August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom (and Bust) in Pennsylvania  – 

The “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, revealed a giant natural gas field and quickly attracted hundreds of petroleum companies. Drilled near the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh, the discovery well produced more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. It inspired a drilling frenzy that witnessed $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area.

“McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” circa 1920 photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” from a circa 1920 panoramic image by Hagerty & Griffey. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” the local newspaper reported. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses.” But excitement in the natural gas field ended in just seven months.

At the beginning of 1921, natural gas production had declined in 180 wells; more than 440 exploratory wells were dry holes. Of the millions invested during the boom, only about $3 million came out. The gas field was later described as “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.”

Learn more in McKeesport Gas Company.

August 30, 2002 – Conoco and Phillips Petroleum become ConocoPhillips

Almost 100 years after Frank and L.E. Phillips completed their first oil well and 128 years after Continental Oil delivered its first can of kerosene in a horse-drawn wagon, Phillips Petroleum Company and Conoco Inc. combined to form an energy industry giant. The two historic companies created ConocoPhillips.

An 1880s Continental Oil Company horse-drawn tank wagon oil museum exhibit.

An 1880s Continental Oil Company horse-drawn tank wagon welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum is 70 miles east in Bartlesville. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The business ventures that played roles leading to today’s ConocoPhillips (and two oil museums) included Transcontinental Oil & Transportation, 101 Ranch Oil, Marland Oil, and Continental Oil and Refining. When ConocoPhillips separated its refining and marketing businesses, Phillips 66 became an independent downstream energy company in 2012.

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August 31, 1850 – San Francisco Utility manufactures Gas from Coal

The San Francisco Gas Company incorporated in 1850 to produce and distribute “manufactured gas” extracted from coal. Irish immigrants Peter and James Donahue and engineer Joseph Eastland erected a “gasification plant” to distill coal for manufacturing the gas for lighting. Their company illuminated its first “town gas” street lamps in 1852.

Over the next 50 years, the company merged with competitors, ultimately becoming Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in 1905. By 1915, there were almost 8,500 San Francisco street lamps — each hand lit and shut off every day. The last coal-gas lamp was extinguished in 1930. Also see Con Ed — America’s Largest Utility.

August 31, 1859 – U.S. Petroleum Industry’s First “Dry Hole”

Just four days after the first American oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, a series of far less known “firsts” were achieved by local entrepreneur John Grandin in August 1859.

rare image of spring pole drilling well from 1926 film.

A spring-pole similar to the one above was used in 1859 to drill America’s first dry hole, which was deeper than the nearby Drake well. Photo from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the Department of the Interior.

Grandin drilled using the simple (and ancient) spring-pole “kick down” method at Gordon Run Creek. His well found no oil, but achieved several petroleum industry milestones. His attempt would be credited with the first stuck tool, the first “shooting” of a well with black powder, and first well ruined by a failed shooting attempt.

Learn more in First Dry Hole.

September 1, 1862 – Union taxes Manufactured Gas

To help fund the Civil War, a new federal tax was placed on manufactured gas, a popular fuel for street and residential lighting. Manufactured gas (produced from coal) was taxed up to 15 cents per thousand cubic feet. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle quickly accused the local gas company of passing on the tax, which “shifts from its shoulders its share of the burdens the war imposes and places it directly on their customers.”

September 2, 1910 – Cities Service Company incorporates

Henry Doherty formed the Cities Service Company as a public utility holding company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Doherty bought producing properties in Kansas and Oklahoma as he acquired distributing companies and linked them to growing natural gas supplies. In 1915, a Cities Service subsidiary discovered the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield. In 1928, another subsidiary discovered the Oklahoma City oilfield.

Cities Service Company stock certificate.

Cities Service Company subsidiaries discovered major Mid-Continent oilfields.

Federal court mandates in 1940 resulted in Cities Service’s divestiture of its public utilities, and in 1959 the remaining companies were reformed as Cities Service Oil Company, which changed its marketing brand to CITGO in 1964. After being acquired by Occidental Petroleum in 1982, CITGO was acquired by the Venezuela state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela in 1990.

September 2, 2009 – Gulf of Mexico Depth Record

BP discovered an oilfield 250 miles southeast of Houston in the Gulf of Mexico — and set a world depth record by drilling 30,923 feet into seabed from a platform floating more than 4,130 feet above.  The Tiber Prospect field — in 2009 estimated to contain more than three billion barrels of oil — was drilled by the Deepwater Horizon, which later was moved to a new site and destroyed in the deadly explosion and oil spill of April 2010. Learn about other deep wells in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

September 4, 1841 – Patent for Percussion Drilling Technology 

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris, a spring pole driller in West Virginia, patented a “Rock Drill Jar.” It was an innovation he had been experimenting with while drilling brine wells. “The mechanical success of cable tool drilling has greatly depended on a device called jars, invented by a spring pole driller,” explained oil historian Samuel Pees in 2004, adding that Morris had used jars as early as the 1830s.

1841 patent for percussion drilling of oil wells. 

Drill jar technology improved efficiency for drilling brine wells — and later, oil wells.

For cable-tools, Morris patented a “manner of uniting augers to sinkers for boring,” with the upper link of the jars helping the lower link to strike the underlying auger stem on the upstroke. This upward blow could dislodge the bit if it was stuck in the rock formation. Cable-tool drillers soon improved upon Morris’ patented jars.

Learn more in Making Hole — Drilling Technology.

September 4, 1850 – Illuminating Chicago Streets

The Chicago Gas Light & Coke Company delivered its first manufactured gas (gasified coal). “The gas pipes were filled, and the humming noise made by the escaping gas at the tops of the lamp-posts indicated that everything was all right,” reported The Gem of the Prairie. “Shortly afterward the fire was applied and brilliant torches flamed on both sides of Lake Street as far as the eye could see and wherever the posts were set.”

By 1855, almost 80 miles of pipe would be installed for about 2,000 manufactured-gas consumers in Chicago. America’s first public street lamp fueled by manufactured gas illuminated Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, in early 1817. Learn more in Illuminating Gaslight.

September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Pump

The modern gasoline-pump design was invented by Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to the owner of a Fort Wayne, Indiana, grocery store. Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” the pump’s container held 42 gallons. The pump included marble valves, a wooden plunger, and a simple, upright faucet.

1916 Bowser gasoline pump with "clock face" dial

The 1916 Bowser gas pump included a “clock face” dial to measure pumped gas. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

Thanks to his pump’s success at Jake Gumper’s grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. Within a decade — as the automobile’s popularity grew — Bowser’s company adapted and became hugely successful. By 1905 (the same year many claim the first gasoline station was built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a “filling station.”

The Bowser gas pump included a hand-levered suction pump and a hose attachment for dispensing gas. As other pump manufacturers arrived, Fort Wayne became known as the “Gas Pump Capital of the World.” Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers test Electric Logging Tool

An electric well-logging tool was first applied near Pechelbronn, France after brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger modified their surface system to operate vertically in a well.

Schlumberger brothers test equipment in 1912 near Caen, France.

Conrad Schlumberger, using very basic equipment, in 1912 recorded the first map of equipotential curves near Caen, France.

Conrad Schlumberger had conceived the idea of using electrical measurements to map subsurface rock formations as early as 1912. After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers created the electric downhole well log.

Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger test electronic logging in 1927.

Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger tested their electronic logging tool in 1927, one year after founding the world’s first well logging company. Photo and image courtesy Schlumberger Ltd.

Lowering their new tool into a well, they recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth — creating a well log of geologic formations. Changes in subsurface resistance readings showed variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas.

The brothers’ technological breakthrough would lead to Schlumberger becoming the world’s first well-logging oilfield service company.

September 5, 1939 – Young Geologist reveals Mississippi Oilfield

Union Producing Company completed its Woodson No. 1, the first commercial oil well in Mississippi. Drilled at Tinsley, southwest of Yazoo City, the well produced 235 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,560 feet in a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Field work by geologist Frederic Mellen led to the Tinsley oilfield discovery.

Image of Fred Mellen, geologists who discovered Mississippi oilfield.

Fred Mellen was elected president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946.

While working on a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, Mellen earlier had found indications of a salt dome structure similar to the giant Spindletop field of 1901 in Texas. The 28-year-old geologist urged more seismographic testing, and Houston-based Union Producing Company leased about 2,500 acres at Perry Creek.

Mellen’s original WPA project had been a clay and minerals survey, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.” Instead, he launched Mississippi’s oil industry.

Learn more in First Mississippi Oil Wells.

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Recommended Reading:  McKeesport – Images of America: Pennsylvania (2007); Conoco: 125 Years of Energy (2000); Phillips, The First 66 Years (1983); Western Pennsylvania’s Oil Heritage (2008); Growing Up In The Bradford Oil Fields (2008); Schlumberger: The History of a Technique (1978); An Illustrated Guide to Gas Pumps (2008). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved. 

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