This Week in Petroleum History, July 16 – 22
July 16, 1926 – Fixico No. 1 Well brings Greater Seminole Area Boom
Three years after an oil well completed 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 his 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.
With the addition of the giant Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in 1928, 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 launch of Saturn V Moon Rocket
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.
July 16, 1935 – First Parking Meter made
As the booming Oklahoma City oilfield added to the congestion of cars downtown, the world’s first parking meter was installed at the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue. Carl C. Magee, publisher of the Oklahoma News, designed the Park-O-Meter No. 1.
“The meter charged five cents for one hour of parking, and naturally citizens hated it, viewing it as a tax for owning a car,” notes historian Josh Miller. “But retailers loved the meter, as it encouraged a quick turnover of customers.”
Engineering students at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University) helped Magee design Park-O-Meter No. 1, today preserved by the Oklahoma Historical Society. It was manufactured by MacNick Company of Tulsa, a maker of timing devices used to explode nitroglycerin in oil wells (also see Zebco Reel Oilfield History). By 1940, there were 140,000 parking meters operating in the United States.
July 19, 1957 – Oil discovered in Alaska Territory
Although some oil production had occurred earlier in the territory, Alaska’s first commercial oilfield was discovered two years before statehood.
Richfield Oil completed the discovery well Swanson River Unit No. 1 in the Cook Inlet Basin. The well yielded 900 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 11,215 feet.
Richfield had leased more than 71,000 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now part of the 1.92 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
More Alaska discoveries followed. By June 1962 about 50 wells were producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil a day. Atlantic Richfield evolved into today’s ARCO. Learn about the earliest exploration wells in the 49th state in First Alaska Oil Well.
July 20, 1920 – Permian Basin revealed
The Permian Basin made headlines in 1920 when a West Texas well found oil about 2,750 feet deep. The W.H. Abrams No. 1 well was named for Texas & Pacific Railway official William Abrams, who owned the land and had leased mineral rights to the Texas Company (later Texaco).
After “shooting” the well with nitroglycerine, a column of oil announced discovery of the West Columbia field. It was part of the prolific Permian Basin, 250 miles wide and 300 miles long with production ranging from depths of a few hundred feet to five miles.
“As a crowd of 2,000 people looked on, a great eruption of oil, gas, water and smoke shot from the mouth of the well almost to the top of the derrick,” notes a Texas State Historical Marker in Westbrook.
“Locally, land that sold for 10 cents an acre in 1840 and $5 an acre in 1888 now brought $96,000 an acre for mineral rights, irrespective of surface values…the flow of oil money led to better schools, roads and general social conditions.”
Another West Texas discovery well in 1923 near Big Lake brought an even greater drilling boom that helped establish the University of Texas (see Santa Rita taps Permian Basin). According to the Energy Information Administration, oil production from just five Permian Basin counties in November 2016 averaged 882,000 barrels of oil a day. Also see New Mexico Oil Discovery.
July 21, 1935 – “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy strikes Oil
Glenn H. McCarthy struck oil 50 miles east of Houston in 1935, extending the already prolific Anahuac field. The well was the first of many for the Texas independent producer who would build Houston’s famed Shamrock Hotel a decade later (the hotel’s “Emerald Room” attracted Hollywood celebrities, including Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra).
By 1945, McCarthy had discovered 11 Texas oilfields. He became known as another “King of the Wildcatters” and “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy by 1950, when his estimated worth reached $200 million ($2 billion today).
In addition to his McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, McCarthy eventually would own a gas company, a chemical company, a radio station, 14 newspapers, a magazine, two banks, and the Shell Building in Houston.
In 1946 McCarthy invested $21 million to build the Shamrock Hotel on the edge of Houston. He spent $1 million on the hotel’s 1949 opening-day gala, which newspapers later dubbed, “Houston’s biggest party.” Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.
July 22, 1933 – Phillips Petroleum sponsors Record Solo Flight
Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, Wiley Post made aviation history when he landed his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae.” The former Oklahoma roughneck was the first person to fly solo around the world.
Post had worked in oilfields near Walters, Oklahoma, when he took his first airplane ride with a barnstormer in 1919. Taking a break from oilfield work in the 1920s, he joined “Burrell Tibbs Flying Circus” as a parachute jumper before learning to fly.
In 1926, Post returned to work in the oilfields, “where he was injured the first day on the job, losing the sight in his left eye,” notes a biographer. Post’s injury happened while working at a site near Seminole. When a metal splinter damaged his eye, he used $1,700 in compensation to buy his first airplane – and launch his aviation career.
Post developed a close relationship with Frank Phillips, who sponsored Post’s high-altitude experimental flights. Phillips Petroleum Company, which produced aviation fuel before it produced gas for cars, also sponsored another historic plane – the “Woolaroc” – in an air race across the Pacific. Learn more in Flight of the Woolaroc.
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