April 13, 1974 – Depth Record set in Oklahoma Anadarko Basin – 

After drilling for 504 days and costing about $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reached a total depth of 31,441 feet (5.95 miles) 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 U.S. well 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.

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A 1974 souvenir of the Bertha Rogers, which drilled almost six miles deep in the Anadarko Basin.

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.”

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The Bertha Rogers No. 1 well began drilling in November 1972, averaging about 60 feet per day. By April 1974, bottom hole pressure and temperature reached almost 25,000 pounds per square inch and 475 degrees. It took eight hours for 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 producer. The 1.3 million pounds of casing used was the heaviest ever handled by any drilling rig.

Learn more in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

April 14, 1865 – Dramatic Oil Company’s failed Oilman becomes 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, Booth visited Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he leased 3.5 acres on a farm, about one mile south of the village of Franklin and on the east side of the Allegheny River. With several partners, including his friends from the stage, Booth formed the Dramatic Oil Company and raised money to drill a well.

John Wilkes Booth oil well map and portrait.

John Wilkes Booth made his first trip to the oil boom town of Franklin, Pennsylvania, in January 1864. He purchased a 3.5-acre lease on the Fuller farm. Circa 1865 photo of Booth by Alexander Gardner courtesy Library of Congress.

Although the Dramatic Oil Company’s well found oil and began producing about 25 barrels a day, Booth and his partners wanted more and tried “shooting” the well to increase production. When the well was ruined, the failed oilman left the Pennsylvania oil region for good in July 1864.

Learn more in Dramatic Oil Company.

April 15, 1857 – First Natural Gas Company incorporated

Two years before the first U.S. oil well was completed in Pennsylvania, the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company incorporated in New York. A Fredonia gunsmith and machinist, William A. Hart, had successfully drilled a natural gas well on his third attempt, according to Lois Barris, author of the Fredonia company history. “He left a broken drill in one shallow hole and abandoned a second site at a depth of forty feet because of the small volume of gas found,” she noted.

According to Barris, Hart drilled and completed his historic well 70 feet deep beneath “a bubbling gas spring in the bed of a creek,” then constructed a crude gasometer, and “proceeded to pipe and market the first natural gas sold in this country.” At the time, other towns and cities depended on gas made from coal plants. The first U.S. manufactured gas street lamps appeared in Baltimore in 1817.

Learn more about manufactured gas history in Illuminating Gaslight.

 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 a decade later. George Keeler’s stepdaughter dropped a “go devil” that set off a downhole canister of nitroglycerin. The resulting oil gusher heralded the start of Oklahoma’s petroleum industry.

Although oil patch historians have recorded a marginal 1888 Oklahoma oil well, the Johnstone No. 1 discovery revealed the massive Bartlesville-Dewey Field, ushering in the commercial petroleum era for Oklahoma Territory. By the time of statehood, Oklahoma would lead the entire world in oil production.

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Nellie Johnstone No. 1 replica in Discovery One Park, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Drilling had begun in January 1897, the same month that Bartlesville 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. Bartlesville’s population grew to 4,000 over the next 10 years as Oklahoma’s annual production reached more than 43 million barrels of oil.

Today, a replica 84-foot wooden derrick and a nearby education center help tell the story in Discovery One 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.

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

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 businessman George Bissell and a group of New Haven, Connecticut, investors to finance Edwin Drake to drill where Bissell had found oil seeps in northwestern Pennsylvania.

petroleum history april 11

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

“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 the popular lamp fuel kerosene could be distilled from oil as readily as coal led to the first U.S. commercial oil well four years later.

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 2,100 feet. Natural gas was discovered a few days later by Constantine Oil and Refining Company north of what would become the El Dorado field in Union County.

April petroleum history

The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources is just north of El Dorado.

Although Col. Hunter’s oil well yielded only small quantities, his discovery was followed by a January 1921 gusher — the S.T. Busey well — in the same field. These wells, which made headlines, launched the state’s petroleum industry, according to the Arkansas Museum of Natural History. Col. Hunter later sold his original lease of 20,000 acres to Standard Oil Company of Louisiana for more than $2.2 million.

Learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells.

April 17, 1861 – Oil Well Fire Tragedy in Pennsylvania

The early lack of technology for controlling well pressure led to a fatal oil well fire at Rouseville, Pennsylvania. Among the 19 people killed was leading citizen Henry Rouse, who had subleased land along Oil Creek. According to newspaper accounts, when his well erupted oil from a depth of 320 feet, the good news attracted most Rouseville residents. “Henry Rouse and the others stood by wondering how to control the phenomenon.” The gusher erupted into flames, perhaps ignited by a steam-engine boiler.

Circa 1861 ppainting  “Burning Oil Well at Night” painting of Rouseville tragedy.

“Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” a painting by James Hamilton, circa 1861, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

The oilfield tragedy near Titusville and Pithole was soon overshadowed by the Civil War, but was immortalized in 1861 by Philadelphia artist James Hamilton’s “Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” which was added to the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection in 2017.

Learn more in Fatal 1861 Rouseville Oil Well Fire.

April 17, 1919 – Booming North Texas Oilfield adds 27 Square Miles

Another new drilling boom began in Wichita County, Texas, when the Bob Waggoner Well No. 1 well erupted, producing 4,800 barrels of oil a day. One year earlier, a well on Burkburnett farm of S.L. Fowler had brought attracted hundreds of drillers to the Red River boarder with Oklahoma. The county had been producing oil since 1912, thanks to a shawllow well drilled for water west of Wichita Falls that found oil instead.

The latest North Texas oil discovery, “was the first well in what became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprised of approximately 27 square miles on the former S. Burk Burnett Wild Horse Ranch. R.M. ‘Bob’ Waggoner’s well led to a boom, and the area was suddenly thick with oil derricks,” bites a Burkburnett historical marker.

Learn more in Boom Town Burkburnett.

April 18, 1939 – Patent for perforating Well Casing

Ira McCullough of Los Angeles patented a multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system. He explained the object of his invention was “to provide a device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well in which projectiles or perforating elements are shot through the casing and into the formation.”

April petroleum history

Ira McCullough’s 1937 patent drawing for perforating wells.

The innovation of simultaneous firing at several levels in the borehole greatly enhanced the flow of oil. For safety, McCullough’s device included a “disconnectable means” that once the charges were lowered into the borehole rendered percussion inoperative as “a safeguard against accidental or inadvertent operation.”

Another inventor, Henry Mohaupt, in 1951 would use World War II anti-tank technology to improve the concept by using a conically hollowed-out explosive for perforating wells.

Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

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Recommended Reading:  Oil in Oklahoma (1976); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982); Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields (1990). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved. 

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