May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well – 

Virginia’s oil industry began about one year before the Civil War when John Castelli ”Cass” Rathbone (1858-1948) completed an oil well near Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia. The Rathbone well reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day.

Rathbone drilled more wells in the valley of the Little Kanawha River southwest of Parkersburg. It was the first petroleum boom to take place outside the Pennsylvania oilfields, revealed by the first U.S. well at Titusville a year earlier.

Oil Country Scene, an 1869 post card of West Virginia oil derricks.

Following the 1860 oil discovery at Burning Springs, Appalachian drillers applied cable-tool technologies to drill deeper. Circa 1870 photo courtesy West Virginia Humanities Council.

By the end of 1860, the “Burning Springs Oil Rush” resulted in more than 600 oil leases registered in the Wirt County courthouse. Warehouses were built along the Little Kanawha River, which reached the Ohio River at Parkersburg.

“These events truly mark the beginnings of the oil and gas industry in the United States,” noted West Virginia historian David McKain in 1994, adding that the region’s sudden oil wealth helped bring about statehood in June 1863. Many of the new state’s early politicians were “oil men — governor, senator and congressman — who had made their fortunes at Burning Springs.”

Visit the West Virginia oil and gas museum in downtown Parkersburg.

May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair founds Sinclair Oil & Refining

Harry Ford Sinclair brought together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases — all acquired at bargain prices. He began with $50 million in assets and borrowed another $20 million to form Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation.

Major oil company founder Harry Ford Sinclair seen on the U.S. Capitol steps in January 1923.

Major oil company founder Harry Ford Sinclair on the U.S. Capitol steps in January 1923. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produced six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million. The company’s petroleum refining capacity grew to 150,000 barrels of oil a day in 1932.

Sinclair was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal, which led to the 1929 conviction of Interior Secretary Albert Fall, but his company went on to become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry. The marketing icon Sinclair Oil dinosaur appeared as an exhibit at the 1933-1934 World’s Fair in Chicago. Sinclair died on November 10, 1956 at age 80.

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May 1, 1931 – Railroad Commission limits East Texas Oil Production

The first proration order from the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) for the giant East Texas oilfield took effect after excessive production following the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well one year earlier caused an oil price collapse. With  hundreds of wells producing almost one million barrels per day, oil prices had fallen to as low as 10 cents a barrel. The commission’s order — unpopular with independent producers but enforced by Texas Rangers — limited production and stabilized prices.

May 1, 2001 – Oklahoma Plaza honors Oil Pioneers

The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza was dedicated at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. Thomas B. Slick, who discovered Oklahoma’s giant Cushing oilfield in 1912, is among those honored.

Thomas B. Slick is among those honored at the Conoco Oil Pioneers outdoor plaza at the Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Thomas B. Slick relief at Conoco Oil Pioneers outdoor plaza at the Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

“The history of the state of Oklahoma is inextricably linked with the remarkable history of the oil industry,” proclaimed Conoco Chairman Archie Dunham. “The individuals identified here are true Oklahoma oil pioneers in that their endeavors were most significant in the development of the oil and gas industry in this very young state.”

Learn more in Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters,

May 2, 1921 – Oil discovered in Texas Panhandle

Following a series of discoveries revealing the giant Hugoton natural gas field in the Texas Panhandle, a well drilled in Carson County found an oilfield instead. Gulf Oil Company completed its wildcat well on the 6666 (the “Four Sixes”) Ranch of S.B. Burnett several miles east of the natural gas wells. The discovery attracted major exploration and oilfield service companies to Amarillo. In 1926, a large oilfield was discovered to the northeast by Asa Phillip “Ace” Borger, who founded the oil boom town of Borger.

Learn more by visiting the Hutchinson County Historical Museum.

May 3, 1870 – Lantern with Two Spouts patented

Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, received a patent for his “safety derrick lamp” — a two-wicked lantern that would become known as the “Yellow Dog” in America’s earliest oilfields. Dillen designed his device “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places.”

1870 patent drawing of two-wicked oil derrick safety lantern.

Patented in 1870, a two-wicked oil derrick lamp would become known as the “yellow dog.”

“My improved lamp is intended to burn crude petroleum as it comes from the wells fresh and gassy,” he added. How the once widely used lamp got its name has remained a mystery, but some say the two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night.

Learn more in Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

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May 4, 1869 – Offshore Drilling Platform Design patented

The first U.S. patent for an offshore drilling rig was issued to Thomas Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.” His remarkably advanced platform included a fixed, working platform for drilling in a water depth of up to 50 feet.

May 1869 offshore drilling rig patent drawing by Thomas Rowland.

Although never constructed, Thomas Rowland’s 1869 offshore drilling platform with telescoping legs was ahead of its time.

Rowland’s anchored, four-legged tower concept would be adapted for modern platforms. His Continental Iron Works also became a world leader in gas fittings, welding, and oil tank design and construction. The American Society of Civil Engineers in 1882 issued its first Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize. which is still annually awarded.

Learn more in Offshore Rig Patent.

May 5, 1889 – Construction begins on Largest U.S. Refinery

Near Chicago, on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Standard Oil Company began construction of a 235-acre refinery complex using advanced processes. A newly patented technology would allow the Whiting, Indiana, refinery to process sulfurous “sour crude” from Lima, Ohio, oilfields. The oil would be transported on company-controlled railroads. The giant refinery (today operated by BP) originally produced high-quality kerosene for lamps.

Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

May 5, 1907 – A Marker to North Texas Petroleum History

East of Wichita Falls, Texas, near Oil City (today Petrolia), the Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company completed its Lochridge No.1 well, which revealed an oilfield. A granite marker credits the discovery to local rancher J.W. Lochridge, who drilled for water but instead found the prolific Henrietta-Petrolia field.

Clayco Oil & Pipeline stone marker on Texas Highway 148 just south of Petrolia.

The Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company marker (unregistered with the Texas Historical Commission) stands beside Texas Highway 148 south of Petrolia.

According to a 2016 article in North Texas Farm & Ranch, “Lochridge was disappointed because he needed water for his livestock. He found a use for the oil, using it in his dipping vats to rid his cattle of parasites.”

The Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company marker also proclaims the first commercial natural gas well in Texas and acknowledges Lone Star Gas Company for constructing the first large-diameter natural gas pipeline to Dallas in 1920.

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May 7, 1920 – Halliburton founds Well Cementing Company in Oklahoma

As mid-continent oilfields continued to grow, Erle Palmer Halliburton founded the Halliburton Company as an oilfield well service and cementing company. The Wilson, Oklahoma, venture succeeded Halliburton’s New Method Oil Cementing Company, formed a year earlier during the Burkburnett oil boom in North Texas.

Erle P. Halliburton statue in Duncan, Oklahoma.

An Erle P. Halliburton statue was dedicated in 1993 in Duncan, Oklahoma.

In 1922, Halliburton patented an innovative “jet-cement” mixer that increased the speed and quality of the mixing process. By the end of the year, 17 Halliburton trucks were cementing wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Cement injection protects the well casing, seals off water formations from the oil, and minimizes the danger of blowouts.

The company introduced cement pumps powered by truck motors (instead of steam from the rig boiler) and a device that allowed testing of a formation without setting casing. Halliburton was the first to offer self-contained cementing units operating under their own power. More advances in cementing technology followed.

Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.


Recommended Reading: Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); “King of the Wildcatters:” The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930 (2004). The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); Erle P. Halliburton: Genius with Cement (1959); 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. 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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