November 6, 1860 – First Multi-Still Oil Refinery started in Pennsylvania –
As the Civil War neared, construction began on America’s first multiple-still oil refinery. William Barnsdall, who drilled a commercial oil well soon after the first U.S. oil well of August 1859, spent $15,000 to build six stills for refining kerosene one mile south of Titusville, Pennsylvania.
Barnsdall and partners W.H. Abbott and James Parker had purchased the equipment in Pittsburgh and shipped it up the Allegheny River to Oil City, and then up Oil Creek to the site near oilfields. With construction on Oil Creek’s north bank finished in January 1861, the refinery produced two grades of kerosene for lamps — white and the less expensive yellow. Each barrel of oil yielded about 20 gallons of kerosene.
November 7, 1965 – Kerosene Jet Fuel powers Speed Record
Using high-octane jet fuel, Ohio drag racer Art Arfons set the world land speed record at 576.553 miles per hour at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. His home-made Green Monster was powered by JP-4 fuel (a 50-50 kerosene-gasoline blend) in an afterburner-equipped F-104 Starfighter jet engine.
Arfons set the world record three times in the 1960s in what became known as “The Bonneville Jet Wars” as Californian Craig Breedlove’s jet-engine powered Spirit of America exceeded 600 mph on November 15, 1965.
A rocket car powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) set the world speed record at more than 630 mph in 1970 (see The Blue Flame –– Natural Gas Rocket Car).
November 8, 1880 – Death of Father of U.S. Petroleum Industry
Edwin Laurentine Drake, the former railroad conductor who drilled the first U.S. oil well, died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the age of 61.
Drake’s 1859 oil discovery had brought prosperity to many, but he lost all of his money in speculative ventures, becoming so destitute the Pennsylvania legislature voted him a $1,500 pension in 1873.
A 1901 monument dedicated in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery was the overdue recognition of the man who launched the U.S. oil industry (see Edwin Drake and his Oil Well).
November 8, 1928 – Oil Discovery at Hobbs, New Mexico
Six years after the first New Mexico oil wells, a giant oilfield was revealed in a remote region of Lea County at the southeast corner of the state.
Midwest Refining Company (the future Amoco) discovered what would become the Permian Basin’s Hobbs oilfield while searching for a northern trend of the Scarborough field, which had launched a 1927 drilling boom in nearby Winkler County, Texas.
After finding oil at a depth of 4,220 feet, “the Midwest’s State No. 1, discovery well of the future Hobbs oil pool, was completed, producing 700 barrels of oil per day on state land,” noted Gil Hinshaw in his 1976 book, Lea County’s Last Frontier.
By January 1930, a well drilled by Humble Oil Company (the future Exxon) three miles northwest of Hobbs would produce 9,500 barrels of oil a day.
November 10, 1854 – Oil Seeps inspire First American Oil Well
America’s petroleum industry began when a lumber company sold 105 acres along a Pennsylvania creek known for having oil seeps. George Bissell of New Hampshire, interested in what was then known as “rock oil,” bought the land from Brewer, Watson & Company.
Bissell suspected the oil could be distilled to make inexpensive kerosene for lamps. He asked a Yale professor to conduct experiments.
Chemist and geologist Benjamin Silliman Jr. wrote a report that confirmed the illuminating potential of refined oil. Bissell then formed the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company and hired Edwin L. Drake to drill for oil near the junction of the east and west branches of Oil Creek, southeast of Titusville.
Learn more in George Bissell’s Oil Seeps.
November 10, 1914 – Woodrow Wilson opens Houston Ship Channel
Dredged 25 feet deep in 1914, the Houston Ship Channel opened for ocean-going vessels. President Woodrow Wilson saluted the occasion from his desk in the White House — by pushing an ivory button connected by wire to a cannon in Houston.
The waterway — originally known as Buffalo Bayou — had been “swampy, marshy and overgrown with dense vegetation,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
“With the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901 and crops such as rice beginning to rival the dominant export crop of cotton, Houston’s ship channel needed the capacity to handle newer and larger vessels,” notes the Port Authority.
Learn more in Houston Ship Channel of 1914.
November 10, 2001 – “Oil Patch Warrior” Statue dedicated in Oklahoma
A decade after a similar ceremony in Nottinghamshire, England, a second “Oil Patch Warrior” statue was dedicated in Ardmore, Oklahoma, home to many of the volunteers who drilled in Sherwood forest during World War II. The seven-foot bronze statues by Jay O’Meilia of Tulsa honor the once top-secret project that produced more than 3.5 million barrels of oil.
Forty-two volunteers from Noble Drilling and Fain-Porter Drilling companies drilled 94 producing wells between March 1943 and March 1944 (derrickhand Herman Douthit fell to his death). In May 1991, Noble Drilling funded the the return of 14 surviving oilmen to the Nottinghamshire statue dedication.
Learn more in Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
November 11, 1884 – Gas Companies become Consolidated Edison Company
The largest U.S. gas utility company at the time was created in New York City when six gas-light companies — using manufactured coal gas — merged to form the Consolidated Gas Company in 1884.
Today known as Consolidated Edison Company, “Con Ed” can trace its roots six decades earlier to New York Gas Light Company, which received a charter from the state legislature in 1823.
“Like most early gas companies, New York Gas would focus its efforts on street lighting, in this case, supplementing or replacing the whale-oil lamps that were installed by the city beginning in the 1760s,” a Con Edison historian noted.
Prior to the 1884 merger, streets were often being torn up by competing workmen installing or repairing their own company’s lines – and removing those of a rival.
“Sometimes these work crews would meet on the same street and brawl, giving rise to the term “gas house gangs.” Learn more in History of Con Edison.
November 12, 1899 – New York World features Mrs. Alford and her Nitro Factory
An 1899 article in the New York World profiled Mrs. Byron Alford — the “Only Woman in the World who Owns and Operates a Dynamite Factory.”
Mrs. Alford’s dangerous business operated on five acres outside of Bradford, Pennsylvania, with a daily production of 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerin and 6,000 pounds of dynamite. Local drillers used the explosives for “shooting” wells to boost production.
The article noted “the astute businesswoman” manufactured her volatile mixtures in 12 separate buildings, all made of wood and unpainted.
Learn more in Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory.
November 12, 1916 – Forest Oil Company formed
Forest Oil Company incorporated and began operations in the Bradford oilfield of northern Pennsylvania. The company, after adopting a “yellow dog” lantern logo, launched an important new technology: water-flooding (injecting water into oil-bearing formations) to stimulate production from depleted wells.
Water-flooding technology for enhanced recovery spread throughout the petroleum industry – and extended many wells’ lives by as much as a decade.
After merging in 1924 with four independent oil companies (January Oil Company, Brown Seal Oil, Andrews Petroleum, and Boyd Oil), Forest Oil was headquartered in Denver before being acquired in 2014 by a privately held Houston company.
November 12, 1999 – Plastics designated Historic Landmark
The American Chemical Society designated the discovery of a high-density polyethylene process as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony at the Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The oil company had entered the plastics business in 1951 after discovering a catalyst for creating solid polymers.
“The plastics that resulted — crystalline polypropylene and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) — are now the core of a multibillion-dollar, global industry,” the society noted. Among the first customers for Phillips Petroleum plastics was Wham-O, which used it to make Hula Hoops and Frisbees in the 1950s.
Recommended Reading: Around Titusville, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2004); Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank (2008); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Lea, New Mexico’s Last Frontier (1976); Sheer Will: The Story of the Port of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel (2014); The Secret of Sherwood Forest: Oil Production in England During World War II (1973); Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 (2017); The Bradford Oil Refinery, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2006). 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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.