This Week in Petroleum History, September 18 to September 24

September 18, 1855 – First U.S. Oil Company reorganizes – 

In need of more capital, George Bissell and partner Jonathan Eveleth reorganized their New York-based Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company — America’s first oil exploration company — into the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. They continued to seek investors for drilling a well to produce oil that could be refined into kerosene.

september petroleum history

America’s first oil company, Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, reorganized as Seneca Oil Company of New Haven Connecticut in 1858, one year before drilling the first U.S. Well.

The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company had been established in 1854 to drill a well near Titusville (see George Bissell’s Oil Seeps). The re-incorporated business replaced New York City’s capital markets, which had shown little interest in drilling for oil, seen as too speculative.

Seneca Oil hired former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake, who overcame financial and technical obstacles to complete the first U.S. oil well in August 1859.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

September 18, 1948 – Oil discovered in Utah

J.L. “Mike” Dougan, president of the Equity Oil Company, completed Utah’s first significant oil well. Dougan’s small company outcompeted larger and better financed exploration companies, including Standard Oil of California (Socal), Pure Oil, Continental, and Union Oil. His Uinta Basin oilfield discovery launched a deep-drilling boom in Utah.

petroleum history september

Begun in 1948 in the giant Uinta Basin, Utah’s petroleum industry continues today thanks to reserves of coalbed methane gas.

Unlike earlier attempts, Dougan drilled beyond the typical depth of up to 2,000 feet. His Ashley Valley No. 1 well, 10 miles southeast of Vernal, produced 300 barrels of oil a day from about 4,000 feet.

Uinta Basin production soon averaged almost one million barrels of oil a year from 30 wells. As drilling technologies advanced, companies began drilling to 8,000 feet and deeper.

Learn more in First Utah Oil Wells.

September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well

Nine months after the headline-making January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” in Texas, another giant oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana. W. Scott Heywood — already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill — completed a wildcat well that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day well on the farm of Jules Clement.

Drilled six miles northeast of Jennings, the Clement No. 1 found oil at a depth of 1,700 feet. “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” noted the Jennings Daily News.

Dedication of Scott Heywood first Louisiana oil well historical marker from1951.

Mrs. Scott Heywood unveiled a marker as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee in 1951. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

The discovery led to the state’s first commercial oil production by opening the prolific Jennings field, which Haywood further developed by building pipelines and storage tanks. As the oilfield reached peak production of more than nine million barrels of oil in 1906, more discoveries arrived in northern Louisiana.

Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Wells.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

September 22, 1955 – End of Signal Oil’s “The Whistler” Radio Program

Sponsored since 1942 by the largest independent oil company on the West Coast, the last episode of the radio drama “The Whistler” aired on CBS Radio. Signal Oil Company had been established in 1921 by Samuel Mosher as Signal Gasoline Company during California’s Signal Hill oil boom

Signal Hill Oil radio show The Whistler ad details.

Signal Oil Company sponsored a CBS Radio mystery program beginning in 1942.

The company’s 1931 partnership with Standard Oil of California (Socal) led to sponsorship of many radio programs, according to Media Heritage. The 692 episodes of Signal Oil’s weekly radio mystery began with echoing footsteps and an eerie whistle, followed by “That Whistle is your signal for the Signal Oil program.”

September 23, 1918 – Giant Wood River Refinery goes Online

Roxana Petroleum Company’s Wood River (Illinois) facility began refining crude oil. It processed more than two million barrels of oil from Oklahoma oilfields in its first year of operation.

 Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the Phillips 66 Refinery.

The Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the Phillips 66 Refinery southeast of Roxana, Illinois.

Roxana Petroleum Company was the 1912 creation of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which founded the American Gasoline Company in Seattle to distribute the fuel on the West Coast.

Roxana Petroleum was established in Oklahoma to produce high-quality oil to be refined at the Wood River plant. In West Texas, the company in 1928 built an experimental oil storage reservoir (see Million Barrel Museum). 

Today, the Wood River 2,200-acre refinery at Roxana northeast of St. Louis is the largest owned by Phillips 66.

Visit the Wood River Refinery History Museum.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

September 23, 1933 – Standard Oil of California Geologists visit Saudi Arabia

Invited by Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz, geologists from Standard Oil Company of California arrived at the Port of Jubail in the Persian Gulf. Searching the desert for petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter,” they discovered a giant oilfield. The Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil partnership would become the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), later joined by other major U.S. companies.

September 23, 1947 – New Patent for “Hortonspheres”

Horace E. Horton’s Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) received a patent for improvements to a spherical storage vessel he had invented in the 1920s. Designed to efficiently store natural gas, butane, propane and other volatile petroleum products, the large spheres were among the most important storage innovations to come to the U.S. oil and natural gas industry.

Hortonsphere patent drawing by Horace E. Horton.

Horace Ebenezer Horton (1843-1912) founded the company that would build the world’s first “field-erected spherical pressure vessel.”

CB&I named its “Hortonspheres” after the engineer who had started the company in 1889 to build bridges across the Mississippi River. In 1892, CB&I erected its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

“The elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations,” CB&I noted, adding that company built, “the world’s first field-erected spherical pressure vessel” in 1923 at Port Arthur, Texas.

Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.

September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology

When World War II veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun,” he brought anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry — a  downhole bazooka.

Mohaupt, a Swiss-born chemical engineer, during the war had conducted a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to focus detonation energy led to the rocket grenade used in bazookas. 

Henry Mohaupt "Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun" patent drawing,

The patented “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun” of Henry Mohaupt brought to the oil patch his highly successful anti-tank “bazooka” technology of World War II.

After the war, the potential of these downhole rocket grenades to facilitate flow from oil-bearing strata was recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The company employed Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe.

Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society


Recommended Reading: Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Utah Oil Shale: Science, Technology, and Policy Perspectives (2016); Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012); Signal Hill, California – Images of America (2006); Handbook of Petroleum Refining Processes (2016); The Bazooka (2012). 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.


This Week in Petroleum History, September 11 to September 17

September 11, 1866 – Distilling Kerosene in Vacuum leads to Mobil Oil – 

Carpenter and inventor Matthew Ewing patented a new method for distilling kerosene in a vacuum to produce lubricants. His innovation would lead to Mobil Oil. Three weeks after receiving his U.S. patent, Ewing and partner Hiram Everest founded the Vacuum Oil Company in Rochester, New York. Their first product was “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil,” a leather conditioner. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, September 4 to September 10

September 4, 1841 – “Rock Drill Jar” Patent for Percussion Drilling – 

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris, a driller in West Virginia, patented a “Rock Drill Jar.” It was an innovation he had been experimenting with while drilling brine wells.

“The mechanical success of cable tool drilling has greatly depended on a device called jars, invented by a spring pole driller,” according to oil historian Samuel Pees, who in 2004 noted Morris began using the technology as early as the 1830s. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, August 28 to Sept. 3

August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom (and Bust) in Pennsylvania – 

The “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, revealed a natural gas field that soon attracted hundreds of exploration companies. Drilled near the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh, the discovery well produced 60 million cubic feet of gas a day. The drilling frenzy it inspired resulted in $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area.

“McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” circa 1920 photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” from a circa 1920 panoramic image by Hagerty & Griffey. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” the local newspaper reported. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses.”

The excitement ended in early 1921 when gas production declined in 180 wells and more than 440 exploratory wells found no gas. The field was later described as “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.”

Learn more in McKeesport Gas Company.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

August 30, 2002 – Conoco and Phillips Petroleum become ConocoPhillips

Almost 100 years after Frank and L.E. Phillips completed their first oil well and 128 years after Continental Oil delivered its first can of kerosene in a horse-drawn wagon, Phillips Petroleum and Conoco combined to form ConocoPhillips. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, August 21 to August 27

August 21, 1897 – Olds Motor Vehicle Company founded – 

American automotive pioneer Ransom Eli Olds (1864–1950) founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan. Renamed Olds Motor Works in 1899, the company became the first auto manufacturer established in Detroit.

By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one powered by steam, electricity, and gasoline, according to historian George May. “He was the only American automotive pioneer to produce and sell at least one of each mode of automobile.”

Oldsmobile Curved Dash, first mass-produced U.S. auto.

Powered by a a single-cylinder, five-horsepower gasoline engine, the 1901 Oldsmobile Curved Dash was the first mass-produced U.S. automobile.

The modern assembly line concept also began with Olds, who used a stationary assembly line (Henry Ford would be the first to use a moving assembly line). Olds Motor Works sold the first mass-produced automobile in 1901, one year after the first U.S. Auto Show.

When the last Oldsmobile rolled off an assembly line in Lansing in 2004, it was the end of America’s oldest automotive brand.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

August 24, 1892 –  Oil Company founded by Future “Prophet of Spindletop” 

Patillo Higgins, who would become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop,” founded the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company and leased 2,700 acres near Beaumont, Texas. Higgins believed oil-bearing sands could be found four miles south of town. Most earth science experts said he was wrong.

A self-taught geologist, Higgins had noticed oil and natural gas seeps at Spindletop Hill while taking his Sunday school class on picnics. He later supervised the planning of Gladys City, which he named for his favorite student.

Circa 1900 Gladys Oil and Gas Manufacturing Co.  stock certificate

Patillo Higgins was no longer with the company he had founded when it discovered oil at Spindletop Hill in January 1901.

Although Higgins left the Gladys City venture in 1895, Capt. Anthony Lucas drilled the “Lucas Gusher” for the company in January 1901 and forever changed the petroleum industry (the oilfield produced more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s fields combined). Gulf Oil, Texaco, Mobile, and Sun Oil companies got their start thanks to Patillo Higgins’ confidence in the “Big Hill.”

Learn more in Prophet of Spindletop.

August 24, 1923 – University of Texas receives Royalty Check

The University of Texas received the first oil royalty payment ($516.53) three months after the Santa Rita No. 1 well discovered an oilfield on university-owned land in the Permian Basin. After 21 months of difficult drilling, the Texon Oil and Land Company’s well had revealed the 4.5-square-mile Big Lake field.

Santa Rita No. 1 well equipment on display at the University of Texas.

Drilling and production equipment from the Santa Rita No. 1 well is preserved at the the University of Texas. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Within three years of the Big Lake discovery, petroleum royalties endowed the university with $4 million. In 1958, the university moved the Santa Rita well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. A student newspaper described the historic well as “one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

August 24, 1937 – Music Mountain Oil Discovery 

No one had expected it, not even the Niagara Oil Company that drilled it, notes the Bradford Landmark Society about a 1937 gusher near Bradford, Pennsylvania, in McKean County. For the first time since the great Bradford field discovery 70 years earlier, an exploratory well on Music Mountain revealed a new oilfield.

The Penn-Brad oil museum in Bradford, PA

Penn-Brad Museum and Historical Oil Well Park at Custer City, outside Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 2007. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The producing formation was beneath the older, highly prolific Bradford sands. The region’s high-paraffin oil is still considered among the highest grade natural lubricants in the world. A refinery (today’s American Refining Group) has been refining McKean County oil since 1881.

In 2023, Bradford celebrated the 152nd anniversary of its oilfield discovery — and the 52nd anniversary of the opening of its Penn-Brad Oil Museum. Learn more Bradford oil history in Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

August 26, 2009 – Oil Refinery designated Historic Landmark

The American Chemical Society designated the development of the first U.S. still for refining oil as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The society noted that in the 1850s, Samuel Kier constructed a one-barrel, cast-iron still on Seventh Avenue. He began selling distilled petroleum, which he called “carbon oil,” for a $1.50 a gallon.

“Kier’s refining process touched off the search for more dependable sources of crude oil, which led to the drilling of the nation’s first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania,” notes a plaque commemorating the achievement. “These two technologies — refining and drilling — made western Pennsylvania the undisputed center of the early oil industry.”

As of January 2022, the United States had 130 petroleum refineries, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

August 27, 1859 – Birth of U.S. Petroleum Industry

America’s petroleum industry began with a well drilled 69.5 feet deep in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Hired by the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercial U.S. oil well. The Venango County well produced 25 barrels of oil a day.

A portrait of Edwin Drake and a replica of his wooden derrick

The Drake Well Museum and Park includes a replica of the oil well that forever changed the world.

Although earlier “spring pole” and cable-tool drillers of brine wells had found small amounts of oil – an unwanted byproduct – Drake specifically drilled for it. His investors wanted to refine the oil into a highly demanded new product for lamps, kerosene. Drake also pioneered several new drilling technologies, including a method of driving an iron pipe down to protect the bore’s integrity from nearby Oil Creek.

After five months of financial setbacks and cable-tool drilling problems, the locals called the well “Drake’s Folly.” To improve his reputation, Connecticut investors addressed their letters to “Colonel” Edwin Drake.

Ceiling paintings of early petroleum industry inside the Titusville Trust Building.

Ceiling paintings capture the industry’s earliest scenes inside the Titusville Trust Building, which opened in 1919. A seated Edwin Drake is flanked by men holding cable tools – symbols of early oilfield technology. Photos by Bruce Wells.

Late in the afternoon on August 27, 1859, Drake’s driller, blacksmith “Uncle Billy” Smith, noticed oil floating at the top of the pipe. The bit had reached what would become known as the First Venango Sand. To begin pumping the oil, Drake borrowed a local kitchen water pump.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

August 27, 1959 – Stamp celebrates Oil Centennial

“No official act could give me greater pleasure than to dedicate this stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the petroleum industry,” declared U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, who addressed a crowd gathered for the “Oil Centennial Day” in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

“The American people have great reason to be indebted to this industry,” the Postmaster General added. “It has supplied most of the power that has made the American standard of living possible.”

petroleum history august 25

The U.S. Postal Service issued 120 million centennial oil stamps. Efforts for a 2009 anniversary stamp were unsuccessful.

The U.S. Postal Service Stamp Advisory Committee in 2009 rejected requests for a stamp recognizing the 150th anniversary of the U.S. petroleum industry. The committee earlier had granted 10 commemorative stamps for Kermit the Frog and each of his nine fellow Muppets.

Learn more in the Centennial Oil Stamp Issue.


Recommended Reading: R.E. Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer (1977); Spindletop: The True Story of the Oil Discovery that Changed the World (1980); Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery at Beaumont, Texas, in 1901 (2008); Santa Rita: The University of Texas Oil Discovery (1958); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Black Gold: The Philatelic History of Petroleum (1995). 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Pin It on Pinterest