This Week in Petroleum History – June 26 to July 2
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 greeted by a 13-foot by 56-foot mural painted by artist Delbert Jackson, a Tulsa artist and illustrator.
Jackson spent two years creating the painting, which portrayed oil exploration, production, refining, and transportation. His “Panorama of Petroleum” included 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, 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 U.S. Senator), 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. Read more in First Arkansas Oil Wells.
Nearby 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. The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources preserves the state’s rich oil heritage.
July 1, 1938 – Texas Company discovers Illinois Oilfield
The Texas Company – later Texaco – first found commercial quantities of oil in Marion County near Salem, Illinois. By January 1939 the field was ranked seventh in U.S. daily production. In just one year the Salem oilfield 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.
July 2, 1910 – Oil Reserves established
As the U.S. Navy rapidly converted from coal to oil burning ships, President William Howard Taft established three Naval Petroleum Reserves in 1910. Taft noted in a message to Congress: “As a prospective large consumer of oil by reason of the increasing use of fuel oil by the Navy, the federal government is directly concerned both in encouraging rational development and at the same time insuring the longest possible life to the oil supply.” The last U.S. battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers, the U.S.S. Texas, was launched in 1912 and converted to oil-fired boilers in 1926. Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.
July 2, 1913 – “Dan Patch” brings End to Steam Trains
While most locomotives were still steam-powered, General Electric laid claim to producing the first commercially successful internal combustion gasoline engine locomotive in the United States.
Two General Motors 175-horsepower V-8 gasoline engines drive two 600-volt, direct current generators to propel the 57-ton locomotive to a top speed of 51 miles per hour. The Electric Line of Minnesota Company purchased the locomotive for $34,500.
This new gas-powered electric hybrid was named Dan Patch in honor of the “World’s Champion Harness Horse” of the time. The train’s novel G.E. gas-electric power system was removed in 1918 when the train was converted into a streetcar. By 1930, 600-horsepower diesel engines with G.E. generators would launch modern train travel with popular and fast “Streamliners.” Learn more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.
Recommended Reading: Official Guide to the Smithsonian, 4th Edition (2016); Eisenhower: Soldier and President (1968); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, PA (2000); Texas Rich: The Hunt Dynasty, from the Early Oil Days Through the Silver Crash (1982); Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America (2009); Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive, Railroads Past and Present (2007).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for information on levels and types of sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.