June 1, 1860 – First Book about Oil published –

Less than 10 months after Edwin L. Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania, Thomas A. Gale published an 80-page pamphlet many regard as the first book about America’s petroleum resources. The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere described the advantages of the new fuel source for kerosene lamps.

Cover of Rock Oil, the first oil book

“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. Only three original copies were known to exist in 1952, when Ethyl Corporation of New York republished The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century. Learn more in First Oil Book of 1860.

June 1, 1909 – Secret Test of Revolutionary Drill Bit

A drilling crew secretly tested a dual-cone roller rock bit at Goose Creek near Galveston Bay, Texas. “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,” noted Gwen Wright in a 2006 episode of History Detectives. The coned, roller bit would soon make traditional rotary fishtail bits obsolete.

“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,” the PBS show explained. Hughes and partner R. Carlton “Carl” Baker formed Baker Hughes Tools Company.

June 1, 1940 – Dallas Artist depicts Life in Texas Oilfields

oil paintings of Texas oilfields by Jerry Bywaters

Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989) painted Oil Field Girls and the Oil Rig Workers in 1940. According to the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas, Bywaters’ Oil Field Girls, “is a work of incredible moral complexity.”

Artist Jerry Bywaters of Paris, Texas, exhibited his newly painted Oil Field Girls in the Fine Arts Palace of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. The 1940 painting of two young women in a West Texas oilfield and its companion piece, Oil Rig Workers (Roughnecks), would become among his best known works.

Bywaters was a member of the Dallas Nine, a group of young painters in the 1930s, “who helped establish a regional artistic identity for Texas art,” according to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, which acquired Oil Field Girls in 1984. Also see Oil in Art.

June 3, 1979 – Bay of Campeche Oil Spill

Drilling in about 150 of water, the semi-submersible rig Sedco 135 suffered a devastating blowout 50 miles off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. The state-owned company Pemex well spilled 3.4 million barrels of oil before being brought under control nine months later. Considering the size of the spill, its environmental impact was limited, according to a 1981 report by the Coordinated Program of Ecological Studies in the Bay of Campeche. “Nature played the biggest role in attacking the slicks as they floated across the Gulf. Ultraviolet light broke down the oil as it crept toward land. So did oil-eating microorganisms. Hot temperatures spurred evaporation.”

June 4, 1872 – Pennsylvania Oilfields bring Petroleum Jelly

A young chemist living in New York City, Robert Chesebrough, patented “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he named “Vaseline.” His patent proclaimed the virtues of this purified extract of petroleum distillation residue as a lubricant, hair treatment, and balm for chapped hands.

Antique jar of Vaseline

Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96 years old. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum and Park.

Earlier, when the 22-year-old chemist visited the new Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865, he had noted that drilling was often confounded by a waxy paraffin-like substance that clogged the wellhead. The only virtue of this “rod wax” was as a quick first aid for the abrasions of drilling crews.

Chesebrough returned to New York City, where he began working in his laboratory to purify the oil well goop, which he first dubbed “petroleum jelly.” Female customers would discover that mixing lamp black with Vaseline made an impromptu mascara. In 1913, Mabel Williams employed just such a concoction, and it would lead to the founding of a major cosmetic company. Learn more in The Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

June 4, 1892 – Flood and Fire devastate Pennsylvania Oil Region

Photo of great fire and flood of Titsville, PA

Titusville, Pennsylvania, residents used the “Colonel Drake Steam Pumper” during the great flood and fire of 1892. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

After weeks of heavy rain in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek Valley, a dam on Oil Creek burst, sending torrents of water that killed more than 100 people and destroyed homes and businesses in Titusville and Oil City. The disaster was compounded when fires broke out. “This city during the past twenty-four hours has been visited by one of the most appalling fires and overwhelming floods in the history of this country,” reported the New York Times. Oilfield photographer John Mather, whose studio and 16,000 glass-plate negatives were destroyed, documented the devastation.

June 4, 1896 – Henry Ford test drives “Quadricycle”

Driving the first car he ever built, Henry Ford left a workshop behind his home on Bagley Avenue in Detroit. He had designed his 500-pound “Quadricycle” in his spare time while working as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company. He chose the name because his hand-built “horseless carriage” ran on four bicycle tires. Inspired by advancements in gasoline-fueled engines, he founded the Henry Ford Company in 1903. Also see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

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June 4, 1921 – First Petroleum Seismograph tested

On a farm three miles north of Oklahoma City, a team of scientists tested a seismograph machine and determined it could reveal subsurface structures. Led by Prof. John C. Karcher and W.P. Haseman, the group from the University of Oklahoma proved that reflection seismology could be a useful aid for oil and natural gas exploration. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

June 6, 1932 – First Federal Gasoline Tax

The United States government taxed gasoline for the first time when the Revenue Act of 1932 added a one-cent per gallon excise tax to gas sales. By 1993, the tax was raised to $18.4 cents, where it remains today. About 60 percent of federal gas taxes are used for highway and bridge construction. The first state to tax gasoline was Oregon (one cent per gallon in February 1919), followed by Colorado, New Mexico and other states.

June 6, 1944 – Secret English Channel Operations fuel WWII Victory

The D-Day invasion began along 50 miles of fortified French coastline in Normandy. The logistics of supplying the beaches included two top-secret engineering triumphs: construction of artificial harbors followed by the laying pipelines across the English Channel.

PLUTO's spooled tubing will cross the English Channel

Operation PLUTO’s spooled tubing will cross the English Channel to fuel Allied victory in WWII.

Code-named “Mulberrys” and using a design similar to today’s jack-up offshore rigs, the artificial harbors used barges with retractable pylons to provide platforms to support floating causeways extending to the beaches.

To fuel the Allied advance into Nazi Germany, Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) used flexible steel pipelines wound onto giant floating “Conundrums” designed to spool off when towed. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower later acknowledged the significance of the oil pipelines engineering feat. Learn more in PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II.

June 6, 1976 – Oil Billionaire J. Paul Getty dies

With a fortune as high as $4 billion, J. Paul Getty died at 83 at his country estate near London. Born into his father’s oil wealth from the Oil Company of Tulsa, Getty made his first million in oil leasing by the time he was 23.

“I started in September 1914, to buy leases in the so-called red-beds area of Oklahoma,” Getty told the New York Times. “The surface was red dirt and it was considered impossible there was any oil there. My father and I did not agree and we got many leases for very little money which later turned out to be rich leases.”

Getty left more than $661 million of his estate to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.


Recommended Reading: The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere (1952). Code Name MULBERRY: The Planning Building and Operation of the Normandy Harbours (1977);  The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010); Around Titusville, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2004); The Great Getty (1986). 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 preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.


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