This Week in Petroleum History, September 16 to September 22
September 16, 1908 – Leading Horse-Drawn Carriage Maker incorporates General Motors
William Crapo “Billy” Durant, co-owner of the largest horse-drawn carriage manufacturer in America, established the General Motors Holding Company in Flint, Michigan. His Durant-Dort Carriage Company had recently taken control of Buick Motor Company and would buy-out Olds Motor Works of Detroit along with many others.
Within just two years, General Motors purchased dozens of auto manufacturing companies, including Cadillac and Oakland Motor Car (Pontiac). “Fortunately for the Ford Motor Company, William Durant was denied a ‘buy-out loan’ of $9.5 million by his bankers,” notes a GM historian.
Although Durant was soon ousted from GM for over-extending the company’s finances, he returned in 1918 as president after arranging a reverse merger with the Chevrolet Motor Car Company, which he had founded with Louis Chevrolet in 1911. With the addition of Chevrolet and later a truck manufacturing company (GMC), by 1955 General Motors became the first U.S. company to make more than $1 billion in a single year.
September 18, 1855 – First U.S. Oil Company reorganizes
In need of more capital, George Bissell and partner Jonathan Eveleth reorganized their Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first oil company in the United States, to attract investors for drilling in search of oil to be refined into kerosene.
The businessmen re-incorporated the New York-based Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company (established in 1854 to explore oil seeps near Titusville) into a new petroleum exploration venture, the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut.
Given the difficult economic times of the mid-1800s, capital markets of New York City had shown little interest in drilling a well for oil, seen as too highly speculative. The new company hired a former railroad conductor, Edwin Drake, who overcame many financial and technical obstacles to complete the first American oil well in 1859.
September 18, 1948 – Oil discovered in Utah
J.L. “Mike” Dougan, president of the Equity Oil Company, completed the state’s first commercial oil well in the Uinta Basin. Dougan’s small company beat out larger and better financed competitors, including Standard Oil of California, Pure Oil, Continental, and Union Oil Company. His oil discovery launched a deep-drilling boom in Utah.
Unlike the earlier attempts, Dougan drilled beyond the typical depth of 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet. His Ashley Valley No. 1 well, 10 miles southeast of Vernal, produced 300 barrels of oil a day from about 4,000 feet. Production would soon average almost one million barrels a year from 30 wells.
Following Dougan’s success, exploration companies began drilling up to 8,000 feet and even deeper into the Uinta Basin. In recent years, thanks to horizontal drilling and other technologies, the basin is estimated to hold up to 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in a region covering 15,000 square miles. Learn more in First Utah Oil Well.
September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well
Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana.
W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill – completed a well that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings.
Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 well found oil at a depth of 1,700 feet. “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” noted the Jennings Daily News. The discovery led to the state’s first commercial oil production.
Heywood’s well opened the prolific Jennings field, which he developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks. As the Jennings oilfield reached peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906, oil discoveries in northern Louisiana continued to expand the state’s new petroleum industry. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well.
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