This Week in Petroleum History, August 20 – 26
August 21, 1897 – Olds Motor Vehicle Company founded
American automotive pioneer Ransom Eli Olds (1864–1950) founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan. Renamed Olds Motor Works in 1899, the company became the first auto manufacturer established in Detroit.
“By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one of each power mode: steam, electricity and gasoline,” notes George May in R.E. Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer. “He was the only American automotive pioneer to produce and sell at least one of each mode of automobile.”
The modern assembly line concept also began with Olds, who used a stationary assembly line (Henry Ford would be the first to use a moving assembly line). Olds Motor Works sold the first mass-produced automobile, beginning in 1901. Also see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.
August 24, 1892 – Gladys City Oil Company founded by “Prophet of Spindletop”
Patillo Higgins, who will become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop,” founded the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company.
Higgins, a self-taught geologist, and three partners leased 2,700 acres near Beaumont, Texas. He was convinced that an area known as “Big Hill” – Spindletop Hill – four miles south of Beaumont, contained oil. Almost all earth science experts said he was wrong.
Higgins had noticed oil and natural gas seeping on the hill while taking his Sunday school class on picnics. He later supervised the planning of Gladys City, which he named for his favorite Sunday school student.
Although Higgins left his Gladys City venture in 1895, Capt. Anthony Lucas drilled the “Lucas Gusher” for the company in January 1901 and forever changed the petroleum industry. It would not be long before the Spindletop oilfield alone produced more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s oilfields combined.
August 24, 1923 – University of Texas receives Royalty Check
The University of Texas received the first oil royalty payment ($516.53) three months after the Santa Rita No. 1 well discovered an oilfield on university-owned land in the Permian Basin.
After 21 months of difficult drilling, the Texon Oil and Land Company’s well had revealed the 4.5-square-mile Big Lake field. Within three years of the discovery, petroleum royalties endowed the university with $4 million.
In 1958, the university moved the Santa Rita well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. A student newspaper described the historic well as “one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”
August 24, 1937 – Music Mountain Oil Discovery
No one had expected it, not even the Niagara Oil Company that drilled it, notes the Bradford Landmark Society about a 1937 gusher near Bradford, Pennsylvania, in McKean County.
For the first time since oil strikes in the early days of the great Bradford field 70 years earlier, an exploratory well on Music Mountain erupted and revealed a new oilfield. The discovery was made at a depth of 1,630 feet, deeper than earlier wells.
The producing formation was beneath the older, highly prolific Bradford sands first discovered in the 1860s. The region’s high-paraffin oil is still considered among the highest grade natural lubricants in the world. One Bradford refinery (today’s American Refining Group) has been refining McKean County oil since 1881. Learn more interesting details about the Bradford oilfield in Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory.
August 26, 2009 – Pittsburgh Oil Still Site designated Historic Landmark
The American Chemical Society (ACS) designated the development of the first still for refining crude oil as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A plaque noted that in the 1850s, Samuel Kier constructed a one-barrel, cast-iron still on Seventh Avenue. He began selling distilled petroleum, which he called “carbon oil,” for a $1.50 a gallon.
“Kier’s refining process touched off the search for more dependable sources of crude oil, which led to the drilling of the nation’s first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania,” ACS noted on the plaque commemorating Kier’s achievement. “These two technologies – refining and drilling – made western Pennsylvania the undisputed center of the early oil industry.”
The society established its historic landmarks program in 1992, “to enhance public appreciation for the contributions of the chemical sciences to modern life.” At the start of 2018, there were 135 operable petroleum refineries in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.