This Week in Petroleum History – June 25 to July 1
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, forerunner of Union Oil Company, had commissioned the steam schooner W.L. Hardison.
The 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 W.L. Hardison was capable of shipping 6,500 barrels of oil below decks in specially constructed steel tanks.
After the fire, the vessel’s steel tanks were recovered and used at the company’s Santa Paula refinery. The Ventura Pier remained a working wharf until 1936, when it became recreational. Today’s refurbished structure is almost 2,000 feet long – one of the longest in California.
The Museum of Ventura County library collection houses more than 150,000 resources on the history of Ventura County and outlying regions. More oil history can be found at the California Oil Museum in nearby Santa Paula; the museum’s main building is the original 1890 Union Oil Company headquarters. Also see America exports Oil.
June 25, 1901 – Red Fork Discovery boosts Tulsa
The future state of Oklahoma witnessed a second historic oil discovery in 1901. Four years earlier, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well near Bartlesville had been the first oil well in Indian Territory. Now, six years before statehood, two drillers from Pennsylvania made another discovery in the Creek Indian Nation.
Drillers John C. Wick and Jesse A. Heydrick drilled their Sue A. Bland No. 1 well near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. Sue Bland, a Creek citizen, was the wife of the homestead owner Dr. John C. W. Bland. Although the Red Fork Gusher produced just 10 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 550 feet, it created a drilling boom that began Tulsa’s journey to becoming “Oil Capital of the World.”
June 28, 1967 – Hall of Petroleum opens at Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Hall of Petroleum opened at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C. The exhibits included cable-tool and rotary drilling rigs and pumping units, and featured the industry’s technologies up to 1967. None are on display today.
Visitors to what is now the National Museum of American History (since 1980) were once greeted by a 13-foot by 56-foot mural painted by Delbert Jackson, a Tulsa artist and illustrator. Jackson spent two years creating the painting with detailed scenes of oil exploration, production, refining, and transportation. His “Panorama of Petroleum” featured industry pioneers and served as a visual map to the hall’s oilfield technology exhibits.
The hall’s main exhibits were prepared with “the best available technical advice to give the public some conception of the involved nature of the processes of finding and producing oil,” wrote Curator Philip W. Bishop in the exhibit’s 1967 catalog. “If the hall can increase the public’s knowledge of and respect for the technical skill and know-how of those who make this energy available, it will have served its purpose,” he added. When the “Hall of Petroleum” exhibit closed, the mural was put into storage for three decades until being placed on display at Tulsa International Airport. Learn more in Smithsonian’s “Hall of Petroleum.“
June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, became law.
Passed at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways.” Among the reasons the president had urged passage was the need to flee cities during a nuclear attack. Signed into law by on June 29, 1956, the Act authorized spending $25 billion through 1969 for construction of about 41,000 miles of interstates.
“Of all his domestic programs, Eisenhower’s favorite by far was the Interstate System,” notes biographer Stephen Ambrose, author of Eisenhower: Soldier and President.
June 30, 1864 – First Oil Tax funds Civil War
The federal government taxed oil for the first time when it levied a $1 per barrel tax on production from Pennsylvania oilfields.
As early as 1862 – needing revenue to fund the Civil War – Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase advocated a $6.30 tax per barrel on crude oil and $10.50 per barrel on refined products. Angry oil producers rallied against the tax in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and sent delegates to Washington, D.C., where they negotiated a tax of $1 per barrel.
July 1, 1919 – Top Oilmen join Mid-Continent Association
The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (today’s US Oil & Gas Association) established its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa. Members were a “who’s who” of top independent producers.
Kansas-Oklahoma members included Frank Phillips of Phillips Petroleum; E.W. Marland, whose company will become Conoco; W.G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil; H.H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil; and Alf Landon, who would become governor of Kansas and the Republican presidential candidate in 1936.
Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company (later to be Oklahoma’s governor and elected three times to the U.S. Senate), was president of the Oklahoma-Kansas Division from 1935 through 1941.
July 1, 1922 – Oil Boom grows in Southern Arkansas
First settled by French fur trappers in 1844, Smackover, Arkansas, had a population of just 90 people in 1922 when a wildcat well erupted a geyser of oil. The well, drilled to 2,066 feet by sawmill owner Sidney Umsted, discovered the 25,000-acre Smackover field. Within six months, 1,000 wells were drilled with a success rate of 92 percent.
The town’s population grew to 25,000 and its uncommon name quickly attained national attention. Nearby and just a year and a half earlier, the first commercial oil well in Arkansas, the Busey-Armstrong No. 1, had revealed the El Dorado field and launched the career of a young H.L. Hunt (learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells). The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources preserves Arkansas oil heritage.
July 1, 1938 – The Texas Company discovers Illinois Oilfield
Using a new technology called seismic exploration, geologists for the Texas Company – later Texaco – found hidden anticlines with commercial quantities of oil in Marion County, Illinois. By January 1939 the Salem field was ranked seventh in U.S. daily production. In just one year the field produced more than 20 million barrels of oil. Natural gas production in Illinois began as early as 1853 when marsh or “drift gas” was produced from two water wells drilled near Champaign. Visit the Illinois Oilfield Museum.
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