May 23, 1905 – Patent issued for Improved Metal Barrel Lid – 

Henry Wehrhahn, superintendent for the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company of Brooklyn, New York, received the first of two 1905 patents that presaged the modern 55-gallon oil drum. The first design included a metal barrel with “a means for readily detaching and securing the head of a metal barrel.”

Wehrhahn assigned his patent rights to the widow of Robert Seaman, founder of Iron Clad Manufacturing —  Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, journalist Nellie Bly. In December 1905, Wehrhahn also assigned her the rights to his improved metal barrel patent (see Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum).

May 23, 1937 – Death of World’s Richest Man

Almost 70 years after founding Standard Oil Company in Ohio and 40 years after retiring from the company in 1897, John D. Rockefeller died in Ormond Beach, Florida, at age 97. His petroleum empire had peaked in 1912.

Born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller attended high school in Cleveland, Ohio, from 1853 to 1855. He became an assistant bookkeeper with a produce shipping company before forming his own company in 1859 — the same year of the first U.S. oil well in Pennsylvania. Rockefeller was 24 in 1865 when he took control of his first refinery, which would be the largest in the world three years later.

John D. Rockefeller, circa 1935.

John Rockefeller, 1839-1937. Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University.

By the time his petroleum fortune peaked at $900 million in 1912 ($28.14 billion in 2023 dollars), Rockefeller’s philanthropy was well known. His unprecedented wealth funded the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, (now the Rockefeller Foundation), and Spelman College in Atlanta.

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May 24, 1902 – Oil & Gas Journal published

Holland Reavis founded the Oil Investors’ Journal In Beaumont, Texas. Early articles focused on financial issues facing operators and investors in the booming oilfield discovered the year before by the “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill.

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Norman Rockwell illustrated a 1962 ad promoting the Oil and Gas Journal.

In 1910, Patrick Boyle acquired the Oil Investors’ Journal. The former oilfield scout and publisher of the Oil City (Pennsylvania) Derrick newspaper renamed his newly purchased magazine the Oil & Gas Journal. Boyle changed it to a weekly and expanded coverage to all petroleum industry operations.

The Derrick newspaper continues to be printed in Oil City, where it has been published by the Boyle family since 1885.

May 24, 1920 – Huntington Beach Oilfield discovered in California

A Standard Oil Company well discovered the Huntington Beach oilfield. The beach town’s population grew from 1,500 to 5,000 within a month of the well drilled near Clay Avenue and Golden West Street. By November 1921 the field had 59 producing wells with daily production of 16,500 barrels of oil. Development activities and speculators drew national attention to this expansion of the Los Angeles oilfield.

Rows of oil derrick stretch into the distance on Huntington Beach, California, in 1926.

Pictured here in 1926, the Huntington Beach field will produce more than one billion barrels of oil by 2000. Discovery Well Park today includes six acres with playgrounds. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

Huntington Beach produced more than 16 million barrels of oil in 1964, according to a 1991 article in the Orange County Register, which added that as oil production peaked, “the pressure of explosive population growth began pushing the wells off land that had become more valuable as sites for housing.”

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons

Crayola crayons began when Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith received a patent for their “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.” Their refining process produced a fine, intensely black soot-like substance — a pigment far better than any other at the time.

Petroleum product STAONAL, black marker crayons.

Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin in 1903 led to Crayola crayons and its classic marking product, Staonal. Photo courtesy Crayola.

The company mixed carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker promoted as able to “stay on all” and accordingly named Staonal. In 1903, Binney & Smith Company began producing Crayola crayons in small batches of hand-mixed pigments and paraffin. The box included eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black.

Learn more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

May 26, 1934 – Diesel-Electric Power sets Speed Record

A new diesel-electric “streamliner,” the Burlington Zephyr, pulled into Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition after a nonstop 13 hour “dawn to dusk” run from Denver. The trip cut traditional steam locomotive times by half.

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Chicago World’s Fair visitors admire the stainless steel Burlington Zephyr, which helped save America’s railroad passenger industry. Two-stroke diesel-electric engines provided a four-fold power to weight gain. Photo from a Burlington Route Railroad 1934 postcard.

Powered by a single, eight-cylinder diesel engine, the passenger train traveled 1,015 miles on its record-breaking run. The Zephyr burned just $16.72 worth of diesel fuel. The same distance for a coal-burning train would have cost $255. It had been just 60 years since steam locomotives and the transcontinental railroad linked America’s coasts.

Newspaper 1934 headline of record setting Zephyr train.

Zephyr’s engine used only $16.72 in diesel fuel.

The new diesel-electric engine technology had resulted from the U.S. Navy seeking a lighter weight, more powerful engine for its submarine fleet.

Learn more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.

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May 27, 1893 – Oklahoma Historical Society founded

Fourteen years before Oklahoma became a state, the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) was organized during the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Territorial Press Association in Kingfisher. It was founded to collect and distribute newspapers published in the territory. The society began preserving historic homes and military sites while administering community museums, including the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

May 27, 1933 – Sinclair Dinosaur Debut at Chicago World’s Fair

Sinclair Oil’s Brontosaurus (more correctly, Apatosaurus) appeared for the first time during the 1933-1934 Century of Progress International Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Founded in 1916 as Sinclair Oil and Refining Company by Harry Sinclair, the company use dinosaurs to create hugely successful national marketing campaigns.

First Sinclair Brontosaurus at Chicago 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

The first Sinclair “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago during the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

“Dino” and his prehistoric companions proved so popular the company recreated its dinosaurs for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Refurbished, Sinclair Oil’s green giant returned to New York for another world’s fair in 1964-65 before touring shopping malls across America.

Learn more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

May 28, 1923 – “Oil Well of the Century” taps Permian Basin in West Texas

It took 646 days of difficult cable-tool drilling before a well near Big Lake, Texas, proved there was oil on University of Texas land in the Permian Basin. The arid region in Reagan County was once thought to be worthless, but the Santa Rita No. 1 well discovered an oilfield that helped reveal the Permian Basin’s vast petroleum potential.

Santa Rita oil well walking beam equipment exhibit at University of Texas campus.

The University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus in 1958. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Named for the patron saint of the impossible, the Santa Rita well produced oil for the next seven decades, and the University of Texas received $4 million in royalties within three years of the discovery by Texon Oil and Land Company. The student newspaper described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

Texas Monthly in 1999 proclaimed Santa Rita No. 1, the “Oil Well of the Century.”

Learn more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.


Recommended Reading: Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist (1994); Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (2004);  Huntington Beach, California, Postcard History Series (2009); Crayola Creators: Edward Binney and C. Harold Smith, Toy Trailblazers (2016); Burlington’s Zephyrs, Great Passenger Trains (2004); Santa Rita: The University of Texas Oil Discovery (1958). 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 annual AOGHS 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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