October 13, 1954 – First Arizona Gas Well – 

Arizona became the 30th petroleum producing state when Shell Oil Company completed a natural gas well one mile south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation. The East Boundary Butte No. 2 well showed natural gas production of about 3 million cubic feet per day from depths between 4,540 to 4,690 feet, but just a few barrels of oil a day.

Map of Navajo Reservation in Arizona with Apache County oil production.

Arizona produces oil only from Apache County.

A rancher had reported finding oil seeps in central Arizona in the late 1890s, and by 1902, a part-time prospector from Pennsylvania, Joseph Heslet, began a lengthy exploration effort that ended in 1916 after finding traces of oil. Apache County produced only about 11,000 barrels of oil in 2018, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Learn more in First Arizona Oil and Gas Wells.

October 14, 1929 – Van Oilfield Discovery East of Dallas

The discovery of oil in Van, Texas, by the Pure Oil Company created an oil boom town 60 miles east of Dallas. The Jarman No. 1 well initially produced 3,500 barrels of oil a day from the Woodbine sandstone at a depth of 2,700 feet. Three more wells were completed as construction began on a camp for oilfield workers.

Exterior of  Van Zandt County Oil and Historical Museum east of Dallas, Texas.

This Van Zandt County museum east of Dallas is in a warehouse originally built in 1930 by Pure Oil Company. Photo by Bruce Wells

By April 1930, the Van oilfield was producing 20,000 barrels of oil a day, and oil companies attracted to the field adopted advanced production techniques. Two new pipelines connected the prolific field to the Pure refinery in Beaumont, Texas, and Standard Oil’s refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Among the oilfield’s “Cook Camp” buildings was a sheet metal warehouse, which today houses the Van Area Oil and Historical Museum.

Van residents today celebrate their petroleum heritage with an annual oil festival.

September 15, 1903 – Improved Portable Drilling Machine Patented

Seth Powers Powers of Stanberry, Missouri, received a U.S. patent for his “Combined Well Boring and Rock Drilling Machine.” The wheel-mounted, cable-tool framework — used primarily for water wells but capable of finding oil — included a derrick, steam-engine, and boring augers.

Illustration of Powers 1903 well drilling machine.

Original 1903 version of “The Improved Powers Well Boring Machine.” Image courtesy Superstition Mountain Museum.

Lisle Manufacturing Company promoted the improved technology as a “One-Man Machine” for boring deep wells. By World War I, the company offered a complete line of the portable machines, which could bore up to 1,000 feet deep with the gasoline powered model.

The Superstition Mountain Museum east of Phoenix, Arizona, preserves an original 1903 version of the Improved Powers Well Boring Machine. A similar steam-powered machine was patented on September 15, 1895 (no. 548,109), by Oscar Benjamin of Lafayette, Louisiana.

October 15, 1966 – Johnson signs National Historic Preservation Act

Recognizing the “spirit and direction of the nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage,” Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Historic Preservation Act to protect historical and archaeological sites. The Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to maintain a National Register of Historic Places.

“The historical and cultural foundations of the nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people,” the Act proclaimed.

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October 15, 1997 – Kerosene fuels World Land Speed Record

The current world land speed record was set at 763.035 miles per hour by the Thrust SSC (supersonic car) using a 19th century fuel — kerosene. The jet car’s twin jet engines burned JP-4, a kerosene-naptha jet propellant. A British team achieved the record in the Nevada desert. Highly refined kerosene JP-4 powered jet aircraft as early as 1951. Also see the 1970-1983 record holder, Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

October 16, 1931 – Natural Gas Pipeline sets Record

America’s first long-distance, high-pressure natural gas pipeline went into service during the Great Depression; it linked the prolific Texas Panhandle gas fields to consumers in Chicago.

A map of a 1931 natural gas pipeline from North Texas to Illinois.

A 1931 natural gas pipeline extended 980 miles from North Texas to Illinois.

A.O. Smith Corporation had developed the technology of thin-walled pipe and Continental Construction Corporation built the 980-mile bolted flange pipeline for the Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America (NGPL). The $75 million high-tech project consumed 209,000 tons of A.O. Smith’s specially fabricated 24-inch wide steel pipe (the pipe filled 6,500 freight cars) and required 2,600 separate right-of-way leases. Learn more pipeline technology history in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.

October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded

The Union Oil Company of California was founded by Lyman Stewart, Thomas Bard, and Wallace Hardison, who merged their petroleum properties to compete with Standard Oil of California, founded 20 years earlier.

Union Oil made a strategic alliance with small oil producers to build pipelines from the Kern County oilfields to the Pacific coast, according to the American Institute of Mining Engineers.

“This gave the independent producers an alternative to what they perceived as the low prices paid by Standard Oil and the high freight rates charged by the railroads to move crude oil,” noted the 1914 bulletin article. Union Oil moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1901.

Exterior of California Oil Museum in Santa Paula, a California Historical Landmark.

Established in 1950 as the Union Oil Museum, in 1990 Santa Paula headquarters building was restored to its original appearance and reopened as the California Oil Museum.

In 1910, Union Oil lost control of its Lakeview No. 1 well in the Midway-Sunset field (it would take 18 months to control). The purchase of Pennsylvania-based Pure Oil in 1965 made the Unocal Union 76 brand a nationwide company.

In 2005, Unocal become a subsidiary of Chevron. The Santa Paula company headquarters building, a California Historical Landmark, is home to the temporarily closed California Oil Museum.

October 17, 1917 – “Roaring Ranger” launches Major Texas Drilling Boom 

A wildcat well between Abilene and Dallas launched a Texas drilling boom that helped fuel the Allied victory in World War I. The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well erupted oil about two miles south of the small town of Ranger, which had been founded in the 1870s near a Texas Ranger camp in northeastern Eastland County. Petroleum companies had searched the region with limited success since 1904.

The 1917 McCleskey No. 1 oil gusher in Texas, soon known as "Roaring Ranger."

The 1917 McCleskey No. 1 oil gusher in Texas made headlines as the “Roaring Ranger” that helped win World War I.

Texas and Pacific Coal Company’s William Knox Gordon completed the discovery well at a depth of 3,432 feet. It initially produced 1,600 barrels a day of quality, high gravity oil. Within 20 months the exploration company’s stock value jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share.

“Roaring Ranger” launched a drilling boom that extended to nearby towns. More gushers followed, some producing up to 10,000 barrels of oil every day. Ranger’s population quickly grew from 1,000 to 30,000.

Crowd posing in front of oil wells near Cisco, Texas, circa 1920.

Eastland County discoveries included oil wells near Cisco, where Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel.

The petroleum proved essential in World War I. When the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”

After the war, a young veteran — Conrad Hilton — visited Eastland County intending to buy a Texas bank. When his bank deal fell through, Hilton (at the Cisco train station ready to leave), noticed a small hotel with a line of roughnecks waiting for a room. Hilton decided to buy his first hotel (see Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel).

October 17, 1973 – Embargo bring Gas Lines, Recession

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries implemented what it called “oil diplomacy,” prohibiting any nation that had supported Israel in the “Yom Kippur War” from buying the cartel’s oil. The embargo brought an end to years of cheap gasoline and caused the New York Stock Exchange to drop by almost $100 billion. It also created one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. The United States became the world’s top petroleum producer in 2017, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

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Recommended Reading:  Arizona Rocks & Minerals: A Field Guide to the Grand Canyon State (2010); Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century (2015); The 76 bonanza: The fabulous life and times of the Union Oil Company of California (1966); Ranger, Images of America (2010); Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf (2016). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society 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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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