This Week in Petroleum History, April 22 – 28
April 22, 1926 – Oil Lease Auctioneer and Indian Chief Statue dedicated
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 (see Million Dollar Auctioneer). Although oil royalties brought great wealth for the Osage people, ill-conceived and poorly written hereditary “headright” laws led to bribery, criminal conspiracies, and murders in Osage County.
April 22, 1930 – E.W. Marland dedicates Pioneer Woman
A block from his Ponca City mansion estate, Ernest Whitworth Marland unveiled the Pioneer Woman, a 17-foot bronze statue that he presented to state of Oklahoma. “Forty thousand guests listened to humorist Will Rogers pay tribute to all pioneers, but especially those of Oklahoma,” reports the Oklahoma Historical Society, adding that President Herbert Hoover broadcast a nationwide radio address from Washington, D.C.
Marland, who established Marland Oil Company in Ponca City, pioneered the use of geophysical technologies in oil exploration; he also was years ahead of his time in providing employee benefits for his employees. The future governor of Oklahoma (1935-1939) conceived and financed the statue “to honor the spirit of the women who played such a significant role in the settling the region.”
In 1926, Marland invited 12 sculptors to submit small models for a competition. Marland described his concept to the artists and gave each $10,000. He also gave them authentic sunbonnets. The competing models traveled across the country and 750,000 people cast their vote, choosing sculptor Bryant Baker’s design. Today, his westward-facing sculpture (he titled it “Confident”) stands in Ponca City’s Monument Circle. All 12 of the three-foot models are on exhibit at the Woolaroc Museum, near Bartlesville.
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. A rapidly growing oil pipeline infrastructure created the need for a place to trade certificates as expanded oil commerce expanded, explains “The 1896 Derrick Souvenir Book.” 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
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 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, 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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