This Week in Petroleum History, July 31 – August 6
August 1, 1872 – First Modern Natural Gas Pipeline
The first recorded large-scale delivery of natural gas by pipeline began when gas was delivered to Titusville, Pennsylvania. A two-inch, wrought-iron pipeline carried the gas from a well five miles away.
The well’s production – four million cubic feet of natural gas a day – was the largest in the quickly growing petroleum region.
The mayor of Titusville and the Keystone Gas & Water Company constructed their pipeline to deliver “the most powerful and voluminous gas well on record” to more than 250 residential and commercial customers in Titusville.
Once a dangerous byproduct of the new petroleum industry, practical commercial use of natural gas would be introduced by George Westinghouse for the Pittsburgh steel and glass industries, notes David Waples in his 2005 book, The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia.
August 2, 1938 – Petroleum Product replaces Hog Bristles
Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, promoted its “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” – the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic nylon developed by DuPont chemists just three years earlier. Americans soon would be brushing their teeth with nylon bristle toothbrushes instead of hog bristles, declared the New York Times.
“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” noted a 1938 Weco Products advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with ‘EXTON,’ a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”
Pricing its toothbrush at 50 cents, Weco Products guaranteed “no bristle shedding.” Johnson & Johnson introduced a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939. “Before this, the world relied on toothbrush bristles made from the neck hairs of wild pigs from Siberia, Poland and China,” noted the Royal Society of Chemistry. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.
August 2. 1956 – First U.S. Interstate Highway
Missouri became the first state to award a contract with interstate construction funding authorized two months earlier by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Missouri highway commission signed the contract for work on the already historic Route 66.
The Highway-Aid Act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways.” It made it possible for states to afford construction of the network of national limited-access highways eventually reaching more than 40,000 miles.
Missouri had agreed to begin work on part of Route 66 – now Interstate 44. “There is no question that the creation of the interstate highway system has been the most significant development in the history of transportation in the United States,” proclaimed the state’s leaders. Learn more in America on the Move.
August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt Pits discovered
The La Brea – “the tar” – pits were discovered during a 1769 Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted the expedition’s Franciscan friar in his diary.
The friar, Juan Crespi, was the first person to use the term “bitumen” in describing these sticky pools in southern California – where crude oil has been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Native Americans used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes.
Although commonly called the “tar pits,” the pools at Rancho La Brea are actually asphalt – not tar. The nearby Page Museum explains tar is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as peat, while asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules – petroleum. Learn more about California oil seeps in Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits. For a history of the asphalt, see Asphalt Paves the Way.
August 3, 1942 – War brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines
War Emergency Pipelines, Inc., began construction on the “Big Inch” line – the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken in the United States.
Conceived to supply wartime fuel demands – and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” lines were extolled as “The most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.”
With a goal of transporting 300,000 barrels of oil per day, the $95 million project called for construction of a 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line (Little Big Inch) as far as New York and Philadelphia – more than 1,200 miles. Today’s Trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long. Learn more in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.
August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”
The Crystal Oil Company completed its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The well revealed the Healdton field, which soon became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and consequent low cost of drilling. The area attracted independent producers with limited financial backing, leaving out many major oil companies.
“Within a 22-mile swath across Carter County, one of the nation’s greatest oil discoveries was made – the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Field,” notes historian Kenny Arthur Franks. “Encompassing some of the richest oil-producing land in America, Healdton and Hewitt, discovered in 1913 and 1919 respectively, produced an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century.”
In 1929, independent producer Wirt Franklin became the first president of the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Among others who established themselves at Healdton were Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner and former Governor Charles Haskell. Erle P. Halliburton also perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.
Recommended Reading: The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia (2005); Du Pont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain (1984); The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways (2012); Monsters Of Old Los Angeles – The Prehistoric Animals Of The La Brea Tar Pits (2008); Oil: From Prospect to Pipeline (1971); Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field (1989).
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 calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on levels and types of sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.