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

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.

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

April petroleum history

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

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 the present-day El Dorado field in Union County.

Although Col. Hunter’s oil well yielded only small quantities, his Arkansas oil discovery was followed by a January 1921 gusher – the S.T. Busey well – in the same field. These oil and gas wells, which made headlines, 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 his 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, 1861 – Fatal Oil Well Fire in Pennsylvania

The early lack of technology for controlling natural gas pressure led to a fatal oil well fire at Rouseville, Pennsylvania. Among the 19 people killed was Warren County leading citizen Henry R. Rouse, who had subleased land along Oil Creek. When the well first showed signs of oil at a depth of about 320 feet, the good news attracted most Rouseville residents. Learn more in First Oil Well Fire.

April 17, 1919 – More Oilfields found in North Texas

Another drilling boom was launched near Wichita Falls, Texas, when the Bob Waggoner No. 1 well began producing 4,800 barrels of oil a day. One year earlier, a wildcat well on S.L. Fowler’s farm had brought a stampede of exploration companies to the Red River border with Oklahoma. Oil had been found in Wichita County as early as 1912. Many newly formed ventures would not survive the growing competition (Texas Production Company, for one example). The Waggoner well was the latest in what became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprising about 27 square miles of the ranch of S. Burk Burnett. North Texas drilling booms inspired “Boom Town” a popular 1940 movie starring former Oklahoma roughneck Clark Gable.

April 18, 1939 – Inventor patents Perforating Technology

April petroleum history

Ira McCullough’s 1937 patent drawing for perforating wells.

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.”

This 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.

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

april petroleum history

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

American inventors Charles and Frank Duryea on April 19, 1892, test drove a gasoline powered automobile built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop. Considered the first automobile regularly made for sale in the United States, the model would be produced – a total of 13 – by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers soon followed the Duryea example.

In March 1896, the Duryea brothers sold their first automobile – the Duryea motor wagon. It was reported two months later that in New York City a motorist driving a Duryea hit a bicyclist – reportedly the nation’s first recorded automobile 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.

April 20, 1875 – New Technology links Well Pumping

petroleum history april 18

America’s oilfield technologies advance in 1875 with this “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells” invented in Pennsylvania.

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.

“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) 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 – Los Angeles Oilfield brings California Boom

petroleum history april 18

Oil 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.

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.

Although the first California oil well had been drilled after the Civil War, the April 1892 discovery (near present-day Dodger Stadium) set off California’s first true petroleum boom. 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 alone supplied half of the world’s oil. Learn more in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

April 20, 2010 – Offshore Accident kills 11, creates Major Oil Spill

petroleum history april 18

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

In September 2009, the Deepwater Horizon drilled the deepest offshore well in history at 35,050 feet vertical depth in 4,130 feet of water. But disaster would follow at a new site in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo Prospect. At 10 a.m., a violent explosion occurred aboard the semi-submersible rig, which was completing a well 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Of the 126 men and women on board, 11 were killed and 17 injured. Destroyed by the explosion and fire, the massive rig sank.

Uncontrolled oil production from the destroyed BP well caused a massive oil spill until capped in mid-July. Among others, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (known as the Minerals Management Service until June 2010) and the U.S. Coast Guard investigated. A report on the accident was issued in January 2011 by National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.



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

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