This Week in Petroleum History, August 7 – 13
August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspired “Alley Oop” Comic Strip
Although the comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared in August 1933, the cartoon caveman began with a 1926 oilfield discovery in the Permian Basin. A small West Texas oil town would later proclaim itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin.
Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) first appeared as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combined names of the town-site owners, Ira and Ann Yates. As drilling in Permian Basin boomed, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company there. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology that soon led to his popular comic strip. Learn more in Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.
August 7, 2004 – Death of a Hellfighter
Famed oilfield well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair died at age 89 in Houston. The son of a blacksmith, Adair was born in 1915 in Houston. He served with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II before working for Myron Kinley, a pioneer in oilfield firefighting from California.
Adair, who founded the Red Adair Company in 1959, developed many new technologies for “wild well” control. Over the years his company put out more than 2,000 dangerous well fires and blowouts – onshore and offshore, all over the world.
The oilfield firefighter’s skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film Hellfighters, were tested in 1991 when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.
August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography breakthrough
Thanks to pioneering research led by Dr. J.C. Karcher, an Oklahoma physicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section was measured in 1921 near Ardmore.
“Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society of the geophysical method that records reflected seismic waves as they travel through the earth, helping to find oil-bearing formations.
“The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains the society. Read more in Exploring Seismic Waves.
August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oilfield of Luling
After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, Texas, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company completed the Rafael Rios No. 1 well. The 1922 discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. Within two years, the field had almost 400 producing wells annually yielding 11 million barrels of oil.
Thanks to the determination of President Edgar B. Davis, the company was the first tap oil production in the Edwards lime and the Austin chalk formations. Locals proclaimed he found the oil after consulting a psychic. The unusual oil patch “reading” came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.
Davis would later sell his leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Cayce claimed success helping other wildcatters – but left the oil business for good after forming his own company…and drilling dry holes. Luling today hosts an annual “Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off” and has “the best ribs in the country,” according to Reader’s Digest. Read about the Luling’s oil museum in Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.
August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Bit
“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to faster and deeper rotary drilling.
Historians note that several men were trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it is Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 bit patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.
“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” notes the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which on August 10, 2009, designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
“By chipping, crushing, and powdering hardrock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME adds. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.”
Hughes engineers would invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933. Frank and George Christensen developed the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s. Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oilmen
Eastern Kentucky independent producers joined the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association in Frankfort, where articles of incorporation were amended to create a state-wide organization – today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association.
A 1919 oil discovery near Pellville in Hancock County had touched off an oil boom in western Kentucky. Some historians also credit the state with the first U.S. commercial oil well; in 1829, oil had been found while boring for salt brine with a spring-pole a farm near Burkesville. Learn more in Kentucky’s Great American Well .
August 13, 1962 – Norman Rockwell illustrates Oil and Gas Journal
The Oil and Gas Journal promoted itself with an illustration from artist Norman Rockwell captioned, “Where Oil Men Invest Their Valuable Reading Time.” Rockwell’s renditions of American life brought him widespread popularity through magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.
In addition to the illustrations for advertisements in the Oil and Gas Journal, in 1959 Rockwell provided artwork to the American Petroleum Institute, which sponsored a U.S. Postal Service “first day of issue” to commemorate the 1959 centennial of the birth of the U.S. oil industry (see Centennial Oil Stamp Issue).
Rockwell’s illustration included the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.” His drawing depicted “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” notes a collector. Learn about another oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman.
Recommended Reading, August 7: Yates: A family, A Company, and Some Cornfield Geology Hardcover (2000); An American Hero: The Red Adair Story : An Authorized Biography (1990); Oil And Gas In Oklahoma: Petroleum Geology In Oklahoma (2013); Texas Art and a Wildcatter’s Dream: Edgar B. Davis and the San Antonio Art League (1998); Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (2012).
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