January 30, 1998 – Spy Ship relaunched as Ultra-Deep Drill Ship –
Decades after secretly recovering parts of a lost Soviet ballistic missile submarine, and after a $180 million shipyard conversion, the Glomar Explorer began its career as a record-setting, deep-water drill ship for the offshore petroleum industry.
Launched by Global Marine Drilling with a long-term lease of $1 million per year from the U.S. Navy, the world’s largest drill ship would spend 17 years drilling ultra-deep wells around the world. The pioneering vessel began its career in 1972 as the Hughes Glomar Explorer, designed and built for the CIA’s “Project Azorian” to raise submarine K-129 from more than three miles deep.
Learn more in Secret History of Drill Ship Glomar Explorer.
January 31, 1888 – Death of a Famed Pennsylvania Oil Scout
Thirty-seven-year-old Justus McMullen, already a famous Pennsylvania oil scout, succumbed to pneumonia contracted while investigating production data from a well near Canonsburg, southwest of Pittsburgh.
McMullen, an oilfield detective who published the Bradford “Petroleum Age” newspaper, contributed much to early U.S. oil exploration and production industry. Sometimes called “night riders of the hemlocks,” oilfield scouts debunked rumors and demystified oil well production reports — sometimes despite armed guards.
Learn more in Oil Scouts – Oil Patch Detectives.
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 added a 21-foot tapestry representing a geological cross-section of Texas.
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.
February 1, 1868 – Oil Quality weighed for Pricing
For the first time, crude oil price quotations began to be based on specific gravity — the heaviness of a substance compared to that of water. In the new oil regions of Pennsylvania, independent producers frequently met to sell shares of stock, argue prices and enter into refining contracts that depended on the oil’s quality.
Before establishment of the Titusville Oil Exchange, in 1871, producers often gathered along Centre Street in Oil City, known as the “Curbside Exchange.” In 1921, the American Petroleum Institute established API gravity, which would become the worldwide standard. Crude oil can be classified as light, medium, or heavy, according to its measured gravity.
February 2, 1923 – First Anti-Knock Gas goes on Sale
The world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetra-ethyl lead compound went on sale at the Refiners Oil Company service station in Dayton, Ohio. Discovered two years earlier by General Motors scientists, “Ethyl” vastly improved engine performance. GM began offering service stations simple bolt on adapters called “Ethylizers” to meter the proper proportion of the new additive.
“By the middle of this summer you will be able to purchase at approximately 30,000 filling stations in various parts of the country, a fluid that will double the efficiency of your automobile, eliminate the troublesome motor knock, and give you 100 percent greater mileage,” Popular Science Monthly reported in 1924. The toxicity of tetra-ethyl lead resulted in its government-mandated phase out beginning in 1976. Learn more in Ethyl Anti-Knock Gas.
February 3, 1868 – Refiners seek End Civil to War Tax
Angry refiners from Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, met in Petroleum Center and passed a resolution demanding an end to the “war tax” of one dollar per 42-gallon barrel of refined petroleum products, including kerosene. During the Civil War, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase had advocated taxes as high as $10.50 per barrel. The one-dollar excise tax was imposed in 1864.
February 4, 1910 – Famed Showman “Buffalo Bill” explored for Wyoming Oil
Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extended beyond his famous Wild West Show, reaching into the Wyoming oil patch. Cody, who in 1896 founded the town that bears his name, in February 1910 bought 7,500 shares of an exploration venture he had formed with a congressman. It was not their first attempt to strike oil.
In 1902, Cody and several partners, including Wyoming Rep. Frank Mondell, had begun exploring near Cody. They drilled one 500-foot-deep dry hole and a second well also failed to find oil before they ran out of money. Cody and the congressman ventured into the oil business again in 1910 by forming the Shoshone Oil Company.
During a visit to New York City, Cody carried pocket flasks of oil to impress investors. His friends started calling him, “Bill the Oil King,” noted one historian, adding, “with what degree of seriousness we cannot know.”
Learn more in Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company.
February 4, 1920 – Breckenridge Field joins North Texas Oil Boom
The No. 1 Chaney well tapped another giant oilfield in North Texas, which in 1917 had made headlines for its “Roaring Ranger” well in Eastland County. The latest discovery within the city limits of Breckenridge in neighboring Stephens County produced 3,700 barrels of oil per day.
“This started an intensive town block drilling campaign, and soon every block had its oil rig. Over 200 wells were drilled on the townsite, and most of them were good producers,” noted a 1930 report. “Owners of very small plots were made wealthy. By 1923, over 2,000 derricks surrounded Breckenridge within a radius of four miles.”
As the North Texas drilling boom continued, Breckenridge acquired its first railroad connection to Wichita Falls, Ranger and Fort Worth, soon joined by the Cisco and Northeastern line (see Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel).
February 5, 1873 – Death of an Illegal Oil Well Shooter
Andrew Dalrymple, allegedly a frequent “moonlight oil well shooter” in the Tidioute, Pennsylvania, region, was killed in a nitroglycerin explosion at his home on Dennis Run, the Titusville Morning Herald reported. Supplies of nitroglycerin had lately been stolen from magazines throughout the country by those seeking to avoid fees for using the Roberts torpedo. “This species of theft is winked at by some parties, who are opposed to the Roberts torpedo patent,” the newspaper noted.
February 5, 1998 – DOE sells Elk Hills Petroleum Reserve
The Department of Energy and Occidental Petroleum concluded the largest divestiture of federal property in the history of the U.S. government. The sale of the Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve to the highest corporate bidder ended the federal government’s business operation of oil and natural gas production at the reserve in Kern County, California. The $3.65 billion divestment completed a federal privatization process that had begun a few years earlier.
According to DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, the Clinton Administration in May 1995 first proposed placing the federally-owned Elk Hills reserve on the market in an effort “to reduce the size of government and return inherently non-federal functions to the private sector.”
Recommended Reading: The Oil Scouts – Reminiscences of the Night Riders of the Hemlocks (1986); The Finest in the Land: The Story of the Petroleum Club of Houston (1984); Unleaded: How Changing Our Gasoline Changed Everything (2021); Western Pennsylvania’s Oil Heritage (2008); Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West (2016). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.