January 20, 1886 – Great Karg Well erupts Natural Gas at Findlay, 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 was so great that it could not be controlled by the technology of the day.
The flow of natural gas ignited into a towering flame that burned for four months – becoming a popular Ohio tourist attraction. Eight years earlier, a gas well in neighboring Pennsylvania had made similar headlines (see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh).
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 natural gas boom and brought many new industries.
Glass companies especially were “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” according to a commemorative 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,” adds 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 and is less than two miles from the site of the famous well. Read about other early natural gas discoveries in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.
January 21, 1865 – First Roberts Torpedo detonated
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 increased 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.” 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 in Pennsylvania, one mile south of Titusville along Oil Creek. William Barnsdall, who drilled the first successful well to follow Edwin Drake’s historic 1859 oil discovery, and partners James Parker and W.H. Abbott spent about $15,000 to build six basic stills for refining a new fuel for lamps: 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.”
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.
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 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
Pure Oil Company was formed by Pennsylvania independent producers, refiners and pipeline operators. It soon became a major Chicago-based oil and gas company. Originally based in Pittsburgh, the company was formed to counter Standard Oil Company’s market dominance. It was just the second vertically integrated oil company after Standard Oil.
Beginning in March 1896, Pure Oil marketed illuminating oil by tank wagon 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 company’s name. In 1938, Pure Oil built one of the first freestanding offshore drilling platformsin the Gulf of Mexico.
January 26, 1931 – Third Well reveals Giant East Texas Oilfield
As the Great Depression worsened and East Texas farmers struggled to survive, a third major oil discovery miles from two earlier producing wells confirmed the size of a massive oilfield.
W.A. “Monty” Moncrief of Fort Worth, Texas, and two partners 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 national 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, attracted a large number of independent producers, including H.L. Hunt, who had found oil in Arkansas. By the end of 1933, almost 12,000 wells were producing oil from the Woodbine geologic formation – despite prices falling from $1.25 per barrel to less than 25 cents.
Learn more in Moncrief makes East Texas History.
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 and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join AOGHS today to help maintain this energy education website, expand historical research, and extend public outreach. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.