June 20, 1977 –  Oil begins Flowing in Trans-Alaska Pipeline – 

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline began carrying oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez at Prince William Sound. The oil arrived 38 days later, culminating the world’s largest privately funded construction project at the time.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline zigzags in the wilderness.

After much controversy, construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline began in April 1974. Photo courtesy Alaska Pipeline Authority.

The Prudhoe Bay field had been discovered in 1968 by Atlantic Richfield and Exxon about 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Construction of the 48-inch-wide pipeline began on April 19, 1974. It cost $8 billion, including the terminal and pump stations. Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) were built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes. In some permafrost areas the supports included special two-inch “heat pipes.”

By 2021, the pipeline carried about 17 percent of the U.S. oil supply in 2021, transporting an average of 1.8 million barrels of oil a day (see Trans-Alaska Pipeline History).

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June 21, 1893 – Submersible Pump Inventor born  

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the electric submersible pump for oil wells, was born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, Russia. In 1916, he invented the first electrical centrifugal submersible pump. But after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff could not find financial support for his down-hole oil production technology.

Portrait of Armais Arutunoff inventor of electric submersible pump.

Russian engineer Armais Arutunoff invented of the first electric submersible pumps.

Thanks to help from his friend Frank Phillips, president of Phillips Petroleum, in 1928 Arutunoff moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and established a manufacturing company. His REDA Pump Company manufactured pump and motor devices (and employed hundreds during the Great Depression).

The name REDA, which stands for Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff, was the cable address of the company he originally formed in Germany (the company is now part of Schlumberger).

A 1936 Tulsa World article described his invention as “an electric motor with the proportions of a slim fencepost which stands on its head at the bottom of a well and kicks oil to the surface with its feet.”

Learn more in Inventing the Submersible Pump.

June 21, 1932 – Oklahoma “Hot Oil” Controversy

Thirty National Guardsmen marched into the Oklahoma City oilfield when Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray took control of oil production after creating a proration board he controlled.

Oil derricks in Devon Energy Park at Oklahoma History Center, dedicated in 2005..

The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City includes petroleum equipment on display in the Devon Energy Park, which opened in 2005. Photo by Bruce Wells.

In March 1933, Murray would again declare martial law to enforce his regulations limiting the field’s production — and prevent the sale or transport of oil produced in excess of the quota, often referred to as “hot oil.”

The controversy ended in April 1933 when the Oklahoma Legislature passed House Bill 481, giving the Oklahoma Corporation Commission the authority to enforce its rules — and taking away much of Gov. Murray’s power to regulate the industry. The commission originally had been established in 1907 to regulate railroad, telephone and telegraph companies.

June 23, 1921 – Signal Hill Discovery brings California Oil Boom

Another southern California drilling boom began when a geyser of oil erupted 114 feet high at Signal Hill. The Alamitos No. 1 well revealed a prolific oilfield and produced about 600 barrels of oil a day when it was completed.

Postcard air view of California's Signal Hill and its oilfield, circa 1920s.

Following its 1921 oilfield discovery, the small town of Signal Hill, California, had so many derricks people called it Porcupine Hill.

Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s oilfield 20 miles south of Los Angeles by 1923 was producing almost 260,000 barrels of oil a day. Combined with the 1892 Los Angeles Oilfield discovery and the 1920 oilfield at Huntington Beach, California alone produced one-fourth of the world’s oil.

Signal Hill’s Discovery Well Park today is home to a community center with historic photos. A monument dedicated in 1952 serves “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here.”

Learn more in Signal Hill Oil Boom.

June 23, 1947 – Supreme Court limits State Rights to Continental Shelf

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California could not claim rights to the continental shelf beyond three nautical miles. Litigation had resulted from President Harry Truman’s 1945 Continental Shelf Proclamation, which placed control with the federal government. The Supreme Court ruling affirmed federal jurisdiction “with respect to the natural resources of the subsoil and seabed of the continental shelf.” Similar rulings affecting Louisiana and Texas would be made in 1950.

June 24, 1937 – Trace of Oil found in Minnesota

Oil was discovered in Minnesota by a wildcat well drilled in Traverse County in the western part of the state. The well produced three barrels of oil a day from 864 feet deep.

Oil well in one county of Minnesota mao.

Traverse County, Minnesota, where oil production peaked in 1937.

Although the discovery prompted more leasing, no commercial quantities of oil were found. This reaffirmed geologists’ conclusions since 1889 that the conditions for significant oil deposits did not exist in Minnesota.

“Not much oil and gas is obtained from Precambrian rocks, with which Minnesota is very amply blessed,” noted Richard Ojakangas in his 1984 book, Minnesota’s Geology. The state’s production peaked that summer of 1937.

June 25, 1889 – First Oil Tanker catches Fire at California Wharf

The first oil tanker specifically built for that purpose, burned at its wharf in Ventura, California. The Hardison & Stewart Oil Company (later Union Oil Company), had commissioned the schooner W.L. Hardison. The experimental vessel offered an alternative to paying for railroad tank cars charging one dollar per oil barrel to reach markets in San Francisco.

With oil-fired steam boilers and supplemental sail, the wooden-hulled schooner could ship up to 6,500 barrels of oil below deck in specially constructed steel tanks. After the fire, the tanks were recovered and used at the company’s Santa Paula refinery. It would be 11 years before the company launched a replacement tanker, the Santa Paula.

Rare photographs of the oil doomed tanker W.L. Hardison.

Rare photographs of the oil doomed tanker W.L. Hardison and Ventura pier courtesy the Museum of Ventura County.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Ventura Wharf Company by April 1898 had exported 518,204 barrels of bulk oil during the previous year. Ventura Pier remained a working wharf until 1936, when what would be the longest wooden pier in California at 1,958 feet became recreational.

Designated a Ventura Historic Landmark in 1976, California’s oldest pier was refurbished for $2.2 million in 2000, according to Museum of Ventura County, whose library collection includes 150,000 county resources. More petroleum history can be found at California Oil Museum in nearby Santa Paula’s original 1890 Union Oil Company headquarters. 

June 25, 1901 – Red Fork Discovery leads to Tulsa Boom 

The future state of Oklahoma witnessed a second oil discovery in 1901 (some say the third — see Another First Oklahoma Oil Well). Four years earlier, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well had brought a drilling boom to Bartlesville in Indian Territory. At Red Fork, still six years before statehood, two drillers from Pennsylvania made the new discovery in the Creek Indian Nation.

Drillers John Wick and Jesse Heydrick drilled their Sue A. Bland No. 1 well  near the Creek village across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. Sue Bland, a Creek citizen, was the wife of the homestead owner Dr. John C. W. Bland. Their Red Fork well produced just 10 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 550 feet, but it created a drilling boom that began attracting drilling companies to nearby Tulsa.

Learn more in  Red Fork Gusher.

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June 25, 1999 – Post Office with Oilfield Painting named Historic Place

The former Graham, Texas, U.S. Post Office with its Great Depression era oilfield mural by Alexandre Hogue was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Hogue’s 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham,” had been displayed in the lobby of the Art Deco building, completed in the town square three years earlier.

Hogue painted many southwestern scenes as part of the New Deal Federal Arts Program. His artwork on the walls of public buildings often portrayed scenes from the Texas petroleum industry. The Graham 12 feet wide and 7 feet high mural was restored in 2002 as an exhibit in the newly opened Old Post Office Museum & Art Center.

Learn more in Oil Art of Graham, Texas.

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Recommended Reading: The Great Alaska Pipeline (1988);  Artificial Lift-down Hole Pumping Systems (1984); Signal Hill, California, Images of America (2006); Minnesota’s Geology (1982) Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004); Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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