May 15, 1911 – Supreme Court mandates Break Up of Standard Oil – 

After reviewing 12,000 pages of court documents, the Supreme Court issued its majority opinion mandating dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey into 34 separate companies. The Justice Department had filed an antitrust lawsuit against Standard Oil in 1909. The Supreme Court’s ruling upheld a circuit court decision that Standard Oil’s practices violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. The company was given six months to spin off its subsidiaries.

May 15, 1940 — Nylon Stockings Go on Sale

One year after being unveiled at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, nylon stockings went on sale for the first time at Gimbels Department Store in Midtown Manhattan. Promoted as “strong as steel, as fine as spiderweb,” first-year sales reached about 64 million pairs at $1.35 each for the DuPont Company petroleum product, according to ABC News. “Women’s love affair with nylon stockings has had a long run,” the network proclaimed in 2010.  Nylon had been used for toothbrush bristles for “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” as early as February 1938 (see Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer).

May 16, 1817 – U.S. Geology Described and Mapped

Scottish American geologist William Maclure presented his detailed study of U.S. geology to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He would be named president of the Academy, a post he would hold for 22 years, and become known as the “father of American Geology.”

An 1818 geological map  of the United States by William Maclure.

An 1818 map by William Maclure provided a more detailed version of a geological map he published in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton Library.

The American Philosophical Society published Maclure’s work in 1818 as “Observations on the Geology of the United States of North America; With Remarks on the Probable Effects That May Be Produced by the Decomposition of the Different Classes of Rocks on the Nature and Fertility of Soils: Applied to the Different States of the Union, Agreeably to the Accompanying Geological Map,” which today can be found at the digital library JSTOR

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May 16, 1934 – National Stripper Well Association established

The National Stripper Well Association (NSWA) organized in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to represent operators of stripper wells — marginal wells that produce less than 15 barrels of oil a day or less than 90 thousand cubic feet of natural gas a day. NSWA estimated in 2022 that of 760,000 U.S. stripper wells, about 400,000 were oil wells and 360,000 natural gas wells. Low production wells made up about 7.8 percent of all oil and natural gas produced domestically, according to the association.

May 16, 1961 – Museum opens over Natural Gas Field 

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened above a giant natural gas producing area that extended 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. The small museum in Hugoton today educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America — the Hugoton field. A gas well drilled in 1945 still produces at the museum.

Natural gas museum and exhibits in Hugoton, Kansas.

A small Stevens County natural gas museum in Hugoton, Kansas, preserves the history of a gas field that extends into two other states.

Although the giant Hugoton field’s once dominant natural gas production gave way to new gas shale regions, including production from Fayetteville, Arkansas, (2004) and Haynesville, Louisiana (2008), the Hugoton-Panhandle gas continues to be the world’s largest source of helium.

Learn more in Hugoton Natural Gas Museum.

May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well Production revealed

The true oil production of a closely guarded discovery well in the Warren County, Pennsylvania, township of Cherry Grove was revealed at 1,000 barrels of oil a day. News about Jamestown Oil Company’s “Mystery Well” sent shock waves through petroleum market centers.

“The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” noted Paul H. Giddens in his 1938 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”

Wooden derrick at the 646 Mystery Well at Cherry Grove, PA.

In 2007, Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania, oil patch volunteers rebuilt a derrick to celebrate their historic 1882 Mystery Well.

Although the Cherry Grove discovery demoralized the market and drove oil prices down to less than 50 cents per barrel, hundreds of derricks appeared around Cherry Grove and thousands of people moved there while the boom lasted. It was short lived, according to volunteers of Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which has kept the “Oil Excitement” alive with special events.

Learn more in Cherry Grove Mystery Well.

May 17, 1901 – Gulf Oil begins at Spindletop Hill

James M. Guffey organized Guffey Petroleum Company to buy the famous “Lucas Gusher” well drilled the previous January at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas. Guffey purchased about half of the well’s high-volume oil production (the Mellon family of Pittsburgh owned the remainder). Guffey created Gulf Refining Company to refine and market the oil produced by Guffey Petroleum. In 1907, Andrew Mellon would acquire the J.M. Guffey Petroleum and Gulf Refining companies of Texas and reorganize the ventures as Gulf Oil.

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May 17, 1973 – Last Nuclear fracking of Natural Gas Well

Atomic Energy Commission scientists conducted the last experiment of the Plowshare Program with a nearly simultaneous detonation of three 33-kiloton devices in a Colorado natural gas well. Project Rio Blanco was the third and final underground detonation to test nuclear fracturing of gas wells.

The first had been Project Gasbuggy in 1967, when a 29-kiloton nuclear device fractured a New Mexico well. A second experiment, Project Rulison, detonated a 40-kiloton device in a Colorado well in 1969. All three projects improved production, but the natural gas proved too radioactive.

May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield discovered in Ohio

Ohio’s petroleum industry began when Benjamin C. Faurot found oil at Lima in the northwestern part of the state. He had been searching for natural gas in the prolific Trenton Rock Limestone (see Indiana Natural Gas Boom).  “If the well turns out, as it looks now that it will, look out for the biggest boom Lima ever had,” proclaimed Lima’s Daily Republican newspaper.

Circa 1909 oil gusher post card promoting Lima, Ohio, Oilfields.

A circa 1909 post card promoting the petroleum prosperity of Lima, Ohio.

Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company, and by 1886 the Lima oilfield was producing more than 20 million barrels of oil, the most in the nation. The Lima field’s heavy oil needed special refining, and Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in 1889 began construction on the Whiting refinery.

Learn more in Great Oil Boom of Lima, Ohio.

May 19, 1942 – Oklahoma Inventor patents Portable Drilling Rig

A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George E. Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, received a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed. “I designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing noted in his patent.

In 1931, he had mounted a rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, “adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Failing would receive more than 300 patents for oilfield tools, “from rock bit cores to an apparatus for seismic surveying.”

George Failing portable drilling rig patent drawing.

George Failing’s drilling rig — powered by its truck’s engine — will prove ideal for slanted wells.

Failing’s portable rig could drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional steam-powered rotary rig took about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth. He demonstrated his portable drilling technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, working with H. John Eastman, today considered the father of directional drilling.

Learn more in Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”

May 20, 1930 – Geophysicists establish Professional Society

Earth scientists in Houston established the Society of Economic Geophysicists to encourage the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources. In 1937, the society adopted the name Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), which today reports 14,000 members in 114 countries.

Doodlebugger statue by sculptor Jay O'Melia at SEG headquarters in Tulsa.

The “Doodlebugger” by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia has welcomed visitors to SEG headquarters since 2002. Photo by Bruce Wells.

SEG’s journal Geophysics appeared in 1936 with articles featuring the latest petroleum prospecting methods — seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The journal also warned about fraudulent methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals, or geological formations.

The Doodlebugger, a 10-foot bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia, was unveiled in SEG’s Tulsa headquarters in 2002. O’Melia also sculpted the “Oil Patch Warrior,” a World War II memorial (see Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest).

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May 21, 1923 – “Esso” first used by Standard Oil Company

For the first time, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey used “Esso” to market the company’s “refined, semi-refined, and unrefined oils made from petroleum, both with and without admixture of animal, vegetable, or mineral oils, for illuminating, burning, power, fuel, and lubricating purposes, and greases.”

Esso gas station logo 1923 to 1926.

Standard Oil of New Jersey’s logo from 1923 to 1934, when the text became much plainer and inside an ellipse. 

In 1923, Esso  — the phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” for Standard Oil — became a registered trademark. The future children’s book author, Theodore Geisell, began drawing Essolube product ads in the 1930s. Exxon (now ExxonMobil) removed its U.S. Esso brand in 1973.


Recommended Reading: Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1938); Ohio Oil and Gas, Images of America (2008); Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America (2012); Standard Oil Company: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Famous Monopoly (2016). 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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