July 5, 1900 – Edison films Standard Oil Refinery Fire in New Jersey – 

An early morning lightning strike at the Standard Oil Company refinery at Bayonne, New Jersey, set off explosions in three storage tanks, each with a capacity of 40,000 barrels of oil. Within minutes after the fire began, the company’s own fire department and tugboats rushed to fight the blaze. 

Thomas Edison film of New Jersey refinery fire of 1900.

Screenshots from Thomas Edison’s film of destruction of Standard Oil Company’s refinery at Bayonne, New Jersey, on July 5, 1900, courtesy Library of Congress.

“The tugboats moved the company ships and oil-filled barges away from its burning docks to safe waters,” noted the Jersey Journal. in a 2017 article about the fire, which was featured in one of the first newsreels by the Thomas A. Edison Company (view it here). As bad as the Standard Oil refinery conflagration was, there were no fatalities.

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July 6, 1988 – Piper Alpha North Sea Tragedy

An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea resulted in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the most deadly offshore disaster of the petroleum industry. At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha had been receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. The initial explosion was caused “by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve,” according to safety consultant Gary Karasek.

Improved offshore platform designs, operations engineering, evacuation technologies, and safety procedures emerged following the official inquiry, Karasek noted. “It was a ground-breaking effort, with numerous detailed findings and 106 recommendations, which were readily accepted by industry.”

July 7, 1919 – Start of First Transcontinental Motor Convoy 

Beginning with dedication of the “Zero Milestone” marker on the Ellipse south of the White House, a convoy of U.S. Army military vehicles began a cross-country trek to San Francisco. Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower participated as an observer for the War Department during the “truck train,” which traveled to Gettysburg to connect to the Lincoln Highway, the first auto road across the United States.

July 7, 1919, Transcontinental Motor Convoy.start of

The July 7, 1919, dedication of a “Zero Milestone” on the Ellipse south of the White House preceded the Army’s first attempt to send a convoy of military vehicles across the country. Photos courtesy Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

The convoy’s 81 motorized vehicles took 62 days to traverse 3,251 miles. It included five ambulances, four kitchens, a truck-mounted blacksmith shop, two machine shops, and a trailer hauling an artillery tractor. Firestone Tire and Rubber Company provided two trucks carrying spare tires. 

According to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, “Lt. Col. Eisenhower learned first-hand of the difficulties faced in traveling great distances on roads that were impassable and resulted in frequent breakdowns of the military vehicles. These early experiences influenced his later decisions concerning the building of the interstate highway system during his presidential administration.”

July 7, 1947 – Sid Richardson starts Charitable Foundation

Independent producer and Western art collector Sid Williams Richardson (1891-1959) established the Sid Richardson Foundation to benefit Texas hospitals. schools and colleges.

petroleum history july

Sid Richardson’s friends included President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

One of the wealthiest men in the nation at the time, Richardson had made oil discoveries as early as 1919, but struggled in the exploration and production industry until 1933. The lifelong Texas resident later formed profitable partnerships, including the Richardson and Bass Oil Producers, in Fort Worth.

“Mr. Sid” became a leading collector of paintings by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, today on display in Fort Worth’s Sid Richardson Museum.

July 8, 1937 – Secretary of War approves Gulf of Mexico Oil Pier

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, Harry Woodring, approved an ambitious engineering plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil at offshore salt dome formations. Woodring approved an application for exploratory wells near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Texaco, thanks to a 1903 discovery at Sour Lake).

Humble Oil built the experimental pier on a 60-acre lease eight miles east of High Island in Galveston County. The company drilled using three rigs, but found no oil. A hurricane destroyed the pier in 1938. Learn more by visiting Galveston Bay’s offshore rig museum, the Ocean Star.

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July 9, 1815 – West Virginia Natural Gas Discovery

Natural gas was discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815). Earlier, a young surveyor, George Washington, had written about “burning springs” – petroleum seeps – to the north, along the Kanawha River.

Awarded a land grant for his service in the French and Indian War, Washington acquired 250 acres along the river. He later explained he chose the location, “on account of a bituminous spring which it contains, of so inflammable a nature that it burns as freely as spirits.” In a 1994 history of West Virginia’s oil industry, author David L. McKain concluded, “This was in 1771, making the father of our country the first petroleum industry speculator.”

July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz

The future author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz started a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offered lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”

july petroleum history

L. Frank Baum’s Castorine oil sales trips may have led to his idea of a Tin Woodman character.

L. Frank Baum — whose father had found success in early Pennsylvania oilfields — served as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which operates today in Rome, New York. Reporting on the opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper said Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The axle grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”

petroleum history july 6

L. Frank Baum founded his oil company in New York.

Although Baum sold the Castorine business in 1900, an Oz historian researched company records in Rome, New York, and found the Tin Man character began with Baum’s oil.

Learn more in Oil in the Land of Oz.


Recommended Reading:  Death and Oil: A True Story of the Piper Alpha Disaster on the North Sea (2011); Remington and Russell: The Sid Richardson Collection (1994); Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story (2009). 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 bawells@aoghs.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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