This Week in Petroleum History, February 5 to February 11
February 7, 1817 – Manufactured Gas illuminates Baltimore
America’s first public street lamp fueled by manufactured gas illuminated a street in Baltimore, Maryland. The city’s Gas Light Company became the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company by distilling tar and wood to make its illuminating gas.
A small monument to the street lamp today stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street (once Market and Lemon streets). Dedicated in 1997, the lamp is a replica of its original design of February 1817. One year earlier, Baltimore artist and inventor Rembrandt Peale had hosted a gas lighting demonstration in a room at his Holliday Street museum by burning the artificial gas – dazzling local businessmen and socialites gathered there with a “ring beset with gems of light.”
“During a candlelit period in American history the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors,” notes a historian at the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E). The gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore. Learn more in Illuminating Gaslight.
February 9, 2013 – NASA drills Exploration Well on Mars
Images transmitted from NASA’s robotic rover Curiosity confirm it drilled a well on the martian surface, marking “history’s first ever drilling and sampling into a pristine alien rock on the surface of another planet in our solar system,” according to an article at Universe Today.
After being launched in November 2011, and while exploring the Red Planet’s Yellowknife Bay Basin, Curiosity paused to drill a hole about .63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep.
Using a rotary-percussion drill bit at the end of its seven-foot robotic arm, the rover’s first off-world well drilled into “a red slab of fine-grained sedimentary rock with hydrated mineral veins of calcium sulfate.”
Images from Curiosity making hole the day before show the one-ton robot’s drill site, which included a test hole and the successful well. Curiosity collected powdered rock samples through a tube that extended over most of the drill bit.
Curiosity adjusted its drilling technique to recover mineral samples. The six-wheeled rover spudded later wells using “low-percussion” to make sure the rock did not shatter during drilling. Curiosity’s design will serve as the basis for a Mars rover planned for 2020. Learn more about terrestrial drilling history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
February 10, 1910 – California Oilfield Discovery
The Buena Vista oilfield was discovered in Kern County, California, in 1910 by Honolulu Oil Corporation. The well was originally known as “Honolulu’s great gasser” until it was drilled deeper into oil-producing sands.
Initial production of the discovery well averaged between 3,000 barrels of oil and 4,000 barrels of oil per day. Steam injection operations would help produce the prolific “heavy” (high viscosity) California oil.
In 1912, as the U.S. Navy began converting its warship boilers from coal to oil, the Buena Vista field became Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 2 (see Petroleum & Sea Power). Many of the biggest U.S. oilfields have been found in California, mostly in Kern County. Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in First California Oil Well.
February 10, 1917 – Geologists get Organized
Although growing demand for oil was worldwide, the science for finding it was obscure when the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) organized as the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
About 90 geologists met in 1917 at Henry Kendall College, now Tulsa University, and formed an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.” The association, which adopted its present name in 1918, also began publishing a bimonthly scientific journal. AAPG’s peer-reviewed Bulletin included papers written by leading geologists of the day.
By 1920, an oil industry trade magazine noted the association had grown in membership and “combats the fakers.” It praised AAPG’s professionalism while warning of “the large number of unscrupulous and inadequately prepared men who are attempting to do geological work.” In 1945, the association formed a committee to assist the Boy Scouts of America with a geology merit badge. By 1953, AAPG membership exceeded 10,000. Learn more in AAPG – Geology Pros since 1917.
February 10, 1956 – H.C. Price Company Tower opens
Harold C. Price Sr., founder of the H.C. Price Company, a builder of oil and natural gas pipelines, dedicated his new headquarters building in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. It was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Founded in 1921, H.C. Price Company specialized in field welding of oil storage tanks and was responsible for many innovations in electric welding of pipelines. The company played a key role in constructing the “Big Inch” pipeline during WWII and built a major section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
Wright designed more than 400 buildings, including the Guggenheim art museum in New York City; the 19-story Bartlesville office tower was his only skyscraper. Today, the Price Tower Arts Center at Sixth Street and Dewey Avenue preserves Wright’s design legacy. The “Prairie Skyscraper” was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
In addition to the Bartlesville tower, Wright designed an Arizona residence for Harold and MaryLou Price. Completed in 1955, it was “built as a winter home for the grandparents to entertain their six grandchildren when visiting from Oklahoma,” according to the Price House Foundation. It is the largest of all Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Arizona.
Recommended Reading: In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860 (1993); Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer (2017); Anomalies: Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology 1917-2017 (2017); Building Bartlesville, 1945-2000, Images of America: Oklahoma (2008).
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. Support the AOGHS.org energy education mission with a donation today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.