This Week in Petroleum History, October 2 to October 8
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.
Creating Skelly Oil Company was a result of Skelly’s earlier successes in the giant El Dorado oilfield east of Wichita, Kansas, and other petroleum industry ventures, including Midland Refining Company, which he founded in 1917.
Skelly Oil became one of the Mid-Continent’s most successful independents – producing almost nine million barrels of oil in 1929.
With Tulsa already famous worldwide – see Making Tulsa the Oil Capital – Skelly became known as “Mr. Tulsa” thanks to his support for many civic and charitable causes – and serving as president of Tulsa’s famous International Petroleum Exposition for 32 years until his death in 1957.
October 3, 1930 – Giant Oilfield discovered on Daisy Bradford’s Farm
With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, creditors and spectators watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 wildcat well was successfully shot with nitroglycine near Kilgore, Texas.
“All of East Texas waited expectantly while Columbus ‘Dad’ Joiner inched his way toward oil,” noted Jack Elder in The Glory Days. “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 later became apparent the well on Daisy Bradford’s farm – along with two others far to the north – were part of the same oil-producing formation (the Woodbine) that encompassed more than 140,000 acres. Today, the “Black Giant” oilfield has yielded more than five billion barrels of oil and is still producing. Learn more in H.L Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.
October 3, 1980 – Oil Museum opens in East Texas
Fifty years after the discovery of the East Texas oilfield, the East Texas Oil Museum opened in Kilgore – “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.”
Established with funding from the Hunt Oil Company, the museum at Kilgore College houses recreations of the boomtown atmosphere of the early 1930s in the largest oilfield inside the United States. Among the more popular “Boomtown USA” exhibits is an “elevator ride” that takes visitors 3,800 feet below the earth’s surface, deep into an oil formation.
The museum’s exhibits, as well as those in oil museums in Beaumont and Galveston, are featured in American Oil & Gas Families, East Texas Independents – along with the region’s modern petroleum story. Near the museum on the Kilgore College campus is another popular attraction, the Rangerette Showcase and Museum.
October 5, 1915 – Science reveals Mid-Continent Oilfield
The growing science of geology played a key role in the 1915 discovery of a Mid-Continent oilfield. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the October 5 discovery well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.
The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels of oil a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produced 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands. Other wells joined the Kansas oil boom east of Wichita.
Oil discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado city fathers to hire the state geologist to perform a geological study of the area, according to Larry Skelton of the Kansas Geological Survey.
“Using scientific geological survey methodology for the first time, Cities Service had identified a promising anticline and leased 30,000 acres near the town of El Dorado in Butler County. His field work outlined the El Dorado Anticline,” Skelton noted in an article for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
In addition to Cities Service Company, industry leaders like Archibald Derby, John Vickers and William Skelly established El Dorado oil producing and refining companies thanks to the 1915 oilfield discovery.
“So the idea from that point forward, no oil company in the world would go and drill a well without seeking the advice of a geologist first,” noted Kansas Oil Museum Executive Director Warren Martin in a Butler County Times-Gazette 2015 article celebrating the centennial of the historic well. “Geology was established as one of the great science industries.”
October 5, 1958 – Water Park opens for a Day in Former Oil Tank
A water park inside a decades-old experimental concrete oil tank opens in West Texas. Leaks will force it to close after just one day. The Monahans,Texas, park attracted swimmers, boaters, anglers and even skiers for its opening day.
A local couple had attempted to find a good use for the 525-foot by 422-foot “million barrel reservoir.” Once covered by a cedar roof, the tank had been completed in 1928 by Shell Oil due to a lack of pipeline for Permian Basin oil. Shell stopped using the tank because of leaks. Read more in Million Barrel Museum.
October 7, 1859 – First U.S. Oil Well catches Fire
Near Titusville, Pennsylvania, the wooden derrick and engine house of America’s first commercial oil well erupts into flames – perhaps America’s first oil well fire.
Drilled by Edwin L. Drake the previous August, the well had produced oil from just 69.5 feet deep. Working with his driller, William “Uncle Billy” Smith, Drake had used steam-powered cable-tool technology.
“The first oil well fire was started by ‘Uncle Billy,’ who went to inspect the oil in the vat with an open lamp, setting the gases alight,” notes historian Urja Davin. “It burned the derrick, all the stored oil, and the driller’s home.” Learn more in First Oil Well, First Oil Fire.
October 7, 1929 – Teapot Dome brings Jail Time for Interior Secretary
Secretary of Interior Albert B. Fall in 1929 began serving a one-year sentence in New Mexico’s Santa Fe Penitentiary for taking a $100,000 bribe in the Teapot Dome scandal.
Almost 30,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming had been established as a Naval Petroleum Reserve by President William Taft in 1910. In 1921, an executive order from President Warren G. Harding gave Fall control of all Naval Reserves.
In 1922, without competitive bidding, Fall leased Teapot Dome fields to Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil Company and Elk Hills, California, fields to Edward Doheny, discoverer of the Los Angeles oilfield. In Senate hearings, it emerged that cash was delivered to Fall in Washington, D.C. Although Fall was convicted for taking a bribe, both Sinclair and Doheny were acquitted of giving it.
October 8, 1923 – Tulsa hosts 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.
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 exposition 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.
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