April 25, 1865 – Civil War Veteran patents Well Torpedo –
Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City received the first of his many patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.” The invention used controlled down-hole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.” It was a major technological achievement for the young U.S. petroleum industry.
Roberts torpedoes were filled with gunpowder, lowered into wells, and ignited by a weight dropped along a suspension wire to percussion caps. In later models, nitroglycerin replaced gunpowder. Before the well torpedo’s invention, many early wells in the new oil regions of Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia often produced limited amounts of oil.
With its exclusive patent licenses, the Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company charged up to $200 per torpedo “shoot” and a one-fifteenth royalty. Seeking to avoid the expense, unlicensed practitioners operated at night with their own explosive devices, reportedly leading to the term “moonlighter.”
Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.
April 26, 1947 – Oil Industry promoted on Radio
For the first time since its establishment in 1919, the American Petroleum Institute launched a national advertising campaign. “The theme of the drive is that the petroleum industry is a modern and progressive one, and is now turning out the best products in its history,” noted The Billboard.
“Radio this week struck real pay dirt as a ‘Gusher’ will come mainly from expansion of current air time on spot local or regional levels by the thousands of petroleum and related corporations,” explained the weekly publication. API today is a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization representing the largest U.S. petroleum companies. It issues industrywide recommended practices, “to promote the use of safe equipment and proven engineering.”
April 27, 1966 – Ariel Corporation founded
After receiving a degree in mechanical engineering in 1954, former eighth-grade teacher Jim Buchwald founded Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio. “With little money to pay for a facility to house the tools, a room in the basement of the Buchwald family home is cleaned up,” according to the Ariel website.
Buchwald bought a lathe, a small hand-cranked rotary table and a vertical drill for manufacturing valves. “This room becomes the first Ariel machine shop, with an adjoining room functioning as Ariel’s first official engineering department.”
By 1968, Buchwald had built a prototype gas compressor that ran at the unprecedented speed of 1,800 RPM. His Ohio machine shop soon transitioned into a manufacturing facility, and Buchwald named the company after his favorite 1948 Ariel motorcycle. His company has become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of reciprocating gas compressors.
April 29, 2004 – Last Oldsmobile rolls off Assembly Line
The last Oldsmobile ever built (Alero GLS model) left the company’s production line in Lansing, Michigan. Founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897 as “Olds Motor Vehicle Company,” Olds sold America’s first mass-produced car, the Model R “Curved Dash,” from 1902 to 1907, according to Robert Domm’s Michigan Yesterday & Today. In 1908, Oldsmobile joined Buick to become part of the newly established General Motors (GM).
April 30, 1929 – Marland Oil and Continental Oil become Conoco
After discovering several 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, where it refined oil into kerosene.
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 (incorporated in 1917), to become ConocoPhillips.
Learn more by visiting the ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.
April 30, 1955 – “Landmen” form Trade Association
The American Association of Professional Landmen (AAPL) 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, trades and contracts. With about 15,000 members in 2020, the association also has helped ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, according to AAPL.
May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well
Virginia’s petroleum industry began about one year before the Civil War when John Castelli ”Cass” Rathbone found oil after drilling near 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 to drill more wells in valley of the Little Kanawha River southwest of Parkersburg. It was the first petroleum boom to take place outside the Pennsylvania oil region.
By the end of 1860, the “Burning Springs Oil Rush” resulted in more than 600 oil leases registered in the Wirt County courthouse. 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,” noted West Virginia historian David McKain in 1994, adding that the region’s sudden oil wealth helped bring about statehood in June 1863. Many of the new state’s early politicians were “oil men — governor, senator and congressman — who had made their fortunes at Burning Springs.”
Visit the West Virginia oil and gas museum in downtown Parkersburg.
May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair founds Sinclair Oil & Refining
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. Visitors marveled at the green Jurassic giant at Sinclair Oil’s “Dinoland Pavilion” at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair– and again in 1964-65.
Learn more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.
May 1, 1931 – Railroad Commission limits East Texas Oil Production
The first proration order from the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) for the giant East Texas oilfield took effect after excessive production following the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well one year earlier caused an oil price collapse. With hundreds of wells producing almost one million barrels per day, oil prices had fallen to as low as 10 cents a barrel. The commission’s order — unpopular with independent producers but enforced by Texas Rangers — limited production and stabilized prices.
May 1, 2001 – Oklahoma Plaza honors Oil Pioneers
The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza 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 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 is among those honored in the Conoco Plaza.
Learn more in Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters,
Recommended Reading: The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World (2015); Life and Death of an Oilman: The Career of E. W. Marland (1974); Michigan Yesterday & Today (2009; Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); “King of the Wildcatters:” The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930 (2004). 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 preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.