September 27, 1915 – Deadly Explosion in Ardmore, Oklahoma – 

A railroad car carrying casinghead gasoline exploded in Ardmore, Oklahoma, killing 43 people and injuring others. The car, which had arrived the day before, was waiting to be taken to a nearby refinery. Casinghead gasoline (also called natural gasoline) at the time was integral to the state’s petroleum development, with 40 processing plants in operation.

Destroyed by 1915 casing gas explosion, image of downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma.

A casing gas explosion destroyed most of downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1915. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the disaster began when rising afternoon temperatures activated a valve to release the car’s gas pressure. “The Ardmore Refining Company then sent a representative, who removed the dome from the top of the car, filling the air with gas and vapors.”

Triggered by an unidentified source, the explosion destroyed much of downtown Ardmore. The Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway was found responsible for the explosion and paid 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million, the society reports, adding that “oil companies changed and improved the extraction and transportation methods for natural gasoline.”

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September 28, 1945 – Truman claims America’s Outer Continental Shelf

President Harry Truman extended U.S. jurisdiction over the natural resources of the outer continental shelf, placing them under the control of the Secretary of the Interior. In August 1953, Truman’s edict would become the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which affirmed exclusive jurisdiction over U.S. continental shelf and a federal leasing program, “to encourage discovery and development of oil.” The earliest U.S. offshore wells were drilled on lakes (learn more in Offshore Oil & Gas History articles).

September 30, 2006 – Bronze Roughnecks dedicated at Signal Hill, California

A “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue by Cindy Jackson was dedicated near the Alamitos No. 1 well, which in 1921 revealed California’s prolific Long Beach oilfield 20 miles south of Los Angeles.

"Tribute to the Roughnecks" statue by Cindy Jackson.

Signal Hill once had so many derricks people called it Porcupine Hill. The city of Long Beach is visible in the distance from the “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue by Cindy Jackson.

The bronze statue commemorates the Signal Hill Oil Boom. A plaque notes the monument serves, “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.”

October 1, 1908 – Ford Motor Company produces First Model T

The first production Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford would build about 15 million Model Ts, each fueled by inexpensive gasoline. The popularity of Ford’s initially all-black automobile proved fortuitous for the petroleum industry, which had endured falling demand for kerosene lamp fuel as consumers switched to electric lighting.

White tires on a the Model T Ford.

Ford Model T tires were white until 1910, when the petroleum product carbon black was added to improve durability.

New major oilfield discoveries, especially the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, met growing demand for what had been a refining byproduct: gasoline.

Learn more early U.S. automobile history in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

October 1, 1942 – Water Injection Project begins in East Texas

The East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company drilled the first salt water injection well in the 12-year-old East Texas oilfield near the towns of Tyler, Longview, and Kilgore. As early as 1929, the Federal Bureau of Mines had determined injecting recovered saltwater into formations could increase reservoir pressures and oil production.

Illustration of saltwater injection wells and oil pumps.

Saltwater injection wells improved oil production in the giant East Texas oilfield.

The Texas Railroad Commission established the salt water disposal company as a public utility to operate in the “Black Giant” oilfield. The company treated and re-injected about 1.5 billion barrels of saltwater in its first 13 years, prompting the commission to proclaim saltwater injection as the “greatest oil conservation project in history.”

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,” thanks to his support for many civic causes.

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

October 3, 1930 – East Texas Oilfield discovered on Widow 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 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,” noted historian 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 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 more than five billion barrels of oil in coming decades. Learn more in East Texas Oilfield Discovery.

October 3, 1980 – Museum opens in Kilgore to Preserve East Texas Oilfield History

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 has recreated the region’s 1930s boom town atmosphere. Nearby is another Kilgore attraction, the Rangerette Showcase and Museum.

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Recommended Reading: Signal Hill, California, Images of America (2006); From Here to Obscurity: An Illustrated History of the Model T Ford, 1909 – 1927 (1971); 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). 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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