity event of June 18, 1948, was a return to Union Oil Company’s La Merced No. 17 well.

 The gathering of executives at the historic well celebrated a significant leap in petroleum production technology. The combined inventiveness of the two oilfield service companies had accomplished much in a short time, “so it was a colorful ceremony,” reported a trade magazine.

Officials from both companies and invited guests gathered to witness the repeat performance of the company’s early perforating technology, noted Petroleum Engineer in its July 1948 issue. Among them were “several well-known oilmen who had also been present on the first occasion.”

Magazine article about historic Lane-Wells 100,000the oil well perforation.

As production technologies evolved after World War II, Lane-Wells developed a downhole gun with the explosive energy to cut through casing. Above, one of the articles preserved in a family scrapbook, courtesy Connie Jones Pillsbury, Atascadero, California.

Walter Wells, chairman of the board for Lane-Wells, was present for both events. The article reported he was more anxious at the first, which had been an experiment to test his company’s new perforating gun. In 1930, Wells and another enterprising oilfield tool salesman, Bill Lane, came up with a practical  way of using guns downhole. 

The two men envisioned a tool which would shoot steel bullets through casing and into the formation. They would create a multiple-shot perforator that fired bullets individually by electrical detonation. After many test firings, commercial success came at the Union Oil Company La Merced well.

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By late 1935, Lane-Wells had established a fleet of trucks as the company grew into a provider of well-perforations — a key oilfield service for enhancing production (see Downhole Bazooka).

“Bill Lane and Walt Wells worked long hours at a time, establishing their perforating gun business,” explained Susan Wells in a 2007 book. The men designed tools that would better help the oil industry during the Great Depression, she noted. “It was a period of high drilling costs, and the demand for oil was on the rise. Making this scenario worse was the fact that the cost of oil was relatively low.”

What was needed was a high-powered gun for breaking through casing, cement and into formations. An oilfield worker, Sidney Mims, had patented a similar technical tool for this purpose, but could not get it to work as well as it could. Lane and Wells purchased the patent and refined the gun.

Book cover featuring 75th anniversary of Baker Atlas oil well service company.

Lane-Wells became Baker Atlas, which celebrated its 75 anniversary in 2007, and today is a division of Baker-Hughes

Established in Los Angeles in 1932, the oilfield service company developed a remotely controlled 128-shot gun perforator. “Lane and Wells publicly used the reengineered shotgun perforator they bought from Mims on Union Oil’s oil well La Merced No. 17,” Susan Wells noted in her 2007 book celebrating the 75th anniversary of Baker-Atlas.

“There wasn’t any production from this oil well until the shotgun perforator was used, but when used, the well produced more oil than ever before,” she explained.

Lane-Wells woould become a major oilfield provider of perforating services using downhole “bullet guns,” seen here in 1940.

Lane-Wells provided perforating services using downhole “bullet guns,” seen here in 1940.

The successful application attracted many other oil companies to Lane-Wells, which decided to conduct its 100,000th perforation almost 16 years later at the very same California oil well. The continued success led to new partnerships beginning in the 1950s.

A Lane-Wells merger with Dresser Industries was finalized in March 1956, and another corporate merger arrived in 1968 with Pan Geo Atlas Corporation, forming the service industry giant Dresser Atlas.

A 1987 joint venture with Litton Industries led to Western Atlas International, which became an independent company before becoming a division of Baker-Hughes in 1998 (Baker Atlas) providing well logging and perforating services. Dresser merged with Halliburton the same year.

Preserving Oil History

Connie Jones Pillsbury of Atascadero, California, and the family of Walter T. Wells wanted to preserve rare Lane-Wells artifacts. She contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society for help finding a home for their original commemorative album, press-clippings and guest book from the June 18, 1948, “Lane-Wells 100,000th Gun Perforating Job” event of at Montebello, California, site of  a Union Oil Company La Merced No. 17 well.

Pillsbury and the children of Dale G. Jones, the grandson of Walter T. Wells, contacted petroleum museums, libraries and archives (also see Oil & Gas Families).

Pillsbury accomplished her quest to preserve the petroleum history album of Walter T. Wells. Later, she emailed AOGHS that the material became “safely archived at the USC Libraries Special Collections. Sue Luftschein is the Librarian. It’s on Online Archive of California (OAC).”

Details about the Lane-Wells collection — Gift of Connie Pillsbury, October 27, 2017 — can be accessed via the OAC website. 

Title: Lane-Wells Company records
Creators: Wells, Walter T. and Lane-Wells Company
Identifier/Call Number: 7055
Physical Description: 1.5 Linear Feet 1 box
Date (inclusive): 1939-1954

The archive abstract also notes: “This small collection consists of a commemorative album celebrating the 100,000th Gun Perforating Job by the Lane-Wells Company of Los Angeles on June 18, 1948 and additional printed ephemera, 1939-1954, created and collected by Walter T. Wells, co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Lane-Wells Company.”

Pillsbury had sought a museum or archive home for her rare oil patch artifact, which came from an event attended by many from the Los Angeles oil industry.

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“The professionally-prepared book has all of the attendees signatures, photographs and articles on the event from TIME, The Oil and Gas Journal, Fortnight, Oil Reporter, Drilling, The Petroleum Engineer, Oil, Petroleum World, California Oil World, Lane-Wells Magazine, the L.A. Examiner, L.A. Daily News and L.A. Times, etc.,” Pillsbury noted in 2017.

The book, now preserved at USC, “was given to my first husband, Dale G. Jones, Ph.D., grandson of Walter T. Wells, one of the founders of Lane-Wells,” she added. “His children asked me to help find a suitable home for this book. I found you (the AOGHS website) through googling ‘History of Lane-Wells Company.’”


Recommended Reading:  75 Years Young…BAKER-ATLAS The Future has Never Looked Brighter (2007); Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields (1990). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: March 31, 2024. Original Published Date: June 30, 2017.

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