December 28, 1898 – Mrs. Alford inherits a Nitro Factory – 

Byron S. Alford died and left his nitroglycerin factory to his wife Mary, who would make the Bradford, Pennsylvania, business thrive. She was “the only known woman to own a dynamite and nitroglycerin factory,” declared a 2017 Smithsonian magazine article that credited the American Oil & Gas Historical Society article “Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory.”

As technologies for “shooting wells” evolved, Mrs. Alford became, “an astute businesswoman in the midst of America’s first billion-dollar oilfield,” noted the New York World newspaper in 1899.

December 28, 1930 – Wildcat Well reveals More of East Texas Oilfield

Three days after Christmas, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim of Kilgore revealed the extent of the giant East Texas oilfield. Her son, J. Malcolm Crim, had ignored advice from most geologists and explored about 10 miles north of the field’s discovery well, drilled in October by Columbus “Dad” Joiner on the farm of another widow, Daisy Bradford.

Mrs. Lou Della Crim watches her pumping oil wells from her porch.

“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photo courtesy Neal Campbell, Words and Pictures.

The Lou Della Crim No. 1 well erupted oil on a Sunday morning while “Mamma” Crim was attending church. The well initially produced 20,000 barrels of oil a day. A month later, 15 miles farther north, a third wildcat well, the Lathrop No. 1 well, (drilled by Fort Worth wildcatter W.A. “Monty” Moncrief), confirmed the size of what proved to be the largest oilfield in the continental United States, extending more than 480 square miles.

Learn more in Lou Della Crim Revealed.

December 30, 1854 – First American Oil Company incorporates

George Bissell and six other investors incorporated the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York. Convinced oil could be found in northwestern Pennsylvania, Bissell formed this first U.S. petroleum exploration company “to raise, manufacture, procure and sell Rock Oil” from Hibbard Farm in Venango County (see George Bissell’s Oil Seeps).

1854 stock certificate of Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, first American oil exploration company.

America’s first oil company incorporated on December 30, 1854, in Albany. George Bissell wanted oil for a new product: kerosene.

In 1855, after struggling to attract investors, the company reorganized under Connecticut corporate law, which protected shareholders from company debts. The Wall Street Panic of 1857 rendered control of the company to New Haven financier Robert Townsend, who re-incorporated it as the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in March 1858. Townsend and Bissell then hired Edwin L. Drake to drill a well on the the 105-acre Hibbard Farm lease, the beginning of the U.S. oil industry.

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December 31, 1954 – Ohio Oil Company sets California Drilling Depth Record

As deep drilling technologies continued to advance in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in California. The well was about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, in the San Joaquin Valley. At more than four miles deep, the well’s down-hole drilling technology was not up to the task and became stuck.

January 1954 trade magazine headline of record oil well depths in California.

A January 1954 trade magazine noted the record depth reached by the Ohio Oil Company’s deep well in Kern County — a dry hole.

Petroleum Engineer noted the well set a depth record, despite being “halted by a fishing job” (see Fishing in Petroleum Wells) and ending up as a dry hole. More than 630 exploratory wells were drilled in California during 1954. Founded in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company discovered the Permian Basin’s giant Yates field in 1926 and later purchased Transcontinental Oil, acquiring the Marathon product name — and Greek runner trademark. 

December 31, 1998 – Amoco merges with BP

Amoco completed its merger with British Petroleum in a stock swap valued at about $48 billion, at the time the world’s largest industrial merger and the largest foreign takeover of an American company. Amoco, founded in 1889 as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of Indiana, had changed its name to Amoco in 1985.

Discarded AMOCO gas station signs.

BP closed Amoco stations in 2001.

BP shareholders owned 60 percent of the newly combined companies, BP Amoco, PLC.  The company in 2001 changed its brand to simply “BP,” and announced all Amoco stations would be closed or renamed to BP service stations. In October 2017, BP announced the reintroduction of the Amoco brand to the United States — 105 years after the first Amoco service station opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

January 2, 1866 – Patent describes Early Rotary Rig

Peter Sweeney of New York City received a U.S. patent for an “Improvement in Rock Drills” design that included basic elements of the modern rotary rig. The inventor described his idea as a “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.”

Sweeney’s drilling patent, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart, used a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

Illustration from 1866 rotary drilling rig patent drawing

Peter Sweeney’s innovative 1866 “Stone Drill” patent included a roller bit using “rapid rotary motion” similar to modern rotary drilling technologies.

The rig’s “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.”

The petroleum industry soon improved upon Sweeney’s 1866 rotary rig.

January 2, 1882 – Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust

John D. Rockefeller continued to expand his Standard Oil Company empire by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled much of the U.S. petroleum industry through 40 producing, refining and marketing affiliates. The trust also operated all of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tank cars (also see Densmore Oil Tank Cars) until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling broke it up in 1911.

January 2, 1932 – Birth of Union “76” Brand

The Union Oil Company “76” brand was launched at service stations in western states. The brand’s orange circle with blue type logo was adopted in the 1940s, and the “76” orange orb first appeared at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. A smaller version of the ball proved so popular that millions would be given away as bright attachments to car antennas.

December petroleum history Union 76 ball

The Union 76 ball debuted in 1962.

The California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is in the original Union Oil headquarters of the 1890s.

January 2, 1974 – President Nixon sets 55 mph Speed Limit

Although setting speed limits earlier had been left to each state, when OPEC cut U.S. oil supplies in October 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act to reduce gas consumption. As a national speed limit of 55 mph became law, the embargo’s higher gas prices boosted sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars from Japan. In 1995, President Bill Clinton repealed the federal limit, returning the power to the states. In 2021, the highest U.S. posted speed limit was 85 mph — only on Texas State Highway 130.

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Recommended Reading:  Images of America: Around Bradford (1997); The Black Giant: A History of the East Texas Oil Field… (2003); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Portrait in Oil: How Ohio Oil Company Grew to Become Marathon (1962); Sign of the 76: The fabulous life and times of the Union Oil Company of California (1977). 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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