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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

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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.

Two General Motors scientists discovered a gasoline additive that greatly improved engine performance. American motorists were soon saying, “Fill ‘er up with Ethyl!”

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonations of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. The shock frequently damaged the engine. After five years of lab work, G.M. researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discovered the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead.

The G.M. scientists examined 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. The powerful additive proved vital during World War II, but tetraethyl lead’s serious health dangers resulted in its phase-out for use in cars beginning in 1976. Learn more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas. It is still used in aviation fuels.

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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”

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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

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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

petroleum history october

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

petroleum history november

“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

petroleum history november

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

petroeum history october

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

petroleum history october

“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

petroleum history october 20

“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”

petroleum history october 27

“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

petroleum history October

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

petroleum history october 13

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.

 

October 8, 1915 – Elk Basin oilfield discovered in Wyoming

october petroleum history

“Gusher coming in, south rim of the Elk Basin Field, 1917.” Photo courtesy American Heritage Center.

In a remote, scenic Wyoming valley on the border of Montana, a discovery well opened the giant Elk Basin oilfield. Drilled by the Midwest Refining Company, the wildcat well produced up to 150 barrels of oil a day of a high-grade, “light oil.” More well completions followed.

The Elk Basin extended from Carbon County, Montana, into northeastern Park County, Wyoming. Geologist George Ketchum first recognized the potential of the basin as a source of oil deposits. Ketchum, a farmer from Cowly, Wyoming, in 1906 had explored the area with C.A. Fisher. Read the rest of this entry »

 

October 1, 1908 – Ford produces First Model T

petroleum history september

Model T tires were white until 1910, when the petroleum product carbon black was added to improve durability.

The first production Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford built about 15 million Model T cars – fueled by inexpensive gasoline. The auto’s popularity was great timing for the U.S. petroleum industry, which had seen demand for kerosene for lamps drop because of increased use of electric lighting. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 »

 

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

In need of more capital, George Bissell and partner Jonathan Eveleth reorganized their Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first oil company in the United States, to attract investors for drilling a well in search of oil.

The businessmen re-incorporated the New York-based Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company (established in 1854 to explore oil seeps near Titusville) into their new exploration venture, the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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

petroleum history September

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 4, 1841 – Patent for Percussion Drilling Technology 

petroleum history september

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

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris 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 27, 1859 – U.S. Petroleum Industry begins in Pennsylvania

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

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

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

petroleum history august

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

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

August 27, 1959 – Stamp celebrates Oil Centennial

petroleum history august 25

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

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

Gen. Summerfield added that a commemorative stamp would serve “as a reminder of what can be achieved by the combination of free enterprise and the vision and courage and effort of dedicated men.”

During his introduction of the new four-cent commemorative postage stamp, the Postmaster General described the role of U.S. petroleum in war and peace. “The American people have great reason to be indebted to this industry,” Gen. Summerfield proclaimed. “It has supplied most of the power that has made the American standard of living possible.”

Fifty years later, the U.S. Postal Service Stamp Advisory Committee in 2009 rejected requests for a stamp recognizing the 150th anniversary of the U.S. petroleum industry. The committee, which meets four times a year to review suggestions for new postage stamps, earlier had granted commemorative stamps for Kermit the Frog and each of his nine fellow Muppets. Learn more in the Centennial Oil Stamp Issue.

August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom (and Bust) at Snake Hollow

About 300 petroleum companies converged on a natural gas field near Pittsburgh within months of the “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Drilled near the Monongahela River, the discovery well produced more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. It prompted an exploration frenzy that witnessed $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area.

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

 

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,” notes 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 13, 1962 – Norman Rockwell illustrates Oil and Gas Journal 

petroleum history August

A Norman Rockwell illustration advertised a leading industry magazine.

petroleum history August

Norman Rockwell’s art commemorated the 1959 centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry.

The Oil and Gas Journal promoted itself with an illustration from artist Norman Rockwell captioned, “Where Oil Men Invest Their Valuable Reading Time.” Rockwell’s renditions of American life brought him widespread popularity through magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

In addition to the illustrations for advertisements in the Oil and Gas Journal, in 1959 Rockwell provided artwork to the American Petroleum Institute, which sponsored a U.S. Postal Service “first day of issue” to commemorate the 1959 centennial of the birth of the U.S. oil industry (see Centennial Oil Stamp Issue). Rockwell’s illustration included the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.” His drawing depicted “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” notes a collector. Learn about another oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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

Alley Oop oil roots

A 1995 postage stamp commemorated “Alley Oop” by Victor Hamlin, who worked in the Yates oilfield at Iraan, Texas.

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, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter

petroleum history august

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

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

Adair began his career working for Myron Macy Kinley, who patented a technology for using charges of high explosives to snuff out well fires. Kinley, whose father had been 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.

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.

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Scientists chose Oklahoma’s Arbuckle Mountains for seismic tests in 1921.

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 at scenic turnout between mile markers 49 and 50.

“This survey followed limited testing in June 1921 in the outskirts of Oklahoma City,” the society reports. Verification testing was conducted in the Arbuckles in July 1921, and the results led to the first geological section measurement on August 9, 1921. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oilfield of Luling, Texas

After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, Texas, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company completed the Rafael Rios No. 1 well. The 1922 discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years, the field had almost 400 producing wells annually yielding 11 million barrels of oil.

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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.

Thanks to the determination of President Edgar B. Davis, the company was the first tap oil production in the Edwards lime and the Austin chalk formations. Locals proclaimed he found the oil after consulting  a psychic. The unusual oil patch “reading” came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.

Davis would later sell his 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,” notes the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which on August 10, 2009, designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

“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 adds. “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 12, 1888 – First Road Trip

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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. The 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.

By the end of the century, Mercedes-Benz was the largest car company in the world. The first road trip can today be retraced by following signs of the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 as the first female automotive pioneer. Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip.

August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oil and Gas Producers unite

Eastern Kentucky independent producers joined the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association in Frankfort, where articles of incorporation were amended to create a state-wide organization – today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association.

A 1919 oil discovery near Pellville in Hancock County had touched off an oil boom in western Kentucky. Some historians also credit the state with the first U.S. commercial oil well; in 1829, oil had been found while boring for salt brine with a spring-pole a farm near Burkesville. Learn more in Kentucky’s Great American Well .

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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 donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

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

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A 2001 natural gas pipeline survey finally revealed the U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The U-166 was attacked and sunk by a Navy patrol boat just hours after the submarine had torpedoed and sunk a U.S. freighter. Despite being depth charged, the U-boat 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 from a well five miles away. The well’s production – four million cubic feet of natural gas a day –  was the largest in the quickly 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, 1938 – Petroleum Product replaces Hog Bristles

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A 1938 Life magazine advertisement promotes Dr. West’s exclusive nylon bristles.

Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, promoted its “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” – the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic nylon developed by DuPont chemists just three years earlier. Americans would soon be brushing their teeth with nylon bristle toothbrushes instead of hog bristles, declared the New York Times.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” noted a 1938 Weco Products advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with ‘EXTON,’ a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”

Pricing its toothbrush at 50 cents, Weco Products guaranteed “no bristle shedding.” Before the invention of nylon, “the world relied on toothbrush bristles made from the neck hairs of wild pigs from Siberia, Poland and China,” notes the Royal Society of Chemistry. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

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.

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“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. Today’s 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 consequent 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 donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 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 preserves the histories of the area’s historic oilfields, including Earlsboro, St. Louis, Bowlegs, Little River, and Allen.

Three years after an oil well completed near Bowlegs, Oklahoma, a gusher erupted south of Seminole and 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 Greater Seminole Oil Boom.

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

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

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

During launch, five engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burned “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust.

Saturn’s rocket fuel was a highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1) that could trace its roots to the 1840s and “coal oil” for lamps. Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner began refining the fuel from coal in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax). RP-1 today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas and SpaceX rockets. Learn more in Kerosene Rocket Fuel.

July 16, 1935 – First Parking Meter made Read the rest of this entry »

 

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” along the Kanawha River.

Washington had acquired 250 acres near the river because of the oil and natural gas seeps. “This was in 1771, making the father of our country the first petroleum industry speculator,” noted historian David McKain in Where it all Began: The Story of the People and Places where the Oil and Gas Industry began in West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio.

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 sales trips led to his idea of a Tin Woodman character in his book, published in 1900 and illustrated by W.W. Denslow.

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 2, 1910 – Naval Petroleum Reserves established

Commissioned in 1914, the U.S.S. Texas was the last American battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers.

As the Navy converted from coal to oil-burning ships, President William Howard Taft established three Naval Petroleum Reserves. In a message to Congress he explained:

“As a prospective large consumer of oil by reason of the increasing use of fuel oil by the Navy, the federal government is directly concerned both in encouraging rational development and at the same time insuring the longest possible life to the oil supply.”

The last U.S. battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers, the U.S.S. Texas, was launched in 1912 and converted to oil-fired boilers in 1926. Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

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, forerunner of Union Oil Company, had commissioned the steam 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 – Birth of 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.

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey incorporated a new subsidiary in Indiana in 1889. Standard Oil of Indiana processed oil at a growing refinery at Whiting, Indiana, southeast of Chicago.

By the mid-1890s, the Whiting refinery was the largest in the country. It began by producing axle grease for industrial machinery, paraffin wax for candles, and kerosene for home lighting. When John D. Rockefeller was forced to break up his oil holdings in 1911, Standard Oil of Indiana emerged as an independent company. Its Amoco service stations began opening in the 1950s. Amoco merged with British Petroleum (BP) in 1998 – the largest foreign takeover of an American company up to that time. Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery. Read the rest of this entry »

 

June 11, 1816 – Manufactured Gas lights Baltimore Museum

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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.

To impress Baltimore civic leaders, Rembrandt Peale illuminated a room in his Holliday Street Museum by burning manufactured gas, a fuel distilled from coal, tar or wood. His 1816 display dazzled museum patrons with a “ring beset with gems of light.”

The Baltimore city council approved Peale’s plan to light the city’s main streets. Peale and a group of investors founded the Gas Light Company of Baltimore. “So was born the first gas company in the New World,” proclaims an historian at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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

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In 1958, the University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus, where it stands today.

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 Reagan County region was once thought to be worthless, but the Santa Rita No. 1 well discovered an oilfield, helping to reveal the true size of the Permian Basin. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 14, 1953 –  Golden Driller welcomes Visitors to Tulsa Oil Expo

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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 big roughneck attracted so much attention that the company refurbished and donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority. The giant was rebuilt in 1966. Read the rest of this entry »

 

May 7, 1920 – Erle Halliburton launches Cementing Company

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

Halliburton Company was founded as an oilfield well service and cementing company by Erle Palmer Halliburton. The Wilson, Oklahoma, company 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 remains integral to the industry, because its injection into the well seals off water formations from the oil, protects the casing, and minimizes the danger of blowouts. Halliburton’s company in 1922 patented a new “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.

The company introduced cement pumps powered by truck motors rather than steam from rig boilers and a device that allowed the testing of a formation without setting casing. Halliburton was the first to offer self-contained cementing units operating under their own power. More advances in cementing technology followed. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

May 8, 1918 – Shreveport Gassers go Extra Inningspetroleum history may

As baseball became America’s favorite pastime, the Texas League’s Shreveport Gassers played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was declared a tie. The Gassers were one of several oilfield-related teams in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (today known as Minor League Baseball). At the time, the leagues’ 96 teams included the Okmulgee Drillers, the Tulsa Oilers, the Independence Producers, the Beaumont Exporters, the Corsicana Oil Citys, the Wichita Falls Spudders, and the Iola Gasbags. Learn more in Oilfields of Dreams. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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

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Marland Oil Company acquired Continental Oil in 1929 and 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 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, deals, trades and contracts. They also help ensure compliance with governmental regulations. The association’s mission has grown since 1955, according to the AAPL website:

“With over 15,000 members nationwide, AAPL serves as a guiding resource to support landmen as they continue their education in an ever evolving industry, work closely with the public to advance oil and gas interests, and to ensure America’s energy independence.”

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 on May 1, 1860, when John Castelli Rathbone found oil near a stream called Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia.

The Rathbone well reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day. Rathbone partnered with his brother John as a major drilling boom began – the first to take place outside Pennsylvania. 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,” notes one West Virginia historian, He adds that the region’s 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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The 1870 “safety derrick lamp” will become known as a “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. Today it is owned by BP.

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 was soon producing high-quality kerosene to meet public demand for use in home lamps. Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

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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 donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

April 23, 1878 – New Oil Exchange Building opens in Pennsylvania

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By 1877, the Pennsylvania oil regions had created the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind only New York and San Francisco. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

After incorporating four years earlier, the Oil Exchange of Oil City, Pennsylvania, opened a $100,000 brick building on Seneca Street. Independent producers began meeting there to trade oil and pipeline certificates. Earlier, they had gathered at local hotels or along Oil City’s Centre Street, then known as the “Curbside Exchange.”

Prior to the 1870s, most Pennsylvania oil buyers had taken on-site delivery of oil in wooden barrels they provided themselves. The rapidly growing oil pipeline infrastructure created “the necessity of a suitable place in which to trade oil certificates was one that followed the improved method of transportation, and was in fact apparent from the early stages of oil commerce,” explained one Oil City historian in “The 1896 Derrick Souvenir Book.” John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of New Jersey would soon bring an end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative oil trading markets. Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges. 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.”

Silliman’s conclusion that kerosene could be distilled from oil as readily as coal led to the first U.S. commercial oil discovery at Titusville four years later. Learn more in First American Oil Well.

April 16, 1920 – First Arkansas Oil Well

Col. Samuel S. Hunter of the Hunter Oil Company of Shreveport, Louisiana, completed the first oil well in Arkansas. His Hunter No. 1 well (also known as the Lester-Hamilton No. 1 after owners of the lease) had been drilled to 2,121 feet.

Although the well yielded only small quantities of oil in Ouachita County, the discovery was followed by a January 1921 oil gusher – the S.T. Busey well – in the same field. These wells marked the beginning of oil production in Arkansas and launched the state’s petroleum industry.

Col. Hunter later sold his original lease of 20,000 acres, including the non-commercial discovery well, to Standard Oil Company of Louisiana for more than $2.2 million. Learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells.

April 17, 1919 – More Oilfields found in North Texas

Another drilling boom was launched in Wichita County, Texas, when the Bob Waggoner No. 1 well began producing 4,800 barrels of oil a day. Read the rest of this entry »

 

April 9, 1914 – Ohio Cities Gas Company founded

Ohio Cities Gas Company became Pure Oil in 1917.

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

Pure Oil sold kerosene to customers in Philadelphia and New York City, becoming just the second vertically integrated oil company after Standard Oil. Headquartered in a Chicago skyscraper it built in 1926, Pure Oil became one of the 100 largest industrial corporations in the United States. The company in 1965 was acquired by Union Oil Company of California, now a division of Chevron.

April 10, 1866 – Densmore Oil Tank Cars

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The Densmore Tank Car will briefly revolutionize the bulk transportation of oil to market. Hundreds of the tank cars were in use by 1866.

Inventors James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, received a patent for their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum,” which they developed a year earlier in the booming northwestern Pennsylvania oil region.

Their patent illustrated a simple but sturdy design for securing two re-enforced containers on a typical railroad car. Although these early oil-tank cars were an improvement, they soon would be replaced by the more practical single horizontal types seen today

After leaving the oil transportation business, Amos Densmore in 1875 came up with a new way for arranging a “type writing machine” keyboard so commonly used letters no longer collided and stuck. His “Q-W-E-R-T-Y” arrangement improved the original 1868 invention. James Densmore’s financial success in the oilfields helped establish the Densmore Typewriter Co. Learn more in Densmore Oil Tank Cars. Read the rest of this entry »

 

April 2, 1978 – First Episode of “Dallas” airs on CBS

Marketed as a prime-time soap opera, “Dallas” debuted as a miniseries on the CBS network. The show, which would air for 14 seasons, featured the Ewing family, their independent oil company Ewing Oil, and a ranch in Texas. The U.S. petroleum industry’s image would never be the same after J. R. Ewing, older brother of arch-enemy Bobby Ewing, became the show’s most popular character.

J.R.’s business schemes and “unapologetic commitment to self-interest” attracted loyal viewers throughout the 1980s, notes creator David Jacobs in a 1990 New York Times article. The cliffhanger, “Who shot J.R.?” mystery, the show’s third-season finale, led to the “Who Done It?” episode, which at the time was the highest-rated television episode in U.S. history, watched by 83 million people. 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.

What will 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. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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, now called API gravity.

Today based in Washington, D.C., API represents 625 members, which include the largest integrated oil and natural gas companies. It maintains nearly 700 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: 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 donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

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. Stories of his business acumen grew with his fortune. His 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 – Lake View 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 Lake View 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 1910. 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.

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 (see Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History)In 1921, Erle Halliburton patented an efficient well cementing technology that improved oil production while protecting the environment.

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.

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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 donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

March 5, 1895 – First Wyoming Refinery produces Lubricants

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The original Casper oil refinery in Wyoming, circa 1895. Photo courtesy Wyoming Tales and Trails.

Near the Chicago & North Western railroad tracks in Casper, Civil War veteran Philip “Mark” Shannon and his Pennsylvania investors opened Wyoming’s first refinery. It could produce 100 barrels a day of 15 different grades of lubricant, from “light cylinder oil” to heavy grease. Shannon and his associates incorporated as Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Company.

By 1904, Shannon’s company owned 14 small wells in the Salt Creek field, 45 miles from the refinery (two days by wagon.) Each well produced 10 to 40 barrels of oil per day – more than the Casper refinery or the market could accommodate.

Despite Casper’s growing population (1900 census counted 92,531) and improved railroad access, transportation costs meant that Wyoming oil could not successfully compete for the distant eastern markets. The Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Company struggled for 11 years before being sold for $350,000. Wyoming’s first real petroleum boom would have to wait until 1908, when Salt Creek’s “Big Dutch” well was completed, bringing entrepreneurs and investors in search of oil wealth. Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

March 5, 1963 – Popular Petroleum Product patented

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“Extruded tubing is desirable because it may be economically fabricated in continuous lengths,” Arthur Melin noted in his patent application.

Arthur “Spud” Melin, co-founder of Wham-O, received a patent for the Hula Hoop, a 42-inch toy manufactured with a newly invented petroleum product, the world’s first high-density polyethylene plastic.

While searching for the right material to make Frisbees and Hula Hoops in the 1950s, Melin and partner Richard Kerr chose Marlex, a plastic invented by chemists at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Although Phillips Petroleum had introduced Marlex in 1954, the transition from the laboratory to mass production proved difficult. Customers for the new, hard plastic failed to materialize. Marketing executives were relieved in 1957 when demand for Wham-O’s “Pluto Platter” – today’s Frisbee – began to empty warehouses full of Marlex pellets.

When Wham-O introduced Hula Hoops in 1958, the company reportedly sold 25 million in four months. “The great obsession of 1958 – the undisputed granddaddy of American fads…the hoop rewrote toy merchandising history,” notes Richard Johnson in his book, American Fads. Learn more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.

March 7, 1902 – Oil discovered at Sour Lake, Texas

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“The resort town of Sour Lake, 20 miles northwest of Beaumont, was transformed into an oil boom town when a gusher was hit in 1902,” notes the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Adding to giant Texas oilfields, the Sour Lake oilfield was revealed just a few miles from the world-famous Spindletop field discovered about one year earlier. The spa town of Sour Lake soon became a boom town where many oil companies, including Texaco, got their start. Read the rest of this entry »

 

February 27, 1962 – Long Beach Voters approve Offshore Drilling

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Members of the Los Angeles Association of Professional Landmen toured THUMS islands operations on November 4, 2017. Photo courtesy LAAPL.

Voters at Long Beach, California, approved “controlled exploration and exploitation of the oil and gas reserves” underlying the harbor south of Los Angeles. The city’s charter had prohibited such drilling since a 1956 referendum, but advances in technology offered new and environmentally sensitive opportunities to exploit an additional 6,500 acres of the Wilmington oilfield.

Four artificial islands were soon constructed at a cost of $22 million by a consortium of companies called THUMS: Texaco (now Chevron), Humble (now ExxonMobil), Union Oil (now Chevron), Mobil (now ExxonMobil) and Shell Oil. The islands in 1967 were named Grissom, White, Chaffee, and Freemen in honor of lost Nasa astronauts. Occidental Petroleum purchased THUMS in 2000.

The California Resources Corporation operates the offshore portion on the islands of the Wilmington field, the fourth-largest U.S. oilfield, notes the Los Angeles Association of Professional Landmen, whose members toured the facilities in late 2017.

“Most interestingly, the islands were designed to blend in with the surrounding coastal environment, which happened to be the same designers who worked on Disneyland’s Tomorrowland,” explains LAAPL Education Chair Blake W.E. Barton of Signal Hill Petroleum.

From shore, the four “Astronaut Islands” appear to be occupied by upscale condos and landscaped vegetation, courtesy of Disneyland architect Joseph Linesch, whose aesthetic integration of the production structures was described by the Los Angeles Times as, “part Disney, part Jetsons, part Swiss Family Robinson.” Learn more in THUMS – California’s Hidden Oil Islands.

February 28, 1935 – DuPont Chemist Wallace Carothers invents Nylon

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Common man-made fibers used for textiles and plastics contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

A former Harvard professor working in a DuPont research laboratory discovered the world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – a petroleum product. After experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, professor Wallace Carothers created a long molecule chain, a stretching plastic. The inventor had earlier discovered neoprene (commonly used in wet-suits), advancing understanding of polymers.

Just 32 years old, Carothers produced the fibers when he formed a polymer chain using a process to join individual molecules. Each molecule consisted of 100 or more repeating units of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, strung in a chain. DuPont company patented nylon in 1935, but it was not revealed until 1938.

Initially known as “Fiber 66” the new polyamide was one product from DuPont’s 12-years and $27 million in research. A variety of market names were considered for this “artificial silk,” including Norun, Nilon, Nuron, and Nepon, before Nylon was chosen. The first commercial use was for toothbrush bristles, which went on sale the same year. After World War II, nylon hosiery for women would make the Delaware chemical company a fortune. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

February 28, 1982 – Getty Museum becomes Richest in World

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The J. Paul Getty Museum art collection is housed at the Getty Center (above in 2009) and the Getty Villa on the Malibu coast.

Following years of legal battle by his relatives, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles became the most richly endowed museum in the world after receiving a $1.2 billion bequest left to it by oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, who died in 1976.

After working in his father’s oilfields in Oklahoma, Getty founded his first oil company in Tulsa and drilled the Nancy Taylor No. 1 well near Haskell, where oil and natural gas production began in 1910. The J. Paul Getty Museum opened in 1954 in his ranch house and later the mansion inspired by the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum in Malibu (today, Pacific Palisades).

“Mr. Getty’s philanthropy enabled the construction of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and the Getty Center in Brentwood, the expansion of the collections of the museum, and the creation of the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Research Institute, and the Getty Foundation,” notes the J. Paul Getty Trust, now a charitable foundation worth $10.5 billion.

March 1, 1921 – Halliburton patents Cementing Technology

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Halliburton’s 1921 cementing process isolated down-hole zones and helped prevent collapse of casing.

Erle P. Halliburton patented his new oilfield technology – a “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells.” He had moved to the Healdton oilfield in Oklahoma after working in the booming Burkburnett oilfields of Texas. He established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan, Oklahoma, in 1919.

“It is well known to those skilled in the art of oil well drilling that one of the greatest obstacles to successful development of oil bearing sands has been the encountering of liquid mud water and the like during and after the process of drilling the wells,” Halliburton noted in his 1921 patent.

The new well cementing process isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life. It also protected the environment.

Halliburton’s patent application noted that typical oil production, hampered by water intrusion that required time and expense for pumping out, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company and Stanolind Oil in March 1949 applied the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing at a well near Duncan. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

March 2, 1922 – Osage Nation Oil Lease sells for $1 Million

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Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters (in striped shirt) was famous as “auctioneer of the Osage Nation.”

Under the broad crown of a giant elm next to the Osage Council House in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Skelly Oil and Phillips Petroleum Company jointly bid more than one million dollars for just a 160-acre tract of land.

The 1922 auction is Oklahoma’s first million dollar mineral lease. Beneath the shade of the Million Dollar Elm, leading independent producers such as Frank Phillips, Harry Sinclair, Bill Skelly, Jean Paul Getty and E.W. Marland were frequent bidders to lease this promising territory on the Osage Indian Reservation.

The Osage awarded a medal to their Million Dollar Auctioneer. Learn more Oklahoma petroleum history by visiting Oklahoma oil and gas museums.

March 3, 1879 – United States Geological Survey established

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) was established when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed legislation that included a brief section creating a new agency in the Department of the Interior.

The 1879 legislation resulted from a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which had been asked by Congress to provide a plan for surveying the territories of the United States. The new agency’s mission included “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain,” notes a USGS history.

Today based in Reston, Virginia, with a budget of more than $1 billion, USGS employs about 10,000 scientists, technicians and staff. It also has the largest earth sciences library in the world.

March 3, 1886 – Natural Gas brings light to Paola, Kansas

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Paola, Kansas, residents annually celebrate their town’s natural gas heritage of the late 1880s.

Paola became the first town in Kansas to use natural gas commercially for illumination. To promote the town’s natural gas discovery – and attract businesses from nearby Kansas City – four gas-fueled arches were erected in the town square. Pipes were laid for other illuminated displays. “Paola was lighted with Gas,” explains the Miami County Historical Museum. “The pipeline was completed from the Westfall farm to the square and a grand illumination was held.”

By the end of 1887, several Kansas flour mills were fueled by natural gas. But with little understanding of conservation, Paola’s gas wells ran dry. Fortunately, more boom times arrive with oil discoveries. Learn more in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent.

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.

The title for world’s deepest well moved again in 1919 to Marion County, West Virginia. In 1953, the New York State Natural Gas Corporation claimed the world’s deepest cable-tool well at a depth of 11,145 feet near the town of Van Etten. At the end of 2017, the rotary rig depth record was held by a Russian well drilled 40,502 feet deep on Sakhalin Island. Learn more West Virginia petroleum history in Confederates attack Oilfield and visit the oil museum in Parkersburg.

March 4, 1933 – Oklahoma City Oilfield under Martial Law

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William “Alfalfa” Murray in 1932.

Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declared martial law to enforce his proration regulations limiting production in the Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in December 1928 and one of the largest producing fields in the state.

Two years earlier, Murray had called a meeting of fellow governors from Texas, Kansas and New Mexico to create an Oil States Advisory Committee, “to study the present distressed condition of the petroleum industry.”

Elected in 1930, he was called “Alfalfa Bill” because of speeches urging farmers to plant alfalfa to restore nitrogen to the soil. The controversial politician was also known as the “Sage of Tishomingo.”

By the end of his administration, Murray called out the National Guard 47 times and declared martial law more than 30 times. His was succeeded as Oklahoma governor by oilman E.W. Marland in 1935.

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Recommended Reading: Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon (1996); As I See It: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty (1976); Erle P. Halliburton, Genius with Cement (1959); The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (1985); John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist (2006); History of Paola, Kansas (1956); Where it all began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Alfalfa Bill Murray (1968). ___________________________________________________________________________________

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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). Support the AOGHS energy education mission with a donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

February 20, 1959 – World’s First LNG Tanker arrives in England

petroleum history february

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

After a three-week 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, after 27 days. The vessel demonstrated that large quantities of liquefied natural gas could be transported safely across the ocean.

The 340-foot Methane Pioneer, a converted World War II Liberty freighter, contained five 7,000-barrel aluminum tanks supported by balsa wood and insulated with plywood and urethane. Owned by Comstock Liquid Methane Corporation, the experimental ship refrigerated its cargo to minus 285 degrees Fahrenheit. The world’s first purpose-built commercial LNG carrier, the Methane Princess, began delivering LNG to the same Canvey Island port in 1964.

February 21, 1887 – New Refining Process will bring Riches to Rockefeller

Herman Frasch applied to patent his unique process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” Once an employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the chemist would soon be rehired by John D. Rockefeller.

Although the oilfields near Lima, Ohio, produced a thick, sulfurous oil, Rockefeller had accumulated a 40-million-barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.” His Standard Oil Company bought Frasch’s patent for a copper-oxide refining process to “sweeten” the oil. The desulfurized, odorless result greatly multiplied its value, making Rockefeller a fortune.

Paid in Standard Oil Company shares and soon very wealthy, Frasch moved to Louisiana, where he patented a process for mining sulfur by injecting superheated water into wells. By 1911 he was known as the “Sulfur King.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

February 12, 1954 – First Nevada Oil Well

After decades of dry holes (the first drilled 1,890 feet deep near Reno in 1907) Nevada became an oil producing state. Shell Oil Company’s second test of its Eagle Springs No. 1 well found oil in Railroad Valley, Nye County. This well became the state’s first commercial oil producer.

The routine test became the discovery well for 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 oilfield eventually would produce 3.8 million barrels of oil, other Nevada oilfields proved difficult to find.

The state’s second discovery resulting in commercial production finally arrived 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.

The agreement settled a tumultuous three-year fight over the rights to Getty Oil. 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 decided to include 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 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 Sorensen 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 donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

 

February 7, 1817 –  Manufactured Gas illuminates Baltimore

America’s first public street lamp fueled by manufactured gas illuminated a street in 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 (once Market and Lemon streets). Dedicated in 1997, the lamp is a replica of its original design of February 1817. One year earlier, Baltimore artist and inventor Rembrandt Peale had hosted a gas lighting demonstration in a room at his Holliday Street museum by burning the artificial gas – dazzling local 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 29,  1886 – First Gasoline Powered Auto

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Karl Benz’s wife Bertha was the first person to drive his gas-powered motorwagen over a long distance – bringing worldwide attention.

German mechanical engineer Karl Benz applied for a patent for his Benz Patent Motorwagen – a three-wheeler with a one-cylinder, four-stroke gasoline engine. His “Fahrzeug mit Gasmotorenbetrieb” (vehicle with gas engine operation) patent was the world’s first patent for a practical internal combustion engine powered car.

Although there had already been “auto-mobiles” powered by steam or electricity, Benz used the internal combustion engine as the drive system for a “self-mover,” notes a Mercedes Benz historian. “On January 29, 1886, he presented his stroke of genius at the Imperial Patent Office – the car was born.” See First Car, First Road Trip.

The first U.S. auto show took place in November 1900 in New York City.  America’s highways and travel history are on exhibit at the National Museum of American History’s America on the Move.

January 31, 1888 – Death of a Pennsylvania Oil Scout

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Oil scouts like Justus McMullen of Bradford, Pennsylvania, braved harsh winters to gather intelligence about oil wells.

In the winter of 1888, a famous oil scout died. Thirty-seven-year-old Justus McMullen succumbed to pneumonia contracted while scouting production data from a well near Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania.

McMullen, publisher of the trade publication “The Petroleum Age,” contributed much to America’s early oil industry as an oilfield detective. Called “riders of the hemlock,” these scouts debunked rumors and demystified oil well production reports – sometimes despite armed guards. Learn more in Oil Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 16, 2012 – New Radio Show explores Energy Education

An Elk City, Oklahoma, radio station (KECO) began broadcasting Exploring Energy, a weekday morning program dedicated to energy education. The show, today hosted by Shawn Wilson and Jared Atha, examines issues “from oil and gas, to wind, solar, coal, nuclear and geothermal.” In April 2014, a Remember When Wednesday special segment began featuring stories from the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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 »

 

January 2, 1866 – Patent describes Early Rotary Rig

Peter Sweeney’s innovative 1866 “Stone Drill” patent included a roller bit using “rapid rotary motion” similar to modern rotary drilling technologies.

An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent application for the first time included basic elements of the modern rotary rig. The inventor described his idea as a “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.”

Peter Sweeney of New York City received the 1866 patent, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart. Sweeney’s patent included a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

The rig’s “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.” The petroleum industry soon improved upon Sweeney’s 1866 rotary rig.

January 2, 1882 – Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust

John D. Rockefeller continued expanding his Standard Oil Company empire by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled much of the oil industry though 40 producing, refining and marketing affiliates. The trust controlled all of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tank cars (also see Densmore Oil Tank Cars) until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling broke it up in 1911.

January 2, 1932 – Union “76” Brand

The Union Oil Company “76” brand was launched at gas service stations in western states. The orange circle with blue type logo was adopted in the 1940s. The “76” orange orb appeared at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle and proved so popular that millions of smaller versions were given away for car antennas. Today, the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is in the original Union Oil headquarters of the 1890s.

January 4, 1948 – Wildcatters make Deep Permian Discovery

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Tom Slick Jr. of Oklahoma helped Michael Benedum of Pennsylvania discover a deep Permian Basin field in Texas. Image from February 16, 1948, LIFE magazine.

After years of frustration, exploration of the Permian Basin suddenly intensified in 1948 after an exploratory well found oil about 50 miles southeast of Midland, Texas.

The Slick-Urschel Oil Company drilled the well to about 12,000 feet deep in partnership with “King of the Wildcatters” Michael L. Benedum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More than two decades earlier, another West Texas well, Santa-Rita No. 1, had produced oil from about 440 feet deep.

Although Benedum had drilled 10,000 feet in less than five months, it had taken seven months to penetrate another 384 feet of hard rock. Help came from Tom Slick Jr., the son of Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, who branched off the well using a “whipstock” and reached the prolific limestone formation.

January 7, 1864 – Discovery at Pithole Creek creates Oil Boom Town

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Visitors today walk grass paths of Pithole’s former streets.

The once famous Pithole Creek oilfield was discovered in Pennsylvania. The United States Petroleum Company’s well reportedly had been located with a witch-hazel dowser. It initially produced 250 barrels of oil a day.

Pithole would make history as a boom town for America’s petroleum industry, which had begun just five years earlier in nearby Titusville.  Adding to the boom were Civil War veterans eager to invest in the new industry. Newspapers stories added to the oil fever – as did the Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.” 

Tourists have long since visited Oil Creek State Park and its educational visitor center on the  grassy expanse that was once Pithole.

January 7, 1905 – Humble Oilfield Discovery rivals Spindletop

C.E. Barrett discovered the Humble oilfield in Harris County, Texas, with his Beatty No. 2 well, which quickly brought another drilling frenzy to Texas four years after Spindletop launched the modern petroleum industry. The Beatty well produced 8,500 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 1,012 feet.

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An embossed postcard circa 1905 from the Postal Card & Novelty Company, courtesy the University of Houston Digital Library.

The town of Humble grew from 700 to 20,000 in a few months as production from the field – the largest in Texas in 1905 – reached almost 16 million barrels of oil. The field would lead to the founding of the Humble Oil and Refining Company in 1911 by a group that included Ross Sterling, a future governor of Texas.

“Production from several strata here exceeded the total for fabulous Spindletop by 1946,” notes a 1972 historical marker. “Known as the greatest salt dome field, Humble still produces and the town for which it was named continues to thrive.”

Humble Oil Company later consolidated operations with Standard Oil of New Jersey, eventually leading to today’s ExxonMobil. Another oilfield discovery in 1903 at nearby Sour Lake established Texaco.

January 7, 1913 – “Cracking” helps fuel Automobile’s Popularity

William Burton of the Standard Oil Company in Whiting, Indiana, received a patent for a refining 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. But consumer demand for gasoline was growing with the popularity – and affordability – of internal combustion automobiles.

Burton’s innovation, called thermal cracking, was a key breakthrough, although his process would be superseded by catalytic cracking in 1937.

petroleum history january

Ferne Houseknecht of Michigan.

January 7, 1957 – Michigan Dairy Farmer finds Giant Oilfield

After two years of drilling, a wildcat well on Ferne Houseknecht’s Michigan dairy farm discovered the state’s largest oilfield. The 3,576-foot-deep well produced from the Black River formation of the Trenton zone.

The Houseknecht No. 1 discovery well at “Rattlesnake Gulch” revealed a producing region 29 miles long and more than one mile wide. It prompted a drilling boom that led to production of more than 150 million barrels of oil and 250 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“The story of the discovery well of Michigan’s only ‘giant’ oil field, using the worldwide definition of having produced more than 100 million barrels of oil from a single contiguous reservoir is the stuff of dreams, and of oilfield legends,” explains Michigan historian Jack Westbrook. Learn more in Michigan’s “Golden Gulch” of Oil.

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Recommended Reading: Making Hole – Drilling Technology (AOGHS); John D. Rockefeller: The Wealthiest Man In American History (2017); Sign of the 76: The fabulous life and times of the Union Oil Company of California (1977); The Great Wildcatter (1953); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pa., Images of America (2000); Humble, Images of America (2013); Handbook of Petroleum Refining Processes (2016); Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011: A 35-year Michigan Oil and Gas Industry Investment Heritage in Michigan’s Public Recreation Future (2011).

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

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/