This Week in Petroleum History, May 27- June 2
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. Today, the society administers historic homes, military sites, and community museums, including the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.
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 petroleum potential.
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.” The Santa Rita No. 1 well was named “Oil Well of the Century” in 1999 by Texas Monthly. Learn more in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.
May 29, 1940 – Nebraska’s First Oil Well
After more than a half century of dry holes, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well was completed near Falls City in the far southeastern corner of the state. Eager to join other states benefiting from revenue gained from petroleum production, Nebraska lawmakers had offered a $15,000 bonus for the first well to produce 50 barrels of oil daily for two months. Pawnee Royalty Company completed the Bucholz No. 1 discovery well with production of about 170 barrels of oil a day in its first 60 days. The well was about five miles east of a “vein of petroleum” first reported by geologists in 1883.
May 30, 1911 – First Indianapolis 500
The first Indianapolis 500 began with 40 cars; only 12 finished the 1911 test of endurance and automotive technology. The winner averaged almost 75 mph after about about seven hours of racing.
All the cars – except the winning No. 32 Marmon Wasp – had two seats. Most drivers traveled with “riding mechanics,” who manually pumped oil. Ray Harroun, driver of the winning Wasp, would also develop a kerosene carburetor. “Let the fuel people fight it out amongst themselves, I’ll have a car soon that will burn anything they send,” he declared.
Created to showcase the new sport of automobile racing, early races emphasized engine endurance. Gasoline powered fewer than 1,000 of the 4,200 U.S. cars sold just a decade before the first Indy 500. Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show. Also learn about the natural gas fueled motor of the 1970’s Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.
May 30, 1987 – Million Barrel Museum opens in Monahans, Texas
The Million Barrel Museum opened on a 14.5-acre site in Monahans, Texas. The museum’s main attraction is a large elliptical oil storage tank built in 1928 to store Permian Basin oil.
The experimental concrete tank – 525 feet by 422 feet – was designed to hold more than a million barrels of oil. The highly productive West Texas region lacked oil pipelines. The tank’s 30 foot earthen walls sloped at a 45-degree angle and were covered in concrete. It included a roof made of California redwood. But repeated efforts could not stop oil from leaking at seams. Shell eventually abandoned the giant structure, which would be patched to briefly become a water park in the 1950s – until it leaked again.
June 1, 1860 – First Book about Oil published
Less than a year after Edwin Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well at Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Thomas A. Gale published an 80-page pamphlet many historians regard as the first book about America’s petroleum resources. Rock Oil, in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere described a radical new fuel source for lamps.
“Those who have not seen it burn, may rest assured its light is no moonshine; but something nearer the clear, strong, brilliant light of day,” Gale declared in his pamphlet, which sold for 25 cents. “In other words, rock oil emits a dainty light; the brightest and yet the cheapest in the world; a light fit for Kings and Royalists, and not unsuitable for Republicans and Democrats.”
Published by Sloan & Griffith of Erie, Pennsylvania, the pamphlet’s cover noted the author as “a resident of Oil Creek” and included a biblical quote: “The Rock poured me out rivers of oil.” (Job, 29:6).
June 1, 1940 – Dallas Artist depicts Texas Oilfields
Artist Jerry Bywaters of Paris, Texas, exhibited his newly completed Oil Field Girls in the Fine Arts Palace of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. The 1940 painting of two young women framed in the booming West Texas oilfields would become one of Bywaters’ best known works.
Almost 70 artists, including famed Mexican painter Diego Rivera, participated in the “Art in Action” exhibition. Oil Field Girls would move on to the Dallas Museum of Art and eventually into the collection of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas. Bywater’s oil-on-board painting’s companion piece, Oil Rig Workers (Roughnecks), was also painted in 1940. Learn more in Oil in Art.
June 1, 1909 – Howard Hughes Sr. Secretly tests Dual-Cone Drill Bit
Drilling near Goose Creek, Texas, Howard Hughes Sr. demonstrated his new creation – a dual-cone roller rock bit. The technological advancement would soon bring faster and deeper drilling worldwide, helping to find previously unreachable oil and natural gas reserves.
“In the early morning hours of June 1, 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. packed a secret invention into the trunk of his car and drove off into the Texas plains,” notes Gwen Wright of History Detectives. The drilling site was near Galveston Bay. Rotary drilling “fishtail ” bits of the time were “nearly worthless when they hit hard rock.”
The innovation of the Hughes dual-cone bit created many Texas millionaires, explained Don Clutterbuck, one of the PBS show’s sources. “When the Hughes twin-cones hit hard rock, they kept turning, their dozens of sharp teeth (166 on each cone) grinding through the hard stone,” he added. Hughes would team with R. Carlton “Carl” Baker. Learn more about early drilling technologies in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
Recommended Reading: Chronicles of an Oil Boom: Unlocking the Permian Basin (2014); Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 (2012); Rock Oil, The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere (1860); Blanton Museum of Art: Through the Eyes of Texas, Masterworks from Alumni Collections (1900).
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