October 17, 1890 – Union Oil of California founded –
Lyman Stewart, Thomas Bard and Wallace Hardison founded the Union Oil Company of California by merging their petroleum properties to compete with Standard Oil of California (founded 20 years earlier). Union Oil made strategic alliances with small oil producers to build pipelines from Kern County oilfields to the Pacific coast.
“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 American Institute of Mining in 1914. Union Oil moved the company headquarters from Santa Paula to Los Angeles in 1901.
In 1910, Union Oil lost control of its Midway-Sunset field’s Lakeview No. 1 well, which 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 became a subsidiary of Chevron. The Santa Paula company headquarters building, a California Historical Landmark, in 1990 became 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.
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.
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.
October 18, 2008 – Derrick dedicated in Discovery 1 Park
A re-enactment of the dramatic moment that changed Oklahoma history highlighted the 2008 dedication of a 84-foot replica derrick at Discovery 1 Park in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Events included roughneck reenactors and a water gusher from an 84-foot derrick that replaced one dedicated in 1948.
In 1897, a cable-tool drilling rig at the site of Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well had thrilled another group of spectators when Jenny Cass, stepdaughter of Bartlesville founder George W. Keeler, was given the honor of “shooting” the oil well.
Today, the Bartlesville Community Foundation plans on adding a visitors center to Discovery 1 Park.
October 19, 1990 – First Emergency Use of Strategic Petroleum Reserve
As world oil prices spiked after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops, the first presidentially mandated emergency use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was authorized by George H. W. Bush, who ordered sale of five million barrels of SPR oil as a test to “demonstrate the readiness of the system under real life conditions,” according to the Department of Energy.
Although SPR oil had been pumped in other tests, emergency competitive sales were previously done in government simulations. DOE offered oil to 11 firms that submitted the highest offers from the 33 companies that had responded to the department’s solicitation.
President Ford established the SPR in 1975 as a protection against severe supply interruptions. By 2020, four underground salt dome sites along the Gulf Coast stored 735 million barrels of oil — the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world.
October 20, 1944 – Liquefied Natural Gas Tank explosion in Ohio
An explosion and fire from liquefied natural gas tanks in Cleveland, Ohio, killed 131 people and caused more than $10 million in damage. Temperatures inside of one of the East Ohio Gas Company’s tanks reportedly had been allowed to fall below minus 250 degrees, which caused the steel plates to contract and rupture. Investigators never discovered a cause for the explosion, but witnesses reported a leak in one of the tanks, according to Ohio History Central. “Some spark must have then ignited the gas, although, with World War II currently raging, some residents initially suspected a German saboteur.”
October 20, 1949 – Maryland produces Some Natural Gas
The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County — the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer Beachy well produced about 500 thousand cubic feet of natural gas a day.
The discovery well prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depleted the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has been found in Maryland.
October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico
New Mexico’s natural gas industry began when the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well found gas reserves about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.
The drilling crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado. The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.
By the end of December 1921, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec, where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. In 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove).
Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in New First Mexico Oil Wells.
October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom
Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek completed the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper. The Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, but a central salt dome received little attention until Italian geologist Cesare Porro recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.
An English corporation, the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled the discovery well, which produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet deep. By 1930, about one-fifth of all oil produced in the United States came from the Salt Creek oilfield. Water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004.
Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.
October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection
Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds. The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – today known as a “smart pig” — traveled up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.
As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Modern inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.
October 23, 1970 – LNG powers World Land Speed Record
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered the Blue Flame to a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour. A rocket motor combining LNG and hydrogen peroxide fueled the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame, which set the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The unique motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.
Sponsored by the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. After building their record-setting X-1 rocket dragster in 1967 — and getting the attention of AGA executives — the engineers began designing the far more ambitious Blue Flame.
Interviewed in 2013 by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society for an AOGHS video made from his home movies, Keller explained that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, the AGA “suits” saw value in educating consumers about natural gas as a fuel.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the rocket car’s achievement, Keller in 2020 published Speedquest: Inside the Blue Flame, his account of the last U.S. team to set the world land speed record (held since 1997 by the British jet car Thrust SSC). According to Keller, the Blue Flame, fueled by clean-burning natural gas, remains “the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”
Learn more in Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.
Recommended Reading: 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); Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Postcard History Series (2000); Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982); The Salt Creek Oil Field: Natrona County, Wyo., 1912 (2017); Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); The Reluctant Rocketman: A Curious Journey in World Record Breaking (2013); Speedquest: Inside the Blue Flame (2020). 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 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 © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.