This Week in Petroleum History, June 11 – 17
June 11, 1816 – Manufactured Gas lights Baltimore Museum
To impress Baltimore civic leaders, Rembrandt Peale illuminated a room in his Holliday Street Museum by burning manufactured gas, a fuel distilled from coal, tar or wood. His 1816 display dazzled museum patrons with a “ring beset with gems of light.”
The Baltimore city council approved Peale’s plan to light the city’s main streets. Peale and a group of investors founded the Gas Light Company of Baltimore. “So was born the first gas company in the New World,” proclaims an historian at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.
“In 1816, the building became the fist public building in America to use gas lighting,” adds the Maryland Historical Trust. The gas company completed a new manufacturing plant in 1855 to refine gas from coal. Learn more in Manufactured Gas for Lamps.
June 11, 1929 – Independent Producers get Organized
Wirt Franklin of Ardmore, Oklahoma, spoke on behalf of America’s independent producers at President Herbert Hoover’s Oil Conservation Conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Franklin opposed creating a commission that could restrict production and allow any increase in imported foreign oil. “If this condition should be brought about,” proclaimed Franklin, “it would mean the annihilation and destruction of the small producer of crude oil.”
Franklin established a new organization based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to defend the interests of small U.S. producing companies – the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which today represents companies that drill 90 percent of domestic oil and natural gas wells.
June 12, 1879 – Western New York Oilfield discovered
The first commercial oil well in Allegany County, New York, was completed at a depth of 1,177 feet. The Triangle No. 1 discovery well near Allentown created the new boom town of Petrolia. Orville P. Taylor, soon known as the “father of the Allegany oilfield,” drilled the well, according to historians at the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar. The first New York oil discovery had been made in 1860, when the Job Moses No. 1 well produced seven barrels of oil per day.
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 – New Mexico Oilfield
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.
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