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.”

petroleum history april 18

U.S. oilfield technologies advanced in 1875 with an “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.

The innovative 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 – Prospector finds Los Angeles Oilfield

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, 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 alone supplied half of the world’s oil.

Learn more in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

April 20, 2010 – Deepwater Horizon Disaster

petroleum history april 18

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

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 people and injuring 17. An estimated 3.2 million barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico after the platform’s 400-ton blowout preventer failed.

At another site six months earlier, the semi-submersible rig had set a record for drilling the deepest offshore well (35,050 feet vertical depth in 4,130 feet of water). The Macondo Prospect well, finally capped in mid-July, was investigated by the Minerals Management Service and U.S. Coast Guard.

A final report issued in January 201 by National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

April 22, 1926 – Oil Lease Auctioneer Statue dedicated

petroleum history april 18

Skedee, Oklahoma, has declined significantly since 1926, but its statue remains. Photo by Bruce Wells.

A statue commemorating the friendship between Colonel E.E. Walters and Osage Indian Chief Bacon Rind (phonetically, Wah-she-hah) was dedicated in Walters’ hometown of Skedee, Oklahoma.

Beginning in 1912, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters (his real name) and the popular chief of the Osage Nation raised millions of dollars from mineral lease sales. Auctions took place beneath an elm tree at the Tribal Council House in nearby Pawhuska – with crowds gathering to witness bidding from men like Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland and William Skelly.

The Skedee unveiling revealed “painted bronze” statues of Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation shaking hands on a sandstone base. Their close personal friendship was rare at the time. learn more in Million Dollar Auctioneer

April 23, 1878 – Oil Exchange Building opened in Pennsylvania

petroleum history april

By 1877, Pennsylvania oil companies had created the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind only New York and San Francisco. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

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.”

Before the 1870s, most Pennsylvania oil buyers had taken on-site delivery of oil in wooden barrels they provided themselves. A rapidly growing oil pipeline infrastructure created the need for a place to trade certificates as oil commerce expanded. The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey would bring an end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative oil-trading markets. Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges.

April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum founded

petroleum history april 18

Magnolia adopted a “Pegasus” logo in the 1930s.

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 (Socony). When the company merged with the Vacuum Oil Company in 1931 to form Socony-Vacuum Oil, 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 – Petroleum Product “Lash-Brow-Ine” trademarked

April petroleum history

A 1937 Maybelline magazine ad.

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, Williams had watched his sister Mabel perform what she called “a secret of the harem,” mixing petroleum jelly with coal dust and applying it to her eyelashes.

The key ingredient, Vaseline, had been patented in 1872 by Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist in Brooklyn, New York.

Williams began selling tins of Mabel’s 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.”

Learn more in A Crude Story of Mabel’s Eyelashes.

April 25, 1865 – Civil War Veteran patented Well Torpedo

April petroleum history

A marker notes the 1865 first demonstration of the invention of Union Col. E.A.L. Roberts.

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 down-hole 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, unlicensed practitioners operated at night with their own explosive devices, leading to the term “moonlighter.” Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

April 26, 1947 – Oil Industry promoted on Radio

Founded in 1919 in New York City, API moved its headquarters to the nation’s capital in 1929.

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.”

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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. 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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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