March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist trademarks Kerosene

Canadian physician and chemist Abraham Gesner patented a process to distill coal into kerosene. “I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaimed. Because his new illuminating fluid was extracted from coal, consumers called it “coal oil” as often as kerosene.

petroleum history march 21

A Canadian March 2000 stamp featured kerosene’s inventor.

Gesner, considered the father of Canada’s petroleum industry, in 1842 established the country’s first natural history museums, the New Brunswick Museum, which today houses one of Canada’s oldest geological collections.

The U.S. petroleum industry began when it was learned that oil could be distilled into a lamp fuel (and much later, a rocket fuel). With new oilfields discovered in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, inexpensive kerosene became America’s main source of light.

Learn more in Camphene to Kerosene Lamps.

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March 27, 1975 – First Pipe laid for Trans-Alaskan Pipeline

With the laying of the first section of pipe in Alaska, construction began on the largest private construction project in American history at the time. Recognized as a landmark of engineering, the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, including pumping stations and the Valdez Marine Terminal, would cost $8 billion by the time it was completed in 1977.

Learn more in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.

March 27, 1999 – Offshore Platform Rocket Launch Test – 

The Ocean Odyssey, a converted semi-submersible drilling platform, launched a Russian rocket that placed a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit.

The Zenit-3SL rocket, fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene rocket fuel, was part of Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Norway. The offshore platform had once been used by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for North Sea exploration. 

With an orbital test on March 27, 1999, the Ocean Odyssey, a converted semi-submersible drilling platform, became the world’s first floating equatorial launch pad. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

“The Sea Launch rocket successfully completed its maiden flight today,” Boeing announced. “The event, which placed a demonstration payload into geostationary transfer orbit, marked the first commercial launch from a floating platform at sea.”

The Sea Launch consortium provided orbital launch services until 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. 

Learn more in Offshore Rocket launcher.

March 28, 1886 – Discovery launches Indiana Natural Gas Boom

A drilling boom began at Portland, Indiana, after the Eureka Gas and Oil Company found a natural gas field at a depth of only 700 feet. The discovery arrived just two months after a spectacular natural gas well about 100 miles to the northeast — the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio.

Composite image of Indiana and Trenton oilfield and gas well flame.

Andrew Carnegie said natural gas replaced 10,000 tons of coal a day for making steel.

Portland foundry owner Henry Sees had followed the news from Findlay. He persuaded local investors to drill for Indiana natural gas. In western Pennsylvania, reserves found near Pittsburg had encouraged industrialists there to replace their coal-fired steel and glass foundries with the first large-scale industrial use of natural gas. 

Indiana would become the world’s largest natural gas producer, thanks to its Trenton limestone stretching more than 5,100 square miles across 17 counties. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas.

Learn more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

March 28, 1905 – Oil brings Prosperity to North Louisiana

An oilfield discovery in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, created a classic boom town in Oil City and brought economic prosperity to northern Louisiana. The Offenhauser No. 1 well was completed at a depth of 1,556 feet, but the well yielded only five barrels a day and was abandoned. More productive wells soon followed, and the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield, about 20 miles northwest of Shreveport, expanded to include more than 80,000 acres.

The Shreveport Chamber of Commerce in 1955 dedicated a 40-foot monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of oil in Caddo Parish. Photo by Bruce Wells.

“This part of Louisiana, of course, was built on the oil and gas industry, and those visitors interested in the technical aspects of oilfield work will find the museum particularly appealing,” notes the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum (formerly the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum). More oilfield history can be found at Shreveport, where natural gas was discovered in 1870, thanks to an ice plant’s water well. To prevent the waste of natural gas through flaring, Louisiana passed its first conservation law in 1906.

Learn more in Louisiana Oil City Museum.

March 28, 1918 — Oil Research Center Opens in Oklahoma

In a sign the monopolistic era of Standard Oil was ending, the U.S. Bureau of Mines established the nation’s first oil and natural gas research center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Two years earlier, independent producers had pledged $50,000 to help build the bureau’s Bartlesville Experiment Station. Discoveries in the Osage Indian Nation,” catapulted Oklahoma to the forefront of the burgeoning mid-continent oil industry,” according to the U.S. Office of Fossil Energy.

The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville opened in 2007, the centennial of Oklahoma statehood.

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March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of the Petroleum Industry 

Edwin Laurentine Drake was born in Greenville, New York. Forty years later, he used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to drill the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania. The former railroad conductor overcame many financial and technical obstacles to make “Drake’s Folly” a milestone in energy history.

Portrait of Edwin L. Drake, who drilled first U.S. oil well in 1859.

Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880) invented a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of America’s first oil well. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

Drake pioneered using iron casing to isolate his well from nearby Oil Creek. “In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” noted historian Urja Davé in 2008. “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”

Determined to find oil for refining into the popular lamp fuel kerosene, Drake created the American petroleum industry on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet.

Visit the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas

A well drilled by Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) revealed the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield in Arkansas, adding to 1920s giant oilfield discoveries at El Dorado and Smackover. “Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country” proclaimed the local newspaper.

Drilling on the Barnett No. 1 well had been suspended by a lack of funds, but Kerlyn Oil Company Vice President Dean McGee persevered. An experienced geologist, McGee was rewarded with the giant oilfield discovery at a depth of 7,650 feet. He would later lead efforts in early offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. 

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March 30, 1980 – Deadly North Sea Gale

Massive waves during a North Sea gale capsized a floating apartment for Phillips Petroleum Company workers, killing 123 people. The Alexander Kielland platform, 235 miles east of Dundee, Scotland, housed 208 men who worked on a nearby rig in the Ekofisk field. Most of the Phillips workers were from Norway. The platform, converted from a semi-submersible drilling rig, served as overflow accommodation for the Phillips production platform 300 yards away.

April 1, 1911 – First Well of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas”

South of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launched an oil boom that would last decades. “As news of the gusher spread through town, people thought it was an April Fools joke and didn’t take it seriously until they saw for themselves the plume of black oil spewing high into the sky,” a local historian noted.

Electra, Texas, oil pump and welcome sign entering town.

Electra was named after the daughter of local rancher W.T. Waggoner, who had once complained about finding oil when drilling water wells for his cattle. Photo by Bruce Wells

The well on cattleman William Waggoner’s lease settled into production of 650 barrels per day from about 1,600 feet deep. Hundreds of producing wells followed, leading to the Electra oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913. Oil fever would return to North Texas in 1917 when “Roaring Ranger” erupted in neighboring Eastland County. Electra’s 2,800 residents annually host a festival celebrating their petroleum heritage.

Learn more in Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

April 1, 1986 – Oil Price Collapse

World oil prices briefly fell below $10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Causes included excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession, and a U.S. petroleum industry regulated by production and price controls. Saudi Arabia had slowed its policy of cutting output to support prices.

“The Saudis and other Persian Gulf producers are trying to push oil prices down as part of a long-term strategy to restore their political and economic leverage in the world oil trade,” according to an article in the Washington Post.

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April 2, 1980 – President Carter signs Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax

One year after lifting price controls on oil, President Jimmy Carter signed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax (WPT) into law. It would be repealed eight years later. The controversial WPT levied an excise tax on domestic oil production from 1980 to 1988, according to historian Joseph Thorndike.

The WPT, “imposed an excise levy on domestic oil production, taxing the difference between the market price of oil and a predetermined base price.”

President Jimmy Carter signing Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax in 1980.

President Jimmy Carter signed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax in 1980. It was repealed in eight years later.

The base price was derived from 1979 oil prices and required annual adjustments for inflation. A remnant of President Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls of 1971 and the OPEC oil embargo, WPT was meant to limit jumps in oil prices. Eight years of the tax resulted in U.S. oil production falling to its lowest point in two decades and increased dependence on imported oil. The depressed state of the U.S. petroleum industry after 1986 compelled Congress to repeal WPT in 1988.


Recommended Reading: Oil Lamps The Kerosene Era In North America (1978); Amazing Pipeline Stories: How Building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Transformed Life in America’s Last Frontier (1997); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Texas Oil and Gas, Postcard History (2013); Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982). 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 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.


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