This Week in Petroleum History, October 30 to November 5
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 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 on the progressive Republican ticket and was elected mayor of Toledo. He was reelected again in 1899, 1901 and 1903 – 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.”
His design introduced many elements of modern refinery “fractionating” towers. It greatly improved earlier processes of extracting kerosene by simple atmospheric 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. In Bradford, Pennsylvania, a refinery established in 1881 is operating as the American Refining Group.
October 31, 1903 – Paraffin Dirt leads to Oilfield Discovery
An oil discovery near Pine Bayou one mile north of Batson, Texas, confirmed the potential of Texas Gulf Coast salt dome fields. The discovery well, drilled by a Beaumont businessman, was the first to use paraffin found in dirt as a prospecting guide.
Encouraged by the Spindletop Hill oil discovery a year earlier, W.L. Douglas had organized the Paraffine Oil Company. On Halloween 1903, his No. 1 Fee well produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 790 feet. His No. 2 Fee well, drilled in December to 1,000 feet, produced 4,000 barrels of oil a day. The discoveries were among other new salt dome fields, including Sour Lake (1901) and Humble (1905). Learn more about a 1902 Batson oilfield fire.
October 31, 1913 – First U.S. Highway dedicated
The Lincoln Highway, the first automobile road across America, is dedicated in 1913 with nationwide celebrations. It 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. Affectionately known as “The Main Street Across America,” it 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, Walter “Big Train” Johnson, appeared in an exhibition game in Brea, California. Three decades earlier Johnson began his baseball career nearby 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.
November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Gas Well lights Pittsburgh
While drilling for oil in 1878, Michael and Obediah Haymaker’s well 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 from 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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