This Week in Petroleum History, April 23 to April 29
April 23, 1878 – New Oil Exchange Building opens in Pennsylvania
After incorporating four years earlier, the Oil Exchange of Oil City, Pennsylvania, opened a $100,000 brick building on Seneca Street. Independent producers began meeting there to trade oil and pipeline certificates. Earlier, they had gathered at local hotels or along Oil City’s Centre Street, then known as the “Curbside Exchange.”
Prior to the 1870s, most Pennsylvania oil buyers had taken on-site delivery of oil in wooden barrels they provided themselves. The rapidly growing oil pipeline infrastructure created “the necessity of a suitable place in which to trade oil certificates was one that followed the improved method of transportation, and was in fact apparent from the early stages of oil commerce,” explained one Oil City historian in “The 1896 Derrick Souvenir Book.” John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of New Jersey would soon bring an end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative oil trading markets. Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges.
April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum founded
The Magnolia Petroleum Company was founded as an unincorporated joint-stock association – a consolidation of several companies, the first of which began as a small refinery in Corsicana, Texas, in 1898.
After Magnolia Petroleum established service stations in southwestern states (including stations today preserved on Route 66), Standard Oil Company of New York began acquiring the company in 1925. When Standard Oil of New York and the Vacuum Oil Company merged in 1931 to form Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Magnolia became the leading affiliate of the new, nationwide company.
Headquartered in its iconic Dallas skyscraper by the early 1930s, Magnolia operated in 20 states. The company adopted the Socony-Vacuum Oil (the future Mobil) red Pegasus logo, which began rotating atop the Magnolia Building in 1934. Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.
April 24, 1917 – Beauty Product Name “Lash-Brow-Ine” trademarked
Tom Lyle Williams, doing business in Chicago as Maybell Laboratories, trademarked the name “lash-brow-ine” as a mascara and “preparation for stimulating the growth of eyebrows and eyelashes.”
Two years earlier, “when a kitchen stove fire singed his sister Mabel’s lashes and brows, Tom Lyle Williams watched in fascination as she performed what she called ‘a secret of the harem’ – mixing petroleum jelly with coal dust and ash from a burnt cork and applying it to her lashes and brows,” Sharrie Williams writes in The Maybelline Story. Petroleum jelly – Vaseline – had been patented in 1872 by Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist in Brooklyn, New York.
Williams began selling tins of the mixture by mail-order catalog, calling it “lash-brow-ine” (an apparent concession to the Vaseline content). In honor of his sister, who worked with him in his Chicago office, Williams renamed the mascara “Maybelline.” Today, Maybelline is a subsidiary of the French cosmetics giant L’Oréal. Learn more in A Crude Story of Mabel’s Eyelashes.
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 U.S. patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.” The invention used controlled downhole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.”
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 produced only small amounts of oil.
The invention was among the major technological achievements of the U.S. petroleum industry. 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, some oilmen secretly hire unlicensed practitioners who operate at night with their own devices, leading to the term “moonlighter.” Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.
April 26, 1947 – Petroleum Industry promotes Oil 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 Billboard magazine. “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.”
API, representing the largest U.S. petroleum companies, today issues 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,” explains a company historian. “This room becomes the first Ariel machine shop, with an adjoining room functioning as Ariel’s first official engineering department.”
Buchwald bought a lathe, a small hand-cranked rotary table and a vertical drill for manufacturing valves. By 1968 he built a prototype gas compressor that ran at the unprecedented speed of 1,800 RPM. Buchwald named his company after his beloved 1948 Ariel motorcycle.
Recommended Reading: Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); The Seven Sisters: The great oil companies & the world (1975); The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010); The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World (2015).
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