This Week in Petroleum History, June 12 – 18
June 12, 1879 – Western New York Oilfield discovered
The Triangle No. 1, the first commercial well in Allegany County, New York, was completed near Petrolia. Orville P. Taylor, known as the “father of the Allegany oilfield,” drilled the historic well, according to historians at the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar.
June 13, 1917 – Phillips Petroleum Company founded in Oklahoma
Phillips Petroleum Company was founded in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, during the early months of America’s entry into World War I – when the price of oil climbed above $1 per barrel.
Brothers Frank and L. E. (Lee Eldas) Phillips consolidated their companies and began operating with leases throughout Oklahoma and Kansas and assets of $3 million. Assets grew to $103 million by 1924.
By 1927 Phillips Petroleum began selling gasoline in Wichita, Kansas, the first of more than 10,000 service stations across the country.
In coming years the company would make major advances in petrochemicals. Phillips chemists were granted thousands of U.S. patents, including one in 1954 for Marlex, a high-density polyethylene.
Wham-O toy company was the first to buy the new plastic (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Phillips’ high-octane aviation fuel also played a key role in World War II as Phillips 66 gasoline became a popular advertising brand (see Flight of the Woolaroc.).
Phillips Petroleum merged with Conoco in 2002 to become ConocoPhillips. In May 2007, as part of statehood centennial celebrations, a Phillips Petroleum Company Museum opened in Bartlesville. Learn more in Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.
June 13, 1928 – Giant Oilfield found in New Mexico
The New Mexico petroleum industry was launched with the discovery of the Hobbs oilfield near the southeastern corner of the state. Drilling of the Midwest State No. 1 well – which began in late 1927 with a cable-tool rig – found oil for the Midwest Refining Company.
The well revealed the giant Hobbs petroleum field, later cited by the New Mexico Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources as “the most important single discovery of oil in New Mexico’s history.”
Drilling took time. Disaster struck at 1,500 feet when an engine house fire consumed the wooden derrick.
“Men with less vision would have given up, but not the drillers of Midwest,” notes Paige W. Christiansen in The Story of Oil in New Mexico.
Production from the Hobbs oil field draws crowds of investors, quickly transforming Hobbs from “sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits” to the fastest growing town in the United States. Learn more in New Mexico Oil Discovery.
June 14, 1865 – First Edition of Pennsylvania Oil Region Newspaper
Pennsylvania’s oil region got its first daily newspaper when William and Henry Bloss published the their four-page broadsheet, the Titusville Morning Herald. Initial circulation was 300.
A brief story in the first edition included a report about a failed oilman: “John Wilkes Booth purchased one-thirteenth interest in the territory in August 1864. We are credibly informed that this Homestead well in which Booth was interested was destroyed by fire on the day he assassinated President Lincoln.” The Titusville Herald remains in publication with daily circulation of more than 4,000. Learn more of Booth’s failed oil-patch career in Dramatic Oil Company.
June 15, 1954 – First Mobile Offshore Rig launched
The offshore barge drilling platform, Mr. Charlie left its shipyard in 1954 and went to work for Shell Oil Company in a new oilfield in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Alden “Doc” LaBorde, a marine superintendent for Kerr-McGee in Morgan City, Louisiana, originally proposed building this first moveable, submersible drilling barge.
Despite Kerr-McGee being a leader in post- World War II offshore technology, including drilling the first oil well out of sight of land, the company decided against LaBorde’s idea. Fortunately, he found support from veteran oilman Charles Murphy Jr., who backed the project, which would be named after Charles Murphy, Sr.
LaBorde formed the Ocean Drilling & Exploration Company and contracted with J. Ray McDermott Company to build Mr. Charlie. A barge 220 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 14 feet deep supported the drilling platform. The platform was 60 feet above the barge.
Mr. Charlie was the first mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) and a springboard for new offshore technologies for deeper wells. Described as an “independent island” and nearly totally self-sufficient with a crew of up to 58, Mr. Charlie drilled hundreds of Gulf of Mexico wells for next 32 years before retiring in 1986. Today, Mr. Charlie continues to serve the industry as a museum and training platform at the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition in Morgan City, Louisiana.
June 18, 1889 – Birth of Standard Oil Company of Indiana
The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey incorporated a new subsidiary in Indiana in 1889. Standard Oil of Indiana processed oil at a growing refinery at Whiting, Indiana, southeast of Chicago.
By the mid-1890s, the Whiting refinery was the largest in the country. It began by producing axle grease for industrial machinery, paraffin wax for candles, and kerosene for home lighting. When John D. Rockefeller was forced to break up his oil holdings in 1911, Standard Oil of Indiana emerged as an independent company. Its Amoco service stations began opening in the 1950s. Amoco merged with British Petroleum (BP) in 1998 – the largest foreign takeover of an American company up to that time. Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.
June 18, 1946 – Truman creates National Petroleum Council
The National Petroleum Council, a federally chartered advisory committee, was established in 1946 by President Harry Truman to advise him about oil and natural gas issues.
“President Truman stated in a letter to the Secretary of the Interior that he had been impressed by the contribution made through industry-government cooperation to the success of the World War II petroleum program,” notes the NPC website.
Today, 200 members are appointed by the Secretary of Energy. They “serve without compensation as representatives of their industry…not as representatives of their particular companies or affiliations.”
Recommended Reading: Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2014); Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982); Western Pennsylvania’s Oil (2008); Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (2011); Whiting and Robertsdale – Images of America (2013); Voice of the Marketplace: A History of the National Petroleum Council (2002).
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 email@example.com for information on levels and types of sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.