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September 16, 1908 – Leading Horse-Drawn Carriage Maker incorporates General Motors

september petroleum history

General Motors sold its 1,000,000th car in 1919, an Oldsmobile 37-B model. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

William Crapo “Billy” Durant, co-owner of the largest horse-drawn carriage manufacturer in America, established the General Motors Holding Company in Flint, Michigan. His Durant-Dort Carriage Company had recently taken control of Buick Motor Company and would buy-out Olds Motor Works of Detroit along with many others.

Within just two years, General Motors purchased dozens of auto manufacturing companies, including Cadillac and Oakland Motor Car (Pontiac). “Fortunately for the Ford Motor Company, William Durant was denied a ‘buy-out loan’ of $9.5 million by his bankers,” notes a GM historian.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 9, 1928 – Oklahoma regulates Oil Production

A state regulatory body for the first time issued an order limiting oil production for the entire state. The move was an effort to control excessive production from many newly discovered Oklahoma oilfields, including several giants of the Seminole oil boom. With falling oil prices (and tax revenue), the Oklahoma Corporation Commission set the state’s oil production limit to 700,000 barrels daily and limited production of wildcat wells to 100 barrels of oil a day. The commission allocated 425,000 barrels of oil per day for the new Seminole area fields, which produced quality, high-gravity oil.

September 10, 1879 – Merger of Two California Companies will lead to Chevron

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The Pacific Coast Oil Company’s logo included derricks at Pico Canyon, site of California’s first commercial oil discovery. Photo courtesy of Chevron.

Chevron began in 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquired the California Star Oil Works, which a few months before had made the first major oil discovery in California.

As the future major oil company grew over the century, its retail outlets added dozens of service station logos – including Standard Oil Company of California’s chevron, the Texaco red star, the orange disc of Gulf Oil, and the Unocal “76” logo. Read the rest of this entry »

September 2, 1910 – Cities Service Company incorporates

august petroleum history

Cities Service Company subsidiaries discovered major Mid-Continent oilfields.

Henry Doherty formed the Cities Service Company as a public utility holding company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Doherty bought producing properties in Kansas and Oklahoma as he acquired distributing companies and linked them to growing natural gas supplies. His company derived income from the subsidiary corporations’ stock dividends.

In 1915, a Cities Service Company subsidiary, Wichita Natural Gas Company, discovered the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield. In 1928, another subsidiary, Empire Oil & Refining, discovered the Oklahoma City oilfield.

Federal court mandates in 1940 resulted in Cities Service’s divestiture of its public utilities, and in 1959 the remaining companies were reformed as Cities Service Oil Company, which changed its marketing brand to CITGO in 1964. Occidental Petroleum acquired the company in 1982. Four years later, Petróleos de Venezuela, purchased 50 percent of CITGO. The remainder of the company, today based in Houston, was acquired by the Venezuela state-owned oil company in 1990.

September 4, 1841 – Patent for Percussion Drilling Technology 

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Drill jar technology improved efficiency for drilling brine wells – and later, oil wells.

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris, a spring pole 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,” explained oil historian Samuel Pees in 2004, adding that Morris used jars to drill  salt wells as early as the 1830s. “Little is known about Morris except for his invention and that he listed Kanawha County (now in West Virginia) as his address. Later, using jars, the cable tool system was able to efficiently meet the demands of drilling wells for oil.” Read the rest of this entry »

August 26, 2009 – Pennsylvania Oil Still designated Historic Landmark

The American Chemical Society designated the development of the first U.S. still for refining crude 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.” Read the rest of this entry »

August 19, 1957 – First Commercial Oil Well in Washington

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Surrounded by unsuccessful attempts, Washington’s only commercial oil well (red) was capped in 1961.

The first and only commercial oil well in the state of Washington was drilled by the Sunshine Mining Company. The Medina No. 1 well flowed 223 barrels a day from a depth of 4,135 feet near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County.

Although a well drilled six years earlier produced 35 barrels of oil a day, it was deemed noncommercial and abandoned. The Medina No. 1 well produced 12,500 barrels before being capped in 1961.

According to a 2010 report from the Washington commissioner of public lands, “About 600 gas and oil wells have been drilled in Washington, but large-scale commercial production has never occurred.”

The state’s most recent production – from the Ocean City field – ceased in 1962, “and no oil or gas have been produced since that time,” the commissioner added, noting that some companies continue to look for coalbed methane.

August 21, 1897 – Olds Motor Vehicle Company founded

august petroleum history

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

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 of each power mode: steam, electricity and gasoline,” noted George May in R.E. Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer. “He was the only American automotive pioneer to produce and sell at least one of each mode of automobile.” Read the rest of this entry »

August 12, 1888 – Bertha Benz makes World’s First Auto Road Trip

august petroleum history

Bertha Benz became the world’s first female automotive pioneer in 1888. Image courtesy Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Thirty-nine-year-old Bertha Benz made history when she became the first person to make a long-distance trip by automobile. Her trip also included, “the first road repairs, the first automotive marketing stunt, the first case of a wife borrowing her husband’s car without asking, and the first violation of intercity highway laws in a motor vehicle,” noted Wired magazine in 2010.

Bertha drove away in the “Patent Motorwagen” (after leaving a note to her husband) and took their two young sons to visit her mother in Pforzheim. Their route from Mannheim was about 56 miles. The drive, which took about 15 hours, helped popularize Karl Benz’s latest invention. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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 Federal Revenue

The U.S. government claimed title to 2.5 million acres of submerged Texas land in 1953. Photo courtesy BOEM.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) gave the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for the administration of mineral exploration and development of the outer continental shelf. OCSLA resulted from the Submerged Lands Act of May 22, 1953, which had established the federal government’s ownership of submerged lands at three miles from a state’s coastline.

Both laws originated from disputes about tidelands, first in California and later in Texas, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). In Gulf of Mexico, the United States claimed title to 2.5 million acres of submerged Texas land, “between low tide and the state’s Gulfward boundary, almost 10 miles from shore” that had been considered part of the Republic of Texas a decade earlier.

Eleven fields and 44 wells were operating in the Gulf of Mexico in 1949, according to BOEM’s Lands Act History. “As the industry continued to evolve through the 1950s, oil production became the second-largest revenue generator for the country, after income taxes.” Gulf of Mexico states with federal oil and gas production offshore received 37.5 percent in revenue sharing in 2018.

August 7, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter

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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

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

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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 heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company completed its Rafael Rios No. 1 well. Company President Edgar B. Davis had been determined to be the first to locate oil in the Edwards lime and the Austin chalk formations.

The discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years, the Luling field had almost 400 wells annually producing 11 million barrels of oil. Locals proclaimed Davis had found the oil after consulting  a psychic. The unusual oil patch reading came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.

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. Luling today hosts an annual “Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off” and has “the best ribs in the country,” according to Reader’s Digest. Learn more in Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.

August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Bit

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Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1909 patent for “roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”

“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to faster and deeper rotary drilling.

Historians note that several men were trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it is Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.

“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” noted the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 2009.

“By chipping, crushing, and powdering hardrock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME explained. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.”

Hughes engineers would invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933. Frank and George Christensen developed the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s. Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology. 

August 11, 1891 – Polecat Well brings prosperity to Sistersville. West Virginia

The first oil well of the great Sistersville oilfield was drilled at the small West Virginian town on the Ohio River, a few miles north of Parkersburg. “The bringing in of the Pole Cat well, which pumped water for a year before it pumped oil, brought in a sudden influx of oil men, drillers, leasers, speculators, followers, floaters, wildcatters, and hangers-on,” a Sistersville historian has noted. “This quickly boomed Sistersville from a rural village of 300 people to a rip-roaring, snorting, metropolis of 15,000 people almost overnight.” A popular Sistersville Oil And Gas Festival has been annually celebrated for decades; it includes antique oilfield engines, cable-tool rig models, contests, a parade, and the crowning of the oil and gas queen.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

July 29, 1918 – Boom Town comes to Burkburnett, Texas

july petroleum history

Burkburnett, Texas, oilfield, circa 1919, “viewed from the northwest side, opposite Fowler farm, original discovery well.” Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Less than a year after the “Roaring Ranger” discovered an oilfield to the south, the Fowler No. 1 well at Burkburnett, Texas, revealed another giant field at a depth of 1,734 feet. Within three weeks 56 rigs were drilling near the Fowler Farm Oil Company site along the Red River in North Texas. Six months later, the cotton farming community’s population had grown from 1,000 people to 8,000 people — with a line of derricks two-miles long greeting new arrivals. As more Burkburnett discoveries made national headlines as the “world’s wonder oil pool,” teenager Clark Gable was working as a roustabout in Oklahoma. In 1941, he would star in Hollywood’s version of events in the popular movie “Boom Town.”

July 29, 1957 – Eisenhower begins Program to Limit Oil Imports

As America’s reliance on foreign oil continued to grow – discouraging domestic production – President Dwight D. Eisenhower established a Voluntary Oil Import Program with import quotas by region. The intent was to ensure adequate domestic petroleum was available in case of national emergency. Using a presidential proclamation two years later, Eisenhower replaced the voluntary program with a mandatory program. By 1962 oil imports were limited to 12.2 percent of U.S. production. The program continued until suspended by President Richard Nixon in 1973 as domestic oil production reached new highs – and the Arab oil embargo began.

July 30, 1942 – U-Boat sunk in Gulf of Mexico, not identified until 2001

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A natural gas pipeline survey revealed the U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast in 2011.

A Navy patrol boat attacked a German U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico just after the submarine had torpedoed and sunk a U.S. freighter. Despite being depth charged, U-166 was believed to have escaped – until a natural gas pipeline survey revealed it decades later.

The U-166’s identity was not learned until advanced geophysical survey technologies arrived in 2001, explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The discovery resulted from an archaeological survey prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline by the British company BP and Shell Offshore Inc.

An autonomous underwater vehicle using side scan sonar revealed the U-166 separated from its last victim, the Robert E. Lee, by less than a mile. As a result of the discovery, BP and Shell altered their proposed pipeline to preserve the site.

Six other World War II vessels have been discovered in the course of Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas surveys. The industry remains a principle user of advanced underwater technologies for seafloor mapping. Learn more in Petroleum Survey discovers U-Boat.

August 1, 1872 – First Modern Natural Gas Pipeline

The first recorded large-scale delivery of natural gas by pipeline began when gas was delivered to Titusville, Pennsylvania. A two-inch, wrought-iron pipeline carried the gas five miles from a well. The well’s production of four million cubic feet of natural gas a day was the largest in the growing petroleum region. Keystone Gas & Water Company constructed the pipeline to deliver “the most powerful and voluminous  gas well on record” to more than 250 residential and commercial customers in Titusville, where Edwin Drake had drilled America’s first oil well in 1859.

August 2, 1956 – First U.S. Interstate Highway

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Missouri launched the U.S. interstate system after “inking a deal for work on U.S. Route 66.” Today, I-44 stretches across south central Missouri and is a major corridor linking the Midwest and the West Coast.

Missouri became the first state to award a contract with interstate construction funding authorized two months earlier by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Missouri highway commission signed the contract for work on the already historic Route 66.

The Highway-Aid Act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways.” It made it possible for states to afford construction of the network of national limited-access highways eventually reaching more than 40,000 miles.

Missouri had agreed to begin work on part of Route 66 – now Interstate 44. “There is no question that the creation of the interstate highway system has been the most significant development in the history of  transportation in the United States,” proclaimed the state’s leaders. Learn more in America on the Move.

August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt Pits discovered

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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

“Tar pits” form when crude oil seeps to the surface through fissures in the earth’s crust and part of the oil evaporates.

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.

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 commonly 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

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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”

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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). Among others who benefited from the “poor man’s field” were Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner, and Charles Haskell. Erle Halliburton perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

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

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

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.

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

Using 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.

According to some industry sources, McCoy’s 1872 automatic lubricator 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 often ask if it was “the real McCoy.”

July 23, 1951 – Desk & Derrick Clubs organize

The Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs of North America is formed with articles of association signed by presidents of the clubs of New Orleans, Jackson, Los Angeles, and Houston. There now are 48 clubs in four regions 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

The first documented report of oil in the New World was made near the Sabine River on the Texas coast – when a storm forces two of Spanish explorer Don Luis de Moscoso’s seven brigantines ashore.

After a discouraging expedition in East Texas, de Moscoso, who succeeded expedition leader Hernando de Soto, built the seven small vessels and sailed down the Mississippi, according to the Houston Geological Society.

After reaching the Gulf of Mexico, the Spaniards decided to sail west along the coast. The storm hit and drove two brigantines ashore – where they discovered the first signs of oil in America.

July 27, 1918 – Launch of First Concrete Oil Tanker

America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, the Socony, was launched from its shipyard on Flushing Bay, New York. The reinforced concrete barge was 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam. Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the vessel carried oil in six center and two wing compartments, “which have been oil-proofed by a special process,” explained 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.” Steel shortages during World War Two would lead to construction of even larger concrete oil tankers.

July 28, 1924 – Oil Scouts form Association

The National Oil Scouts Association of America – today the International Oil Scouts Association – files its charter in Austin, Texas, bringing new standards to an important oilfield profession. Since the 1860s, oilfield scouts have gathered field intelligence on drilling operations – including often sensitive information about the operator, location, lease, depth of well, formations encountered, logs and other data, which may yield a competitive advantage.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

July 16, 1926 – Fixico No. 1 Well brings Greater Seminole Area Boom

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The Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole educates visitors about the area’s historic oilfields, including Earlsboro, St. Louis, Bowlegs, Little River, and Allen.

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 – First Parking Meter made Read the rest of this entry »

July 8, 1937 – Secretary of War approves Experimental Gulf of Mexico Oil Pier

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, Harry Woodring, approved an ambitious engineering plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil. War Secretary Woodring  signed off on an application to drill an exploratory well near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Texaco, thanks to a discovery at Sour Lake). The 60 acre lease was eight miles east of High Island in Galveston County. Humble Oil built the experimental pier with three drilling rigs, but found no oil. A hurricane destroyed the pier in 1938. Learn more at the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum.

July 9, 1815 – Early West Virginia Natural Gas Discovery 

Natural gas was discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815). Even earlier, a young surveyor, George Washington, had written about “burning springs” – petroleum seeps – to the north, along the Kanawha River. Awarded a land grant for his service in the French and Indian War, Washington acquired 250 acres along the river. He later explained he chose the location, “on account of a bituminous spring which it contains, of so inflammable a nature that it burns as freely as spirits.” In a history of West Virginia’s oil industry, Where it all Began, author David McKain concluded, “This was in 1771, making the father of our country the first petroleum industry speculator.”

July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz: L. Frank Baum’s Oil Business

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L. Frank Baum’s Castorine oil sales trips may have led to his idea of a Tin Woodman character.

The future author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz started a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offered lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.” Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (today’s US Oil & Gas Association) established its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa. Members were a “who’s who” of top independent producers.

Kansas-Oklahoma members included Frank Phillips of Phillips Petroleum; E.W. Marland, whose company will become Conoco; W.G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil; H.H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil; and Alf Landon, future governor of Kansas and the Republican presidential candidate in 1936.

Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company (later elected Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator), was president of the Oklahoma-Kansas Division from 1935 through 1941.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 24, 1937 – Trace of Oil found in Minnesota

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Traverse County, Minnesota.

Oil was discovered in Minnesota by a wildcat well drilled in Traverse County in the western part of the state. The well produced three barrels of oil a day from 864 feet deep.

Although the discovery prompted more leasing, no commercial quantities of oil were found. This reaffirmed geologists’ conclusions since 1889 that the conditions for significant oil deposits did not exist in Minnesota.

“Not much oil and gas is obtain from Precambrian rocks, with which Minnesota is very amply blessed,” noted Richard Ojakangas in his 1984 book, Minnesota’s Geology. Although Minnesota today ranks fourth in the nation in ethanol production, its oil production peaked that summer of 1937.

June 25, 1889 – First Oil Tanker catches Fire at California Wharf

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Rare photographs of the oil doomed tanker W.L. Hardison and Ventura pier courtesy the Museum of Ventura County.

The first oil tanker specifically built for that purpose, burned at its wharf in Ventura, California. The Hardison & Stewart Oil Company (later Union Oil Company), had commissioned the experimental schooner W.L. Hardison.

The vessel offered an alternative to paying for railroad tank cars charging one dollar per oil barrel to reach markets in San Francisco. With oil-fired steam boilers and supplemental sail, the wooden-hulled W.L. Hardison was capable of shipping 6,500 barrels of oil below decks in specially constructed steel tanks.

After the fire, the vessel’s steel tanks were recovered and used at the company’s Santa Paula refinery. The Ventura Pier remained a working wharf until 1936, when it became recreational. Today’s refurbished structure is almost 2,000 feet long – one of the longest in California.

The Museum of Ventura County library collection houses more than 150,000 resources on the history of Ventura County and outlying regions. More oil history can be found at the California Oil Museum in nearby Santa Paula; the museum’s main building is the original 1890 Union Oil Company headquarters. Also see America exports Oil. Read the rest of this entry »

June 18, 1889 – Rockefeller builds Giant Refinery, creates Standard Oil Company of Indiana

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The Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, today owned by BP, remains the largest refinery in the United States.

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey incorporated a new subsidiary, Standard Oil Company of Indiana, and began processing oil at a new refinery at Whiting, Indiana, southeast of Chicago.

The refinery, which became the largest in the United States by the mid-1890s, added pipelines connecting it to Kansas and Oklahoma oilfields in 1910. When the Supreme Court in 1911 mandated the break up of John D. Rockefeller’s companies, Standard Oil of Indiana emerged as an independent company, opening Amoco branded service stations in the late 1950s. Amoco merged with British Petroleum (BP) in 1998 – the largest foreign takeover of U.S. company up to that time. Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery. Read the rest of this entry »

June 11, 1816 – Manufactured Gas lights Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

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Lighted with manufactured gas, this Baltimore museum opened in 1814, the first building erected as a museum in the United States. Photo courtesy Maryland Historical Trust.

The first commercial gas lighting of residences, streets, and businesses began when artist Rembrandt Peale impressed Baltimore civic leaders by illuminating a room in his Holliday Street Museum by burning “manufactured gas.” His display (using gas distilled from coal, tar or wood) dazzled museum patrons with a “ring beset with gems of light.”

The building became the fist public building in America to use gas lighting, according to the Maryland Historical Trust. Within a week, the Baltimore city council approved plans to light the city’s main streets. Peale and a group of investors founded the Gas Light Company of Baltimore, the first gas company in America, and today the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.  Gas street lighting began in 1817. Learn more in Manufactured Gas for Lamps. Read the rest of this entry »

June 3, 1979 – Bay of Campeche Oil Spill

Drilling in about 150 of water, the semi-submersible rig Sedco 135 suffered a devastating blowout 50 miles off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. State-owned company Pemex succeeded in reducing the flow to about 20,000 barrels of oil a day, but the well spilled 3.4 million barrels of oil before being brought under control with two relief wells nine months later. Considering the size of the spill, its environmental impact was surprisingly limited, according to a 1981 report by the Coordinated Program of Ecological Studies in the Bay of Campeche. “Nature played the biggest role in attacking the slicks as they floated across the Gulf. Ultraviolet light broke down the oil as it crept toward land. So did oil-eating microorganisms. Hot temperatures spurred evaporation.” Hurricane Federic also helped disperse the oil at the end of August.

June 4, 1872 – Robert Chesebrough invents Petroleum Jelly

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Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline every day and lived to be 96. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

A young chemist living in New York City, Robert Chesebrough, patented “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he named “Vaseline.” His patent proclaimed the virtues of this purified extract of petroleum distillation residue as a lubricant, hair treatment, and balm for chapped hands.

Earlier, when the 22-year-old chemist visited the new Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865, he had noted that drilling was often confounded by a waxy paraffin-like substance that clogged the wellhead. The only virtue of this “rod wax” was as an immediately available “first aid” for the abrasions, burns and other wounds routinely afflicting oilfield drilling crews.

Chesebrough returned to New York, where he began working in his laboratory to purify the oil well goop, which he first dubbed “petroleum jelly.” He experimented by inflicting minor cuts and burns on himself, then applying his new product.

Chesebrough’s female customers soon found that mixing lamp black with Vaseline made an impromptu mascara. In 1913, Miss Mabel Williams employed just such a concoction. Her idea helped create a giant company. Learn more in A Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes. Read the rest of this entry »

 

May 27, 1893 – Oklahoma Historical Society founded

Fourteen years before Oklahoma became a state, the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) was organized during the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Territorial Press Association in Kingfisher. It was founded to collect and distribute newspapers published in the territory. Today, the society administers historic homes, military sites, and community museums, including the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.




May 28, 1923 – “Oil Well of the Century” taps Permian Basin in West Texas

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The University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus in 1958.

It took 646 days of difficult cable-tool drilling before a well near Big Lake, Texas, proved there was oil on University of Texas land in the Permian Basin. The arid region in Reagan County was once thought to be worthless, but the Santa Rita No. 1 well discovered an oilfield that helped reveal the Permian Basin’s petroleum potential. Read the rest of this entry »


May 20, 1930 – Geophysicists found Professional Society

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The Doodlebugger by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia has welcomed visitors to SEG headquarters since 2002.

The Society of Economic Geophysicists was founded in Houston. The society adopted the name Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 1937 and today fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”

SEG’s journal Geophysics appeared in 1936 with articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The journal once warned young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.

The Doodlebugger, a 10-foot bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia, was unveiled in SEG’s Tulsa headquarters in 2002. O’Melia also sculpted the “Oil Patch Warrior,” a World War II memorial dedicated in 1991 in the United Kingdom (see Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest). SEG today has 20,000 members in 128 countries.

May 21, 1923 – “Esso” first used by Standard Oil Company

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Exxon would replaced the U.S. Esso brand in 1973.

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey first used “Esso” to market the company’s “Refined, Semi-refined, and Unrefined Oils Made from Petroleum, Both With and Without Admixture of Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral Oils, for Illuminating, Burning, Power, Fuel, and Lubricating Purposes, and Greases.” The phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” – Standard Oil – became a registered trademarked in 1923, and a young Theodore Geisell began drawing Essolube product ads in the 1930s (learn more in Seuss I am, an Oilman).

May 23, 1905 – Patent issued for Improved Metal Barrel

Henry Wehrhahn of Brooklyn, NY, patented a ribbed metal barrel design “durable in construction and effective in operation.” His invention, which presaged the modern 55-gallon oil drum, allowed a lid to be “readily secured to and detached from the body of the barrel, and so constructed and arranged as to protect the locking mechanism of the head and permit the barrel when desired to stand on the end.” Wehrhan assigned his patent to Iron Clad Manufacturing Company, founded by Robert Seaman, husband of journalist Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (see the Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum).

May 23, 1937 – Oil Tycoon John D. Rockefeller Dies

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Rockefeller at age 87. Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University.

Almost 70 years after founding the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio, (where he attended high school from 1853 to 1855), John D. Rockefeller died at age 97 in Florida, 40 years after retiring from his company.

Born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller formed his own company in 1859 – the same year of the first American oil well. In 1865, he took control of his first refinery, which would be the largest in the world within three years. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars by the time his fortune peaked at almost $900 million in 1912 ($21.3 billion in today’s dollars). Read the rest of this entry »

May 16, 1934 – National Stripper Well Association founded in Oklahoma

The National Stripper Well Association was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to represent owners of marginally producing wells. These “stripper wells” typically produce less than 15 barrels of oil a day or less than 90 thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas a day. According to the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, 72.2 percent of all operating U.S. wells in 2015 were marginal. While the average share of total U.S. oil production from marginal wells was 8.8 percent in 2016, four states – Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, and New York – reported producing all their oil from marginal wells. 

May 14, 1953 – Golden Driller Statue welcomes Visitors to Petroleum Exposition

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The original Golden Driller of 1953, left, proved so popular that a more permanent version (supported with steel rods) returned for the 1966 Petroleum Expo. Photos courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

The “Golden Driller” first appeared at the International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sponsored by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, the giant was temporarily erected again for the 1959 petroleum expo. The giant roughneck attracted so much attention that the company refurbished and donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority. The giant roughneck was rebuilt in 1966 and fully refurbished in the late 1970s. The current Golden Driller (76-feet tall and weighing 43,500 pounds) is a popular Tulsa tourist attraction and among the largest freestanding statues in the world, according to city officials. Learn more in Golden Driller of Tulsa.

May 14, 2004 – Petroleum Museum Opens in Oil City, Louisiana

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Chevron donated the drilling rig at the Louisiana State Oil Museum in Oil City.

Louisiana’s first publicly funded museum dedicated to the petroleum industry opened 20 miles north of Shreveport. The Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum, originally the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, includes the historic depot of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

The museum preserves the Caddo Parish discoveries, which began in 1905, and the economic prosperity brought by the North Louisiana petroleum boom. Exhibits reveal the technologies behind a 1911 well – the Ferry No. 1 – one of the nation’s earliest “offshore” oil wells completed on nearby Caddo Lake, where production continues today. Learn more about the Louisiana Oil City Museum.

May 15, 1911 – Supreme Court orders Standard Oil Breakup

After reviewing 12,000 pages of court documents, Chief Justice Edward White issued the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion that mandated dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

The historic ruling, which broke Standard Oil into 34 separate companies, upheld an earlier Circuit Court decision that the John D. Rockefeller company’s practices violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Standard Oil was given six months to divest its subsidiaries. Five years earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Justice Department had launched 44 anti-trust suits against railroad, beef, tobacco, and other trusts.

May 16, 1961 – Gas Museum opens

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Stevens County’s natural gas museum in Hugoton, Kansas.

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened in 1961 above a giant natural gas producing area that extended 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

The small museum in Hugoton today educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America – the Hugoton field. A natural gas well drilled in 1945 is still producing at the museum. Learn more in Natural Gas Museum.

May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well shocks Pennsylvania Oil Prices

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In 2007, a group of Cherry Grove volunteers rebuilt a derrick for their 646 Mystery Well, notes historian Walt Atwood.

A small Pennsylvania township discovered an oilfield in 1882. When word spread about the discovery well’s true daily production, U.S. oil prices collapsed (the industry was less than 25 years old). The “Mystery Well” flowed at 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Once a closely guarded secret, news of  the Jamestown Oil Company’s well sent shock waves through early oil trading markets. Certificates for more than 4.5 million barrels of oil were sold in one day at Pennsylvania’s three oil exchanges.

“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explains local historian Walt Atwood. The town annually celebrates its Cherry Grove Mystery Well.

May 17, 1901 – Future Gulf Oil Company founded in Texas

J.M. Guffey organized Guffey Petroleum Company to buy the “Lucas Gusher” well drilled the previous January at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas.

Guffey purchased about half of the well’s high-volume oil production (see Spindletop launches Modern Petroleum Industry). The Mellon family of Pittsburgh owned the remainder.

Guffey created Gulf Refining Company to refine and market the oil produced by Guffey Petroleum. Andrew Mellon bought out Guffey in 1907 and reorganized the ventures as Gulf Oil Company.

May 17, 1973 – Last Nuclear Fracturing Test of Natural Gas Wells

Atomic Energy Commission scientists completed the last experiment of the Plowshare Program with a nearly simultaneous detonation of three 33-kiloton devices in a Colorado natural gas well. Project Rio Blanco was the third (and final) underground nuclear detonation to test fracturing of wells. The first had been Project Gasbuggy in 1967, a 29-kiloton nuclear device lowered into a gas well in New Mexico. The second, Project Rulison, detonated a 40-kiloton device in a Garfield County, Colorado, well in 1969.

May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield brings Boom to Northwestern Ohio

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A circa 1909 post card promoting the petroleum prosperity of Lima, Ohio.

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began. Benjamin Faurot – drilling for natural gas – found oil instead. His discovery revealed the Lima oilfield.

“Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of 1,252 feet,” notes the Allen County Museum & Historical Society. He organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company.

By 1886, the Lima field was the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it was the largest in the world. Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Learn more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.

May 19, 1942 – George E. Failing patents Portable Drilling Rig

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George Failing’s drilling rig – powered by its truck’s engine – will prove ideal for slanted wells.

A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, received a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed. “I designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing noted in his patent for a design he first built in 1931.

“In 1931 he mounted an existing rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” notes Kathy Dickson of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Failing’s portable rig could drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional steam-powered rotary rig took about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth. He demonstrated his portable drilling technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, working with H. John Eastman, today considered the father of directional drilling (see Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”) 

Failing’s efficient rig also has helped millions of people in developing countries by drilling water wells. Today the Enid-based GEFCO (George E. Failing Company) still manufactures portable drilling rigs. The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid displays a Failing rig.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

 

May 7, 1920 – Erle P. Halliburton founds Well Cementing Company

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An Erle Halliburton statue was dedicated in 1993 in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Earle Palmer Halliburton founded the Halliburton Company as an oilfield well service and cementing company. The Wilson, Oklahoma, venture succeeded his New Method Oil Cementing Company formed a year earlier during the Burkburnett oil boom in North Texas.

The use of cement in drilling oil wells has remained an integral part of the industry because its injection seals off water formations from the oil, protects the casing, and minimizes the danger of blowouts. In 1922, Halliburton patented an innovative “jet-cement” mixer that increased the speed and quality of the mixing process. By the end of the year, 17 Halliburton trucks were cementing wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Read the rest of this entry »

April 30, 1929 – Marland Oil and Continental Oil become Conoco

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Conoco used this logo until 1970.

After discovering several prolific Oklahoma oilfields, Marland Oil Company acquired Continental Oil Company to create a network of service stations in 30 states. Future Oklahoma Governor Ernest W. Marland had founded Marland Oil in 1921; Continental Oil Company was founded in 1875 in Utah.

Headquartered in Ponca City, the new company retained the name of Continental Oil, but adopted the well-known Marland red triangle trademark, replacing the “Marland Oils” text with “Conoco.” In 2002, the company merged with Phillips Petroleum, which had incorporated in 1917, to become today’s ConocoPhillips. Learn more by visiting the ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

April 30, 1955 – “Landmen” form Trade Association

Today’s American Association of Professional Landmen with about 15,000 members nationwide was organized as a petroleum landmen trade association in Fort Worth, Texas. Landmen research records to determine ownership, locate mineral and land owners and negotiate oil and natural gas leases, trades and contracts. They also help ensure compliance with governmental regulations, according to the AAPL website.

May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well

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Following the 1860 oil discovery at Burning Springs, Appalachian drillers applied cable-tool technologies to drill deeper. Photo courtesy West Virginia Humanities Council.

Virginia’s petroleum industry began about one year before the Civil War when John Rathbone found oil after drilling near Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia.

The well reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day. Rathbone partnered with his brother John as the area experienced a drilling boom – the first to take place outside the Pennsylvania oil regions. By the end of 1860, more than 600 oil leases were registered in the Wirt County court-house. Warehouses were built along the Little Kanawha River, which reached the Ohio River at Parkersburg.

“These events truly mark the beginnings of the oil and gas industry in the United States,” noted West Virginia historian David McKain in 1994, adding that the region’s sudden oil wealth helped lead to statehood in June 1863. Just one month earlier, Confederate cavalry attacked Burning Springs, destroying oilfield tanks and equipment.

May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair founds Sinclair Oil & Refining

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Sinclair’s first “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago during the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

Harry Ford Sinclair brought together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases – all acquired at bargain prices. He began with $50 million in assets and borrowed another $20 million to form Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produced six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million. The company’s petroleum refining capacity grew to 150,000 barrels of oil a day in 1932.

Destined to become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry, in 1930 the company began using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels. Millions of visitors marveled at the green Jurassic giant in Sinclair’s “Dinoland” New York World’s Fair pavilion in 1934 – and again in 1964. Learn more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

May 1, 2001 – Plaza honors Oil Pioneers

The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza – an outdoor educational exhibit area – was dedicated at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. “The history of the state of Oklahoma is inextricably linked with the remarkable history of the oil industry,” proclaimed then Conoco Chairman Archie Dunham. “The individuals identified here are true Oklahoma oil pioneers in that their endeavors were most significant in the development of the oil and gas industry in this very young state.” Tom Slick, Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, is among those honored in the Conoco Plaza. Slick, a self-taught geologist and former landman, discovered the giant Cushing-Drumright oilfield in 1912.

May 3, 1870 – “Yellow Dog” Lantern with Two Spouts patented

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An 1870 derrick lamp” will become the “yellow dog.”

Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, received a patent for his “safety derrick lamp” – a two-wicked lantern that became known in America’s early oilfields as the “yellow dog.”

Dillen’s lamp was designed “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places.”

How the once popular lamp got its name has remained a mystery, but some say the two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Learn more in Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

May 4, 1869 – Offshore Drilling Platform Design patented

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Although never constructed, Thomas Rowland’s 1869 offshore drilling platform with telescoping legs was ahead of its time.

The first U.S. patent for an offshore oil drilling rig was issued to Thomas Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.”

Many experts believe this remarkable 1869 patent helped inspire some offshore exploration technologies used today. Rowland designed a fixed, working platform for drilling offshore to a depth of 50 feet.

Although his rig was designed to operate in shallow water, the anchored, four-legged tower resembles modern offshore fixed platforms. Rowland and his Continental Iron Works also became a leader in petroleum storage tank design and construction. The offshore wells completely out of sight from land were drilled in 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico, as technologies advanced after Rowland’s patent. (see Offshore Rig Patent). The American Society of Civil Engineers began awarding The Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize in 1882. 

May 5, 1889 – Construction begins on Largest U.S. Refinery

Seventeen miles east of downtown Chicago, Standard Oil Company began construction of a 235-acre refinery complex on May 5, 1889. The refinery, using advanced processes introduced by John D. Rockefeller, was the largest in the United States at the time. Using a newly patented method, the Whiting, Indiana, refinery processed sulfurous “sour crude” from the Lima, Ohio, oilfields – transported on Rockefeller-controlled railroads. The refinery (Today owned by BP) produced vast amounts of high-quality kerosene to meet demand for use in home lamps. Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

May 5, 1907 – A Marker to North Texas Petroleum History

Although unlisted in the Texas Historical Commission Atlas, Clayco Oil & Pipeline's stone marker is on Texas Highway 148 just south of Petrolia.

The Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company’s stone marker can be found on Texas Highway 148 south of Petrolia.

Near Oil City (today Petrolia), Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company completed the Lockridge No. 1 well, proclaiming it the first commercial natural gas well in the state. The company placed a marker at the site in the Henrietta-Petrolia field east of Wichita Falls. The granite monument off Texas Highway 148 notes that Lone Star Gas Company built the region’s first large-diameter, long-distance pipeline to transport natural gas from the field to Fort Worth and Dallas in 1920.

The marker also credits the first oil well in North Texas to local rancher J.W. Lochridge, who drilled a shallow well in search of water. According to a 2016 article in North Texas Farm & Ranch, “Lochridge was disappointed because he needed water for his livestock. He found a use for the oil, using it in his dipping vats to rid his cattle of parasites. Lochridge later discovered the value of the black goo and in 1903 formed Lochridge Oil Company. Speculators flooded the area, and Oil City was born.”

In 1911, the Clayco No. 1 oil gusher revealed a massive oilfield near Electra, about 40 miles west of Petrolia (see Pump Jack Capital of Texas). Another North Texas oilfield between the two towns was discovered in 1918 at boom town Burkburnett.

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Recommended Reading: Life and Death of an Oilman: The Career of E. W. Marland (1974); Where it all began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); A Great Name in Oil: Sinclair Through Fifty Years (1966); Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (1997); East Chicago, Images of America (2016).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

 

April 22, 1926 – Oil Lease Auctioneer and Indian Chief Statue dedicated

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Skedee, Oklahoma, has declined significantly since 1926, but its statue remains. Photo by Bruce Wells.

A statue commemorating the friendship between Colonel E.E. Walters and Osage Indian Chief Bacon Rind (phonetically, Wah-she-hah) was dedicated in Walters’ hometown of Skedee, Oklahoma.

Beginning in 1912, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters (his real name) and the popular chief of the Osage Nation raised millions of dollars from mineral lease sales. Auctions took place beneath an elm tree at the Tribal Council House in nearby Pawhuska – with crowds gathering to witness bidding from men like Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland and William Skelly. Read the rest of this entry »

 

April 16, 1855 – Yale Scientist sees Value in Rock Oil

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A report about oil’s potential as an illuminant will lead to the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company discovering America’s first commercial well.

Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman Jr. reported Pennsylvania “rock oil” could be distilled into a high-quality illuminating oil. The professor’s “Report on Rock Oil or Petroleum” convinced a group of New Haven, Connecticut, investors to finance Edwin Drake to drill for oil in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“Gentlemen,” Silliman wrote, “it appears to me that there is much ground for encouragement in the belief that your company have in their possession a raw material from which, by simple and not expensive processes, they may manufacture very valuable products.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

April 9, 1914 – Ohio Cities Gas Company founded

Ohio Cities Gas Company became Pure Oil in 1917.

Beman Gates Dawes and Fletcher Heath founded the Ohio Cities Gas Company in Columbus, Ohio. Three years later, they acquired Pennsylvania-based Pure Oil Company and adopted that name in 1920. Pure Oil had been founded in Pittsburgh in 1895 by independent oil and natural gas producers, refiners, and pipeline operators to counter the market dominance of Standard Oil Company. Read the rest of this entry »

 

April 1, 1911 – First Well of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas”

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Electra was named after the daughter of rancher W.T. Waggoner. He had once complained about finding oil when drilling water wells for his cattle.

South of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launched an oil boom that would last decades. “As news of the gusher spread through town, people thought it was an April Fools joke and didn’t take it seriously until they saw for themselves the plume of black oil spewing high into the sky,” reports one Electra historian. Read the rest of this entry »

 




March 26, 1930 – Oklahoma City’s “Wild Mary Sudik” makes Headlines and Newsreels

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Highly pressured natural gas from the Wilcox formation proved difficult to control in the prolific Oklahoma City oilfield. Within a week of a 1930 gusher, Hollywood newsreels of it appeared in theaters across America. Photo courtesy Oklahoma History Center.

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Circa 1940s map of the Oklahoma City oilfield.

What would become one of Oklahoma’s most famous wells struck a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath Oklahoma City and oil erupted skyward. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s Mary Sudik No. 1 well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control. It produced about 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day and became a worldwide sensation known as “Wild Mary Sudik.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

March 18, 1937 – New London School Explosion

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Roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield rushed to the school and searched for survivors throughout the night. Photo courtesy New London Museum.

With just minutes left in the school day, a natural gas explosion destroyed the New London High School in Rusk County, Texas.

Odorless gas (a residual natural gas called casinghead gas) had leaked into the basement and ignited with a force felt four miles away. East Texas oilfield workers – many with children attending the school – rushed to the scene, as did a cub reporter from Dallas, Walter Cronkite.

Despite desperate rescue efforts, 298 people were killed that day (dozens more later died of injuries).

The explosion’s source was later found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked odorless gas that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. As a result of this disaster, Texas and other states passed laws requiring that natural gas be mixed with a malodorant to give early warning of a gas leak. Learn more about the tragedy in New London School Explosion.




March 20, 1919 – API founded

Tracing its roots to World War I – when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort – the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded in New York City. In 1921, API established a scale to measure a petroleum liquid’s density relative to water, called API gravity. Today based in Washington, D.C., API represents the largest integrated oil and natural gas companies. The group maintains standards and recommended practices while lobbying for the industry.

March 20, 1973 – Historic Oil Ghost Town

The former oil boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 1865 discovery of the Pithole Creek oilfield launched a drilling boom for the young U.S. petroleum industry, which had begun in nearby Titusville in 1859. Pithole oil production would lead to construction of the nation’s first oil pipeline. From beginning to end, the once famous boom town lasted about 500 days. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

March 21, 1881 – Earth Scientist becomes Director of U.S. Geological Survey

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John Wesley Powell at his desk in Washington, D.C., in 1896. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

President James Garfield appointed John Wesley Powell director of the United States Geological Survey. Today considered by the American Geosciences Institute to be one of the pioneers who laid the foundation for modern earth science research, Powell would lead USGS for more than a decade.

Born in 1834 at Mount Morris, New York, Powell was a Union officer during the Civil War; he was severely wounded at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. After the war he became highly regarded as an explorer, ethnologist, geologist, and geographer, notes AGI. Powell organized early surveys in the West before helping to establish USGS in 1879.

“In the spring of 1869, the one-armed Civil War veteran led an expedition down the Colorado River into a great, unknown, uncharted territory,” AGI reports. “Ninety-nine days later, after one of the most daring journeys in American history, John Wesley Powell emerged from the Grand Canyon to become a contemporary American hero.”

Powell championed national mapping standards and a geodetic system still in use today. “A Government cannot do any scientific work of more value to the people at large than by causing the construction of proper topographic maps of the country,” he proclaimed to Congress in 1884.




March 23, 1858 – Seneca Oil Company founded

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Seneca Oil Company drilled the first oil U.S. well in 1859. Image courtesy William R. Brice/Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Collection.

Investors from New Haven, Connecticut, organized the Seneca Oil Company with former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake a shareholder. They had purchased leases of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, America’s first oil company founded with partner George Bissell in 1854.

Bissell, who exploited the idea of using oil to produce kerosene, was excluded despite having studied oil seeps south of Titusville. “The New Haven men then put the final piece of their plan into place with the formation of a new company,” notes William Brice in Myth Legend Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.

Seneca Oil and Drake completed the First American Oil Well in 1859 – thanks to knowledge gained from George Bissell’s Oil Seeps. Both Drake and Bissell would later be called the father of the U.S. petroleum industry.

March 24, 1989 – Supertanker Exxon Valdez runs Aground in Price William Sound

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Shown being towed away from Bligh Reef, the Exxon Valdez had been outside shipping lanes when it ran aground in March 1989. Photo courtesy Erik Hill, Anchorage Daily News.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The accident, which came after nearly 12 years of routine oil tanker passages through Prince William Sound, resulted in a massive oil spill.




Eight of the supertanker’s 11 oil cargo tanks were punctured. An estimated 260,000 barrels of oil spilled, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline. With the captain not present on the bridge, an error in navigation by the third mate had grounded the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload. Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely passed through Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times.

When the 987-foot-long tanker hit the reef that night, “the system designed to carry two million barrels of North Slope oil to West Coast and Gulf Coast markets daily had worked perhaps too well,” explains the Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s report. “At least partly because of the success of the Valdez tanker trade, a general complacency had come to permeate the operation and oversight of the entire system.”

A lengthy, massive cleanup began for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (the infamous vessel was sold for scrap in 2012). As a result of the accident, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 mandated that all new tankers be built with double hulls, requiring the phasing out single-hull tankers in U.S. waters by 2015.

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Recommended Reading:
A Texas Tragedy: The New London School Explosion (2012); Oil Boom Architecture: Titusville, Pithole, and Petroleum Center, Images of America (2008); The Powell Expedition: New Discoveries about John Wesley Powell’s 1869 River Journey (2017); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Perspectives on Modern World History (2011).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

 

March 11, 1829 – Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well

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Drilled in 1829 about 250 miles north of Nashville, the Kentucky “salt well” produced about 50,000 barrels of oil in three weeks.

Boring for salt brine with a simple spring-pole device on a farm near Burkesville, Kentucky, Martin Beatty in 1829 found an oilfield only 171 feet deep. Some historians consider this the earliest commercial oil well in North America.

Beatty, an experienced salt driller from Pennsylvania, had drilled brine wells to meet growing demand from settlers needing the dried salt to preserve food. He bored his wells by percussion drilling – raising and dropping a chisel from a sapling, an ancient technology for making hole.

According to historian Sheldon Baugh, prior to the Cumberland County oilfield discovery, Beatty first found oil in a McCreary County brine well in 1819. That well “provided very little of the useless stuff” and was soon forgotten. The historian described the scene of Beatty’s oil well of March 11, 1829: On that day, well-driller Beatty bragged to bystanders “Today I’ll drill her into salt or else to Hell.” When the gusher erupted he apparently thought he’d succeeded in hitting “hell”! As the story goes “he ran off into the hills and didn’t come back.”

A later newspaper account reported Beatty’s well was neglected for years, “until it was discovered that the oil possessed valuable medicinal qualities.” Oil from Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well eventually found its way to Pittsburgh, where Samuel Kier bottled and sold it as medicine. He would later refine kerosene from oil produced from the first commercial U.S. oil well.




March 11, 1930 – Society of Exploration Geophysicists founded

The Society of Exploration Geophysicists was founded by 30 men and women in Houston as the Society of Economic Geophysicists. Based in Tulsa since the mid-1940s, SEG fosters “the expert and ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”

SEG began publishing the award-winning journal Geophysics in 1936 and in 1958 formed a trust to provide scholarships for students of geophysics. The society in 2018 had more than 20,000 members in 128 countries.

March 12, 1912 – Tom Slick makes First of Many Oilfield Discoveries

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Tom Slick is among those honored at the Conoco Oil Pioneers plaza at the Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Once known as “Dry Hole Slick,” independent producer Thomas B. Slick discovered a giant oilfield on his way to becoming far better known as Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters. His No. 1 Wheeler uncovered the Drumright-Cushing oilfield, which produced for the next 35 years, reaching 330,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak. Slick then began an 18-year streak of discovering some of America’s most prolific fields in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas.

During the Greater Seminole Oil Boom, Slick secured leases and drilled successful wells in oilfields at Tonkawa, Papoose, and Seminole. The gushers often proved spectacular: No. 4 Eakin well – 10,000 barrels of oil per day; No. 1 Laura Endicott well – 4,500 barrels of oil per day; No. 1 Walker well – 5,000 barrels of oil per day; and No. 1 Franks well – 5,000 barrels of oil per day.

By 1929, Slick was the largest independent operator in the United States with a net worth up to $100 million. By 1930, in the Oklahoma City field alone, he completed 30 wells with the capacity to produce 200,000 barrels of oil daily. Slick’s sudden death from a stroke in August 1930 at age 46 ended a remarkable oilfield career.

March 12, 1914 – Last Coal Powered U.S. Battleship Commissioned

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The USS Texas’ coal-powered boilers were converted to burn fuel oil in 1925. Photo courtesy Battleship Texas State Historic Site.

The U.S.S. Texas, the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers, was commissioned in 1914. Coal-burning boilers, which produced dense smoke and created tons of ash, required the Navy to maintain coaling stations worldwide. Coaling ship was a major undertaking and early battleships carried about 2,000 tons with a crew of “coal passers.”

Dramatic improvement in efficiency came when the Navy began adopting fuel oil boilers. By 1916, the Navy had commissioned its first two capital ships with oil-fired boilers, the U.S.S. Nevada and the U.S.S. Oklahoma. To resupply them, “oilers” were designed to transfer fuel while at anchor, although underway replenishment was soon possible in fair seas.

The U.S.S. Texas was converted to burn fuel oil in 1925. The “Big T” – today the Battleship Texas State Historic Site docked on the Houston Ship Channel – was the first battleship declared to be a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.




March 12, 1943 – Secret Mission sends Roughnecks to Sherwood Forest

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Volunteer roughnecks from two Oklahoma drilling companies will embark for England in 1943. Derrickman Herman Douthit will not return.

A top-secret team of 42 American drillers, derrickmen, roustabouts, and motormen boarded the troopship HMS Queen Elizabeth. They were volunteers from two Oklahoma companies, Noble Drilling and Fain-Porter Drilling.

Their mission was to drill wells in England’s Sherwood Forest and help relieve the crisis caused by German submarines sinking Allied oil tankers. Four rotary drilling rigs were shipped on separate transport ships. One of the ships was sunk by a U-Boat.

With the future of Great Britain depending on petroleum supplies, the Americans used Yankee ingenuity to drill an average of one well per week. Their secret work added vital oil to fuel the British war effort. Read the little-known story of the Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.

March 12, 1968 – Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay Oilfield Discovered

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Map courtesy Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Photo from 1969 courtesy Atlantic Richfield Company.

Two hundred and fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield was discovered by Richfield Oil (ARCO) and Humble Oil Company (Exxon). The Prudhoe Bay State No. 1 exploratory well arrived more than six decades after the first Alaska oil well. It followed Richfield Oil’s discovery of the Swanson River oilfield on the Kenai Peninsula in 1957. At more than 213,000 acres, the Prudhoe Bay field was the largest oilfield in North America, surpassing the 140,000 acre East Texas oilfield discovery of October 1930.

Prudhoe Bay’s remote location prevented oil production beginning in earnest until 1977, after completion of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The field’s production exceeded an average rate of one million barrels of oil a day by March 1978, according to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It peaked in January 1987 at more than 1.6 million barrels of oil per day.




March 13, 1974 – OPEC ends Oil Embargo

A five-month oil embargo against the United States was lifted by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel formed in 1960. The embargo, imposed in response to America supplying the Israeli military during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, created gasoline shortages, prompting President Richard M. Nixon to propose and Congress approve voluntary rationing and a ban of gas sales on Sundays. OPEC ended the embargo after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Sinai.

March 14, 1909 – Lakeview Gusher of California

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A monument near the West Kern Oil Museum in Taft, California, marks the site of a 1910 gusher that flowed out of control for 18 months.

The Lakeview well in California’s Midway-Sunset oilfield erupted oil at dawn. The San Joaquin Valley had experienced a lot of gushers, including the Shamrock Gusher in 1896 and the 1909 Midway Gusher.

“But none of these wells came close to rivaling the Lakeview No. 1 which flowed, uncapped and untamed, at 18,000 barrels a day for 18 months in 1910 and 1911,” notes one San Joaquin Valley geologist.

The Lakeview No. 1 discovery, which became America’s most famous gusher after Spindletop Hill in 1901, was brought under control by October 1911. The “ram-type” blowout preventer to seal well pressure was invented in 1922.

March 16, 1914 – “Main Street” Oil Well completed

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An oil well on Main Street in Barnsdall, Osage County, Oklahoma, was drilled in 1914. It is included in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

A well completed in 1914 produced oil from about 1,770 feet beneath Barnsdall, Oklahoma. Ripley’s Believe It or Not someday will proclaim the well the “World’s Only Main Street Oil Well.”

The Osage County town, originally called Bigheart for Osage Chief James Bigheart, was renamed in 1922 for Theodore Barnsdall, owner of the Barnsdall Refining Company, which today is a wax refinery owned by Baker Hughes, a GE Company. The well site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

March 17, 1890 – Sunoco begins in Ohio

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Sun Oil Company brands from 1894 to 1920 (top) and 1920 to 1954.

The Peoples Natural Gas Company, founded four years earlier by Joseph Pew and Edward Emerson to provide natural gas to Pittsburgh, expanded to become the Sun Oil Company of Ohio.

At the turn of the century, the company had acquired promising leases near Findlay and entered the business of “producing petroleum, rock and carbon oil, transporting and storing same, refining, purifying, manufacturing such oil and its various products.”

In the 1920s, the company marketed Sunoco Motor Oil and opened service stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It got in the oilfield equipment business in 1929, forming Sperry-Sun, a joint venture with Sperry Gyroscope. The Pew family established the Pew Charitable Trusts. Also see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.




March 17, 1923 – Discovery reveals Giant Oklahoma Oilfields

The Betsy Foster No. 1 well, a 2,800-barrel-a-day oil gusher near Wewoka, the county seat of Seminole County, Oklahoma, created a major Seminole area boom. The discovery was followed by others in nearby Cromwell, Bethel (1924), Earlsboro and Seminole (1926) and other small towns south of Oklahoma City. Thirty-nine separate oilfields were ultimately developed within a region centering on Seminole but also including parts of Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Hughes and Pontotoc counties. Excessive oil production would drive prices to as low as 17 cents per barrel of oil.

March 17, 1949 – First Commercial Application of Hydraulic Fracturing

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The first commercial hydraulic fracturing job (above) took place in 1949 about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Halliburton.

A team of experts from Halliburton and Stanolind companies converged on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma, and performed the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.

A 1947 experimental well had fractured a natural gas field in Hugoton, Kansas, and proven the possibility of increased productivity. The technique was developed and patented by Stanolind (later known as Pan American Oil Company) and an exclusive license was issued to Halliburton Company to perform the process. Four years later, the license was extended to all qualified oilfield service companies.

“Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” proclaimed a Halliburton company spokesman in 2009, adding that more than two million fracturing treatments have been pumped without polluting an aquifer. The earliest attempts to increase a well’s petroleum production began in the 1860s (learn more in Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History)

In 1921, Erle Halliburtonn had patented an efficient well cementing technology that improved oil production while protecting the environment.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

 

March 4, 1918 – West Virginia Well is World’s Deepest

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This 1918 West Virginia oil well was the world’s deepest. Photo courtesy West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Hope Natural Gas Company completed an oil well at 7,386 feet deep on the Martha Goff farm in Harrison County, West Virginia. The well northeast of Clarksburg was the world’s deepest at the time, notes the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association in A Century of Service, a 2015 book about the association’s founding 50 years earlier. The previous depth record had been 7,345 feet for a well in Germany. Read the rest of this entry »

 

February 25, 1918 – Pawnee Bill Oil Company

As World War I neared its end in 1918, Gordon William “Pawnee Bill” Lillie entered the oil business in Yale, Oklahoma. Despite not being as famous as his Wyoming friend Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Lillie was a widely known showman and promoter of his state, according to his biographer.

The Pawnee Bill Oil Company operated a refinery in Yale, leasing 25 railroad tank cars during World War I. When the end of the war reduced demand for refined petroleum products, his company along with many Oklahoma refineries were soon operating at half capacity – or closed.

Although his oil company was still operating in March 1921, Pawnee Bill was forced to shut down his Yale refinery. His friend Col. William Cody’s Shoshone Oil Company had failed about a decade earlier in Wyoming. Read the rest of this entry »

February 20, 1959 – First LNG Tanker arrives in England

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The world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker, the Methane Pioneer, was a converted World War II Liberty freighter.

After a 27-day voyage from Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Methane Pioneer – the world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker – arrived at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England. The vessel demonstrated that large quantities of LNG could be transported safely across the ocean. Read the rest of this entry »

 

February 12, 1954 – First Nevada Oil Well

After decades of dry holes (the first drilled near Reno in 1907), Nevada became a petroleum-producing state. Shell Oil Company’s second test of its Eagle Springs No. 1 well in Railroad Valley, Nye County, produced commercial amounts of oil. The routine test revealed the Railroad Valley field – Nevada’s first major oilfield, which produced oil from an interval between 6,450 and 6,730 feet deep.




Although the Eagle Springs field would produce 3.8 million barrels of oil, finding other Nevada oilfields proved difficult. The state’s second discovery resulting in commercial production came more than two decades later in 1976 when Northwest Exploration Company completed the Trap Spring No. 1 well five miles west of the Eagle Springs field. Learn more in First Nevada Oil Well.

February 12, 1987 – Texaco Fine upheld

A Texas court upheld a 1985 decision against Texaco for having initiated an illegal takeover of Getty Oil after Pennzoil had made a legally binding bid for the company. By the end of the year, the companies settled their historic $10.3 billion legal battle for $3 billion after Pennzoil agreed to drop its demand for interest. According to the Los Angeles Times, the pact was vital for a reorganization plan that dictated how Texaco emerged from bankruptcy proceedings, a haven it had sought to stop Pennzoil from enforcing the largest court judgement ever awarded.

February 13, 1924 – Forest Oil adopts Yellow Dog

petroleum history februaryAn independent oil exploration company originally founded in 1916 consolidated with four other independent oil companies to form the Forest Oil Corporation – an early developer of secondary recovery technologies. For its logo, the new company included a two-wicked “Yellow Dog” oilfield lantern used on derricks. Many believed the lantern’s name came from the two burning wicks resembling a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Originally based in Bradford, Pennsylvania – home to the nation’s “first billion dollar oilfield” – Forest Oil developed innovative water-injection methods to keep the Bradford oilfield productive.




February 15, 1982 – Atlantic Storm sinks Ocean Ranger

With rogue waves reaching as high as 65 feet during an Atlantic cyclone, the offshore drilling platform Ocean Ranger sank on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Canada, killing all 84 on board. About 65 miles east, a Soviet container ship was struck by the same weather system and sank with the loss of 32 crew members. Described at the time as the world’s largest semi-submersible platform, the Ocean Ranger in November 1981 had begun drilling a third well in the Hibernia oilfield for Mobil Oil of Canada.

February 16, 1935 – Oil States form Compact Commission

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Renamed the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission in 1991, IOGCC has been based in Oklahoma City since the 1930s.

The Interstate Oil Compact Commission began in Dallas with the writing of the “Interstate Compact to Preserve Oil and Gas.” The new organization would be headquartered in Oklahoma City following approval by the U.S. Congress in August.

Representatives from Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas agreed to begin implementing a series of provisions to “conserve oil and gas by the prevention of physical waste thereof from any cause.” Oklahoma Gov. Ernest W. Marland  – who founded Marland Oil Company in 1921 – was elected the first chairman.

“In 1935, six states took advantage of a constitutional right to ‘compact,’ or agree to work together, to resolve common issues,” notes IOGCC, which added the word gas to its name in 1991. “Faced with unregulated petroleum overproduction and the resulting waste, the states endorsed and Congress ratified a compact to take control of the issues.”




February 17, 1902 – Lufkin Industries founded in East Texas

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The Lufkin foundry produced the first counterbalanced oil pumps. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company was founded in Lufkin, Texas, as a repair shop for railroad and sawmill machinery. When the pine region’s timber supplies began to dwindle, the company discovered new opportunities in the burgeoning oilfields following the historic discovery at Spindletop Hill.

Inventor Walter C. Trout was working for this East Texas company in 1925 when he came up with a new idea for pumping oil. His design would become an oilfield icon known by many names – nodding donkey, grasshopper, horse-head, thirsty bird, and pump jack, among others. By the end of 1925, a prototype of Trout’s pumping unit was installed on a Humble Oil and Refining Company well near Hull, Texas. “The well was perfectly balanced, but even with this result, it was such a funny looking, odd thing that it was subject to ridicule and criticism,” Trout explained.

Thanks to Walter Trout’s invention – the now familiar counterbalanced pumping unit – Lufkin Industries would sell more than 200,000 pump jacks of all sizes. General Electric acquired Lufkin for $3.3 billion in 2013. GE closed and dismantled the foundry in 2015. Learn about early oilfield production in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.

February 17, 1944 – First Alabama Oil Well

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Alabama’s major producing regions are in the west. Map courtesy Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Alabama’s first oilfield was discovered in Choctaw County when Texas oilman H.L. Hunt drilled the No. 1 Jackson well. Hunt’s 1944 wildcat well revealed the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to this discovery, 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.

Geologist and historian Ray Sorenson has found a detailed 1858 report of natural oil seeps six miles from Oakville in Lawrence County. Sorenson, who has compiled a history of all reports about petroleum prior to the Drake well of 1859, cites Michael Tuomey, who wrote about the geology of Alabama a year earlier. Learn more in First Alabama Oil Well.

Hunt drilled in Choctaw County and discovered the Gilbertown oilfield in the Eutaw Sand at a depth of 3,700 feet. The field produced 15 million barrels of oil. But the search for another oilfield led to another 11 years of dry holes.

Today, thanks to new technologies, geologists see opportunities in the deep Black Warrior Basin of Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties.

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Recommended Reading: Roadside Geology of Nevada (2017); The Taking of Getty Oil: Pennzoil, Texaco, and the Takeover Battle That Made History (2017); Images of America: Around Bradford (1997); Lufkin, from sawdust to oil: A history of Lufkin Industries, Inc. (1982); Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide (2000).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

 

February 4, 1910 – “Buffalo Bill” looks for Wyoming Oilfields

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W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, center in black hat, and other investors at an oilfield on the Shoshone Anticline near Cody, Wyoming, around 1910. Photo courtesy the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extended beyond his world-famous Wild West Show, reaching into the Wyoming oil patch.

Cody, who in 1896 founded the town that bears his name, in February 1910 bought 7,500 shares of Shoshone Oil Company. It was not his first attempt to strike oil.

Cody and several partners, including Wyoming Rep. Frank Mondell, in 1902 had begun exploring near Cody. They drilled one 500-foot dry hole and ran out of money when a second well also failed to find oil.

In 1910 Cody and the congressman once again ventured into the oil business by forming Shoshone Oil. During a visit to New York City, “Buffalo Bill” carried pocket flasks of oil to interest investors. Some of his eastern friends started calling him, “Bill, the Oil King,” notes one historian, adding, “with what degree of seriousness we cannot know.”




Unfortunately for Shoshone Oil, the state’s major oil strikes came south of Cody, and the company’s drilling funds ran out. By the early 1920s, the Salt Creek oilfield would become one of the most productive in the country. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Well.

February 7, 1817 –  Manufactured Gas illuminates Baltimore


America’s first public street lamp fueled by manufactured gas illuminated Baltimore, Maryland. The city’s Gas Light Company became the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company by distilling tar and wood to make its illuminating gas.

A small monument to the street lamp today stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street. Dedicated in 1997, the lamp is a replica of its original 1817 design. One year earlier, Baltimore artist Rembrandt Peale had hosted a gas lighting demonstration in his Holliday Street museum by burning the artificial gas – dazzling businessmen and socialites gathered there with a “ring beset with gems of light.”

“During a candlelit period in American history, the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors,” notes a historian at the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E). The gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore. Learn more in Illuminating Gaslight. Read the rest of this entry »

 

January 28, 1969 – California Oil Spill

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Since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, scientists have found that natural California oil seeps leak tons of petroleum each day.

After drilling 3,500 below the Pacific Ocean floor, a Union Oil Company drilling platform six miles off Santa Barbara suffered a blowout. The accident spilled up to 100,000 barrels of oil into the ocean with some reaching southern California’s beaches, including Summerland – where the U.S. offshore petroleum history began in 1896 with wells drilled from piers.

“Riggers began to retrieve the pipe in order to replace a drill bit when the mud used to maintain pressure became dangerously low. A natural gas blowout occurred,” explains a report by the University of California, Santa Barbara. The well, which was controlled after 12 days, turned public opinion against offshore exploration and helped lead to establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970.

Scientists have reported that natural California oil seeps leak up to 25 tons of oil every day – and have done so for thousands of years. Offshore wells actually reduce natural seepage by relieving reservoir pressure. The Santa Barbara Channel remains among the largest seeps in the world; most scientists agree that seepage in the channel has been significantly reduced by oil production. A new energy education exhibit at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, a “History of Oil in the Santa Barbara Channel,” opened in September 2018. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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.




January 22, 1861 – Pennsylvania Refinery produces Kerosene

The first U.S. multiple-still refinery was brought on-stream in Pennsylvania, one mile south of Titusville along Oil Creek. William Barnsdall, who drilled the first successful well to follow Edwin Drake’s historic 1859 oil discovery, and partners James Parker and W.H. Abbott spent about $15,000 to build six basic stills for refining a new fuel for lamps: kerosene. Much of the equipment was purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City. The refinery produced two grades of kerosene, white and the less the expensive yellow. Read the rest of this entry »

 

January 14, 1928 – “Dr. Seuss” draws Ads for Standard Oil

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During the Great Depression, Theodore Geisel created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil Company. He said the experience taught him “how to marry pictures with words.”

New York City’s Judge magazine included its first cartoon drawn by Theodore Seuss Geisel – who would develop his skills as “Dr. Seuss” while working for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

In the 1928 cartoon that launched his career in drawing, Geisel drew a peculiar dragon trying to dodge Flit, a popular bug spray of the day.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” soon became a common catchphrase nationwide. Flit was one of Standard Oil of New Jersey’s many consumer products derived from petroleum. Read the rest of this entry »

 

January 7, 1913 – “Cracking” Patent to bring Cheap Gasoline

William Burton of the Standard Oil Company’s Whiting, Indiana, refinery received a patent for a process that effectively doubled the amount of gasoline produced from each barrel of oil. Because commercial (coal-fueled) electricity was being made available to more homes and businesses, demand on the petroleum industry for kerosene had plummeted. Burton’s invention came as consumer demand for gasoline was growing with the popularity – and affordability – of automobiles. His thermal cracking idea was a key breakthrough, although the process would be superseded by catalytic cracking in 1937.




January 9, 1862 – Union exports Oil to England during Civil War

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Barrels of vinegar at a Massachusetts port, in 1870 would be similar to the 1861 loading of oil and kerosene barrels at the Port of Philadelphia. Photo courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The brig Elizabeth Watts arrived at London’s Victoria dock after a six-week voyage from Philadelphia. The small brig carried 901 barrels of oil and 428 barrels of kerosene from northwestern Pennsylvania oilfields. It was the first time America exported oil. Read the rest of this entry »

 

December 31, 1954 – Dry Hole sets California Drilling Depth Record

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A January 1954 trade magazine noted the record depth reached by the Ohio Oil Company’s deep well in Kern County – a dry hole.

As deep drilling technologies continued to advance in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in California.

The well was about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, in the San Joaquin Valley. At more than four miles deep, the well’s down-hole drilling technology was not up to the task and became stuck.

Petroleum Engineer magazine noted the well set a depth record, despite being “halted by a fishing job” and ending up as a dry hole. More than 630 exploratory wells were drilled in California during 1954.

Founded in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company discovered the Permian Basin’s giant Yates field in 1926 and later purchased Transcontinental Oil, acquiring the Marathon product name – and Greek runner trademark (see Marathon of Ohio Oil). To learn more about deep drilling history, see Anadarko Basin in Depth.

Read the rest of this entry »

December 23, 1927 – The Bad of Santa of Cisco, Texas

Adding to the lore of Cisco, Texas, where Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel during the Ranger oil boom, Marshall Ratliff, disguised as Santa Claus, attempted to rob the First National Bank. A gun battle ensued, leaving more than a dozen wounded or dead before Ratliff was captured. He later killed a guard attempting to escape and the next day was hung twice from a utility pole by enraged citizens. When the first rope broke, they strung him up again with a new one. Learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

December 23, 1943 – Major Oilfield found in Mississippi

A Gulf Oil Company wildcat well revealed a Mississippi oilfield at Heidelberg in Jasper County. As early as 1929, Gulf Oil surveyors had recognized the geological potential of the area southeast of Jackson. For the next decade the company used seismographic and core drilling technologies to look for what was believed to be a huge underground oil structure. After selecting a drilling site in October 1943, the wildcat well discovered one of the largest oilfields since the first Mississippi oil well was completed in 1939. Oil produced from the productive Heidelberg field sold for 82 cents per barrel in 1944.

December 24, 2007 – Top Holiday Film includes Novelty Oil Product


“A Christmas Story” features Ralphie, his 4th-grade classmates – and an unusual petroleum product.

The 1983 comedy “A Christmas Story” began airing in an annual 24-hour marathon on the TNT network. In addition to its infamous plastic leg-lamp, the popular holiday movie has featured another petroleum product, a novelty candy.

Paraffin, a byproduct of petroleum distillation used in candles and waxes, makes its brief appearance when Ralphie Parker and his fourth-grade classmates smuggle Wax Fangs into class, only to dejectedly hand them over to their teacher.

An older generation may recall the peculiar disintegrating flavor of Wax Fangs, Wax Lips, Wax Moustaches, and Wax Bottles (officially Nik-L-Nips) from bygone Halloweens and birthday parties. Few realize the candy cultural icons started in oilfields. Learn more in the Oleaginous History of Wax Lips and these articles about other petroleum products.

December 28, 1898 – Mr. Alford leaves Nitro Factory to Mrs. Alford

Byron S. Alford died, leaving his nitroglycerin factory to his wife, Mary Alford, who would make the business thrive, becoming in the process “the only known woman to own a dynamite and nitroglycerin factory,” notes a 2017 Smithsonian.com article. A trained accountant, Mrs. Alford and her husband had built the dynamite factory in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1883. When technology for “shooting wells” was developed, nitroglycerin became a staple of the oil and gas extraction industries, explains the Smithsonian, which credited the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory. She was “an astute businesswoman in the midst of America’s first billion-dollar oilfield.”

December 26, 1905 – Nellie Bly’s Ironclad Patent of the 55-Gallon Metal Barrel

 petroleum history december
Nellie Bly was assigned a 1905 patent for the “Metal Barrel” by its inventor, Henry Wehrhahn, who worked at her Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.

Henry Wehrhahn of Brooklyn, New York, received two 1905 patents that would lead to the modern 55-gallon steel drum. He assigned them to his employer, the world-famous journalist Nellie Bly, who was then president of the Ironclad Manufacturing Company.

“My invention has for its object to provide a metal barrel which shall be simple and strong in construction and effective and durable in operation,” Wehrhahn noted in his patent for a flanged metal barrel with encircling hoops for better control when rolling. A second patent issued at the same time provided a means for detaching and securing a lid.

A superintendent at Ironclad Manufacturing, Wehrhahn assigned his inventions to Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (Nellie Bly). She was the recent widow of the company’s founder. In 1895, at age 30, she had married the wealthy 70-year-old industrialist Robert Seaman.

Well known as a reporter for the New York World, Bly manufactured early versions of the “Metal Barrel.” It would become today’s 55-gallon steel drum. Wehrhahn later became superintendent of Pressed Steel Tank Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When Iron Clad Manufacturing succumbed to debt, Bly returned to newspaper reporting. She died at age 57 in 1922. Learn more in the Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum. Also see History of the 42-Gallon Oil Barrel.

December 28, 1930 – Lou Della Crim’s Well reveals Size of East Texas Oilfield

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“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photo courtesy Neal Campbell, Words and Pictures.

Three days after Christmas, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim of Kilgore revealed the extent of the giant East Texas oilfield. Her son, J. Malcolm Crim, had ignored advice from most geologists and drilled the well about 10 miles north of the field’s discovery well, drilled in October by Columbus “Dad” Joiner on the farm on another widow, Daisy Bradford.

The Lou Della Crim No. 1 well erupted oil on a Sunday morning while “Mamma” Crim was attending church. The well initially produced 20,000 barrels of oil a day. A month later, 15 miles farther north, a third wildcat well, the Lathrop No. 1 well, (drilled by Fort Worth wildcatter W.A. “Monty” Moncrief), confirmed the size of what proved to be a massive oilfield extending more than 480 square miles. 

December 30, 1854 – America’s First Petroleum Company incorporates

George Bissell and six other trustees incorporated the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York in Albany, capitalized at $250,000 (also see George Bissell’s Oil Seeps). The first U.S. petroleum exploration company was formed “to raise, manufacture, procure and sell Rock Oil” from Hibbard Farm in Venango County, Pennsylvania.

petroleum history December
America’s first oil company incorporated on December 30, 1854, in Albany. George Bissell wanted oil for a new product: kerosene.

In 1855, after struggling to attract investors, the company reorganized under Connecticut corporate law, which protected shareholders from company debts. The Wall Street Panic of 1857 rendered control of the company to New Haven financier Robert Townsend, who then incorporated the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in March 1858. He hired acquaintance Edwin Drake to manage the drilling on the the 105-acre Hibbard Farm lease.
On August 27, 1859, Drake’s discovery well marked the birth of the American oil industry.


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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.




December 18, 1929 – California Oil Boom in Venice

JoAnn Cowens of Fullerton, California, has been painting oilfields since the 1960s. Her work preserves derricks long since removed.

The Ohio Oil Company completed a wildcat well in Venice, California, east of the Grand Canal on the Marina Peninsula, two blocks from the ocean. The discovery well initially produced 3,000 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 6,200 feet.

Ohio Oil (today’s Marathon Oil) had received a zoning variance permitting exploration within the city limits. The well launched another California drilling boom just a few years after the world-famous discovery at Signal Hill.

In the 1960s, California artist JoAnn Cowans painted scenes of the historic steel derricks in Venice and Marina del Rey before they were removed. She published a book of her artwork in 2009, Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans.

December 18, 1934 – Hunt Oil Company founded in Texas

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H.L. Hunt’s oil career began in Arkansas and East Texas and spanned much of the industry’s history, notes Hunt Oil Company. Photo circa 1911.

Hunt Oil Company, today one of the largest privately held U.S. companies, incorporated in Delaware and opened its first office in Tyler, Texas. Four years earlier, H.L. Hunt had acquired the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well from C. Marion “Dad” Joiner at Kilgore.

“H.L. Hunt bought the lease out ‘lock, stock and barrel,’ financing the deal with a first-of-its-kind agreement to make payments from future ‘down-the-hole’ production,” notes a company history. “The Bradford No. 3 turned out to be the discovery well of the great East Texas oilfield, which, at the time, was the greatest oilfield in the world.”

Hunt Oil moved its headquarters to Dallas in 1937, and developed the first oil well in Alabama in 1944. The company entered offshore exploration in 1958 with leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

December 20, 1913 – “Prince of Petroleum” opens Tulsa Refinery


A refinery built by Joshua Cosden – soon to be known in Oklahoma as the “Prince of Petroleum” – went on stream in Tulsa. With a capacity of 30,000 barrels oil oil a day, the refinery was among the largest in the country in 1913.

A successful independent producer, in March 1924 Cosden would pay $2 million for a single 160-acre lease at a famous Osage lease auction. He later earned $15 million in West Texas oilfields – but  lost almost everything during the Great Depression. He died at age 59 in 1940. His Tulsa refinery continues operating  today as a part of Dallas-based HollyFrontier Corporation.

December 20, 1951 – Oil discovered in Washington State

A short-lived oil discovery in Washington foretold the state’s production future. The Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well was completed near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County. It produced just 35 barrels of oil a day.

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Washington’s lone well yielded a total of 12,500 barrels of oil.

The well, which also produced 300,000 cubic feet of natural gas from a depth of 3,700 feet, was abandoned as non-commercial. In 1967, Sunshine Mining Company reopened the Hawksworth well and deepened it to 4,532 feet. But with only minor shows of oil and natural gas, the well was shut in again.

Although 600 Washington wells would be drilled in 24 counties by 2010, only one produced commercial quantities of oil. It was completed by Sunshine Mining in 1959 about 600 yards north of the failed Hawksworth site. That Sunshine well, Washington’s only commercial producer, was closed in 1961.

Washington is not a good state for petroleum exploration, notes a geologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “The geology is too broken up and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California.” Learn more about West Coast geology in California Oil Seeps




December 21, 1842 – Birth of an Oil Town “Bird’s-Eye View” Artist

 petroleum history december

More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified by the Library of Congress, including this detail of the booming oil town of Sistersville, West Virginia, published in 1896.

 petroleum history december

Oil City, Pennsylvania, prospered soon after America’s first commercial oil discovery in 1859 at nearby Titusville.

Panoramic maps artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler was born  in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1842. Following the fortunes of America’s early petroleum industry, he would produce hundreds of unique maps of the earliest oilfield towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.

Fowler was one of the most prolific of the bird’s-eye view artists who crisscrossed the country during the latter three decades of the nineteenth century, notes the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. The views were drawn without help from a balloon.

Fowler featured many of Pennsylvania’s earliest oilfield towns, including Titusville and Oil City – along with the booming community of Sistersville in the new state of West Virginia. He traveled through Oklahoma and Texas in 1890 and 1891 similarly documenting such cities as Bartlesville, Tulsa and Wichita Falls. Learn more in Oil Town “Aero Views.”




December 22, 1875 – Grant seeks Asphalt for Pennsylvania Avenue

 petroleum history december

President Grant first directed that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad bitumen in 1876. In 1907, asphalt distilled from petroleum repaved the pathway to the Capitol, above.

President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 convinced Congress to repave Pennsylvania Avenue’s badly deteriorated plank boards with asphalt. Grant delivered to Congress a “Report of the Commissioners Created by the Act Authorizing the Repavement of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The project would cover 54,000 square yards. “Brooms, lutes, squeegees and tampers were used in what was a highly labor-intensive process.”

With work completed in the spring of 1877, the asphalt – obtained from a naturally occurring bitumen lake found on the island of Trinidad – would last more than 10 years.

In 1907, the road to the Capitol was repaved again with new and far superior asphalt made from U.S. petroleum. By 2005, the Federal Highway Administration reported that more than 2.6 million miles of America’s roads are paved. Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way.

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Baker Tools founder Carl Baker in 1919.

December 22, 1903 – Carl Baker patents Cable-Tool Bit

Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker of Coalinga, California, patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.

“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Baker-Hughes historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”

Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” adds a local historian. He helped establish several small oil companies, a bank and the local power company. After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through the well.

 

By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga in a building that today houses the R.C. Baker Museum. Although Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, “he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems.” Learn more in Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.




December 22, 1975 – Strategic Petroleum Reserve established

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was established when President Gerald Ford signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. With a capacity of 713.5 million barrels of oil in 2018, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world. SPR storage sites include five salt domes near the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas. In addition to SPR, the Department of Energy maintains a northeast home heating oil reserve of one million barrels of diesel and heating oil for homes and businesses in a region heavily dependent the fuels, and a one million barrel supply of gasoline for northeastern U.S. consumers.

Happy Holidays from AOGHS.ORG. Please support this website!

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Recommended Reading: Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans (2009); The Three Families of H. L. Hunt: The True Story of the Three Wives, Fifteen Children, Countless Millions, and Troubled Legacy of the Richest Man in America (1989); Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004); Bird’s Eye Views: Historic Lithographs of North American Cities (1998); Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (1994).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

December 10, 1844 – “Coal Oil Johnny” adopted

petroleum history december

John Washington Steele

The future “Coal Oil Johnny” was adopted as an infant by Culbertson and Sarah McClintock. John Steele (adopted with his sister Permelia) was brought home to the McClintock farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.

The petroleum boom prompted by Edwin L. Drake’s discovery 15 years later – America’s first commercial oil well – would lead to the widow McClintock making a fortune in oil royalties. She left the money to Johnny when she died in 1864. At age 20, he inherited $24,500 and $2,800 a day in royalties.

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele earned his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that the New York Times later reported: “In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known…he threw away $3 million ($45 million in 2013 dollars) in less than a year.” Learn about his extraordinary life in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny. Read the rest of this entry »

 

December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography


Following successful tests in the early 1920s, reflection seismic technology was first used to find oil. The Petroleum Corporation drilled a well into the Viola limestone formation near Seminole, Oklahoma. It was the world’s first oil discovery in a geological structure that had been identified by reflection survey. Others soon followed as the technology revealed dozens of mid-continent oilfields.

Conducted by Amerada Petroleum subsidiary Geophysical Research, the new exploration method resulted from experiments by an academic team led by Professor John C. Karcher of the University of Oklahoma.

Reflection seismography – seismic surveying – applied techniques from weapons research. During World War I, Allied scientists developed portable equipment that used seismic reflections to locate sources of enemy artillery fire. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

December 4, 1928 – Giant Oklahoma City Oilfield discovered

petroleum history november

The Oklahoma City oilfield would bring stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Henry Foster’s Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company and Foster Petroleum Corporation completed the Oklahoma City No. 1 well, discovery well for the Oklahoma City oilfield. Oil exploration companies had searched for decades before this successful well just south of the city limits.

The 6,335-foot-deep wildcat well produced 110,000 barrels of oil in its first 27 days, causing a rush of development that extended the field northward toward the capitol building. Drilling reached the city limits in May 1930, prompting the city council to pass ordinances limiting drilling to the southeast part of the city and allowing only one well per city block.

By 1932, with about 870 producing wells completed, the Oklahoma City oilfield’s production peaked at 67 million barrels. “From such a beginning the sprawling Oklahoma City oil and natural gas field will become one of world’s major oil-producing areas,” notes a state historical marker. The field’s production ranked eighth in the nation for the next 40 years.




Another major discovery erupted in 1930 thanks to Oklahoma City’s highly prolific Wilcox sands. With blowout-preventer technology still evolving, extreme gas pressure at the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well resulted in a gusher. The well remained uncontrolled for 11 days – making it “the most publicized oil well in world.” Learn more about the World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.” 

December 7, 1905 – Helium discovered in Natural Gas

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Professor Hamilton Cady in 1905 discovered helium could be extracted from natural gas from a well in Dexter, Kansas. Photo courtesy American Chemical Society.

The importance of natural gas for producing helium was revealed when two University of Kansas professors, Hamilton Cady and David McFarland, discovered significant amounts of helium in natural gas from a well in Dexter, Kansas. Helium was rare and considered a national strategic resource at the time.

In May 1903, the Gas, Oil and Developing Company had drilled a well at Dexter (45 miles southeast of Wichita) that produced “a howling gasser” from a depth of 560 feet. The well flowed about 9 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, and the town envisioned a prosperous future, until it was learned the gas would not burn due to its helium content. After finding helium’s association with natural gas, scientists predicted the element would no longer be rare, “but a common element, existing in goodly quantity for uses that are yet to be found for it.”


Although the Dexter well produced “The Gas That Wouldn’t Burn,” it led to a scientific advancement that lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry, according to the American Chemical Society, which designated the discovery of helium in natural gas a national historic chemical landmark in 2000.

December 8, 1931 – New BOP patented

Improving upon the success of Cameron Iron Works’ 1922 mechanically operated ram-type blowout preventer (BOP), James S. Abercrombie patented a “Fluid Pressure Operated Blow Out Preventer” designed to be “operated instantaneously to prevent a blowout when an emergency arises.” After the success of the first ram-type BOP, the company’s machine shop in Humble, Texas, manufactured the latest rapidly reacting device in time for discoveries in the Oklahoma City oilfield. Many deeper, highly pressurized wells would require the new technology.

December 9, 1921 – Antiknock Leaded Gas invented

Petroleum History December

Leaded gas helped engines, but harmed people.

American motorists would soon be saying, “Fill ‘er up with Ethyl” after two General Motors scientists discovered a gasoline additive that greatly improved engine performance. In early engines, severe “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonations in the cylinders.

GM researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discovered the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead after years of examining the properties of knock suppressors such as bromine and iodine. When they used tetraethyl lead (diluted to a ratio of one part per thousand) in a one-cylinder engine, the knocking abruptly disappeared. GM’s new leaded compound went on sale on February 2, 1923, at the Refiners Oil Company service station in Dayton, Ohio.

Although the powerful additive proved vital during World War II, concern about tetraethyl lead’s serious health dangers continued to grow. This resulted in its phase-out for use in cars beginning in 1976 (it is still used in modern aviation fuels). Learn more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.

December 9, 1924 – Bethel Oilfield adds to Oklahoma Drilling Boom

Another Oklahoma drilling boom began in the Seminole area following discovery of a giant oilfield. The Amerada Petroleum Company well uncovered the Bethel field and a new, highly prolific producing zone, the Wilcox sand. In October 1923, Joe Cromwell also had found a Seminole area oilfield with a well that produced more than 300 barrels of oil a day from about 3,500 feet deep. In March 1926, yet another discovery well opened the Earlsboro field, which was followed a few days days later by a well producing an astounding 1,100 barrels of oil a day from the Seminole City field. Learn more in Seminole Oil Boom.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 





November 27, 1940 – Art Museum features Painting of Mobilgas Station

Edward Hopper’s painting Gas was first exhibited by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Critics praised Hopper’s work and suggested that Gas with its Pegasus sign anticipated America’s Pop Art movement by a decade. According to his wife, the image of a Mobilgas station at the end of a highway is an amalgamation of several gas stations near their home in Truro, Massachusetts. The painting today is in the Museum of Modern Art.

November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies

petroleum history november

Emma Summers’ “genius for affairs” put her in control of Los Angeles oilfields.

Mrs. Emma Summers, once known as the “Oil Queen of California” died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles. Forty years earlier, the San Francisco Call newspaper described Mrs. Summers as “A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”

Summers graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano – but soon caught oil fever. With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field just a year before, Summers invested $700 for half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s. Summers’ first 14 wells produced oil – helping launch her dominance in the Los Angeles City oilfield. Learn more about this remarkable woman in Oil Queen of California.

November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well

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A rare photograph of the 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

While drilling for natural gas, William Mills found small amounts of oil in eastern Kansas. He took a sample from his Norman No. 1 well and visited more experienced oil drillers in Pennsylvania. They decided to “shoot” the well at Neodesha with 30 quarts of nitroglycerine.

The Neodesha well would later be called the first oil discovery west of the Mississippi River. “It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum. Just 832 feet deep, the well uncovered the vast Mid-Continent producing region, which eventually included five states.

Abandoned in 1919, the discovery well was neglected until 1961, when a replica 67-foot wooden derrick was erected on the site as a memorial. Learn more in First Kansas Oil Well.




November 27, 1923 – Standard Oil registers “Esso” Trademark

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey registered the “Esso” trademark, which had been in use since May 1923 for refined, semi-refined, and unrefined petroleum products. The name was a phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” for Standard Oil. A young Theodore Geisell created many Essolube ads beginning in the 1930s (see Seuss I am, an Oilman). When Standard Oil renamed itself Exxon in 1973, the company adopted the Exxon trademark nationwide. The Esso name, acquired by BP through various mergers, has remained in use in other countries.

November 28, 1895 – Inventor wins First American Auto Race

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J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles invented America’s first gas-powered automobile. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Six of America’s first “motor cars” left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back through the snow. Inventor J. Frank Duryea received $2,000 for winning the first U.S. auto race. His No. 5 automobile took just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 mph. The Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, also awarded $500 to a racing enthusiast who named the horseless vehicles “motocycles.”

The newspaper added: “Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.” Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth arrives at Pennsylvania Oil Boom Town

petroleum history november

Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania, America’s first notorious boom town. A January 1865 oil discovery launched the drilling frenzy that created Pithole, which within a year had 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania.

Murphy’s Theater was the biggest building in a town of more than 30,000 teamsters, coopers, lease-traders, roughnecks and merchants of all kinds. Three-stories high, the building had 1,100 seats, a 40-foot stage, an orchestra – and chandelier lighting by Tiffany. Miss Bridges was the darling of the Pithole stage.

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Today a grassy park, Pithole once was an infamous boom town. Pithole Visitors Center model photo by David Jones.

Following her performance as Lady Macbeth, a Titusville Morning Herald critic chastised the roughneck audience for “rude boisterous stomping and screaming…is absolutely disgraceful.”

Eight months after Bridges departed for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil ran out. The most famous boom town collapsed into empty streets and abandoned buildings. Today, visitors walk on the grass streets of the historic ghost town. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized

With almost 1.5 million acres of Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry Foster organized the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company by combining the Phoenix Oil Company and Osage Oil Company.


The lease provided the Osage with a 10 percent royalty on oil produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleased drilling to 75 different companies, but by 1903 only 30 wells had been drilled, including 11 dry holes. Debt drove the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership until the company emerged with Theodore Barnsdall a majority owner.

By the end of 1904, new drilling resulted in 361 producing wells. In 1912, Barnsdall sold his interests to a subsidiary of Cities Service Company for $40 million. Foster, who became known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” built the 32-room La Quinta Mansion – now part of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

December 1, 1913 – First U.S. Drive-In Service Station opens in Pittsburgh

petroleum history november

Gulf Refining Company opened the first service station (above) in 1913 on “automobile row,” Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold when Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stood nearby. The service station’s lighted marquee provided shelter from bad weather.

“On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. On its first Saturday, Gulf’s new service station pumped 350 gallons of gasoline,” notes the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


“Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.”

When the station was opened in 1913, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the high number of dealerships that were located along the thoroughfare. In addition to gas, the Gulf station provided free air and water – and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States. The modern gasoline pump can trace its roots to a pump that dispensed kerosene at an Indiana grocery store in the late 1880s. Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

petroleum history november

The 1960 Broadway play “Wildcat” featured circa 1912 Texas gushers.

December 1, 1960 – Lucy’s Broadway Oil Musical

Lucille Ball debuted in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics loved Lucy – but hated the show. She played the penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find an oil gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912. “Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” proclaimed a New York Times critic. Although some audiences appreciated a rare oil patch musical, after 171 performances, the show closed.

December 2, 1970 – Nixon creates EPA 

President Richard M. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency to consolidate into a single agency “a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.” At the same time, Nixon created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to serve “a national need for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources.”

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Recommended Reading: Los Angeles, California, Images of America (2001); The fire in the rock: A history of the oil and gas industry in Kansas, 1855-1976 (1976); America’s First Automobile: The First Complete Account By Mr. J. Frank Duryea Of How He Developed The First American Automobile, 1892-1893 (2012); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2000); Fill’er Up!: The Great American Gas Station (2013).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

November 19, 1927 – Phillips Petroleum introduces “Phillips 66” Gasoline

petroleum history november

Originally promoted as a dependable “winter gasoline,” by 1930 “Phillips 66” gasoline was marketed in 12 states.

After a decade as an exploration and production company, Phillips Petroleum Company entered the competitive business of refining and retail gasoline distribution. The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company introduced a new line of gasoline – “Phillips 66” – at its first service station, which opened in Wichita, Kansas.

The gas was named “Phillips 66” because it had propelled company officials down U.S. Highway 66 at 66 mph on the way to a meeting at their Bartlesville headquarters.


Route 66 soon became the backbone of Phillips Petroleum marketing plans for the new product – which boasted “controlled volatility,” the result of a higher-gravity mix of naphtha and gasoline.

Because the composition made Phillips 66 gas easier to start in cold weather, advertisements enticed motorists to try the “New Winter Gasoline.”

Acquisition of service stations added 50 new retail outlets each month to the company. By 1930, Phillips 66 gasoline was sold at 6,750 outlets in 12 states.

November 20, 1930 – Oil Booms help Hilton expand in Texas

After buying his first motel in the booming oil town of Cisco, Texas, Conrad Hilton opened a high-rise hotel in El Paso. While visiting Cisco in 1919, Hilton had witnessed roughnecks from the Ranger oilfield waiting for rooms. Hilton’s first hotel, the Mobley, had 40 rooms he rented for eight-hour periods to coincide with workers’ shifts. Although the famous “Roaring Ranger” oilfield was eventually exhausted, Hilton was firmly established in the Texas hotel business.

November 21, 1925 – Magnolia Petroleum incorporates

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Magnolia owned gas stations throughout the Southeast.

Formerly an unincorporated joint-stock association with roots dating to an 1889 refinery in Corsicana, Texas, Magnolia Petroleum Company incorporated.

The original association had sold many grades of refined petroleum products through more than 500 service stations in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Within a month of the new company’s founding, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil of New York purchased most of Magnolia Petroleum’s assets and operated it as a subsidiary.

Magnolia Oil Company merged with Socony Mobile Oil Company in 1959. The companies adopted a red Pegasus logo, which replaced the magnolia logo at gas stations (see Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark). Magnolia Petroleum ultimately became part of ExxonMobil.




November 22, 1905 – Giant Glenn Pool Field discovered

An oil monument was unveiled in Glenpool’s Black Gold Park in April 2008.

Two years before Oklahoma statehood, the the Glenn Pool (or Glen Pool) oilfield was discovered in the Creek Indian Reservation south of Tulsa. The greatest oilfield in America at the time, it would help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.” Many prominent oil producers, including Harry Sinclair and J. Paul Getty, got their start during the Glenn Pool boom.

With production exceeding 120,000 barrels of oil a day, Glen Pool exceeded Tulsa County’s earlier Red Fork GusherThe oilfield exceeded production from Spindletop Hill in Texas four years earlier. The Ida Glenn No. 1 well, about 1,500 feet deep, led to more prolific wells in the 12-square-mile Glen Pool.

By the time of statehood in 1907, Tulsa area oilfields made Oklahoma America’s biggest petroleum producing state. The field today uses enhanced recovery technologies to continue production. The community of Glenn Pool annually celebrates its petroleum heritage by hosting a Black Gold Days festival.

November 22, 2003 – Smithsonian Museum opens Transportation Hall

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Petroleum history plays a small role (a truck from Shawnee, Oklahoma) in the Smithsonian’s “America on the Move” exhibit.

A permanent exhibit about U.S. transportation history opened at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. “Get your kicks on 40 feet of Route 66,” the Smithsonian exhibit noted on opening day of the $22 million renovation of the museum’s Hall of Transportation.

The America on the Move hall was designed to let visitors “travel back in time and experience transportation as it changed America,” explains the Smithsonian. The exhibits include 340 objects and 19 historic settings in chronological order. At the same museum in 1967, the Smithsonian’s “Hall of Petroleum” devoted a wing to drilling rigs, pipelines, and pump jacks.

November 23, 1951 – First Superman Movie features “World’s Deepest Oil Well”

petroleum history november

Mole men emerge from an experimental oil well drilled beyond 32,700 feet deep.

Public fear of the risk of drilling too deep highlighted the theatrical release of “Superman and the Mole Men.” The 1951 movie featured a fictional town that was “Home of the World’s Deepest Oil Well,” where an experimental well drilled “into clear air” at 32,742 feet deep.

“Good heavens, that’s practically to the center of the earth!” exclaimed Lois Lane (in fact, the deepest U.S. well in 1951 reached 20,521 feet). When townspeople feared an invasion, Superman calmed the mob. At the end of the movie, the well ignited in flames, forever closing the connection between the two worlds. Learn about a real six-mile-deep well in Anadarko Basin in Depth.




November 23, 1947 – World’s First LPG Ship

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The first vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks.

The first U.S. seagoing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) ship went into service in 1947. Warren Petroleum Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, sent the one-of-a-kind Natalie O. Warren from the Houston Ship Channel terminal to Newark, New Jersey.

The vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks. The ship was the former Cape Diamond dry-cargo freighter, converted by the Bethlehem Steelyard in Beaumont, Texas. The experimental design would lead to new maritime construction standards for such vessels. Today’s LPG tankers carry more than 18 times the capacity of the historic first vessel.

November 25, 1875 – Continental Oil brings Kerosene to the West

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Conoco began in 1875 as Continental Oil, delivering kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah.

Convinced that he could profit by purchasing bulk kerosene in cheaper eastern markets, Isaac Blake formed the Continental Oil and Transportation Company. He soon transported Ohio kerosene to Ogden, Utah, for distribution.

Continental purchased two railroad tank cars – the first to be used west of the Mississippi River – and began shipping kerosene from a Cleveland refinery. The company grew, expanding into Colorado in 1876 and California in 1877.

Standard Oil Company absorbed Continental Oil in 1885. Following the 1911 breakup of Standard, Continental Oil reemerged as Conoco; it became ConocoPhillips in 2002. Learn more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.
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Recommended Reading: Be My Guest (1957); Magnolia Oil News Magazine (January 1930); Glenn Pool…and a little oil town of yesteryear (1978); The American Highway: The History and Culture of Roads in the United States (2000); History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century (2015); CONOCO: The First One Hundred Years Building on the Past for the Future (1975).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 




November 12, 1899 – Newspaper features Mrs. Alford and her Nitro Factory

petroleum history november

A laminated (though wrinkled) newspaper page from 1899 was part of a school project of one of Mrs. Alford’s descendants, according to the Penn-Brad Museum Oil Well Park and Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

An 1899 article in the New York World profiled Mrs. Byron Alford – the “Only Woman in the World who Owns and Operates a Dynamite Factory.” Her dangerous business operated on five acres outside of Bradford, Pennsylvania, with a daily production of 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerin and 6,000 pounds of dynamite. Local drillers used the explosives for “shooting” wells to boost production. The New York newspaper reported that Mrs. Alford manufactured the volatile mixtures in 12 separate buildings, all unpainted and made of wood (less expensive to rebuild). Learn more in Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory.

November 12, 1916 – Forest Oil Company formed

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Forest Oil’s lamp and keystone originated in 1916.

Forest Oil Company incorporated and began operations in the Bradford oilfield of northern Pennsylvania. The company, after adopting a “yellow dog” lantern logo, launched an important new technology: water-flooding (injecting water into oil-bearing formations) to stimulate production from depleted wells.

Water-flooding technology for enhanced recovery spread throughout the petroleum industry – and extended many wells’ lives by as much as 10 years. In 1924, Forest Oil consolidated with the January Oil Company, Brown Seal Oil, Andrews Petroleum and Boyd Oil. The publicly held company was headquartered in Denver for decades before merging in 2014 with privately held Sabine Oil & Gas of Houston.

November 12, 1999 – Plastics designated Historic Landmark

The American Chemical Society designated the discovery of a high-density polyethylene process as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony at the Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The oil company had first entered the plastics business in 1951, thanks to two employees, chemists J. Paul Hogan and Robert Banks, who discovered a catalyst for creating solid polymers. “The plastics that resulted — crystalline polypropylene and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) — are now the core of a multibillion-dollar, global industry,” the society notes. Among the first customers for Phillips Petroleum plastics was Wham-O, which used it to make Hula Hoops and Frisbees in the 1950s.




November 13, 1925 – New Oil Discovery at Spindletop

The Yount-Lee Oil Company started a second major drilling boom at Spindletop, Texas, when the McFaddin No. 2 well began producing 5,000 barrels of oil a day. The well was completed just south of the famous “Lucas Gusher” of 1901. Miles Yount, who had founded his exploration company in 1914, believed Spindletop Hill held more oil – if drilled deeper on its flanks. His well reached a depth of 2,500 feet (more than twice that of the 1901 well) and proved him right. That evening a Beaumont radio station announced the discovery, launching another Texas oil boom.

November 14, 1927 – Gasometer Explosion shakes Pittsburgh

More often found in Europe, gasometers were replaced by high-pressure vessels for liquefied natural gas.

Three natural gas containers – gasometers – exploded in Pittsburgh, producing “tremors such as might have been caused by a severe earthquake,” according to a 1927 report, which noted the deaths of 28 people and injury of more than 400.

First used in the late 19th century for manufactured gas (and throughout the 20th century for natural gas), gasometers were large, cylindrical containers for storing gas at near atmospheric pressure at ambient temperatures. The volume of stored gas varied, with pressure added from the weight of a movable cap.

According to a 2006 article in Pittsburgh Magazine, workmen from Equitable Gas and Riter Conley had been using acetylene torches to repair a leak on top of the largest tank, with a capacity of 5 million cubic feet of gas. Gasometers have been replaced by high-pressure vessels to store natural gas in liquid form (learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres). The Carnegie Science Center today stands near the explosion site on Pittsburgh’s North Side.




November 14, 1947 – First Oil Well drilled Out of Sight of Land

The modern offshore petroleum industry began in the Gulf of Mexico with the first oil well successfully completed out of sight of land. Brown & Root Company built the freestanding platform 10 miles offshore for Kerr-McGee and partners Phillips Petroleum and Stanolind.

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The Kermac 16 platform was featured in a 1954 Bell Helicopter advertisement encouraging use of helicopters for offshore transportation.

The unique offshore platform, Kermac 16, could withstand winds as high as 125 miles per hour. Brown & Root constructed the experimental platform at a time when no equipment specifically designed for offshore drilling yet existed.

With $450,000 invested, Kerr-McGee completed the discovery well, which produced 960 barrels of oil a day in about 20 feet of water off Louisiana’s gradually sloping Gulf of Mexico coast.

Kerr-McGee had purchased World War II surplus utility freighters and materials to provide supplies, equipment and crew quarters for the drilling site at Ship Shoal Block 32.

Sixteen 24-inch pilings were sunk 104 feet into the ocean floor to secure the 2,700 square foot wooden deck – which successfully withstood the biggest Category 5 hurricane of the 1947 season a week after drilling had begun.

Kermac 16 produced 1.4 million barrels of oil and 307 million cubic feet of natural gas before being shut down in 1984. Learn more about offshore pioneers and technology in Offshore Petroleum History and Deep Sea Roughnecks.

November 14, 1947 – WW II “Big Inch” Pipelines sold for $143 Million


Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, a company formed 11 months earlier specifically to acquire the World War II surplus 24-inch “Big Inch” and 20-inch “Little Big Inch” pipelines, won with a bid of $143,127,000 – the largest sale of the war’s surplus material to the private sector.

Under government terms, Texas Eastern Transmission converted both oil products pipelines to the transmission of natural gas, which was needed for the Appalachian region. The Little Big Inch line later proved too small for economic transmission of natural gas and was converted back to a common carrier petroleum pipeline in 1957.

November 15, 1906 – Government seeks Breakup of Standard Oil

U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte filed suit to compel dissolution of the Standard Oil of New Jersey. An 1892 court decision had ordered the Standard Oil Trust to be dissolved, but John D. Rockefeller had reorganized it to operate from New York. Although the Justice Department would win this latest suit, Standard Oil would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which finally affirmed the lower court’s decision in May 1911, mandating dissolution of Standard Oil into 34 separate companies.

November 15, 1952 – Williston Basin produces One-Millionth Barrel of Oil


The massive Williston Basin produced its millionth barrel of oil, which came from five fields in three counties in North Dakota – Williams, McKenzie, and Mountrail. By the end of 1952, monthly production would reach 356,000 barrels of oil.

“Oil was first found in the Williston Basin along the Cedar Creek Anticline in southeastern Montana, in the 1920s,” noted the North Dakota Geological Survey in 1988. “The basin did not become a major oil province until the 1950s when large fields were discovered in North Dakota.” Amerada Petroleum began the search for oil in the basin in 1946 and found it on Clarence Iverson’s farm in 1951, as explained First North Dakota Oil Well.

November 17, 1949 – USGS looks for Oil and Gas Producing Areas

The U.S. Geological Survey embarked on a massive geological study of the United States. More than 70 geologists engaged in intensive investigations covering 22 states and the Alaska Territory. Their mission was to define areas best suited for oil and natural gas exploration. Computer technology would later transform USGS topographic mapping science from prints to digital data and on-line based applications.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

November 6, 1860 – First Multi-Still Oil Refinery started in Pennsylvania


As the Civil War neared, construction began on America’s first multiple-still oil refinery one mile south of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

William Barnsdall – who had drilled America’s second commercial oil well in 1859 – would build six stills for refining kerosene. His large, multi-still refinery, which cost $15,000, used equipment purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City, then up Oil Creek to the site.

With construction finished in January 1861, the refinery produced two grades of kerosene for lamps – white and the less expensive yellow. Each barrel of oil yielded about 20 gallons of the kerosene. Read the rest of this entry »

 




October 30, 1894 – “Golden Rule” Jones patents a Better Sucker Rod

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Samuel Jones had worked as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer.

Samuel Jones patented a sucker rod design for his Acme Sucker Rod Company, which he had founded in 1892 in Toledo, Ohio. With his “Coupling for Pipes or Rods,” Jones applied his oilfield experience in mechanics to solve the frequent and time-consuming problem of broken sucker rods. His sucker rod would soon make him a millionaire.

Jones had worked in Pennsylvania’s oil region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer. He became known as “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio by creating a better workplace for employees at his factory, where he shortened the work day and started a revenue-sharing program for his workers. In 1887, Jones ran as a progressive Republican and was elected mayor of Toledo. He was reelected three times and served until dying on the job in 1904.

October 31, 1871 – Modern Refinery Method patented

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Henry Rogers improved the refining of “lamp oil.”

Petroleum refining would become far more efficient thanks to an invention by Henry Rogers of Brooklyn, New York. In 1871 he patented an “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons by repeated vaporization and condensation.”

Rogers introduced many elements of modern refinery “fractionating” towers that improved earlier processes of extracting kerosene by simple distillation in kettle stills. “The apparatus which I use is, in many respects, similar to what is known as the column-still for distilling alcoholic spirits, but modified in all the details, so as to make it available for distilling oils,” Rogers noted in his 1871 patent application.

Improved technologies led to massive refineries like the 1890s Standard Oil of Indiana Whiting Refinery.

October 31, 1903 – Salt-Dome Oilfield discovered in Texas

One mile north of Batson, Texas, a discovery well drilled by W.L. Douglas’ Paraffine Oil Company produced 600 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 790 feet. A second well drilled two months later produced 4,000 barrels of oil a day from 1,000 feet deep.




Combined with three other highly prolific salt-dome fields, Spindletop (1901), Sour Lake (1901), and Humble (1905), “Batson helped to establish the basis of the Texas oil industry when these shallow fields gave up the first Texas Gulf Coast oil,” noted the Texas State Historical Association in 2010. The area had drawn attention as early as 1900 when oil seeps were noticed.

October 31, 1913 – First U.S. Highway dedicated


The Lincoln Highway, the first automobile road across America, was dedicated in 1913 with nationwide celebrations. The 3,389-mile-long roadway connected Times Square in New York City to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park.

Conceived in 1912 and dedicated the next year, the highway was America’s first national memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, predating the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., by nine years. Soon affectionately known as “The Main Street Across America,” the highway brought prosperity to the hundreds of cities and towns along the way.

October 31, 1934 – Former Olinda Oil Wells Pitcher plays Exhibition Game 

The first inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame and former oilfield roustabout, Walter “Big Train” Johnson, appeared in an exhibition game with Babe Ruth in Brea, California. Three decades earlier Johnson had started his baseball career as a 16-year-old pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells. Many oilfield towns once fielded teams with names proudly reflecting their communities’ livelihood. Learn more in Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers and Drillers Baseball Teams.

November 2, 1902 – First Four-Cylinder “Locomobile” sold


Previously known for making heavy but powerful steam-powered automobiles, the Locomobile Company of America delivered its first four-cylinder, gasoline-powered vehicle to a buyer in New York City. Designed by engineer Andrew Riker, the 12-horsepower Locomobile sold for $4,000 ($114,000 in 2017 dollars).

In 1908, a Locomobile designed by Riker became the first U.S. car to win an international auto race. “Old 16,” a 16-liter, four-cylinder, two-seater, won the Vanderbilt Cup after a 258.5-mile race on the Long Island Motor Parkway. Built by William Vanderbilt, the parkway was one of the first modern paved roads; it also allowed easy access to Long Island for economic development.

November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Gas Well lights Pittsburgh

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“A sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly in 1885.

While drilling for oil in 1878, a well drilled by Michael and Obediah Haymaker erupted with natural gas from a depth of almost 1,400 feet. “Every piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind. But instead of oil, we had struck gas,” Michael Haymaker later recalled.

Eighteen miles east of Pittsburgh, the out-of-control well in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, produced an estimated 34 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. It was considered the largest natural gas well ever drilled up to that time.

Given oilfield technologies of the late 1880s, there was no way to cap the well and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities. The Haymaker well drew thousands of curious onlookers to a flaming torch that burned for 18 months and was visible miles away.

“Outlet of a natural gas well near Pittsburgh – a sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly. When finally brought under control, the Haymaker well provided inexpensive gas light to Pittsburgh for many years. Learn more in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.




November 3, 1900 – First U.S. Auto Show

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The Winton Motor Carriage of 1898 was the first American automobile advertisement.

America’s first gathering of the latest automotive technologies attracted thousands to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Manufacturers presented 160 different vehicles and conducted driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that encircled the exhibits.

Almost 50,000 visitors paid 50 cents each to witness autos driving up a 200-foot ramp to test hill-climbing power. The most popular models proved to be electric, steam, and gasoline…in that order. New Yorkers welcomed the new models as a way to reduce the 450,000 tons of manure and 15,000 horse carcasses that had to be removed from city streets every year.

Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in 1900, less than a thousand were powered by gasoline. But within five years, consumer preference thoroughly established the dominance of gasoline-powered autos. Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show and First Gas Pump and Service Station.

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Recommended Reading: Holy Toledo: Religion and Politics in the Life of “Golden Rule” Jones (1998); The Bradford Oil Refinery, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2006); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate (2011); Texon: Legacy of an Oil Town, Images of America (2011); The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia (2005); A History of the New York International Auto Show: 1900-2000 (2000).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 




October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom

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The “Big Dutch” No. 1 well, above, launched a Wyoming drilling boom in 1908. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek completed the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper. The Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, but a central salt dome received little attention until Italian geologist Cesare Porro recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

An English corporation, the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled the discovery well, which produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet deep. By 1930, about one-fifth of all oil produced in the United States came from the Salt Creek oilfield. Water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection

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“Smart pig” photo courtesy Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal.

Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds. The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – today known as a “smart pig” – traveled up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.

As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Modern inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.




October 23, 1970 – LNG powers World Land Speed Record

AOGHS.org interviewed Dick Keller in 2013 and produced a video viewed more than 23,500 times on YouTube.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered the Blue Flame to a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour – a world record that would stand for 27 years.

A rocket motor combining LNG and hydrogen peroxide fueled the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame, which set the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The unique motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.

Sponsored by the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth.


After building their record-setting X-1 rocket dragster in 1967 – and getting the attention of AGA executives – the engineers began design and construction of the far more ambitious Blue Flame natural gas rocket car.

Keller explains that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, the AGA “suits” saw the value of educating consumers about LNG.

“The Blue Flame was really ‘green’ – it was fueled by clean-burning natural gas and hydrogen peroxide,” he explains. “It was the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”

October 26, 1970 – Joe Roughneck Statue

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“Joe Roughneck” in Boonsville, Texas. Photo, courtesy Mike Price.

Governor Preston Smith of Texas dedicated a “Joe Roughneck” statue in Boonsville on the 20th anniversary of a giant natural gas field discovery there. In 1950, the Lone Star Gas Company Vaught No. 1 well discovered the Boonsville field, which produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 20 years. By 2001 the field reached production of 3.1 trillion cubic feet of gas from 3,500 wells.

“Joe Roughneck” began as a character in Lone Star Steel Company advertising in the 1950s. A bronze bust has been awarded every year since 1955 at the annual Chief Roughneck Award ceremony of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).

In addition to the Boonsville monument, Joe’s rugged mug today sits atop three different Texas oilfield monuments:  Joinerville (1957), Conroe (1957) and Kilgore (1986). Learn more in Meet Joe Roughneck.

October 27, 1763 – Birth of the “Father of American Geology”

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“Map of the United States of America, Designed to Illustrate the Geological Memoir of Wm. Maclure, Esqr.” This 1818 version is more detailed than the first geological map he published in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton Library.

William Maclure, who would become a renowned American geologist and “stratigrapher,” was born in Ayr, Scotland. He created the earliest geological maps of North America in 1809.

After settling in the United States in 1797, Maclure explored the eastern part of North America to prepare the first geological map of the United States. His travels from Maine to Georgia in 1808 resulted in the first geological map of the new United States, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.

“Here, in broad strokes, he identifies six different geological classes,” a Princeton historian reported later. “Note that the chain of the Appalachian Mountains is correctly labeled as containing the most primitive, or oldest, rock.”




When Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemist, organized the American Geological Society in 1819, Maclure was elected its first president. Most geologists consider Maclure (1763-1840) the “Father of American Geology.” In the 1850s, Silliman’s son, also a Yale chemist, analyzed samples of  Pennsylvania “rock oil” for refining into kerosene. His report led to drilling America’s first oil well in 1859.

October 27, 1923 – Lion Oil Refining Company founded in Arkansas

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Founded in 1923 in El Dorado, Arkansas, Lion Oil will operate about 2,000 service stations in the south in the 1950s. Photo courtesy Lion Oil.

Lion Oil Company was founded as a refining Company in El Dorado, Arkansas, by Texan Thomas Harry Barton. He earlier had organized the El Dorado Natural Gas Company and acquired a 2,000-barrel-a-day refinery in 1922.

Production from the nearby Smackover oilfield helped the Lion Oil Refining Company’s refining capacity grow to 10,000 barrels a day. By 1925, the company acquired oil wells producing 1.4 million barrels of oil. A merger with Monsanto Chemical in 1955 brought the gradual disappearance of the once familiar “Beauregard Lion” logo.

Lion Oil today markets petroleum products, including gasoline, low-sulfur diesel, solvents, propane and asphalt. Learn more Arkansas history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

October 28, 1926 – Yates Field discovered in West Texas


The giant, 26,400-acre Yates oilfield was discovered in a remote area of Pecos County, Texas, in the increasingly prolific Permian Basin. Drilled in 1926 with a $15,000 cable-tool rig, the Ira Yates 1-A produced 450 barrels of oil a day from just under 1,000 feet.

Prior to the discovery, Ira Yates had struggled to keep his ranch, located on the northern border of the Chihuahua Desert. “Drought and predators nearly did him in” notes one account, until he convinced a San Angelo company to explore for oil west of the Pecos River.

With the discovery well 30 miles from the nearest oil pipeline, a 55,000-barrel steel storage tank was under construction when four more Yates wells began yielding an additional 12,000 barrels of oil daily. Ira Yates would receive an $18 million oil royalty check on his 67th birthday. Also see Alley Oop’s Oil Roots and Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.
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Recommended Reading: The Salt Creek Oil Field: Natrona County, Wyo., 1912 (reprint, 2017); Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); The Reluctant Rocketman: A Curious Journey in World Record Breaking (2013); Historic Photos of Texas Oil (2012); Maclure of New Harmony: Scientist, Progressive Educator, Radical Philanthropist (2009).

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 




October 15, 1966 – Johnson signs National Historic Preservation Act

Recognizing the “spirit and direction of the nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage,” Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Historic Preservation Act to protect historical and archaeological sites. The Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to expand and maintain a National Register of Historic Places. “The historical and cultural foundations of the nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people,” the Act proclaimed.

October 15, 1997 – Kerosene fuels World Speed Record

octoberThe current world land speed record was set at 763.035 miles per hour by the Thrust SSC (supersonic car) using a 19th century petroleum product: kerosene. Its twin jet engines burned JP-4, a kerosene-naptha jet propellant. A British team achieved the record in a Nevada desert. Highly refined kerosene JP-4 was first used in jet aircraft in 1951. Also see the Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

October 16, 1931 – Natural Gas Pipeline sets Record

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A 1931 natural gas pipeline extended 980 miles across three states.

America’s first long-distance, high-pressure natural gas pipeline went into service during the Great Depression; it linked the prolific Texas Panhandle gas fields to consumers in Chicago.

A.O. Smith Corporation had developed the technology of thin-walled pipe and Continental Construction Corporation built the 980-mile bolted flange pipeline for the Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America (NGPL).

The $75 million high-tech project consumed 209,000 tons of A.O. Smith’s specially fabricated 24-inch wide steel pipe (the pipe filled 6,500 freight cars) and required 2,600 separate right-of-way leases.




October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded

October oil history

Today an oil museum, the original headquarters in Santa Paula is a California Historical Landmark. Photo courtesy California Oil Museum.

The Union Oil Company of California was founded by Lyman Stewart, Thomas Bard, and Wallace Hardison, who merged their petroleum properties to compete with Standard Oil of California, founded 20 years earlier.

Union Oil made a strategic alliance with small oil producers to build pipelines from the Kern County oilfields to the Pacific coast, according to the American Institute of Mining Engineers. “This gave the independent producers an alternative to what they perceived as the low prices paid by Standard Oil and the high freight rates charged by the railroads to move crude oil,” noted the 1914 bulletin article.

Union Oil, which moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1901, in March 1910 lost control of the Lakeview No. 1 well in the Midway-Sunset field, which could not be controlled for 18 months. The purchase of Pennsylvania-based Pure Oil in 1965 made the Unocal Union 76 brand a nationwide company. In 2005, Unocal become a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron. The original company headquarters in Santa Paula, a California Historical Landmark, houses the California Oil Museum.

October 17, 1917 – “Roaring Ranger” brings Texas Drilling Boom 

AOGHS events

The Ranger oilfield helped win World War I.

A wildcat well between Abilene and Dallas launched a Texas drilling boom that helped fuel the Allied victory in World War I.

The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well erupted oil about two miles south of the small town of Ranger, which had been founded in the 1870s near a Texas Ranger camp in northeastern Eastland County. Petroleum companies had searched the region with limited success since 1904.

Texas and Pacific Coal Company’s William Knox Gordon completed the discovery well at a depth of 3,432 feet. It initially produced 1,600 barrels a day of quality, high gravity oil. Within 20 months the exploration company’s stock value jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share.

“Roaring Ranger” launched a drilling boom that extended to nearby towns. More gushers followed, some producing up to 10,000 barrels of oil every day. Ranger’s population quickly grew from 1,000 to 30,000.

petroleum history october 13

Eastland County discoveries included oil wells near Cisco, where Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel.

The petroleum proved essential in World War I. When the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”

After the war, a young veteran – Conrad Hilton – visited Eastland County intending to buy a Texas bank. When his bank deal fell through, Hilton (at the Cisco train station ready to leave), noticed a small hotel with a line of roughnecks waiting for a room. Hilton decided to buy his first hotel. Learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

October 17, 1973 – Opec Embargo


The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) implemented what it called “oil diplomacy,” prohibiting any nation that had supported Israel in the “Yom Kippur War” from buying the cartel’s oil.

The Opec embargo brought an end to years of cheap gasoline and caused the New York Stock Exchange to drop by almost $100 billion. It also created one of the worst recessions in U.S. history.

By 2017, thanks to new oilfield technologies, the United States became the world’s top petroleum producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

October 18, 2008 – Derrick dedicated in Discovery 1 Park

petroleum history october 13

Discovery 1 Park in Bartlesville includes a replica derrick on the original site of Oklahoma’s first oil well.

Discovery One Park in Bartlesville  – site of a renovated Nellie Johnstone No. 1, Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well – was dedicated with a reenactment of the dramatic moment that changed Oklahoma history. Events included local roughneck reenactors and a water gusher form the 84-foot derrick. A similar cable-tool drilling rig thrilled spectators in 1897, when Jenny Cass, stepdaughter of Bartlesville founder George W. Keeler, was given the honor of “shooting” the oil well.




October 20, 1949 –  Rare Natural Gas Well in Maryland

petroleum history october

No oil has yet been found in Maryland.

The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County – the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer Beachy well produced almost 500 Mcf of natural gas a day.

The wildcat discovery prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depleted the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has yet been found in Maryland

October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico

petroleum history october

New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service began after a 1921 discovery near Aztec. Oil discoveries followed in the southeast.

New Mexico’s natural gas industry was launched with the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.

The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. The crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado.

By Christmas, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service.

In 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove). Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in New Mexico Oil Discovery.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology

petroleum history september

Henry Mohaupt’s “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun” brought to the oil patch his World War II anti-tank “bazooka” technology patented one decade earlier.

Call it a “downhole bazooka.” In 1951, war veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brought a key World War II anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry.

Mohaupt had been in charge of a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to direct and focus detonation energy ultimately produced a rocket grenade used in the bazooka. Read the rest of this entry »

This page of This Week in Petroleum History December 21 to December 27 page has moved to https://aoghs.org/this-week-in-petroleum-history/this-week-in-petroleum-history-december-21/