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. His geological section measurement followed limited tests in June and July in Oklahoma City.

Roadside marker with geologic map of Arbuckle Anticline in Oklahoma.

A roadside sign on I-35 north of Oklahoma City includes a geologic illustration of the Arbuckle Anticline, A nearby marker describes how using reflection seismograph for oil exploration began here. Photo by Bruce Wells.

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 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 a roadside marker at the site north 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. 

Luling Oil Museum in historic Texas building.

In central Texas, the Luling Oil Museum is a restored 1885 mercantile store near an oilfield a renowned psychic supposedly helped locate in 1922.

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. 

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 was Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.

Patent drawing of Hughes 1909 drill bit.

Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1909 patent for “roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”

“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.

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 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.

Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler 1896 bird's-eye  lithograph map of f Sistersville, West Virginia,courtesy Library of Congress.

Bird’s-eye-view artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler of Massachusetts created maps of prospering towns and cities during the industrial revolution, including many petroleum boom towns like this 1896 lithograph of Sistersville, West Virginia. Map courtesy Library of Congress.

The late 19th century petroleum wealth,  changed Sistersville from a rural village of 300 people, “to a rip-roaring” metropolis of 15,000 people almost overnight. Sistersville was one of many oil towns featured in popular maps by artist Thaddeus Fowler of Massachusetts (see Oil Town “Aero Views”).

Today with a population of  about 1,300, the town annually celebrates its 1891 Pole Cat well (renamed the Sistersville well), and the 53rd annual Sistersville Oil and Gas Festival is planned for September 16-18, 2021. 

Learn more about petroleum exploration in West Virginia and Ohio in American Oil and Gas Families, Appalachian Basin Independents (2004).

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 Benz, female automotive pioneer, driving in 1888.

Bertha Benz became the world’s first female automotive pioneer in 1888. Image courtesy Mercedes-Benz Museum.

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. Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 as the first female automotive pioneer. Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip

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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. 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). 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 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 PostBoy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

Norman Rockwell illustration in Oil and Gas Journal.

A Norman Rockwell illustration advertised a leading industry trade magazine.

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.”

Norman Rockwell art on 1959 centennial of the birth of U.S. oil industry.

Norman Rockwell’s art commemorated the 1959 centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry.

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 oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman

August 15, 1945 – Gas Rationing ends 

World War II gasoline rationing ended in the United States after beginning in December 1942. Coupon books had been issued by the Office of Price Administration to conserve oil for fighting the war. Most civilian cars carried “A” stickers, limiting them to four gallons of gas a week. A national speed limit of 35 mph also was imposed. In addition to gasoline and fuel oil, wartime rationing included tires, food, clothing, shoes, and coffee.

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Recommended Reading:  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). 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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