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.

march petroleum history image of Indiana oilfield and gas 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 – Oilfield found in North Louisiana

The Offenhauser No. 1 discovery well for the giant Caddo-Pine Island oilfield in Louisiana was completed at a depth of 1,556 feet.2022 AOGHS Membership Ad

Although the well yielded only five barrels a day and was soon abandoned, more wells followed, revealing a northern Louisiana oilfield. To prevent the loss of natural gas through flaring, Louisiana passed its first conservation law in 1906. Learn more Pelican State petroleum oil history in First Louisiana Oil Well (1901) and visiting the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.

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, the 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.

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 the Barnett No. 1 well had been suspended by a lack of funds for drilling deeper, 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. 

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.

petroleum history April 1 Electra, Texas, oil pump

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. A third major discovery arrived with the Burkburnett oil boom in 1918.

Thanks to a campaign by community activists, in 2001 Texas legislators designated Electra the Pump Jack Capital of Texas. The 2,800 residents today host an annual festival celebrating their petroleum heritage.

April 1, 1986 – Crude Oil Price Collapse

World oil prices fell below $10 a barrel. Causes included excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession, and a U.S. petroleum industry regulated by production and price controls. “Saudi Arabia, tiring of cutting output to support prices, flooded the market,” Bloomberg News later explained.

Oil prices recovered by 1990 and set a record peak of $145 per barrel in July 2008, before another price drop below $32 by the end of that year. When Russia further invaded Ukraine on February 24, oil prices increased to more than $100 per barrel for the first time since 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA).

April 2, 1978 – First Episode of “Dallas” airs on CBS

Marketed as a prime-time soap opera, “Dallas” debuted on the CBS network. The show featured the Ewing family and the independent oil company, Ewing Oil. The U.S. petroleum industry’s image would endure 14 seasons as J.R.’s shady Texan business schemes and “unapologetic commitment to self-interest” attracted loyal viewers, noted a 1990 New York Times article. The 1980 cliffhanger “Who shot J.R.?” led to the highest-rated television episode in U.S. history at the time, watched by 83 million people.

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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. Policymakers “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.

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Recommended Reading: 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); Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap (2005). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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