This Week in Petroleum History, October 29 to November 4
October 30, 1894 – “Golden Rule” Jones patents a Better Sucker Rod
Samuel Jones patented a sucker rod design for his Acme Sucker Rod Company, which he had founded in 1892 in Toledo, Ohio. With his “Coupling for Pipes or Rods,” Jones applied his oilfield experience in mechanics to solve the frequent and time-consuming problem of broken sucker rods. His sucker rod would soon make him a millionaire.
Jones had worked in Pennsylvania’s oil region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer. He became known as “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio by creating a better workplace for employees at his factory, where he shortened the work day and started a revenue-sharing program for his workers. In 1887, Jones ran as a progressive Republican and was elected mayor of Toledo. He was reelected three times and served until dying on the job in 1904.
October 31, 1871 – Modern Refinery Method patented
Petroleum refining would become far more efficient thanks to an invention by Henry Rogers of Brooklyn, New York. In 1871 he patented an “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons by repeated vaporization and condensation.”
Rogers introduced many elements of modern refinery “fractionating” towers that improved earlier processes of extracting kerosene by simple distillation in kettle stills. “The apparatus which I use is, in many respects, similar to what is known as the column-still for distilling alcoholic spirits, but modified in all the details, so as to make it available for distilling oils,” Rogers noted in his 1871 patent application.
Improved technologies led to massive refineries like the 1890s Standard Oil of Indiana Whiting Refinery.
October 31, 1903 – Salt-Dome Oilfield discovered in Texas
One mile north of Batson, Texas, a discovery well drilled by W.L. Douglas’ Paraffine Oil Company produced 600 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 790 feet. A second well drilled two months later produced 4,000 barrels of oil a day from 1,000 feet deep.
Combined with three other highly prolific salt-dome fields, Spindletop (1901), Sour Lake (1901), and Humble (1905), “Batson helped to establish the basis of the Texas oil industry when these shallow fields gave up the first Texas Gulf Coast oil,” noted the Texas State Historical Association in 2010. The area had drawn attention as early as 1900 when oil seeps were noticed.
October 31, 1913 – First U.S. Highway dedicated
The Lincoln Highway, the first automobile road across America, was dedicated in 1913 with nationwide celebrations. The 3,389-mile-long roadway connected Times Square in New York City to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park.
Conceived in 1912 and dedicated the next year, the highway was America’s first national memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, predating the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., by nine years. Soon affectionately known as “The Main Street Across America,” the highway brought prosperity to the hundreds of cities and towns along the way.
October 31, 1934 – Former Olinda Oil Wells Pitcher plays Exhibition Game
The first inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame and former oilfield roustabout, Walter “Big Train” Johnson, appeared in an exhibition game with Babe Ruth in Brea, California. Three decades earlier Johnson had started his baseball career as a 16-year-old pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells. Many oilfield towns once fielded teams with names proudly reflecting their communities’ livelihood. Learn more in Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers and Drillers Baseball Teams.
November 2, 1902 – First Four-Cylinder “Locomobile” sold
Previously known for making heavy but powerful steam-powered automobiles, the Locomobile Company of America delivered its first four-cylinder, gasoline-powered vehicle to a buyer in New York City. Designed by engineer Andrew Riker, the 12-horsepower Locomobile sold for $4,000 ($114,000 in 2017 dollars).
In 1908, a Locomobile designed by Riker became the first U.S. car to win an international auto race. “Old 16,” a 16-liter, four-cylinder, two-seater, won the Vanderbilt Cup after a 258.5-mile race on the Long Island Motor Parkway. Built by William Vanderbilt, the parkway was one of the first modern paved roads; it also allowed easy access to Long Island for economic development.
November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Gas Well lights Pittsburgh
While drilling for oil in 1878, a well drilled by Michael and Obediah Haymaker erupted with natural gas from a depth of almost 1,400 feet. “Every piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind. But instead of oil, we had struck gas,” Michael Haymaker later recalled.
Eighteen miles east of Pittsburgh, the out-of-control well in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, produced an estimated 34 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. It was considered the largest natural gas well ever drilled up to that time.
Given oilfield technologies of the late 1880s, there was no way to cap the well and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities. The Haymaker well drew thousands of curious onlookers to a flaming torch that burned for 18 months and was visible miles away.
“Outlet of a natural gas well near Pittsburgh – a sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly. When finally brought under control, the Haymaker well provided inexpensive gas light to Pittsburgh for many years. Learn more in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.
November 3, 1900 – First U.S. Auto Show
America’s first gathering of the latest automotive technologies attracted thousands to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Manufacturers presented 160 different vehicles and conducted driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that encircled the exhibits.
Almost 50,000 visitors paid 50 cents each to witness autos driving up a 200-foot ramp to test hill-climbing power. The most popular models proved to be electric, steam, and gasoline…in that order. New Yorkers welcomed the new models as a way to reduce the 450,000 tons of manure and 15,000 horse carcasses that had to be removed from city streets every year.
Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in 1900, less than a thousand were powered by gasoline. But within five years, consumer preference thoroughly established the dominance of gasoline-powered autos. Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show and First Gas Pump and Service Station.
Recommended Reading: Holy Toledo: Religion and Politics in the Life of “Golden Rule” Jones (1998); The Bradford Oil Refinery, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2006); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate (2011); Texon: Legacy of an Oil Town, Images of America (2011); The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia (2005); A History of the New York International Auto Show: 1900-2000 (2000).
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