January 26, 1931 – Third Well reveals East Texas Giant – 

As East Texas farmers struggled to survive the Great Depression, an oil discovery in Gregg County confirmed the existence of a truly 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. The Moncrief well was 25 miles north of Rusk County’s headline-making October 1930 Daisy Bradford No. 3 well drilled by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner. It was 15 miles north of the Lou Della Crim No. 1 well completed near Kilgore three days after Christmas 1930.

The 130,000-acre East Texas oilfield, the largest in the contiguous United States, quickly attracted major oil companies and independent producers, including H.L. Hunt, who had discovered oil in Arkansas. By the end of 1933, almost 12,000 wells were producing oil from the Woodbine geologic formation — despite overproduction causing prices to fall from $1.25 to less than 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.

Since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, scientists have found that natural California oil seeps leak tons of petroleum each 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. A natural gas blowout occurred, according to  the University of California, Santa Barbara. The well, which was brought under control after 12 days, helped turn public opinion against offshore exploration and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970.

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

January 28, 1991 – Giant Rig becomes Tourist Attraction

Among the biggest drilling rigs in the world, Parker Drilling Rig No. 114, was erected in a vacant lot in downtown Elk City, Oklahoma, after the chamber of commerce realized that the reassembled rig, visible from both Interstate 40 and historic Route 66, would draw tourists into town, noted NewsOK in 1991.

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.

The Parker rig once drilled wide, deep wells for testing nuclear bombs. 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 for the tests. The company later modified the Atomic Energy Commission rig to drill conventional wells, several of which 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,  1886 – Karl Benz applies to Patent First Gasoline Powered Auto

German mechanical engineer Karl Benz applied for a patent for his Benz Patent Motorwagen – a three-wheeler with a one-cylinder, four-stroke gasoline engine. His “Fahrzeug mit Gasmotorenbetrieb” (vehicle with gas engine operation) patent was the world’s first patent for a practical internal combustion engine powered car.

Karl Benz's wife Bertha drives his three-wheeled, gas-powered motorwagen.

Karl Benz’s wife Bertha was the first person to drive his gas-powered motorwagen over a long distance – bringing worldwide attention.

Although there had already been “auto-mobiles” powered by steam or electricity, Benz used the internal combustion engine as the drive system for a “self-mover,” notes a Mercedes Benz historian. “On January 29, 1886, he presented his stroke of genius at the Imperial Patent Office – the car was born.” See First Car, First Road Trip.

The first U.S. auto show took place in November 1900 in New York City.  America’s highways and travel history are on exhibit at the National Museum of American History’s America on the Move.

January 31, 1888 – Death of a Famed Pennsylvania Oil Scout

In the winter of 1888, a famous oil scout died. Thirty-seven-year-old Justus McMullen succumbed to pneumonia contracted while scouting production data from a well near Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Early oil scout Justus McMullen of Bradford, Pennsylvania.

Oil scouts like Justus McMullen of Bradford, Pennsylvania, braved harsh winters to gather intelligence about oil wells.

McMullen, publisher of the trade publication The Petroleum Age, contributed much to America’s early oil industry as an oilfield detective. Called “riders of the hemlock,” these scouts debunked rumors and demystified oil well production reports – sometimes despite armed guards. Learn more in Oil Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives.

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January 31, 1946 – Houston Petroleum Club founded

Texas independent producers founded the Petroleum Club of Houston. The group began meeting on the top floor of the Rice Hotel in downtown Houston in 1951. The club members hosted countless energy industry events and lunchtime business meetings where deals were made on handshakes alone. The club included a 21-foot-tall tapestry created to represent a geological cross-section of Texas.

Rice Hotel, where Houston Petroleum Club met in 1951.

Founded in 1946, the Petroleum Club of Houston began meeting on the top floor of the Rice Hotel in 1951.

The club in 1963 moved into the Exxon Mobil Building, where it occupied 45,000 square feet on floors 43 and 44 for more than 50  years before moving into the top floor of Houston’s Total Plaza in 2015.


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. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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