This Week in Petroleum History, May 21 – 27
May 23, 1937 – Oil Tycoon John D. Rockefeller Dies
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
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. 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 April 2018 by worldwide events organizer Clarion Events, headquartered in the United Kingdom. Clarion Events is owned by funds managed by the investment firm Blackstone.
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 – Huntington Beach Oilfield discovered South of Los Angeles
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
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
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, 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. Initially founded to collect and distribute newspapers published in the territory, OHS was declared a government agency in 1895.
Today’s society, which has published the scholarly journal Chronicles of Oklahoma since 1921, administers more than a dozen historic homes, military sites, and museums, including the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. OHS also operates the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office, which manages federal preservation programs under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
In addition to preserving historic buildings and other Oklahoma sites (and posting historic markers), OHS preserves “more than nine million photographs, more than one million pages of historical documents and manuscripts, 3,000 oral histories, historic film and video collections, and more than 4,400 titles of newspapers on available microfilm.”
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); Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Review of Inception and Progress; Accessions and Donors, Historic Papers (2017).
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