This Week in Petroleum History, April 8 to April 15
April 9, 1914 – Ohio Cities Gas Company founded
Beman Gates Dawes and Fletcher Heath founded the Ohio Cities Gas Company in Columbus, Ohio. Three years later, they acquired Pennsylvania-based Pure Oil Company and adopted that name in 1920. Pure Oil had been founded in Pittsburgh in 1895 by independent oil and natural gas producers, refiners, and pipeline operators to counter the market dominance of Standard Oil Company.
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 the company 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
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 tank car business, Amos Densmore in 1875 came up with a radically new way for arranging “type writing machine” keyboards so that commonly used letters would no longer collide and stick. His “Q-W-E-R-T-Y” arrangement improved the original 1868 invention of Christopher Sholes. James Densmore’s success in the oilfields helped finance the Densmore Typewriter Company. Learn more in Densmore Oil Tank Cars.
April 13, 1974 – Oklahoma Well sets World Depth Record
After 504 days and about $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reached a total depth of 31,441 feet before being stopped by liquid sulfur. Drilled in the heart of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, it was the deepest well in world for several years and the deepest in the United States for three decades until exceeded in 2004.
Robert Hefner III’s GHK Company and partner Lone Star Producing Company believed natural gas reserves resided deep in the basin, which extends across West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Their first attempt began in 1967 and took two years to reach what at the time was a record depth, 24,473 feet.
The pioneering well found plenty of natural gas, according to historian Robert Dorman, but because of government price controls, “the sale of the gas could not cover the high cost of drilling so deeply – $6.5 million, as opposed to a few hundred thousand dollars for a conventional well.”
The Bertha Rogers No. 1 exploratory well began drilling in November 1972, averaging about 60 feet per day. By April 1974, the bottom hole pressure and temperature reached almost 25,000 pounds per square inch and 475 degrees. It took eight hours for bottom hole cuttings to reach the surface almost six miles above. No production came from the record depth, but the well was competed at 13,000 feet as a natural gas discovery. The 1.3 million pounds of casing was the heaviest ever handled by any drilling rig.
Bertha Rogers led to development of deeper drilling technologies and the successful deep gas plays of the 1990s. Learn more in Anadarko Basin in Depth.
April 14, 1865 – Dramatic Oil Company’s failed Oilman turns Assassin
After failing to make his fortune in Pennsylvania oilfields, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C. Just one year earlier Booth had left his acting career to drill an oil well in booming Venango County. In January 1864, he visited Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he leased 3.5 acres on a farm along the Allegheny River. With several partners, including friends from the stage, Booth formed the Dramatic Oil Company. Although the Dramatic Oil Company’s well produced about 25 barrels of oil a day, Booth and his partners wanted more and tried “shooting” the well to increase production. When the well was ruined, he left the Pennsylvania oil region in July 1864. Learn more in Dramatic Oil Company.
April 15, 1897 – Birth of the Oklahoma Petroleum Industry
A large crowd gathered at the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well near Bartlesville, in the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma in 1907. Drilling had begun in January 1897, the same month that Bartlesville was incorporated with a population of about 200 people. Four months later, at 1,320 feet, the Nellie Johnstone No.1 well (named for partner William Johnstone’s six-year-old daughter), showed the first signs of oil.
On April 15, 1897, George Keeler’s stepdaughter dropped a “go devil” down the well bore to set off a waiting canister of nitroglycerin – producing a gusher that heralded the start of Oklahoma’s oil industry. As the discovery well for the giant Bartlesville-Dewey Field, Nellie Johnstone No.1 ushered in the oil era for Oklahoma Territory. By the time of statehood, Oklahoma led the world in oil production.
In the 10 years following the discovery, Bartlesville’s population grew to over 4,000 while Oklahoma’s annual oil production reached more than 43 million barrels. Today, a replica 84-foot wooden derrick and a nearby education center help tell the story in Discovery 1 Park, the land donated by the well’s namesake, Nellie Johnstone Cannon, a descendant of a Delaware Chief. Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.
Recommended Reading: Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank (2008); The Greatest Gamblers: The Epic of American Oil Exploration (1979); Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania (2000); Oil in Oklahoma (1976).
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