June 3, 1979 – Bay of Campeche Oil Spill

Drilling in about 150 feet of water, the semi-submersible platform Sedco 135 suffered a blowout 50 miles off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. The state-owned company Pemex well Ixtoc 1 spilled 3.4 million barrels of oil before being brought under control nine months later. Considering the size of the spill, its environmental impact was limited, according to a 1981 report by the Coordinated Program of Ecological Studies in the Bay of Campeche.

Although the extent of environmental alterations from the Ixtoc 1 blowout remain unknown, field surveys of Campeche Sound conducted in 1979–1980 noted, “evaporation, dispersion, photo-oxidation and biodegradation processes played a major role in attenuating the harmful environmental effects of the oil spill.”

June 4, 1872 – Pennsylvania Oilfields bring Petroleum Jelly

A young chemist living in New York City, Robert Chesebrough, patented “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he named “Vaseline.” His patent proclaimed the virtues of this purified extract of petroleum distillation residue as a lubricant, hair treatment, and balm for chapped hands.

A Chesbrough Vaseline bottle, circa 1900.

Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96 years old. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

When the 22-year-old chemist visited the new Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865, he had noted that drilling was often confounded by a paraffin-like substance that clogged the wellhead. Drillers used the “rod wax” as a quick first aid for abrasions.

Chesebrough returned to New York City and worked in his laboratory to purify the oil well goop, which he first called “petroleum jelly.” Female customers would discover that mixing lamp black with Vaseline made an impromptu mascara. In 1913, Mabel Williams employed just such a concoction, and it would lead to the founding of a major cosmetic company.

Learn more in The Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

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June 4, 1892 – Devastation of Pennsylvania Oil Region

After weeks of thunderstorms in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek Valley, the Spartansburg dam on Oil Creek burst, sending torrents of water that killed more than 100 people and destroyed homes and businesses in Titusville and Oil City. The disaster was compounded when fires broke out.

Photo of the 1892 great fire and flood that made oil history in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Titusville, Pennsylvania, residents used the “Colonel Drake Steam Pumper” during the great flood and fire of 1892. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

“This city during the past twenty-four hours has been visited by one of the most appalling fires and overwhelming floods in the history of this country,” reported the New York Times from Oil City. Oilfield photographer John A. Mather — who lost his studio and 16,000 glass plate negatives — documented the destruction, which preceded the Johnstown Flood by six years.

Learn more in Oilfield photographer John Mather.

June 4, 1896 – Henry Ford drives his “Quadricycle”

Driving the first car he ever built, Henry Ford left a workshop behind his home on Bagley Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. He had designed his “Quadricycle” in his spare time while working as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company. Ford chose the name because his handmade, 500-pound “horseless carriage” ran on four bicycle tires. Inspired by advancements in gasoline-fueled engines, he founded Henry Ford Company in 1903.

June 4, 1921 – Petroleum Seismograph tested

A team of earth scientists tested an experimental seismograph device on a farm three miles north of Oklahoma City and determined it could accurately map subsurface structures. Led by Prof. John C. Karcher and W.P. Haseman, the team from the University of Oklahoma found that seismology could be useful for oil and natural gas exploration and production. Further seismic reflection tests, including one in the Arbuckle formation in August, confirmed their results.

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June 6, 1932 – First Federal Gasoline Tax

The federal government taxed gasoline for the first time when the Revenue Act of 1932 added a one-cent per gallon excise tax to U.S. gasoline sales. The first state to tax gasoline had been Oregon, which imposed a one-cent per gallon tax in 1919. Colorado, New Mexico, and other states followed. The federal tax, last raised on October 1, 1993, has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon (24.4 cents per gallon for diesel). About 60 percent of federal gasoline taxes are used for highway and bridge construction.

June 6, 1944 – English Channel Pipelines fuel WWII Victory

As the D-Day invasion began along 50 miles of fortified French coastline in Normandy, logistics for supplying the effort would include two top-secret engineering feats — construction of artificial harbors followed by the laying of pipelines across the English Channel.

Operation PLUTO ships with spooled tubing being towed across the English Channel.

Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) unspooled flexible steel pipeline across the English Channel, but the channel was deep, the French ports distant.

Code-named “Mulberrys” and using a design similar to modern jack-up offshore rigs, the artificial harbors used barges with retractable pylons to provide platforms to support floating causeways extending to the beaches.

To fuel the Allied advance into Nazi Germany, Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) used flexible steel pipelines wound onto giant “conundrums” designed to spool off when towed. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower later acknowledged the vital importance of the oil pipelines.

Learn more in PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II.

June 6, 1976 – Oil Billionaire J. Paul Getty dies

With a fortune reaching $6 billion (about $32 billion in 2023), J. Paul Getty died at 83 at his estate near London. Born into his father’s petroleum wealth from the Oil Company of Tulsa, Getty made his first million by age 23 from buying and selling oil leases. “I started in September 1914, to buy leases in the so-called red-beds area of Oklahoma,” Getty told the New York Times. “The surface was red dirt and it was considered impossible there was any oil there. My father and I did not agree and we got many leases for very little money which later turned out to be rich leases.”

Getty, who incorporated Getty Oil in 1942, would leave more than $660 million of his estate to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Petroleum history is important. Support link for AOGHS.

June 9, 1894 – Water Well finds Oil in Corsicana, Texas

A contractor hired by the town of Corsicana to drill a water well on 12th Street found oil instead, launching the Texas petroleum industry seven years before a more famous discovery at Spindletop hundreds of miles to the southeast.

Drilled using cable-tools, Corsicana’s first oil well produced just 2.5 barrels of oil a day from 1,035 feet deep, but nevertheless brought a rush of exploration companies. By 1898, about 300 produced oil in and around the boom town, which became a center for technological innovation. A Corsicana company manufactured the patented rotary rig that drilled the famous 1901 gusher at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas.

U.S. oil history preserved by a colorized old postcard of oil wells at Corsicana, Texas.

Petroleum transformed Corsicana, Texas, into an oilfield service and industrial center where residents have annually celebrated their oil patch heritage. A colorized postcard depicts Navarro County oil wells, circa 1910.

Despite Corsicana’s discovery well bringing petroleum riches and the drilling boom, city officials paid the contractor only half of the $1,000 fee, citing the agreement for completing a water well. Since 1976 Corsicana has hosted an annual Derrick Days, including a car show and oil history tours. The town also is home to Wolf Brand Chili, established there in 1895 — thanks to the oil boom.

Learn more in First Texas Oil Boom.


Recommended Reading: Western Pennsylvania’s Oil Heritage (2008); The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010); Around Titusville, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2004); I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford (2014); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975);  Code Name MULBERRY: The Planning Building and Operation of the Normandy Harbours (1977); The Great Getty (1986); Texas Oil and Gas (Postcard History) (2013); Corsicana (2010). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an AOGHS annual supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2024 – Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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