April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin – 

After eight months of drilling in weather that included severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered a North Dakota oilfield. The well revealed the Williston Basin two miles beneath Clarence Iverson’s farm near Tioga. Exploration companies rushed to the region and leased about 30 million acres within two months. The petroleum-rich geologic basin proved to extend into Montana, South Dakota, and Canada.

A monument for the 1951 wildcat well drilled in a North Dakota that revealed the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin.

A 1951 wildcat well drilled in a North Dakota wheat field revealed the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin.

According to historian James Key, the Iverson farm discovery well reached 10,500 feet deep in March 1951 before a blizzard ended operations. After resuming drilling on April 4, the well was perforated from 11,630 feet to 11,640 feet (using shaped charges at four holes per foot). That evening, “a new industry was born in North Dakota,” Key noted. “This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II.”

Learn more in First North Dakota Oil Well.

April 5, 1860 – Early Success for New U.S. Oil Industry 

Inspired by Edwin L. Drake’s 1859 first U.S. oil well at nearby Titusville, Pennsylvania, a newly formed company found an oilfield along the Allegheny River at Oil City. With oil fever attracting thousands to Venango County, five partners organized one of America’s earliest oil ventures, the Phillips, Frew & Company.

Oil discoveries in the Allegheny River Valley established the earliest U.S. petroleum exploration and production companies. Oil City 1896 “Aero View” map by T.M. Fowler courtesy Library of Congress.

After drilling more than twice as deep as Drake’s well, the new company discovered another oil-producing sand formation at a depth of just 197 feet. The well produced 42 barrels of oil on its first day, earning Phillips, Frew & Company $882 (about $31,150 in 2022 dollars). Within weeks, the company’s first shipment of 60 barrels oil traveled on barges down the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh kerosene refineries.

2022 AOGHS Membership Ad

April 5, 1976 – Strategic Oil Reserves commercialized

President Gerald R. Ford signed the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, which for the first time allowed full commercial development of the nation’s three Naval Petroleum Reserves. The legislation was a result of oil shortages created by the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974.

Oil, natural gas, and liquid products produced from the reserves would be sold by the Department of Energy at market rates. According to DOE, California’s Elk Hills field, which produced its one-billionth barrel of oil in 1992, generated more than $17 billion in profits for the U.S. Treasury until the field was privatized in 1998.

April 7, 1902 – The Texas Company founded during Spindletop Boom

Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan and Arnold Schlaet established The Texas Company in Beaumont, Texas, to transport and refine oil from the booming oilfield nearby. They would soon construct a kerosene refinery in Port Arthur. Of the hundreds of oil companies founded after a record-setting 1901 gusher at Spindletop, their company would grow into an oil industry giant.

Texaco gas station exhibit inside National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma.

Founded in 1902 as the Texas Company, Texaco would become the first oil company to market in all states. Above, an exhibit at the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The Texas Company’s Fee No. 3 well at nearby Sour Lake Springs in 1903 launched the company’s success in exploration by producing 5,000 barrels of oil a day. The telegraph address of the company’s New York office was “Texaco” — a name that would later be used for its products.

The Texas Company in 1909 registered its trademark of a red star with a green capital letter T. By 1928, the company and its Texaco nickname operated more than 4,000 gasoline stations nationwide. The company officially renamed itself Texaco Inc. in 1959.

Learn more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.

April 7, 1966 – Cold War Accident boosts Offshore Technology

A robotic technology soon adopted by the offshore petroleum industry was first used to retrieve an atomic bomb. America’s first cable-controlled underwater research vehicle (CURV) attached cables to recover the weapon lost in the Mediterranean Sea.

Illustration of 1966 offshore remote control vehicle at it finds lost A-bomb.

The offshore petroleum industry would becoming a leading user of remotely operated vehicles.

The 70-kiloton hydrogen bomb, which had been lost when a B-52 crashed off the coast of Spain in January, was safely hoisted from a depth of 2,850 feet.

“It was located and fished up by the most fabulous array of underwater machines ever assembled,” proclaimed a Popular Science magazine article. During the Cold War, the Navy developed deep-sea technologies that the offshore petroleum industry would adopt and continue to advance.

Learn more in ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench.

April 9, 1914 – Ohio Cities Gas Company founded

Beman Dawes and Fletcher Heath organized the Ohio Cities Gas Company in Columbus, Ohio. Three years later, they acquired Pennsylvania-based Pure Oil Company and adopted that name in 1920. Pure Oil had been founded in Pittsburgh in 1895 by independent oil producers, refiners, and pipeline operators to counter market dominance of Standard Oil Company.

Pure Oil company logo. Company began in 1917.

Ohio Cities Gas Company became Pure Oil in 1917.

with oil exploration, production, refining and selling of its products, Pure Oil became the second vertically integrated oil company after Standard Oil. Headquartered in an iconic Chicago skyscraper it built in 1926, the company joined the 100 largest U.S. industrial corporations. It was acquired in 1965 by Union Oil Company of California, now a division of Chevron.

April 10, 1866 – Densmore Brothers patent Railroad Oil Tank Car

James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, received a patent for their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum,” which they developed a year earlier in the booming northwestern Pennsylvania oil region. Their patent illustrated a simple but sturdy design for securing two re-enforced containers on a typical railroad car. Although these early oil-tank cars were an improvement, they soon would be replaced by the more practical single horizontal types seen today

Patent drawing of Densmore Oil Tank Car that briefly revolutionized transportation of oil.

The Densmore oil tank car briefly revolutionized the bulk transportation of oil to market. Hundreds of the twin tank railroad cars were in use by 1866.

After leaving the tank car business, Amos Densmore in 1875 invented a new way for arranging “type writing machine” keyboards so commonly used letters would no longer collide and stick. His “Q-W-E-R-T-Y” arrangement improved the original 1868 invention of Christopher Sholes.

James Densmore’s continued success in oilfields would help finance the start of the Densmore Typewriter Company.

Learn more in Densmore Brothers invent First Oil Tank Car.

2022 AOGHS Membership Ad


Recommended Reading: The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016); The Texaco Story: The First Fifty Years, 1902-1952 (2012); Mapping the Deep: The Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science (2002);  Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania (2000); The American Railroad Freight Car (1995); Story of the Typewriter, 1873-1923 (2019). 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. Contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This