August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip –
Although the comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared in August 1933, the cartoon caveman began with 1920s oilfield discoveries 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) began as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combined the names of Ira and Ann Yates. As petroleum drilling in the Permian Basin boomed, future Alley Oop cartoonist Hamlin worked as an oil company cartographer there. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology that would lead to his popular Depression Era comic strip.
Learn more in Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.
August 7, 1953 – Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act generates Revenue
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act designated the Secretary of the Interior responsible for the administration of mineral exploration and development of America’s outer continental shelf. Forty-four Gulf of Mexico wells already were operating in 11 oilfields by 1949, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. As the offshore industry evolved in the 1950s, petroleum production became the second-largest revenue generator for the country, after income taxes.
August 7, 2004 – Death of a Famed “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.
Adair had begun his oilfield career working for Myron Macy Kinley, who patented a technology for using charges of high explosives to snuff out well fires. Kinley, whose father had been an oil well shooter in California in the early 1900s, mentored many other firefighters, including Asger “Boots” Hansen and Edward “Coots” Mathews (Boots & Coots International Well Control).
After founding the Red Adair Company in 1959, Adair developed new techniques as his company put out more than 2,000 well fires worldwide — onshore and offshore. The oilfield firefighter’s skills, dramatized in the 1968 film “Hellfighters,” were tested in 1991 when Adair’s company extinguished 117 well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.
Learn more oil history and fighting tank fires in Oilfield Firefighting Technologies.
August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography reveals Geological Structure
A team led by University of Oklahoma geophysicist John C. Karcher conducted the world’s first reflection seismograph measurement of a geologic formation, pioneering the use of reflection seismic technology in petroleum exploration. Prof. Karcher’s seismography method would lead to discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields. The geological section measurement followed limited tests in June and July in Oklahoma City.
The new geophysical method recorded reflected seismic waves as they traveled through the earth, helping to define oil-bearing formations. The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for testing the technique and new equipment, according to a roadside marker at the site south of Oklahoma City on I-35.
Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.
August 9, 1922 – Major Oilfield found in Luling, Texas
After drilling six dry holes near Luling, Texas, the United North & South Oil Company completed its Rafael Rios No. 1 well. Company President Edgar B. Davis had been determined to find oil in the Austin chalk formation. His discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. By 1924, the Luling field was annually producing 11 million barrels of oil.
Davis later sold his Luling leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Success also produced tales of Davis finding the giant oilfield only after consulting a psychic. The bogus oil patch reading came from self-proclaimed clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.
The once famous psychic claimed to have helped Davis and other wildcatters, but abandoned searching for Texas oilfields after forming his own company…and drilling expensive dry holes.
Learn more by visiting the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum in Luling.
On August 9, 1949 – Oil discovered in Western Nebraska
An oilfield discovery in western Nebraska ended decades of unsuccessful searching and helped start the state’s modern petroleum industry. Marathon Oil Company’s Mary Egging No. 1 well five miles southeast of the town of Gurley produced 225 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 4,429 feet.
According to a nearby historical marker, the first exploratory well drilled in the area near Harrisburg failed in 1917. The success in western Nebraska came nine years after the first Nebraska oil well was completed in 1940 in the southeastern corner of the state.
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 have noted that several men were trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it was Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 drill patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit (see Carl Baker and Howard Hughes).
“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” reported the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which in 2009 designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
“By chipping, crushing, and powdering hard rock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME explained. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.”
Hughes engineers would invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933, and Frank and George Christensen in 1941 developed the earliest diamond bit. The use of bits utilizing tungsten carbide arrived in the early 1950s.
Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
August 11, 1891 – Oil Well brings prosperity to Sistersville, West Virginia
The discovery well of the Sistersville oilfield was drilled at the small West Virginian town on the Ohio River just north of Parkersburg. “The bringing in of the ‘Pole Cat’ well, which pumped water for a year before it pumped oil, brought in a sudden influx of oil men, drillers, leasers, speculators, followers, floaters, wildcatters, and hangers-on,” a local historian noted.
The petroleum wealth changed Sistersville from a rural village of 300 people, “to a rip-roaring” metropolis of 15,000 people almost overnight. At the height of its oil prosperity, Sistersville was featured among the popular maps created by artist Thaddeus M. Fowler of Massachusetts (see Oil Town “Aero Views”).
Today with a population of about 1,300, the Tyler County town proudly hosts an annual, three-day celebration of the 1891 Pole Cat well (later renamed the Sistersville well). According to longtime coordinator Barbara Vincent, the 55th annual Sistersville Oil and Gas Festival will take place for September 14-16, 2023.
August 11, 1998 – Amoco announces BP merger
Amoco announced plans to merge with British Petroleum in a stock swap valued at about $48 billion — then the world’s largest industrial merger. Amoco began in 1889 as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of Indiana. By 1985, the company had changed its name from Standard to Amoco.
Finalized on December 31, the combined company, BP Amoco PLC, became 60 percent owned by BP shareholders, marking the transaction as the largest foreign takeover of an American company. In 2001, BP announced Amoco stations would be closed or renamed to the BP brand.
August 12, 1888 – Bertha Benz makes World’s First Auto Road Trip
Thirty-nine-year-old Bertha Benz made history when she became the first person to make a long-distance trip by automobile. Her trip also included, “the first road repairs, the first automotive marketing stunt, the first case of a wife borrowing her husband’s car without asking, and the first violation of intercity highway laws in a motor vehicle,” noted a 2012 article in Wired.
Bertha drove away in the “Patent Motorwagen” (after leaving a note to her husband) and took their two young sons to visit her mother in Pforzheim. Their route from Mannheim was about 56 miles. The drive, which took about 15 hours, helped popularize Karl Benz’s latest invention.
By the end of the century, Mercedes-Benz was the largest car company in the world. The first road trip can today be retraced by following signs of the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. She was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 as the first female automotive pioneer.
Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip.
August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oil and Gas Producers unite
Eastern Kentucky independent producers joined the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association to create a state-wide organization in Frankfort — today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association (KOGA). A 1919 oil discovery in Hancock County had launched the petroleum industry in western Kentucky, where commercial amounts of oil had been found as early as 1829 near Burkesville while drilling for brine with a spring-pole (also see 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 in an ad captioned, “Where Oil Men Invest Their Valuable Reading Time.” Rockwell’s renditions of American life brought him popularity through magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.
In addition to the illustrations for the Oil and Gas Journal, in 1959 Rockwell provided artwork to the American Petroleum Institute (API), which sponsored a U.S. Postal Service “first day of issue” commemorating the 1959 centennial of the birth of the U.S. oil industry (see Centennial Oil Stamp Issue).
The illustration included the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.”
Rockwell’s drawing depicted “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” according to a collector. Learn about another petroleum-related illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman.
Recommended Reading: Yates: A family, A Company, and Some Cornfield Geology (2000); An American Hero: The Red Adair Story(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); Bertha Takes a Drive: How the Benz Automobile Changed the World (2017); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1938). 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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an annual AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.