September 4, 1841 – “Rock Drill Jar” Patent for Percussion Drilling – 

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris, a driller in West Virginia, patented a “Rock Drill Jar.” It was an innovation he had been experimenting with while drilling brine wells.

“The mechanical success of cable tool drilling has greatly depended on a device called jars, invented by a spring pole driller,” according to oil historian Samuel Pees, who in 2004 noted Morris began using the technology as early as the 1830s.

1841 "Rock Drill Jar" patent for percussion drilling of oil wells. 

Drill jar technology improved efficiency for drilling brine wells — and later, oil wells.

For more advanced cable-tools, Morris patented a “manner of uniting augers to sinkers for boring,” with the upper link of the jars helping the lower link to strike the underlying auger stem on the upstroke. This upward blow could dislodge the bit if it was stuck in the rock formation. Cable-tool drillers would soon improved upon Morris’ patented jars.

Learn more in Making Hole — Drilling Technology.

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September 4, 1850 – Illuminating Chicago Streets

The Chicago Gas Light & Coke Company delivered its first commercial gas processed from coal. “The gas pipes were filled, and the humming noise made by the escaping gas at the tops of the lamp-posts indicated that everything was all right,” reported newspaper The Gem of the Prairie. “Shortly afterward the fire was applied and brilliant torches flamed on both sides of Lake Street as far as the eye could see and wherever the posts were set.”

By 1855, almost 80 miles of pipeline would be installed for about 2,000 manufactured-gas consumers in Chicago. The first U.S. public street lamp fueled by manufactured gas illuminated Baltimore, Maryland, in 1817 (see Illuminating Gaslight).

September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Gas Pump

Modern gasoline pump design began with inventor Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to a grocery store owner in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” Bowser’s pump included a container holding 42 gallons. The pump used marble valves, a wooden plunger, and a simple, upright faucet.

1916 Bowser gasoline pump with "clock face" dial

The 1916 Bowser gas pump included a “clock face” dial to measure pumped gas. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

Thanks to the pump’s success at Jake Gumper’s grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. Within a decade — as the automobile’s popularity grew — Bowser’s company has added new pump designs. By 1905, the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a “filling station.”

The Bowser gas pump included a hand-levered suction pump and a hose attachment for dispensing gas. As other pump manufacturers arrived, Fort Wayne became known as the “Gas Pump Capital of the World.”

Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers test Electric Logging Tool

An electric well-logging tool was first applied at Pechelbronn, France, after brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger modified their surface system to operate vertically in a well.

Schlumberger brothers test equipment in 1912 near Caen, France.

Conrad Schlumberger, using very basic equipment, in 1912 recorded the first map of equipotential curves near Caen, France.

Conrad Schlumberger had conceived the idea of using electrical measurements to map subsurface rock formations as early as 1912. After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers created the electric downhole well log.

Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger test electronic logging in 1927.

Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger tested their electronic logging tool in 1927, one year after founding the world’s first well logging company. Photo and image courtesy Schlumberger Ltd.

Lowering their new tool into a well, they recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth — creating a well log of geologic formations. Changes in subsurface resistance readings showed variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas.

The brothers’ technological breakthrough would lead to Schlumberger becoming the world’s first well-logging oilfield service company.

September 5, 1939 – Young Geologist reveals Mississippi Oilfield

Union Producing Company completed its Woodruff No. 1, the first commercial oil well in Mississippi. Drilled at Tinsley, southwest of Yazoo City, the well produced 235 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,560 feet in a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Field work by geologist Frederic Mellen led to the Tinsley oilfield discovery.

Image of Fred Mellen, geologists who discovered Mississippi oilfield.

Fred Mellen was elected president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946.

While working on a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, Mellen earlier had found indications of a salt dome structure similar to the giant Spindletop field of 1901 in Texas. The 28-year-old geologist urged more seismographic testing, and Houston-based Union Producing Company leased about 2,500 acres at Perry Creek.

Mellen’s original WPA project had been a clay and minerals survey, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.” Instead, he launched Mississippi’s oil industry.

Learn more in First Mississippi Oil Wells.

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September 7, 1917 – Oilfield Legacy of Texas Governor Hogg

After drilling 20 dry holes, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company completed the No. 1 Hogg well 50 miles south of Houston. Four months later, a second well produced about 600 barrels a day. The discoveries ended a succession of dry holes dating back to 1901 — when former Texas Governor James “Big Jim” Hogg paid $30,000 for the lease (he also helped launch the Texas Company, predecessor to Texaco).

Gov. Hogg died 11 years before the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company wells found oil in the giant West Columbia oilfield. Fortunately for his family, he stipulated in his will that the mineral rights should not be sold for at least 15 years after his death.

Learn more in Governor Hogg’s Texas Oil Wells.

September 7, 1923 – California Oilfield discovered at Dominguez Hills

Maj. Frederick Russell Burnham discovered oil in Dominguez Hills, an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, California. His well produced about 1,200 barrels of oil a day from about a depth of about 4,000 feet. Maj. Burnham, a decorated soldier in both the U.S. and British armies, was once known as “King of the Scouts.”

The Burnham Exploration Company and partner Union Oil Company of California opened the Dominguez Hills oilfield, “a two-square mile, two-mile deep stack of eight producing zones.”

Portrait of Maj. Frederick R. Burnham in his British Army uniform, 1901.

Maj. Frederick R. Burnham in his British Army uniform, 1901.

The region was named for a Spanish soldier who in 1784 received a land grant for grazing cattle. “But family fortunes truly took off with discovery of oil in the 1920s, first in the Torrance area and then, most resoundingly, on Dominguez Hill itself,” explained a California State University historian in 2007.

By 1933, Maj. Burnham’s petroleum exploration venture and Union Oil had paid more than $10 million to stockholders.

Learn more California history in First California Oil Wells and Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

September 8, 1891- Patent issued for “Flexible Driving Shafts”

The modern concept of horizontal drilling may have begun with two late-19th century patents by John Smalley Campbell of London. After receiving a British patent for his “useful improvements in flexible driving shafts or cables” in 1889, Campbell received a U.S. patent (no. 459,152) for his drilling method.

While Campbell described the patent as ideal for dental procedures, “the patent also carefully covered use of his flexible shafts at much larger and heavier physical scales,” reported oil historian Stephen Testa in a 2015 article for Pacific Petroleum Geology.

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September 9, 1928 – Oklahoma regulates Oil Production

A state regulatory body for the first time issued an order limiting oil production for the entire state. The move was an effort to control excessive production from many newly discovered Oklahoma oilfields, including several giants of the Seminole oil boom.

With falling oil prices (and tax revenue), the Oklahoma Corporation Commission set the state’s oil production limit to 700,000 barrels daily and limited production of wildcat wells to 100 barrels of oil a day.

September 10, 1879 – Merger of Two California Companies will lead to Chevron

Today headquartered in San Ramon, California, Chevron Corporation began in 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquired California Star Oil Works, which a few months earlier had made the first major California oil discovery.

Circa 1870s Pacific Coast Oil Company logo with derricks.

The Pacific Coast Oil Company’s logo included derricks at Pico Canyon, site of California’s first commercial oil discovery. Photo courtesy of Chevron.

As the future major U.S. oil company grew, its retail outlets added dozens of service station logos — including Standard Oil Company of California’s chevron, the Texaco red star, the orange disc of Gulf Oil, and the Unocal “76” logo.

According to a Chevron historian, “We trace our beginnings to an 1876 oil discovery at Pico Canyon, north of Los Angeles, which led to the formation of the Pacific Coast Oil Company.”

Chevron acquired the Gulf Oil brand in 1984 and merged with Texaco in 2001.

September 10, 1969 – Second Test of Nuclear Fracking of Natural Gas Well

A 40-kiloton nuclear device was detonated underground about eight miles southeast of present-day Parachute in Garfield County, Colorado. Project Rulison was the second of three natural gas reservoir stimulation tests involving nuclear explosions in wells.

Newspaper headline in 1969 for Rulison atomic explosion test at natural gas well.

Experimental nuclear fracturing of natural gas wells took place as late as 1973. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library.

The experimental gas well fracturing tests were part of Operation Plowshare, a government program to study peaceful uses of nuclear explosions. The first, Project Gasbuggy, detonated a 29-kiloton device in a New Mexico natural gas well in December 1967. The third experimental detonation took place in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, in 1973. All of the Operation Plowshare tests produced unusable, radioactive natural gas.


Recommended Reading: An Illustrated Guide to Gas Pumps (2008); Schlumberger: The History of a Technique (1978); California State University, Dominguez Hills (2010); Pico Canyon Chronicles: The Story of California’s Pioneer Oil Field (1985); Atoms for Peace and War 1953-1961 (2017). 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. Please become an annual AOGHS supporting member today. Help us maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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