October 2, 1919 – Future “Mr. Tulsa” incorporates Skelly Oil – 

Skelly Oil Company incorporated in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with founder William Grove Skelly as president. He had been born in 1878 in Erie, Pennsylvania, where his father hauled oilfield equipment in a horse-drawn wagon.

Truck and logo of Skelly Oil Company, Tulsa, Oklahoma, William Grove Skelly, president.

Born near Pennsylvania’s early oilfields, independent oilman William Skelly’s company helped make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”

Skelly’s success in the El Dorado oilfield east of Wichita, Kansas, helped him launch Skelly Oil and other ventures, including Midland Refining Company, which he founded in 1917. As Tulsa promoted itself as “Oil Capital of the World,” Skelly became known as “Mr. Tulsa.”

Skelly served as president of Tulsa’s famous International Petroleum Exposition for 32 years until his death in 1957.

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October 3, 1930 – East Texas Oilfield discovered on Widow’s Farm

With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, creditors, and spectators watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 remote wildcat well was successfully shot with nitroglycerin near Kilgore, Texas.

East Texas 1930 oilfield discovery well photo courtesy Jack Elder, The Glory Days.

Spectators gathered on the widow Daisy Bradford’s farm near Kilgore, Texas, to watch the October 3, 1930, “shooting” of the discovery well of what proved to be the largest oilfield in the lower-48 states. Photo courtesy Jack Elder, The Glory Days.

“All of East Texas waited expectantly while Columbus ‘Dad’ Joiner inched his way toward oil,” explained historian Jack Elder in 1986. “Thousands crowded their way to the site of Daisy Bradford No. 3, hoping to be there when and if oil gushed from the well to wash away the misery of the Great Depression.”

Geologists were stunned when it became apparent the well on the widow Daisy Bradford’s farm — along with two other wells far to the north — were part of the same oil-producing formation (the Woodbine) that encompassed more than 140,000 acres. The “Black Giant” oilfield would produce billions of barrels of oil in coming decades.

Learn more in East Texas Oilfield Discovery.

October 3, 1980 – Museum opens in East Texas Oilfield

Fifty years after the discovery of the East Texas oilfield, the East Texas Oil Museum at Kilgore College opened as “a tribute to the independent oil producers and wildcatters, the men and women who dared to dream as they pursued the fruits of free enterprise.”

Exterior rig (not gone) and interior truck exhibit of East Texas Oil Museum, Kilgore.

The East Texas Oil Museum since 1980 has hosted events and maintained exhibits preserving the “Black Giant” oilfield discovered during the great Depression. Photos by Bruce Wells.

Established with funding from the Hunt Oil Company, the museum at Kilgore College recreated a 1930s boom town atmosphere. Nearby is another Kilgore attraction, the Rangerette Showcase and Museum.

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October 4, 1866 – Oil Fever spreads to Allegheny River Valley

Just 15 miles east of Titusville, Pennsylvania, site of the first U.S. oil well, an oilfield discovery at Triumph Hill sparked another wild rush of speculators and new drilling. America’s petroleum industry was barely seven years old when wooden cable-tool derricks and engine houses replaced hemlock trees along the Allegheny River.

Learn more about post-Civil War oil boom towns in Derricks of Triumph Hill.

October 4, 1901 – Drake Memorial dedicated in Pennsylvania

More than 2,500 people, including his widow, Laura Dowd Drake, attended the unveiling of a monument to the “father of the petroleum industry,” Edwin L. Drake, who had died in relative obscurity 1880. Standard Oil Company executive Henry Rogers commissioned the marble, semi-circle memorial in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Hundreds attended the October 4, 1901, dedication of the Edwin Drake memorial in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Thousands attended the October 4, 1901, dedication of  Edwin L. Drake’s memorial in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

The monument, which includes a bronze statue by Charles Henry Niehaus, was dedicated in Woodlawn Cemetery, a few miles from the first U.S oil well. Learn more by visiting Titusville’s Drake Well Museum and Park.

October 5, 1915 – Science of Petroleum Geology reveals Oilfield 

Using the careful study of geology for finding oil led to discovery of a major Mid-Continent field. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.

Pump Jack and plaque of

The Stapleton No. 1 well discovered the El Dorado, Kansas, oilfield, which became one of the largest producing fields in the world. By 1919, Butler County had more than 1,800 producing oil wells. Photos by Bruce Wells.

“Pioneers named El Dorado, Kansas, in 1857 for the beauty of the site and the promise of future riches but not until 58 years later was black rather than mythical yellow gold discovered when the Stapleton No. 1 oil well came in on October 5, 1915,” explained Kansas geologist Lawrence Skelton in 1997.

The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels of oil a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produce 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands east of Wichita. Natural gas discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado civic leaders to seek their own geological study.

Volunteers at Kansas Oil Museum demonstrate antique oil well "spudder."

The Stapleton No. 1 well and the Kansas Oil Museum preserve a 1915 oil discovery. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Exhibits at the Kansas Oil Museum and Butler County History Center include 10 acres of historic oilfield equipment. The museum exhibits describe how lessons from the El Dorado oilfield helped start an earth science profession. Petroleum companies led by William Skelly, Archibald Derby, and John Vickers also helped establish El Dorado as a center for refining.

Learn more in the Kansas Oil Boom.

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October 5, 1958 – Water Park opens in West Texas for a Day

A water park inside a decades-old experimental concrete oil tank opened in West Texas. The opening celebration in Monahans, Texas, attracted swimmers, boaters, anglers, and even water skiers to the unique manmade lake — before seam leaks forced it to close the next day.

october oil history

The Million Barrel Museum’s site was originally built to store Permian Basin oil. For scale, note the railroad car and caboose exhibit at upper right.

A local couple had attempted to find a good use for the 525-foot by 422-foot “million barrel reservoir” once covered by a redwood dome roof. The concrete tank had been completed in 1928 by Shell Oil due to a lack of pipelines for Permian Basin oil. Shell stopped using the tank because of the company could not prevent oil leaking from the seams.

Learn more in Million Barrel Museum.

October 6, 1886 – Natural Gas fuels Glass Manufacturing

A 900-foot-deep natural gas well in a corn field near Kokomo, Indiana, helped establish the Indiana Natural Gas Company and the Opalescent Glass Works — today Kokomo Opalescent Glass, has been in continuous operation since 1888.

Although the glass company almost went bankrupt when natural gas supplies dwindled, it recovered and in 1893 sold thousands of pounds of stained glass to Tiffany Glass Company and electric insulators to Edison General Electric. Indiana’s first natural gas well had been drilled in 1867 by a driller seeking oil (see Indiana Natural Gas Boom).

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October 7, 1859 – First American Oil Well catches Fire

The wooden derrick and engine house of the first U.S. oil well erupted in flames. The well beside Oil Creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania, had been completed the previous August by Edwin L Drake for George Bissell and the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Working with driller William “Uncle Billy” Smith, Drake had used steam-powered cable-tool technology.

America’s first oil well fire began when “Uncle Billy” inspected a vat of oil with an open lamp. That lamp set the gases alight, and the flames burned the derrick, all the stored oil, and the driller’s home. Drake would quickly rebuild at the already famous well site.

Learn more in First Oil Well Fire.

October 8, 1915 – Elk Basin oilfield discovered in Wyoming

A wildcat well drilled in a remote Wyoming valley opened the giant Elk Basin oilfield. Completed by the Midwest Refining Company near the Montana border, well produced up to 150 barrels of oil a day of high-grade “light oil.” Wyoming wells as early as 1908 had produced oil that needed little refining to provide quality lubricants.

Elk Basin Field with oil gusher circa 1917.

“Gusher coming in, south rim of the Elk Basin field, 1917.” Photo courtesy American Heritage Center.

The Elk Basin extended from Carbon County, Montana, into northeastern Park County, Wyoming. Geologist George Ketchum first recognized the potential of the basin as a source of oil deposits. Ketchum had explored the remote area in 1906 with C.A. Fisher while farming near Cowley, Wyoming.

Fisher was the first geologist to map sections of the Bighorn Basin southeast of Cody, Wyoming, where oil seeps had been found as early as 1883. The Wyoming oilfield discovery in unproved territory attracted speculators, investors, and new companies — including the Elk Basin United Oil Company.

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October 8, 1923 – First International Petroleum Exposition and Congress

Five thousand visitors braved torrents of rain for opening day of the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress in downtown Tulsa, an event that would return for almost six decades.

A bus of tourists in 2013 visit the 76-foot-tall Golden Driller in Tulsa.

Although still a tourist attraction, the 76-foot-tall Golden Driller arrived decades after Tulsa’s first International Petroleum Exposition in 1923.

Attendance grew to more than 120,000 every year. Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth introduced the original Golden Driller of Tulsa at the expo in 1953. Economic shocks beginning with the 1973 OPEC oil embargo depressed the industry and after 57 years, the International Petroleum Exposition ended in 1979.


Recommended Reading: An adventure called Skelly: A history of Skelly Oil Company through fifty years, 1919-1969; The Black Giant: A History of the East Texas Oil Field and Oil Industry Skullduggery & Trivia (2003); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Western Pennsylvania’s Oil Heritage (2008); The fire in the rock: A history of the oil and gas industry in Kansas, 1855-1976 (1976); Chronicles of an Oil Boom: Unlocking the Permian Basin (2014); Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004). 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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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