May 20, 1930 – Geophysicists found Professional Society

petroleum history may 16

The Doodlebugger by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia has welcomed visitors to SEG headquarters since 2002.

The Society of Economic Geophysicists was founded in Houston. The society adopted the name Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 1937 and today fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”

SEG’s journal Geophysics appeared in 1936 with articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The journal once warned young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” 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 dedicated in 1991 in the United Kingdom (see Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest). SEG today has 20,000 members in 128 countries.

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

may petroleum history

Exxon would replaced the U.S. Esso brand in 1973.

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey first 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.” The phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” – Standard Oil – became a registered trademarked in 1923, and a young Theodore Geisell began drawing Essolube product ads in the 1930s (learn more in Seuss I am, an Oilman).

May 23, 1905 – Patent issued for Improved Metal Barrel

Henry Wehrhahn of Brooklyn, NY, patented a ribbed metal barrel design “durable in construction and effective in operation.” His invention, which presaged the modern 55-gallon oil drum, allowed a lid to be “readily secured to and detached from the body of the barrel, and so constructed and arranged as to protect the locking mechanism of the head and permit the barrel when desired to stand on the end.” Wehrhan assigned his patent to Iron Clad Manufacturing Company, founded by Robert Seaman, husband of journalist Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (see the Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum).

May 23, 1937 – Oil Tycoon John D. Rockefeller Dies

petroleum history may 23

Rockefeller at age 87. Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University.

Almost 70 years after founding the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio, (where he attended high school from 1853 to 1855), John D. Rockefeller died at age 97 in Florida, 40 years after retiring from his company.

Born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller formed his own company in 1859 – the same year of the first American oil well. In 1865, he took control of his first refinery, which would be the largest in the world within three years. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars by the time his fortune peaked at almost $900 million in 1912 ($21.3 billion in today’s dollars).

May 24, 1902 – Earliest Oil & Gas Journal published

petroleum history may

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

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.

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 also increased its publication frequency to weekly, and expanded coverage to all petroleum industry operations, including exploration and production.

The Tulsa-based PennWell Corporation, which currently publishes the Oil & Gas Journal, was acquired in 2018 by Clarion Events, headquartered in the United Kingdom, today owned by funds managed by the investment firm Blackstone. 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

petroleum history may 23

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.

The Huntington Beach oilfield was discovered in California by the Standard Oil Company. 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.

“The unscrupulous promotion of stock selling enterprises, without the necessary acreage or working capital to insure a reasonable return on investments, caused the withdrawal of considerable public support from the normally necessary function of wildcat drilling,” noted a 1922 report from the California State Mining Bureau.

Huntington Beach produced more than 16 million barrels of oil in 1964, according to the Orange County Register. “But 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

petroleum history may 23

Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin will lead to Crayola crayons in 1903.

Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith received an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.” Their refining process used petroleum to produce a fine, intensely black soot-like substance – a better pigment than any other in use at the time.

The booming Pennsylvania oil  industry supplied the feedstock for the Easton-based Binney & Smith Company’s carbon black – which won an award for its quality at the 1900 Paris Exposition. More innovations followed. The company mixed carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker. It was promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named “Staonal,” which is still sold.

Today known as the Crayola company, Binney & Smith produced its first box of eight crayons (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black) in 1903. Learn more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

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

petroleum may 23

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.


petroleum may 23

During its “dawn to dusk” record-breaking run, the Zephyr burned only $16.72 worth of diesel fuel.

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.

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. Learn more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.


Recommended Reading: 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).



Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Share This