This Week in Petroleum History, June 24 – 30
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.
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 obtain from Precambrian rocks, with which Minnesota is very amply blessed,” noted Richard Ojakangas in his 1984 book, Minnesota’s Geology. Although Minnesota today ranks fourth in the nation in ethanol production, its oil 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 experimental 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 a discovery in the Creek Indian Nation. Drillers John Wick and Jesse 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 led to Tulsa becoming “Oil Capital of the World.”
June 27, 1911 – E.W. Marland strikes Oil at 101 Ranch in Oklahoma
Thanks to Ernest W. Marland’s confidence in the developing science of petroleum geology, an Oklahoma oilfield was discovered on the 110,000-acre Millers Brothers 101 Ranch, already known for its Wild West shows. Marland, who arrived in Oklahoma from Pennsylvania in 1908, had searched the ranch for anticlines, a geologic formation with strata inclined downwards on all sides, trapping oil. His 101 Ranch Oil Company earlier had completed seven successful natural gas wells and built a gas pipeline 15 miles to Tonkawa. By 1916, the company was producing oil from fields in Ponca City, Newkirk, and Blackwell. Marland built a small refinery in Ponca City, where he founded Marland Oil (later renamed the Continental Oil Company, which became Conoco, today ConocoPhillips).
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.” 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,” noted biographer Stephen Ambrose, author of Eisenhower: Soldier and President. One of the reasons the president had urged passage was the need for evacuating cities during a nuclear attack.
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. Desperate for revenue to fund the Civil War as early as 1862, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase advocated a $6.30 tax per barrel of crude oil and $10.50 per barrel on refined products. Angry oil producers quickly rallied against the tax in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and sent delegates to Washington, D.C., where they negotiated a tax of $1 per 42-gallon barrel of oil.
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