May 23, 1937 – John D. Rockefeller Dies

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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 in 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

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Norman Rockwell 1962 ad courtesy of PennWell Publishing.

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 for John D. Rockefeller and the publisher of the Oil City (Pennsylvania) Derrick newspaper renamed his newly purchased magazine the Oil & Gas Journal. He increased its publication frequency to weekly, and expanded coverage to all petroleum industry operations, including exploration and production.

In 1962, illustrator Norman Rockwell illustrated an advertisement for the Oil and Gas Journal. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based PennWell Corporation currently publishes the magazine. The Derrick newspaper continues to be printed in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Once known as ”the Organ of Oil,” it has been published by the Boyle family since 1885.

May 24, 1920 – Oil discovered South of Los Angeles

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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’s Huntington A-1 well. The beach town’s population gew 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

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

It was a petroleum product that added color to childhood. Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith received an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.” Their 1891 refining process used petroleum to produce a fine, soot-like substance intensely black – 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 in 1903 (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black). Learn more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

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

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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.

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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.

May 27, 1933 – Sinclair Dinosaur Debut

Sinclair Oil’s Brontosaurus (today known as Apatosaurus) first appeared at Chicago’s Century of Progress International Exposition. “Dino” and prehistoric dinosaur companions proved popular and attracted crowds again at the 1936 Texas Centennial Expo and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A refurbished Dino returned for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Established in 1916, Sinclair Oil is among the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry. Learn more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

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

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In 1958, the University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus, where it stands today. The student newspaper once described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”

It took 646 days of difficult cable-tool drilling before U.S. petroleum history was made in West Texas on May 28, 1923.

Near Big Lake, on the surrounding arid land once thought to be worthless, the Santa Rita No. 1 well struck oil, discovered a giant oilfield – and helped reveal the Permian Basin. Until then, experts had considered West Texas barren of oil.

Discovered after 21 months of drilling that averaged less than five feet a day, the Santa Rita – named for the patron saint of the impossible – will produce for seven decades.

Within three years of the discovery by Texon Oil and Land Company, petroleum royalties endowed the University of Texas with $4 million. In 1999, Santa Rita No. 1 is named “Oil Well of the Century” by Texas Monthly. Learn more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.


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 calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.