April 15, 1857 – First Natural Gas Company incorporated – 

Two years before the first U.S. oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company incorporated in Fredonia, New York, where a well drilled by local machinist and gunsmith William A. Hart supplied natural gas to a mill as early as 1825. Hart found the gas after drilling three wells, according to historian Lois Barris.

Circa 1950 souvenir postcard of a bronze plaque on a boulder in Fredonia, New York, dedicated in 1925 by the Daughters of the American Revolution to commemorate the "First Gas Well in United States."

Circa 1950 souvenir postcard of a bronze plaque on a boulder in Fredonia, New York, dedicated in 1925 by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

“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,” Barris noted in her Fredonia Gaslight and Waterworks Company.” The third well produced natural gas from 70 feet beneath “a bubbling gas spring in the bed of a creek.” Constructing a simple gasometer, Hart “proceeded to pipe and market the first natural gas sold in this country.”

As other communities adopted public lighting burning gas made from coal — manufactured gas street lamps began illuminating Baltimore in 1817 — Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works built the first U.S. natural gas pipeline network. 

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 April 15, 1897 – Birth of Oklahoma Oil Industry

With a crowd gathered at the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well near Bartlesville in Indian Territory, George Keeler’s stepdaughter dropped a “go devil” that set off a downhole canister of nitroglycerin. The resulting gusher heralded the start of Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry. 

A 2017 water gusher demo at Nellie Johnstone No. 1 replica in Discovery One Park, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

A 2017 water gusher demonstration of the 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 its first signs of oil. 

Although there had been earlier marginal producers, including a Cherokee Nation 1890 oil well, the Johnstone well revealed the Bartlesville-Dewey field, ushering in a commercial petroleum era for the territory. By the time of statehood in 1907, Oklahoma would lead the world in oil production. 

An 84-foot derrick in Discovery One Park helps educate visitors about Oklahoma’s petroleum industry. The surrounding land was donated by Nellie Johnstone Cannon, 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 Yale chemist’s 1855 report about oil’s potential as an illuminant would lead to America’s first commercial well four years later.

“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.

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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 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 Resources.

Hunter would sell 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 lack of technologies for controlling wells led to a fatal oil well fire at Rouseville, Pennsylvania. Among the 19 people killed was leading citizen Henry Rouse, who subleased the land along Oil Creek. When his well erupted oil from a depth of 320 feet, the good news had attracted most Rouseville residents.

“Henry Rouse and the others stood by wondering how to control the phenomenon,” noted the local newspaper. Then the gusher erupted into flames, perhaps ignited by a steam-engine boiler.

Circa 1861 painting  “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 would be overshadowed by the Civil War, but it 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.

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April 17, 1919 – North Texas Burkburnett Boom grows

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

A Burkburnett historical marker notes the 1919 oil discovery, “became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprised of approximately 27 square miles on the former S. Burk Burnett Wild Horse Ranch.” The marker adds that “the area was suddenly thick with oil derricks.” 

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 oilfield 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.”

Ira McCullough's 1937 patent drawing for perforating wells.

Ira McCullough’s 1937 patent drawing for perforating wells.

The innovation of simultaneous firing from several levels in the borehole greatly enhanced the flow of oil. McCullough’s device included a “disconnectable means” that rendered percussion inoperative until the charges were lowered into the borehole, acting 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.

April 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Automobile

Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea test drove a gasoline powered automobile they had built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop. Considered the first model to be regularly manufactured for sale in the United States, 13 were produced by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. 

The Duryea brothers in their pioneering auto.

The Duryea brothers (above) built their cars in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The brothers sold their first Duryea motor wagon in March 1918. Two months later,  a motorist driving a Duryea in New York City hit a bicyclist — reportedly America’s first auto traffic accident. By the time of the first U.S. automobile show in November 1900 at Madison Square Garden, of the 4,200 automobiles sold in the United States, gasoline powers less than 1,000.

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April 20, 1875 – Improved Well Pumping Technology

Pumping multiple wells with a single steam engine boosted efficiency in early oilfields when Albert Nickerson and Levi Streeter of Venango County, Pennsylvania, patented their “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells.” The new technology used a system of linked and balanced walking beams to pump oil wells.

Patent drawing for 1875 “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells."

U.S. oilfield technologies advanced in 1875 with an “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells.”

“By an examination of the drawing it will be seen that the walking-beam to well No. l is lifting or raising fluid from the well. Well No. 3 is also lifting, while at the same time wells 2 and 4 are moving in an opposite direction, or plunging, and vice versa,” the inventors explained. Their system was the forerunner of rod-line (or jerk line) eccentric wheel systems that operated into the 20th century using iron rods instead of rope and pulleys.

Learn more in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.

April 20, 1892 – Prospector discovers Los Angeles City Oilfield

The giant Los Angeles oilfield was discovered when a struggling prospector, Edward Doheny, and his mining partner Charles Canfield drilled into the tar seeps between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue. Their well produced about 45 barrels of oil a day.

Artfully camouflaged petroleum production continues today in downtown Los Angeles.

Artfully camouflaged petroleum production continues today in downtown Los Angeles. Edward Doheny discovered the oilfield in 1892. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Culver City, California.

Although the first California oil well had been drilled after the Civil War, Doheny’s 1892 discovery near present-day Dodger Stadium launched California’s petroleum industry. In 1897, about 500 Los Angeles City wells pumped more than half of the state’s annual production of 1.2 million barrels of oil. By 1925, California supplied half of all the world’s oil.

Learn more in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

April 20, 2010 – Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Disaster

At 10 a.m., while completing a well in the Macondo Prospect, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, killing 11 and injuring another 17 workers. An estimated 3.2 million barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico after the platform’s 400-ton blowout preventer failed, resulting in the largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history.

April 2010 image of burning offshore platform Deepwater Horizon.

The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire killed 11 and injured 17 workers. USGS Photo.

Six months earlier at another site, the advanced, semi-submersible drilling rig had set a world record for the deepest offshore well (35,050 feet vertical depth in 4,130 feet of water). When the Macondo Prospect well was capped in mid-July, a National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling launched an eight-month investigation. The commission released its final report on January 11, 2011.

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April 21, 1967 – GM celebrates its 100 Millionth Car

The world’s largest automaker, General Motors (GM), celebrated its 100 millionth American-made car. Founded in 1908 by William Durant, the Flint, Michigan, company had begun as a manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages. Durant also founded the Chevrolet Motor Company, which became part of GM in 1916. After World War II, GM was the first American corporation to pay more than $1 billion in taxes, according to the Detroit Historical Society.


Recommended Reading: Recommended Reading:  The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); 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); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields (1990); Dark Side of Fortune: Triumph and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny (2001); Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling: Report to the President (2011); The First Cars – Famous Firsts (2014). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an AOGHS annual supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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