November 27, 1940 – Art Museum features Painting of Mobilgas Station

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Edward Hopper (1882-1967) oil on canvas painting “Gas” of 1940. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Service stations had already become part of America’s popular culture when Edward Hopper’s painting “Gas” was first exhibited by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Contemporary art critics praised Hopper’s work and suggested the painting with its Pegasus sign anticipated the modern Pop Art movement by more than a decade.

According to Hopper’s wife, the image of a Mobilgas station at the end of a highway was an amalgamation of several gas stations near their home in Truro, Massachusetts. The painting today is in the Museum of Modern Art.

November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies

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Emma Summers’ “genius for affairs” put her in control of Los Angeles oilfields.

Mrs. Emma Summers, once known as the “Oil Queen of California” died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles. Forty years earlier, the San Francisco Call newspaper described Mrs. Summers as “A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”

Summers graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano – but soon caught oil fever. With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field just a year before, Summers invested $700 for half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s. Summers’ first 14 wells produced oil – helping launch her dominance in the Los Angeles City oilfield.

Learn more about this remarkable woman in Oil Queen of California.

November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well

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A rare photograph of the 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

While drilling for natural gas, William Mills found small amounts of oil in eastern Kansas. He took a sample from his Norman No. 1 well and visited more experienced oil drillers in Pennsylvania. They decided to “shoot” the well at Neodesha with 30 quarts of nitroglycerine.

The Neodesha well would later be called the first oil discovery west of the Mississippi River. “It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum. Just 832 feet deep, the well uncovered the vast Mid-Continent producing region, which eventually included five states.

Abandoned in 1919, the discovery well was neglected until 1961, when a replica 67-foot wooden derrick was erected on the site as a memorial. Learn more in First Kansas Oil Well.

November 27, 1923 – Standard Oil registers “Esso” Trademark

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey registered the “Esso” trademark, which had been in use since May 1923 for refined, semi-refined, and unrefined petroleum products. The name was a phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” for Standard Oil. A young Theodore Geisell created many Essolube ads beginning in the 1930s (see Seuss I am, an Oilman). When Standard Oil renamed itself Exxon in 1973, the company adopted the Exxon trademark nationwide. The Esso name, acquired by BP through various mergers, has remained in use in other countries.

November 28, 1895 – Inventor wins First American Auto Race

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J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles invented America’s first gas-powered automobile. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Six of America’s first “motor cars” left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back through the snow. Inventor J. Frank Duryea received $2,000 for winning the first U.S. auto race. His No. 5 automobile took just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 mph. The Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, also awarded $500 to a racing enthusiast who named the horseless vehicles “motocycles.”

The newspaper added: “Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.” Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth arrives at Pennsylvania Oil Boom Town

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Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania, America’s first notorious boom town.

A January 1865 oil discovery had launched the drilling frenzy that created Pithole, which within a year had 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania. Murphy’s Theater was the biggest building in a town of more than 30,000 teamsters, coopers, lease-traders, roughnecks and merchants of all kinds. Three-stories high, the building had 1,100 seats, a 40-foot stage, an orchestra – and chandelier lighting by Tiffany. Miss Bridges was the darling of the Pithole stage.

Eight months after Bridges departed for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil ran out. The most famous boom town collapsed into empty streets and abandoned buildings. Today, visitors walk on the grass streets of the historic ghost town. Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized

With almost 1.5 million acres of Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry Foster organized the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company by combining the Phoenix Oil Company and Osage Oil Company. The lease provided the Osage with a 10 percent royalty on oil produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleased drilling to 75 different companies, but by 1903 only 30 wells had been drilled, including 11 dry holes. Debt drove the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership until the company emerged with Theodore Barnsdall a majority owner.

By the end of 1904, new drilling resulted in 361 producing wells. In 1912, Barnsdall sold his interests to a subsidiary of Cities Service Company for $40 million. Foster, who became known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” built the 32-room La Quinta Mansion – now part of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

December 1, 1913 – First U.S. Drive-In Service Station opens in Pittsburgh

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Gulf Refining Company opened the first service station (above) in 1913 on “automobile row,” Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold when Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stood nearby. The service station’s lighted marquee provided shelter from bad weather.

“On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. On its first Saturday, Gulf’s new service station pumped 350 gallons of gasoline,” notes the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. “Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.”

When the station was opened in 1913, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the high number of dealerships that were located along the thoroughfare. In addition to gas, the Gulf station provided free air and water – and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States. The modern gasoline pump can trace its roots to a pump that dispensed kerosene at an Indiana grocery store in the late 1880s. Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

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1960 Broadway play “Wildcat.”

December 1, 1960 – Lucy’s Broadway Oil Musical

Lucille Ball debuted in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics loved Lucy – but hated the show. She played the penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find an oil gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912.

“Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” proclaimed a New York Times critic. Although some audiences appreciated a rare oil patch musical, after 171 performances, the show closed.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

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