January 23, 1895 – Standard Oil closes Oil Exchanges – 

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey’s purchasing agency in 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 oil 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.

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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.

January 24, 1895 – Pure Oil Company founded by Independent Producers – 

To counter Standard Oil Company’s market dominance, Pennsylvania oil producers, refiners, and pipeline operators organized what would become a major Chicago-based oil venture. Originally based in Pittsburgh, Pure Oil Company quickly grew into the second vertically integrated U.S. petroleum company after Standard Oil.

 petroleum history january 18

An Ohio firm adopted the old Pennsylvania name.

Beginning in early 1896, Pure Oil marketed its petroleum products by horse-drawn tank wagons in Philadelphia and New York — successfully competing with Standard Oil’s monopoly. The Ohio Cities Gas Company of Columbus acquired Pure Oil and in 1920 adopted the former Pennsylvania venture’s brand name.

Pure Oil Chicago headquarters skyscraper at 35 East Wacker.

Pure Oil Company in 1926 moved into its new 40-story Chicago headquarters building at 35 East Wacker Drive.

With a new Chicago headquarters opened in 1926, Pure Oil began exploring offshore technologies within a decade. The company developed early freestanding drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

January 25, 1930 – North Texas Oil Producers form Association

After meeting at the Wichita Club in Wichita Falls to protest “the recent drastic price cut in crude oil, inaugurated by some of the major purchasing companies,” 50 independent producers organized the North Texas Oil and Gas Association. Other issues included seeking a tariff on foreign oil imports and stopping oilfield thefts. The association merged with the West Central Texas Oil & Gas Association in 1998 to become the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

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January 26, 1931 – Third Well reveals Extent of East Texas Oilfield

As East Texas farmers struggled to survive the Great Depression, an oil discovery confirmed the existence of a massive oilfield. W.A. “Monty” Moncrief of Fort Worth completed the Lathrop No. 1 well, which produced 7,680 barrels of oil a day from 3,587 feet deep. Geologists at first thought a third oilfield had been found.

Moncrief’s discovery well was 25 miles north of the famous Daisy Bradford No. 3 well of October 1930, drilled by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner. It was 15 miles north of the Lou Della Crim No. 1 well, completed at Kilgore three days after Christmas 1930.

The 130,000-acre East Texas oilfield would become the largest in the lower-48 states. By the end of 1933, almost 12,000 wells produced oil from the Woodbine geologic formation — despite overproduction causing prices to fall below 25 cents per barrel.

Learn more in Moncrief makes East Texas History.

January 28, 1969 – Oil Spill at Santa Barbara, California

After drilling 3,500 feet below the Pacific Ocean floor, a Union Oil Company drilling platform six miles off Santa Barbara suffered a blowout. The accident spilled an estimated 100,000 barrels of oil into the ocean with some reaching southern California’s beaches, including Summerland — where early  U.S. offshore petroleum history began in 1896 with wells drilled from piers.

Santa Barbara 1969 oil spill map illustrating spill direction.

Beyond the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, marine scientists have noted California’s natural oil seeps continue to leak tons of petroleum every day.

The drilling crew had begun to retrieve pipe in order to replace a drill bit when the mud used to maintain pressure became dangerously low, causing a natural gas blowout, according to the University of California, Santa Barbara. The well, which was brought under control after 12 days, turned public opinion against offshore exploration and helped lead to creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December 1970.

Naturally occurring oil seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel have been significantly reduced by offshore oil production, according to “History of Oil in the Santa Barbara Channel,” a 2018 exhibit at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

Learn more in Oil Seeps and the Santa Barbara Spill.

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January 28, 1991 – Parker Rig No. 114 becomes Tourist Attraction

Among the biggest drilling rigs in the world, Parker Drilling Company’s Rig No. 114, was erected in a vacant lot in downtown Elk City, Oklahoma, after civic leaders realized that the massive rig, visible from I-40 and historic Route 66, could draw tourists. The Parker rig had once drilled deep wells for testing nuclear bombs.

Parker Drilling Rig No. 114 on display in Elk City, Oklahoma.

Parker Rig No. 114 has welcomed visitors to Elk City, Oklahoma, since 1991. Photo by Bruce Wells.

In 1969, Parker Drilling signed a contract with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to drill a series of holes up to 120 inches in diameter and 6,500 feet deep in Alaska and Nevada. After the experiments, the company modified its rig to drill conventional wells that set records by reaching beyond four miles deep into the Anadarko Basin.

The 17-story Parker No. 114 today stands in downtown Elk City next to the former Casa Grande Hotel at the intersection of 3rd Street and Route 66. Casa Grande, which opened in 1928 to lodge the highway’s travelers, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. It also was once home to a natural history museum that included petroleum exhibits.

January 29, 1850 – Canadian patents Illuminating Gas Burner

Canadian geologist Abraham Gessner received a U.S. patent for the manufacture of illuminating gas, “to enable others skilled in the art of making gas…for obtaining of illuminating gas from compact and fluid bitumen (crude oil), asphaltum, chapapote, or mineral pitch as found in mines, quarries and springs in the earth.”

Gessner licensed to manufacturers his “coal gas” distillation apparatus (patent no. 7052) for about $1 per burner, declaring his gas “affords the cleanest, safest, and most agreeable light ever used.” By 1854, Gessner’s research would lead him to “a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene.” 

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January 29,  1886 – Karl Benz applies to Patent First Gasoline Powered Auto

German mechanical engineer Karl Benz applied for a Reich Patent (no. 37435) for his Benz Motorwagen, a three-wheeler with a one-cylinder, four-stroke gasoline engine. His innovative “Fahrzeug mit Gasmotorenbetrieb” (vehicle with gas engine operation) was the world’s first patent for a practical internal combustion engine powered car.

 Karl Benz filed a Patent No. 37435 of January 29, 1886.

Detail from “vehicle with gas engine operation,” patent No. 37435, submitted by Karl Benz on January 29, 1884, at the Reich Patent Office in Berlin.

Although there had already been “auto-mobiles” powered by steam or electricity, Benz used the internal combustion engine as the drive system. The Imperial Patent Office’s January 29, 1886, Benz patent has been referred to as the birth certificate of the automobile. His wife Bertha would drive a Benz motorwagen from Mannheim to Pforzheim in an 1888 headline-making publicity stunt.

Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip.


Recommended Reading: 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); The Black Giant: A History of the East Texas Oil Field and Oil Industry Skulduggery & Trivia (2003); Slick Policy: Environmental and Science Policy in the Aftermath of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill (2018); 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.


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 © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.


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