January 17, 1911 – North Texas Oil Discovery brings Boom –

Producers Oil Company revealed the Electra oilfield in North Texas when the Waggoner No. 5 well began producing 50 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 1,825 feet. A rush of exploration companies would result in more discoveries on cattleman William T. Waggoner’s ranch, sending Electra’s fortunes skyward (see Pump Jack Capital of Texas). “Oil wealth would build infrastructure, schools, churches, and civic pride in Electra for generations,” noted Mayor Curtis Warner in 2013. Electra’s Chamber of Commerce adopted the motto, “Cattle, Crude, and Combines.”

January 18, 1919 – Congregation rejects drilling in Cemetery 

World War I had ended two months earlier as oil production continued to soar in North Texas. Reporting on “Roaring Ranger” oilfields, the New York Times noted that speculators had offered $1 million for rights to drill in the Merriman Baptist Church cemetery, but the congregation could not be persuaded to disturb the interred. Posted on a barbed-wire fence surrounding the graves not far from producing oil wells, a sign proclaimed, “Respect the Dead.” Today, the cemetery — and a new church — can be found three miles south of Ranger.

Learn more in Oil Riches of Merriman Baptist Church.

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January 19, 1922 – Geological Survey predicts U.S. running Out of Oil

The U.S. Geological Survey predicted America’s oil supplies would run out in 20 years. It was not the first or last false alarm. Warnings of shortages had been made for most of the 20th century, according to geologist David Deming of the University of Oklahoma. His 1950 report, A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scares, documented six claims prior to 1950 alone.

Among the end of oil supplies predictions named in the report: The Model T Scare of 1916; the Gasless Sunday Scare of 1918; the John Bull (United Kingdom) Scare of 1920-1923; the Ickes (Interior Secretary Harold Ickes) Petroleum Reserves Scare of 1943-1944; and the Cold War Scare of 1946-1948. Oil shortage predictions began as early as 1879, when the Pennsylvania state geologist predicted only enough oil remained to keep kerosene lamps burning for four more years.

January 19, 1965 – Inventor patents Offshore “Underwater Manipulator”

Howard Shatto Jr. received a 1965 U.S. patent for his “underwater manipulator with suction support device.” His concept led to the modern remotely operated vehicle (ROV) now used most widely by the offshore petroleum industry. Shatto helped make Shell Oil Company an early leader in offshore oilfield development technologies.

Howard Shatto underwater robot patent drawing from January 19. 1965.

Howard Shatto Jr. would become “a world-respected innovator in the areas of dynamic positioning and remotely operated vehicles.”

Underwater robot technology can trace its roots to the late 1950s, when Hughes Aircraft developed a Manipulator Operated Robot — MOBOT — for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Working on land, the robot performed in radioactive environments. Beginning in 1960, Shell Oil began transforming the landlocked MOBOT into a marine robot, “basically a swimming socket wrench,” noted one engineer.

In his 1965 patent — one of many he would  receive — Shatto explained how his robot could help install underwater production equipment at a depth greater than divers could safely work. Howard Shatto also became an innovator in dynamic positioning.

Learn more in ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench.

January 20, 1886 – Great Karg Well erupts Natural Gas in Ohio

The spectacular natural gas well – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio — erupted with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet a day. The well’s gas pressure could not be controlled by the technology of the day and ignited into a towering flame that burned for four months — becoming a popular Ohio tourist attraction. Eight years earlier, another natural gas well in Pennsylvania had made similar headlines (see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh).

Great Karg Well of January 20, 1886, historic marker from 1937.

A plaque dedicated in 1937 in Findlay, Ohio, commemorated the state’s giant natural gas discovery of 1886.

Although Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay in 1884 by Findlay Natural Gas Company, the Karg well launched the state’s first major gas boom and brought many new industries. Glass companies especially were “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” according to a marker at the Richardson Glass Works in Findlay. “They included eight window, two bottle, two chimney lamp, one light bulb, one novelty, and five tableware glass factories.”

By 1887, Findlay became known as the “City of Light,” and added another historical marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company, which changed its name to Marathon Oil in 1962. The Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay includes Great Karg Well exhibits less than two miles from the site of the famous well.

January 21, 1865 – Roberts Torpedo detonated, improving oil production

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts detonated eight pounds of black powder 465 feet deep in a well south of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The “shooting” of the well was a tremendous success, increasing daily production from a few barrels of oil to more than 40 barrels, according to Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine.

The Titusville Morning Herald in 1866 reported, “Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo. The results have in many cases been astonishing.”

In April 1865, Roberts would receive the first of many patents for his “exploding torpedo.” Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

January 22, 1861 – Pennsylvania Refinery produces Kerosene

The first U.S. multiple-still refinery was brought on-stream one mile south of Titusville, Pennsylvania, by William Barnsdall, who had drilled the second successful well after Edwin Drake’s first U.S. oil discovery. Barnsdall and partners James Parker and W.H. Abbott spent about $15,000 to build six basic stills for refining kerosene. Much of the equipment was purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City. The refinery produced two grades of kerosene, white and the less the expensive yellow.

January 22, 1910 – Standard Oil of California strikes Oil

After several attempts, Standard Oil Company of California drilled its first successful oil well. The discovery came in the Midway-Sunset field after a consolidation between Pacific Coast Oil Company (see First California Oil Well) and Standard Oil Company of Iowa created the Standard Oil Company of California.

The new company, Socal (now Chevron), needed more oil since it had “stepped up its marketing efforts, particularly in gasoline sales, which nearly doubled between 1906 and 1910,” notes a Chevon company history. “Until now, Standard had left the hunt for oil to others.” The Kern County gusher produced 1,500 barrels of oil a day.

January 23, 1895 – Standard Oil of New Jersey closes Oil Exchanges

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey’s purchasing agency in booming Oil City, Pennsylvania, notified independent oil producers it would only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” – and not “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”

 petroleum history january 18

The Oil City, Pennsylvania, Oil Exchange incorporated in 1874. By 1877, it was the third largest financial exchange in the United States.

Oil City’s exchange had become the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind New York and San Francisco. But with the Standard Oil Company buying 90 percent of production and setting its own price for certificates, all other oil exchanges soon closed.

Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges.

January 23, 1957 – Wham-O launches a New Petroleum Product

One of the earliest mass-produced products made from plastic, the “Frisbee” was introduced by Wham-O Manufacturing Company of California. The toy originated in 1948 when a company called Partners in Plastic sold its “Flyin’ Saucers” for 25 cents each. In 1955, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin’s Wham-O bought the rights.

petroleum history january

U.S. patent detail of a 1967 polyethylene plastic Frisbee.

The Wham-O founders discovered that Phillips Petroleum had invented a high-density polyethylene (called Marlex). They used the new plastic to meet phenomenal demand for manufacturing Frisbees – and Hula Hoops beginning in 1958.

Learn more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.

January 23, 1991 – Gulf War brings World’s Largest Oil Spill

The world’s largest oil spill began in the Persian Gulf when Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi forces opened pipeline valves at oil terminals in Kuwait. An estimated 11 million barrels of oil soon covered an area reaching as far as 101 miles by 42 miles.

The oil spill, which remains the largest in history, was five inches thick in some areas. Iraqi soldiers sabotaged Kuwait’s main supertanker loading pier, dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf. By February, about 600 Kuwaiti wells had been set ablaze. It would take months to put out the fires. The last burning well was extinguished in early April 1991.

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Recommended Reading: Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); The Offshore Imperative: Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in Postwar America (2009); Diving & ROV: Commercial Diving offshore (2021)Ohio Oil and Gas, Images of America (2008); Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (2004); Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century (1996); Against the Fires of Hell: The Environmental Disaster of the Gulf War (1992). 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 © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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