This Week in Petroleum History, November 27 to December 3
November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies
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 Emma Summers in Oil Queen of California.
November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well
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 oilmen 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. The Kansas Historical Society considers it and the nearby Neodesha oil museum “fitting recognition of Norman No. 1’s importance as one of the most significant oil discoveries in U. S. and Kansas history.” Learn more in First Kansas Oil Well.
November 28, 1895 – Inventor wins First American Auto Race
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 America’s first 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
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 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.
Following her performance as Lady Macbeth, a Titusville Morning Herald critic chastised the roughneck audience for “rude boisterous stomping and screaming…is absolutely disgraceful.”
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 Osage Indians with a 10 percent royalty on all petroleum 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 the Empire Distributing Gas Company, 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
“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.”
The decision to open the first station along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh was no accident, the historical commission adds. By 1913 when the station was opened, 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.
December 1, 1960 – 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.
December 2, 1970 – Nixon creates EPA
President Richard M. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency to consolidate into a single agency “a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.” At the same time, Nixon created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to serve “a national need for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources.”
Recommended Reading: Los Angeles, California, Images of America (2001); The fire in the rock: A history of the oil and gas industry in Kansas, 1855-1976 (1976); America’s First Automobile: The First Complete Account By Mr. J. Frank Duryea Of How He Developed The First American Automobile, 1892-1893 (2012); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2000); Fill’er Up!: The Great American Gas Station (2013). ___________________________________________________________________________________
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