This Week in Petroleum History, July 10 – 16
July 11, 2008 – World Oil Price hits Historic High
The price of oil reached a record high of $147.27 a barrel before dropping back to $145.08. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange had peaked at $145.29 a barrel eight days earlier.
As supply fears subsided, oil prices fell below $37 a barrel by January 2009. A survey of academic studies in 2016 found that major oil price fluctuations dating back to 1973 (the OPEC embargo) were largely a result of shifts in the demand for crude oil.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), projects the continued rise in U.S. oil production and other liquid fuels.
July 11, 2013 – Drop of Pitch drips After 69 Years
Physicists at Trinity College Dublin photographed a falling drip of pitch – “one of the most anticipated drips in science,” according to the journal Nature. It was considered one of the longest-running laboratory investigations in the world.
Set up in 1944, the pitch-drop experiment demonstrated the high viscosity (low fluidity) of pitch — a natural hydrocarbon also known as bitumen or asphalt that appears to be solid at room temperature, but is flowing extremely slowly.
“The Trinity College team has estimated the viscosity of the pitch by monitoring the evolution of this one drop, and puts it in the region of two million times more viscous than honey, or 20 billion times the viscosity of water, ” noted the Nature article. Also see Asphalt paves the Way.
July 12, 1934 – The Start of “Clark Super 100”
Two years after paying $14 cash for a closed, one-pump gas station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Emory Clark incorporated what would become the Clark Oil & Refining Corporation.
Clark set out to create a network of simplified filling stations that focused on selling premium gasoline only – delivering “Super 100 Premium Gasoline.” His marketing strategy was to omit common services like maintenance, engine repair, and tire changing. Sales reach $21.1 million in 1949, notes the Harvard Business School Baker Library.
By 1953 the company operated more than 150 service stations in the Midwest under the brand name “Clark Super 100.” In 1967 Clark purchased the large refinery at Wood River, Illinois, and three years later sold gas from 1,500 gas stations. In 1981, the Clark family sold their company holdings – which began with Emory T. Clark’s $14 purchase – to Missouri-based Apex Oil for $483 million.
Visit the Wood River Refinery History Museum in Roxana, Illinois, where exhibits trace the refinery’s history beginning in 1917.
July 14, 1863 – Diamond “Tool for Boring Rock”
French tunnel engineer Rodolphe Leschot in 1863 patented a “Tool for Boring Rock” – a ring of industrial-grade diamonds on the end of a tubular drill rod and designed to cut a cylindrical core. Water pumped through the drill rod washed away cuttings and cooled the bit.
Leschot’s system proved successful in drilling blast holes for tunneling Mount Cenis on the France-Italy border. By 1865, the use of diamond bits in oil well drilling was being examined in the petroleum regions of western Pennsylvania.
“It is not known if there is any connection between the 1865 experimental diamond core drilling in the Pennsylvania oil region and the Leschot blast hole drilling in France in 1863,” noted oil historian Samuel Pees in 2004. Learn more about Making Hole – Drilling Technology and visit Pennsylvania’s historic oil region and the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
July 14, 1891 – Rockefeller expands Oil Tank Car Empire
John D. Rockefeller incorporated Union Tank Line Company in New Jersey in 1891. He transferred his fleet of several thousand oil tank cars to the Standard Oil Trust.
Rockefeller systematically acquired control of all but 200 of America’s 3,200 existing oil tank cars. By 1904, his rolling fleet of tank cars had grown to 10,000.
Union Tank Line Company shipped only Standard Oil products until 1911, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision mandated dissolution of his trust. The newly independent company changed its name to Union Tank Car Company – although its official rolling stock reporting mark retained Standard’s UTL or UTLX.
In 1963, the company introduced a 50,000-gallon car, the largest tank car to be employed in ongoing rail service. Learn more about the early days of transporting petroleum in Densmore Oil Tank Car.
July 16, 1926 – Greater Seminole Area Boom
Three years after a successful oil well near Bowlegs, Oklahoma, a gusher erupted south of Seminole and revealed the true oil potential of Seminole County. The Fixico No. 1 well penetrated the prolific Wilcox Sands formation at 4,073 feet deep.
The well, drilled by the R.F. Garland and Independent Oil Company, was among more than 50 Greater Seminole Area oil reservoirs discovered; six were giants that produced more than one million barrels of oil each.
By 1935 Oklahoma would become the largest supplier of oil in the world. Learn more in Greater Seminole Oil Boom.
July 16, 1969 – Kerosene fuels Saturn V
A 19th century petroleum product made America’s 1969 moon landing possible. Kerosene powered the first-stage rocket engines of the Saturn V when it launched the Apollo 11 mission on July 16. Four days later, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
During launch, five engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burned “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust.
Saturn’s rocket fuel was a highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1) that could trace its roots to the 1840s and “coal oil” for lamps. Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner began refining the fuel from coal in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax). RP-1 today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas and SpaceX rockets. Learn more in Kerosene Rocket Fuel.
Recommended Reading: Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, Center on Global Energy Policy Series (2017); Pump and Circumstance: Glory Days of the Gas Station (1993); The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America (2013); A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field (1981); Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles (2003).
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 calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on levels and types of sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.