This Week in Petroleum History, August 3 to August 9

August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt (Not Tar) Pits discovered –

The La Brea, “the tar,” pits were discovered during a 1769 Spanish expedition on the West Coast.

“We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted the expedition’s Franciscan friar in his diary.

petroleum history august 3

Outside the Page Museum of Los Angeles, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured at the Rancho La Brea in Hancock Park. Although called the “tar pits,” the pools are actually asphalt.


July petroleum history

Pools form when crude oil seeps to the surface through fissures in the earth’s crust.

The friar, Juan Crespi, was the first person to use the term “bitumen” in describing these sticky pools in southern California – where crude oil has been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Native Americans used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes.

Although popularly called the tar pits, the pools at Rancho La Brea are actually asphalt – not tar, which is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as peat. Asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules – petroleum. Learn more about California oil seeps in Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits. For a history of the asphalt, see Asphalt Paves the Way.

August 3, 1942 – War brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines

petroleum history august

The longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken led to construction of a 24-inch pipeline from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line as far as New York City.

War Emergency Pipelines Inc. began construction on the “Big Inch” line – the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken in the United States.

Conceived to supply wartime fuel demands – and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” lines were extolled as “The most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.”

With a goal of transporting 300,000 barrels of oil per day, the $95 million project called for construction of a 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line (Little Big Inch) as far as New York and Philadelphia – more than 1,200 miles (the Trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long). Learn more in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.

August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”

petroleum history august

The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts annual oil history events.

The Crystal Oil Company completed its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The well revealed the giant Healdton field, which became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and low cost of drilling. The area attracted many independent producers with limited financial backing.

Another major discovery in 1919 revealed the Hewitt field, which extended oil production in a 22 mile swath across Carter County. The Greater Healdton-Hewitt oilfield produced “an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” noted historian Kenny Franks. In 1929, Wirt Franklin became the first president of the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Erle Halliburton perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.

August 4, 1977 – President Carter creates DOE

President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Energy Organization Act, which established the twelfth cabinet-level department by consolidating a dozen agencies and energy-related programs of the federal government. The new department combined the Federal Energy Administration and Energy Research and Development Administration; it also became responsible for nuclear weapon programs.  James Schlesinger was sworn in as first Secretary of Energy the next day.

August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip

Alley Oop oil roots
A 1995 stamp commemorated “Alley Oop” by Victor Hamlin, who worked in the Yates oilfield.

Although the comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared in August 1933, the cartoon caveman began with a 1926 oilfield discovery in the Permian Basin. A small West Texas oil town would later proclaim itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin.

Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) first appeared as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combined names of the town-site owners, Ira and Ann Yates. As drilling in the Permian Basin boomed, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company there. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology that soon led to his popular comic strip. Learn more in Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.

August 7, 1953 – Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act generates Revenue

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act gave the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for the administration of mineral exploration and development of the outer continental shelf.  Forty-four Gulf of Mexico wells were operating in 11  oilfields in 1949, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. As the offshore industry evolved in the 1950s, oil production became the second-largest revenue generator for the country, after income taxes.

August 7, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter

petroleum history august
Firefighter Paul “Red” Adair in 1964. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

Famed oilfield well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair died at age 89 in Houston. The son of a blacksmith, Adair was born in 1915 in Houston. He served with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II.

Adair began his career working for Myron Macy Kinley, who patented a technology for using charges of high explosives to snuff out well fires. Kinley, whose father had been an oil well shooter in California in the early 1900s, also mentored “Boots” Hansen and “Coots” Mathews (Boots & Coots), and other firefighters.

Adair, who founded the Red Adair Company in 1959, developed many new techniques for “wild well” control. Over the years his company put out more than 2,000 dangerous well fires and blowouts – onshore and offshore, all over the world. The oilfield firefighter’s skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film “Hellfighters,” were tested in 1991 when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.

August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography breakthrough

petroleum history August 4
A sign and granite marker on I-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, commemorates the historic August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology.
petroleum history august

Thanks to pioneering research led by John C. Karcher, an Oklahoma geophysicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section was measured in 1921 in Murray County.

“Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society, adding that the technology would be responsible for the discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields.

Ideal for petroleum exploration, the new geophysical method recorded reflected seismic waves as they traveled through the earth, helping to define oil-bearing formations. “The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains a marker on an I-35.

This first geological section measurement followed limited testing in June 1921 in the outskirts of Oklahoma City and verification tests in July. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oilfield of Luling, Texas

petroleum history August 4 - August 10
In central Texas, the Luling Oil Museum is a restored 1885 mercantile store near an oilfield a renowned psychic supposedly helped locate in 1922.

After drilling six dry holes near Luling, Texas, the United North & South Oil Company completed its Rafael Rios No. 1 well. Company President Edgar B. Davis had been determined to find oil in the Austin chalk formation. His discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. By 1924, the Luling field was annually producing 11 million barrels of oil. Some would proclaimed Davis had found the oil after consulting  a psychic. The unusual oil patch reading came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.

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Davis later sold his Luling leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Cayce claimed success helping other wildcatters — but left the oil business for good after forming his own company…and drilling dry holes. Learn more by visiting the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum in Luling.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

This Week in Petroleum History, July 27 – August 2

July 27, 1918 – Standard Oil of New York launches Concrete Oil Tanker –

The Socony, America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, launched from its shipyard at Flushing Bay, New York.

Standard Oil of New York concrete oil tanker

Socony, the first concrete oil tanker, launched in 1918. Below, a second version of the oil barge.

Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the barge was 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam and carried oil in six center and two wing compartments, “oil-proofed by a special process,” according to the journal Cement and Engineering News.

“Eight-inch cast iron pipe lines lead to each compartment and the oil pump is located on a concrete pump room aft,” the journal explained. Steel shortages during World War II would lead to the construction of larger reinforced concrete oil tankers. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, July 20 – July 26

July 20, 1920 – Texas Company discovers Permian Basin Oilfield –

The Permian Basin made headlines in 1920 when a West Texas wildcat well found oil at a depth of 2,750 feet on land owned by William Abrams, an official of the Texas & Pacific Railway.

Drilled and “shot” with nitroglycerin by the Texas Company (later Texaco), the W.H. Abrams No. 1 well revealed the West Columbia field, which proved to be part of the Permian Basin, which covers 75,000 square miles in 43 counties of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico).

Map of Permian Basin in West Texas.

The Permian Basin would become the leading source of U.S. oil. Image courtesy Rigzone.

“As a crowd of 2,000 people looked on, a great eruption of oil, gas, water and smoke shot from the mouth of the well almost to the top of the derrick,” notes a Texas State Historical Marker.

“Locally, land that sold for 10 cents an acre in 1840 and $5 an acre in 1888 now brought $96,000 an acre for mineral rights, irrespective of surface values…the flow of oil money led to better schools, roads and general social conditions.”

Another West Texas discovery well in 1923 near Big Lake brought an even greater drilling boom that helped establish the University of Texas (see Santa Rita taps Permian Basin)

July 21, 1935 – “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy strikes Oil

 petroleum history july 20

Glenn McCarthy appeared on TIME magazine in 1950.

Glenn H. McCarthy struck oil 50 miles east of Houston in 1935, extending the already prolific Anahuac field. The well was the first of many for the Texas independent producer who would build Houston’s famed Shamrock Hotel a decade later. By 1945, McCarthy had discovered 11 Texas oilfields. He became known as another “King of the Wildcatters” and “Diamond Glenn” by 1950, when his estimated worth reached $200 million ($2 billion today).

In addition to his McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, McCarthy eventually would own a gas company, a chemical company, a radio station, 14 newspapers, a magazine, two banks, and the Shell Building in Houston.

In 1946 McCarthy invested $21 million to build the Shamrock Hotel on the edge of Houston. He reportedly spent  $1 million on the hotel’s 1949 opening-day gala, which newspapers dubbed, “Houston’s biggest party.”

Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.



July 22, 1933 – Phillips Petroleum sponsors Solo Flight around the World

Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, Wiley Post made aviation history when he landed his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae.” The former Oklahoma roughneck was the first person to fly solo around the world. Post had worked in oilfields near Walters, Oklahoma, when he took his first airplane ride with a barnstormer in 1919. Taking a break from oilfield work in the 1920s, he joined “Burrell Tibbs Flying Circus” as a parachute jumper before learning to fly.

Wiley Post, former oil worker, set flying records with this plane

Thanks to a friendship with Frank Phillips, Wiley Post set altitude records — and was the first man to fly solo around the world.

In 1926, Post returned to work in the oilfields, “where he was injured the first day on the job, losing the sight in his left eye,” noted a biographer, adding that Post’s injury happened while working at a well site near Seminole.

When a metal splinter damaged his eye, Post used the $1,700 in compensation to buy his first airplane. He became friends with Frank Phillips, who sponsored Post’s high-altitude experimental flights. Phillips Petroleum Company, which produced aviation fuel before it produced gasoline for cars, also sponsored another historic plane – the “Woolaroc” – in an air race across the Pacific.

Learn more in Flight of the Woolaroc.

July 22, 1959 – Historical Marker erected to Second U.S. Oil Well

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a state marker to commemorate a well drilled shortly after Edwin Drake completed first U.S. commercial well on August 27, 1859.

PA Marker for second oil well

On August 31, 22-year-old John Grandin and a local blacksmith began drilling a well that would reach almost twice as deep as Drake’s cable-tool depth of 69.5 feet. But the Warren County well was a dry hole. “After Drake’s discovery of oil in Titusville some area residents attempted to sink their own well,” notes Explore Pennsylvania. “The vast majority of such efforts failed.”

Learn how Grandin’s well achieved other historic industry milestones in First Dry Hole.

July 23, 1872 – “Real McCoy” Device drips Oil into Steam Engines

Patent for the Real McCoy of 1872Using petroleum for improving the performance of locomotives became widespread when Elijah McCoy patented an automatic lubricator for steam engines. McCoy, an African-American inventor, designed a device that applied oil through a drip cup to locomotive and ship steam engines.

Born in Canada in 1843, McCoy was the son of slaves who had escaped from Kentucky and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he graduated from high school. By the time of his death in 1929, McCoy had been awarded 60 patents, notes a Michigan historical marker dedicated in 1994.

Some industry sources maintain that McCoy’s 1872 invention left an additional legacy: “The term ‘the real McCoy’ is believed to have come about because railroad engineers did not want low-quality copycat versions of this device.” Before purchasing, buyers would ask if it was “the real McCoy.”

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July 23, 1951 – Desk & Derrick Clubs organize

The Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs of North America was formed with articles of association signed by presidents of the clubs of New Orleans, Jackson, Los Angeles, and Houston. There now are 42 clubs throughout the United States and Canada. Learn more in Desk and Derrick Educators.



July 24, 2000 – BP unveils New Green and Yellow Logo

BP the official name of a group of companies that included Amoco, ARCO and Castrol, unveiled a new corporate identity brand – replacing the “Green Shield” logo with a green and yellow sunflower pattern.

The company also introduced a new corporate slogan: “Beyond Petroleum.” In 1998, when BP – then British Petroleum – merged with Amoco, the company’s name had briefly changed to BP Amoco as Amoco stations converted to the BP brand.

July 25, 1543 – Oil reported in New World

Sailing vessel known as a brigThe first documented report of oil in the New World resulted when a storm forced Spanish explorer Don Luis de Moscoso to land two of his brigantines at the mouth of the Sabine River. He had succeeded expedition leader Hernando de Soto and built seven of the small vessels to sail down the newly discovered Mississippi River and westward along the Gulf Coast.

According an account of the expedition, Indians knew of the future Texas’ natural seeps. “There was found a skumme, which they call Copee, which the Sea casteth up, and it is like Pitch, wherewith in some places, where Pitch is wanting, they pitch their ships; there they pitched their Brigandines.”

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

This Week in Petroleum History, July 13 to July 19

July 14, 1863 – Patent issued for “Tool for Boring Rock” – 

French tunnel engineer Rodolphe Leschot received a U.S. patent for his “Tool for Boring Rock.” His concept included a ring of industrial-grade diamonds on the end of a tubular drill rod designed to cut a cylindrical core. Water pumped through the drill rod washed away cuttings and cooled the bit. Leschot’s system proved successful in drilling blast holes for tunneling Mount Cenis on the France-Italy border.

By 1865, the use of diamond bits in oil well drilling was being examined in the petroleum regions of western Pennsylvania. “It is not known if there is any connection between the 1865 experimental diamond core drilling in the Pennsylvania oil region and the Leschot blast hole drilling in France in 1863,” noted historian Sam Pees in 2004. Learn more about Making Hole – Drilling Technology and visit Pennsylvania’s Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

July 14, 1891 – Rockefeller expands Oil Tank Car Empire – 

Oil tanks cars of Standard Oil

By 1904, Standard Oil’s tank car fleet had grown to 10,000.

John D. Rockefeller incorporated Union Tank Line Company in New Jersey and transferred his fleet of several thousand oil tank cars to the Standard Oil Trust. He then systematically acquired control of all but 200 of America’s 3,200 existing oil tank cars. By 1904, his rolling fleet of tank cars had grown to 10,000.

Union Tank Line Company shipped only Standard Oil products until 1911, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated dissolution of his trust. The newly independent company changed its name to Union Tank Car Company (its official rolling stock reporting mark retained Standard’s UTL or UTLX). In 1963, the company introduced a 50,000-gallon tank car, the largest in rail service. Learn more about the early days of transporting petroleum in Densmore Oil Tank Car.

July 16, 1926 – Oil Discovery launches Greater Seminole Area Boom – 

Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole, Oklahoma

Now  closed, the Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole educated visitors about the area’s historic oilfields, including Earlsboro, St. Louis, Bowlegs, Little River, and Allen. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Three years after an oil well was completed near Bowlegs, Oklahoma, a gusher south of Seminole revealed the true oil potential of Seminole County. The Fixico No. 1 well penetrated the prolific Wilcox Sands formation at 4,073 feet deep.



The well, drilled by the R.F. Garland and his Independent Oil Company, was among more than 50 Greater Seminole Area oil reservoirs discovered; six were giants that produced more than one million barrels of oil each. With the addition of the giant Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in 1928, by 1935 Oklahoma would become the largest supplier of oil in the world. Learn more in Great Seminole Oil Boom.

July 16, 1935 – Oklahoma Publisher produces First Parking Meter – 

Carl Magee, designer of the Park-O-Meter

Oklahoma college students helped Carl Magee design the Park-O-Meter No. 1. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

As the booming Oklahoma City oilfield added to the congestion of cars downtown, the world’s first parking meter was installed at the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue. Carl C. Magee, publisher of the Oklahoma News, designed the Park-O-Meter No. 1. “The meter charged five cents for one hour of parking, and naturally citizens hated it, viewing it as a tax for owning a car,” notes historian Josh Miller. “But retailers loved the meter, as it encouraged a quick turnover of customers.”

Magee designed the Park-O-Meter No. 1, today preserved by the Oklahoma Historical Society. It was manufactured by MacNick Company of Tulsa, a maker of timing devices used to explode nitroglycerin in oil wells (also see Zebco Reel Oilfield History). By 1940, there were 140,000 parking meters operating in the United States.

July 16, 1969 – Kerosene fuels launch of Saturn V Moon Rocket – 

Saturn V launches burning "rocket grade" kerosene.

Powered by five first-stage engines fueled by “rocket grade” kerosene, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever built. Photos courtesy Nasa.

A 19th century petroleum product made America’s 1969 moon landing possible. Kerosene powered the first-stage rocket engines of the Saturn V when it launched the Apollo 11 mission on July 16. Four days later, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

During launch, five engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burned “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust. The fuel was a highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1) that could trace its roots to the 1840s and “coal oil” for lamps.



Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner began refining the fuel from coal in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax). RP-1 today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas, SpaceX, and other rockets. Learn more in Kerosene Rocket Fuel.

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July 19, 1957 – Major Oil Discovery in Alaska Territory – 

Anchorage Daily Times headline "Richfield Hits Oil"

Even the Anchorage Daily Times could not predict oil production would account for more than 90 percent of Alaska’s revenue.

Although some oil production had occurred earlier in the territory, Alaska’s first commercial oilfield was discovered by Richfield Oil, which completed the Swanson River Unit No. 1 in Cook Inlet Basin. The well yielded 900 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 11,215 feet.

Alaska’s first governor, William Egan, would proclaim the 1957 discovery provided “the economic justification for statehood for Alaska” two years later. Richfield leased more than 71,000 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now part of the 1.92 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. More Alaska discoveries followed. By June 1962, about 50 wells were producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil a day. Atlantic Richfield evolved into today’s ARCO.

Learn about the earliest exploration wells in the 49th state in First Alaska Oil Wells.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

This Week in Petroleum History, July 6 to July 12

July 6, 1988 – Piper Alpha North Sea Tragedy –

An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea resulted in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the most deadly offshore disaster of the petroleum industry.

At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. “The initial explosion was caused by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve,” according to safety consultant Gary Karasek. New platform designs, operations engineering, evacuation technologies, and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry of the tragedy. “It was a ground-breaking effort, with numerous detailed findings and 106 recommendations, which were readily accepted by industry.” (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History – June 29 to July 5

June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted –

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, became law.

Passed at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways,” and authorized spending $25 billion through 1969 for construction of about 41,000 miles of interstates.

map of US interstate system

The U.S. interstate system had a total length of 48,191 miles by 2016. Federal regulations initially banned collecting tolls, but some interstate routes today include toll roads.

“Of all his domestic programs, Eisenhower’s favorite by far was the Interstate System,” noted biographer Stephen Ambrose, author of Eisenhower: Soldier and President. One of the reasons the president had urged passage was the need for evacuating major cities during a nuclear attack.

June 30, 1864 – First Oil Tax funds Civil War –

One Dollar bill circa Civil War

Seeking ways to pay for the Civil War, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, featured prominently on the $1 “greenback,” advocated an oil tax.

The federal government taxed oil for the first time when it levied a $1 per barrel tax on production from Pennsylvania oilfields. Desperate for revenue to fund the Civil War as early as 1862, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase advocated a $6.30 tax per barrel of oil and $10.50 per barrel on refined products. Angry oil producers rallied against the tax in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and sent delegates to Washington, D.C., where they negotiated a tax of $1 per 42-gallon barrel of oil.

July 1, 1919 – Leading Independent Producers join Mid-Continent Association –

Alf Landon in front of his oil well

Alf Landon served as Kansas governor and was the 1936 Republican presidential candidate.

The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (today’s U.S. Oil & Gas Association) established its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa.



Mid-Continent members were a “who’s who” of top independent producers:  Frank Phillips of Phillips Petroleum; E.W. Marland, whose company became Conoco; W.G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil; H.H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil; and Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential candidate. Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company was president of the Mid-Continent Division from 1935 through 1941.

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