March 9, 1930 – Prototype Oil Tanker is Electrically Welded –
The world’s first electrically welded commercial vessel, the Texas Company (later Texaco) tanker M/S Carolinian, was completed in Charleston, South Carolina. The shipbuilding boom during World War I had encouraged American and British shipbuilders to develop new electric welding technologies. The 226-ton vessel was a prototype designed by naval architect Richard Smith.
The Texas Company’s oil products tanker was the first truly electrically welded ship, according to machine tool expert and welder Zachary Liollio. Electric welding eliminated the need for about 85,000 pounds of rivets, he noted in a 2017 article for the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). The success of the oil tanker prototype led to “the standard of welded hulls and internal combustion engines would become universal in construction of new vessels.”
March 9, 1959 – Barbie is a Petroleum Doll
Mattel revealed the Barbie Doll at the American Toy Fair in New York City. More than one billion “dolls in the Barbie family” have been sold since. Eleven inches tall, Barbie owes her existence to petroleum products and the science of polymerization, including several plastic acronyms: ABS, EVA, PBT, and PVC.
Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) is known for strength and flexibility. This thermoplastic polymer is used in Barbie’s torso to provide impact and heat resistance. EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate), a copolymer made up of ethylene and vinyl acetate, protects Barbie’s smooth surface.
The Mattel doll also includes Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT), a thermoplastic polymer often used as an electrical insulator. Barbie uses PBT with a mineral component to facilitate injection molding the proportions of her “full figure,” according to the company. Polyvinyl-Chloride (PVC ), unlike many synthetic polymers, is not solely based on the feedstock ethylene, which comes from “cracking” natural gas. Barbie’s hair — and many of her designer outfits — come from the world’s first synthetic fiber, nylon, invented by DuPont Corporation in 1935 (see Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer).
March 11, 1829 – Kentucky Salt Well Driller discovers Oil
Boring for salt brine with a simple spring-pole device on a farm near Burkesville, Kentucky, Martin Beatty found oil 171 feet deep. Disappointed, he searched elsewhere. Because oil from his well would be bottled and sold, some historians consider Beatty’s discovery the earliest commercial oil well in North America.
Beatty, who had learned his trade in Pennsylvania, drilled brine wells to meet growing demand from Kentucky settlers needing dried salt to preserve food. He bored his wells by percussion drilling — raising and dropping a chisel from a sapling, an ancient technology for making hole.
According to historian Sheldon Baugh, prior to the Cumberland County oilfield discovery, Beatty first found oil in a McCreary County brine well in 1819. That well “provided very little of the useless stuff” and was soon forgotten. The historian described the scene of Beatty’s oil well of March 11, 1829:
“On that day, well-driller Beatty bragged to bystanders “Today I’ll drill her into salt or else to Hell.” When the gusher erupted he apparently thought he’d succeeded in hitting “hell”! As the story goes “he ran off into the hills and didn’t come back.”
A newspaper account later reported Beatty’s well was neglected for years, “until it was discovered that the oil possessed valuable medicinal qualities.” Oil from Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well found its way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Samuel Kier bottled and sold it as medicine. Kier would be among the first to refine kerosene for lamps.
March 11, 1930 – Society of Exploration Geophysicists founded
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists was founded by 30 men and women in Houston as the Society of Economic Geophysicists. Based in Tulsa since the mid-1940s, SEG fosters “the expert and ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”
SEG began publishing the award-winning journal Geophysics in 1936 and in 1958 formed a trust to provide scholarships for students of geophysics. The society in 2019 reported more than 14,000 members in 114 countries.
March 12, 1912 – Tom Slick discovers First of Many Oilfields
Once known as “Dry Hole Slick,” Thomas B. Slick discovered a giant oilfield midway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. His No. 1 Wheeler uncovered the Drumright-Cushing field, which produced for the next 35 years, reaching 330,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak. Knowing speculators would descend on the area when word got out, Slick secretly hired all the local drilling contractors.
After his success in Cushing, Slick began an 18-year streak of discovering some of America’s most prolific fields in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. His discoveries during the Greater Seminole Oil Boom of the 1920s made him the leading independent producer in the United States with a net worth up to $100 million.
By 1930 in the Oklahoma City field alone, Slick completed 30 wells with the capacity to produce 200,000 barrels of oil a day. When he died suddenly the same year from a stroke at age 46, oil derricks in the Oklahoma City field stood silent for one hour in tribute to Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters.
March 12, 1914 – Last Coal Powered U.S. Battleship Commissioned
The U.S.S. Texas, the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers, was commissioned in 1914. Coal-burning boilers, which produced dense smoke and created tons of ash, required the Navy to maintain coaling stations worldwide. Coaling ship was a major undertaking and early battleships carried about 2,000 tons with a crew of “coal passers.”
Dramatic improvement in efficiency came when the Navy began adopting fuel oil boilers. By 1916, the Navy had commissioned its first two capital ships with oil-fired boilers, the U.S.S. Nevada and the U.S.S. Oklahoma. To resupply them, “oilers” were designed to transfer fuel while at anchor, although underway replenishment was soon possible in fair seas.
The U.S.S. Texas was converted to burn fuel oil in 1925. The “Big T” – today the Battleship Texas State Historic Site docked on the Houston Ship Channel — was the first battleship declared to be a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.
March 12, 1943 – Secret Mission sends Roughnecks to Sherwood Forest
A top-secret team of 42 American drillers, derrickmen, roustabouts, and motormen boarded the troopship HMS Queen Elizabeth. They were volunteers from two Oklahoma companies, Noble Drilling and Fain-Porter Drilling. Their mission was to drill wells in England’s Sherwood Forest and help relieve the crisis caused by German submarines sinking Allied oil tankers. Four rotary drilling rigs were shipped on separate transport ships. One of the ships was sunk by a U-Boat.
With the future of Great Britain depending on petroleum supplies, the Americans used Yankee ingenuity to drill an average of one well per week. Their secret work added vital oil to fuel the British war effort. Read more in Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
March 12, 1968 – Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay Oilfield Discovered
Two hundred and fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield was discovered by Richfield Oil (ARCO) and Humble Oil Company (Exxon). The Prudhoe Bay State No. 1 exploratory well arrived more than six decades after the first Alaska oil well. It followed Richfield Oil’s discovery of the Swanson River oilfield on the Kenai Peninsula in 1957.
At more than 213,000 acres, the Prudhoe Bay field was the largest oilfield in North America, surpassing the 140,000 acre East Texas oilfield discovery of 1930. Prudhoe Bay’s remote location prevented oil production beginning in earnest until 1977, after completion of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Prudhoe Bay field’s production exceeded an average rate of one million barrels of oil a day by March 1978, according to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It peaked in January 1987 at more than 1.6 million barrels of oil per day.
March 13, 1974 – OPEC ends Oil Embargo
A five-month oil embargo against the United States was lifted by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel formed in 1960. The embargo, imposed in response to America supplying the Israeli military during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, created gasoline shortages, prompting President Richard M. Nixon to propose and Congress approve voluntary rationing and a ban of gas sales on Sundays. OPEC ended the embargo after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Sinai.
March 14, 1910 – Lakeview No. 1 Well erupts in California
The Union Oil Company Lakeview No. 1 well erupted a geyser of oil at dawn in Kern County, California (some sources give the date as March 15). With limited technologies for managing the deep, highly pressured formation of the Midway-Sunset field, drillers had experienced several accidental oil spills, including the Shamrock gusher in 1896 and the 1909 Midway gusher.
“But none of these wells came close to rivaling the Lakeview No. 1 which flowed, uncapped and untamed, at 18,000 barrels a day for 18 months,” noted a San Joaquin Valley geologist. Surrounded by berms and sandbags to contain the oil, the well collapsed and died on September 10, 1911, after producing 9.4 million barrels of oil (about half was contained and sold). It became the most famous American gusher almost a decade after Spindletop Hill in Texas.
Although the Lakeview well remains the largest oil spill in U.S. history, its environmental and economic impact has been considered less destructive due to evaporation and levees of sandbags that prevented contamination of Buena Vista Lake to the east. A Kern County historic marker was erected in 1952 at the site, which is seven miles north of the West Kern Oil Museum.
The ram-type blowout preventer to seal well pressure was invented in 1922.
Recommended Reading: Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century Hardcover (1996); A Geophysicist’s Memoir: Searching for Oil on Six Continents (2017). “King of the Wildcatters:” The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930 (2004); Historic Battleship Texas: The Last Dreadnought (2007); The Secret of Sherwood Forest: Oil Production in England During World War II (1973); Discovery at Prudhoe Bay Oil (2008); San Joaquin Valley, California, Images of America (1999). 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.