Geologist tracks down earliest references to petroleum and first sightings.
Petroleum geologist and historian Raymond P. Sorenson has spent much of his professional career researching and writing about the oil and natural gas industry. In recent years, his research has extensively documented references to hydrocarbons prior the first U.S. oil well drilled by Edwin L. Drake along a Pennsylvania creek in 1859.
Initially focusing on geological surveys, reports from exploring expeditions, and scientific journals before progressing to references cited by others, Sorenson concentrated on North America and English language sources – the most readily available – but discovered other rare sources as well.
Sorenson Oil History Project
In a January 2020 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, Sorenson attached his bibliography of “Pre-Drake” publications. His work now includes more than 740 reference pages (with captured images) of his sources for the earliest signs of hydrocarbons in North America and other parts of the world. “For the past few years I have been engaged in a systematic study to document what was known about oil and natural gas prior to the Drake well,” he noted.
“I have an additional list of cited references that I have not yet examined of comparable size,” Sorenson added in a follow-up email to AOGHS. “The majority are in languages other than English, and I suspect that many of them will not be accessible through my library resources (or my linguistic skill set).”
A petroleum historian and consulting geologist based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sorenson explained in his email to AOGHS that to aid researchers, he has been using images of every page that contains relevant material, posting the full reference information at the top, and outlining the relevant portion of the text.
An 1835 reference to signs of oil and natural gas in Massachusetts prior to the first commercial U.S. oil well in Pennsylvania. Image courtesy Ray Sorenson.
“So far I have found relevant information in more than 550 publications with over 3,500 net pages, covering at last count 31 states, five Canadian provinces, and many foreign countries on other continents,” Sorenson noted in January. “For several topics, I have created subsets. I expect to continue to build the collection.”
Sorenson’s research for his “Pre-Drake Literature Collections by Subject” includes (so far): Antiquity, California, Canada, Central & South America, Early Geologists, Europe, Fiction, Humboldt, Industrial & Laboratory, Initial Reactions, Kentucky, Maps & Figures, Medicinal , Middle East Asia Africa, Midwest, New England, New York, Oil & Gas Wells Pre-Drake, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Religious, Scientific American, Shales that Burn, Southern U.S., Taylor R.C., Statistics of Coal, Textbooks, Volcanoes and Earthquakes, David Wells, Annual of Scientific Discovery, and Western U.S. (- California).
In addition to his research in often obscure scholarly journals, Sorenson discovered petroleum references in popular 19th century publications. For example, the April 18, 1929, issue of “Niles’ Register” reported a Kentucky salt well driller finding oil: “We have just conversed with a gentleman from Cumberland county, who informs us that in boring through rocks for salt water, a fountain of petroleum, or volatile oil, was struck, at the depth of 180 feet.”
Gigabytes of Research
A long-time member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and the Petroleum History Institute (PHI), Sorenson has made many presentations and published academic papers with both. He submitted to PHI a paper on his history of oil and natural gas production from wells prior to 1859 for the journal Oil-Industry History. Those wells were drilled seeking water or brine, but Sorenson found one that flowed an estimated 2,500 barrel of oil per day in the 1820s.
In 2007, he adapted his many contributions to AAPG and its extensive Discovery Series with “First Impressions: Petroleum Geology at the Dawn of the North American Oil Industry.” In January 2013, his “Historic New York Survey Set High Geologic Standards” was published in AAPG Explorer magazine, one of his many contributions to that publication.
Sorenson, who also has assisted with AOGHS articles (see Rocky Beginnings of Petroleum Geology), noted in his email he does not yet plan to provide this collection in searchable form on a website, but will work with anyone who is conducting similar historical research.
Everything in the collection is preserved in both hard copy and digital (PDF) form, adding up to 11 feet of shelf space — about 27 gigabytes of computer memory!
Eventually, Sorenson intends to give his full collection of research to the Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville, at the site where Edwin L. Drake first found oil in the upper Venango sands. Today, the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry and Tourism proclaims that historic part of northwestern Pennsylvania, “The Valley that Changed the World.”
For more information about Ray Sorenson’s on-going oil history projects and resources, post a comment below.
Edwin Drake’s 1859 Pennsylvania Well
The beginning of the science of petroleum geology might be traced to 1859 when a new industry began in western Pennsylvania. An oil well drilled in 1859 by former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake near oil seeps outside Titusville sought oil for making kerosene, a new lamp fuel at the time made from coal.
Slowed by delays in receiving funds for what locals called “Drake’s Folly” and drilling with a steam-powered cable-tool rig, it took Drake more than a year to find oil at a depth of 69.5 feet. He also made his own innovations along the way, including adding a 10-foot cast iron pipe to the bore hole – a first.
To the relief of his investors at the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven Connecticut, Drake completed the first U.S. oil well drilled specifically for oil. The August 27, 1859, discovery came in a geologic formation that would be called the Venango sands.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Sorenson Oil History Project.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/exploring-the-earliest-signs-of-oil. Last Updated: August 17, 2021. Original Published Date: August 5, 2020.
Preserving central Texas oil patch history, and the non-clairvoyant discovery of Luling’s 1922 oilfield.
In a restored 1885 mercantile building downtown, the Luling Oil Museum (also known as the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum) exhibits many kinds of historic drilling and production equipment from the Luling oilfield of the 1920s. The museum, which educates visiting students about the modern petroleum industry, gives little credence to the once widely told tale of Luling’s giant field being discovered thanks to a “reading” by a famous psychic.
Known for its tasty BBQ ribs, a popular watermelon seed-spitting contest, and colorfully decorated oil pump jacks, Luling became part of U.S. petroleum history when leading citizen Edgar B. Davis discovered oil there in 1922.
The city of Luling, Texas, has hosted a watermelon festival every June since 1954.
Luling’s oilfield discovery northeast of San Antonio and south of Austin allowed the small town to join recent oil booms already making headlines to the north in Ranger (1917) and Burkburnett (1918). By 1924, the Luling field had about 400 wells annually producing about 11 million barrels of oil.
Years later, new technologies like horizontal drilling helped reinvigorated the Luling oil patch, according to the Luling Oil Museum director in 2013, Carol Voight, who was interviewed by Austin TV news.
Exhibits in Luling’s restored 1885 mercantile store educate visitors about 1920s oil discoveries and their role in the Texas petroleum industry.
The museum “shows the contrast of the tools and technology of the past with those utilized in the oil industry today,” Voight explained. Exhibits trace the development of the oil industry — from the first U.S. oil well in 1859 in Pennsylvania to the social and economic impact on central Texas.
Housed in the 1885 Walkers Brothers mercantile store and renovated several times, the Luling Oil Museum building once sold “everything from nails and hammers, to ladies shoes, to toys. It was the oldest continually operating mercantile store in the Texas until it closed in 1984,” according a 2021 article about the latest renovation in the Lockhart Post-Register.
The Luling Oil Museum purchased the building in 1994, “and set out to showcase what made Luling one of the toughest towns in Texas.” The latest renovation, which incorporated new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning powered from geothermal wells, has provided new exhibit spaces.
“We strive to demonstrate the struggles between the men and women who were the oilfield pioneers and to create a better understanding of the process of oil exploration and production,” noted one volunteer.
Edgar B. Davis in 1922 discovered an oilfield 12 miles long. Photo by Bruce Wells.
“Our collection includes a working model of a modern oil rig, pump jacks, the ‘Oil Tank Theater,’ and an excellent assortment of tools from each decade of the oil industry,” added Voight. To preserve the city’s petroleum heritage, a large collection of locally donated artifacts illustrate not only how it was in “the olden days,” but also what can be accomplished with community efforts, cooperation, and creative programs.
Museum staff in 2015 credited Luling area petroleum companies and service companies like Tracy Perryman, himself a multi-generation independent producer. One of the museum’s great outreach success stories was “Reflections of Texas Art Exhibit.”
Combined with the permanent oil exhibits, the art show attracted more school field trips from San Antonio. Another program was an annual quilt show, which brought another kind of audience into the museum’s oil exhibit spaces. Like many small oil and gas museums, the Luling museum depends on enthusiastic community support.
In a frugal approach to integrating downtown with outdoor exhibit space, the museum in 2012 partnered with Susan Rodiek, PhD, and graduate students of architectural design at Texas A&M University. Her student teams proposed designs to economically exploit existing facilities while providing new exhibit spaces. Students approached the project competitively, proclaiming the museum their “first client.”
Dad signs the museum guestbook for this visitor. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey noted, “The preliminary designs that the Aggie students presented to us were fantastic. There were some terrific concepts and the work was detailed and quite fascinating.”
Voight added, “They really got it – Luling’s rich heritage in oil, the E.B. Davis story and more. Being able to get this quality of work and vision is tremendous to our efforts to showcase some of the true historic gems of Luling. “Dr. Rodiek and her able team have again offered us the ability to get this project moving, especially considering the limited budget we have at this time.”
Once known as the toughest town in Texas, visitors today flock to Luling on the first Saturday in April for the annual Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off. — where they have found “Best ribs in the country,” according to Reader’s Digest. Crowds also gather every June for the renowned Watermelon Thump Festival and Seed-Spitting Contest.
Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey and his children. Photo by Bruce Wells.
The Guinness Book of World Records has documented Luling’s watermelon seed-spitting with a distance of 68 feet, 9 and 1/8 inches, set in 1989. The distance reportedly is still unbeaten.
Learn petroleum history at the Luling Oil Museum.
Discovering the Luling Oilfield
Although the Luling Oil Museum’s historic Walkers Brothers building was a center for trading cotton, crude oil replaced cotton in Luling’s future thanks to Edgar B. Davis and his Rafael Rios No. 1 discovery well of August 9, 1922.
After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, Davis’ heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company finally struck “black gold.” The wildcat well revealed an oilfield that proved to be 12 miles long and two miles wide.
Some people proclaimed that Davis, president of the exploration company, found the town’s oil-rich geologic formation after getting a psychic reading from the then famous clairvoyant Edgar Cayce. In fact, a geologist working for Davis figured out the oilfield’s likely location.
After sampling “the best ribs in the country,” visitors to Luling, Texas, marvel at the many decorated pump jacks seen in its historic downtown.
By 1924, Luling was a top producing oilfield in the United States, exceeding the early 1900s fields of southeastern Texas, including Sour Lake and even world-famous Spindletop Hill.
Exhibits at the Luling Oil Museum focus on the real science behind the discovery, which resulted in the town’s population skyrocketing from less than 500 people to 5,000 people within months after the Rafael Rios No. 1 well.
Psychic Dreams of Oil
Biographers of the once famous American psychic Edgar Cayce have noted that he found his own mysterious path into exploring the oil patch at Luling. In 1904, Cayce was a 27-year-old photographer when a local news-paper described his “wonderful power that is greatly puzzling physicians and scientific men.”
The Hopkinsville Kentuckian reported that Cayce – from a hypnotic state – could seemingly determine causes of ailments in patients he never met. By 1910, the New York Times proclaimed that “the medical fraternity of the whole country is taking a lively interest in the strange power possessed by Edgar Cayce to diagnose difficult diseases while in a semi-conscious state.”
As his reputation grew, Cayce expanded his photography business with the addition of adjacent rooms and a specially made couch so he could recline to render readings. He became known as “The Sleeping Prophet” while his readings expanded beyond medical diagnoses into reincarnation, dream interpretation, psychic phenomenon…and advising oilmen.
Edgar Cayce visits his drilling site in San Saba County, Texas, in 1921. The famed psychic’s abilities failed him searching for oil.
Sidney Kirkpatrick, author of Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet, explained that Cayce in 1919 provided detailed trance revelations to several oilmen probing the prolific Desdemona oilfield in Eastland County, Texas. The results reportedly inspired Cayce and several partners to form their own company.
In September 1920, Cayce became the clairvoyant partner of Cayce Petroleum Company. Guided by his own psychic readings, Cayce Petroleum Company leased some acreage around Luling. Not far away, Edgar B. Davis had drilled eight dry holes and nearly went broke before completing the discovery well for Luling’s oilfield.
But raising capital for Cayce Petroleum drilling proved difficult and eventually led to loss of the Luling leases. Cayce’s company tried again 150 miles north in San Saba County, Texas. The psychic’s exploration company did not find oil.
According to Kirkpatrick’s book, Cayce’s readings included “detailed descriptions given of the various rock geological formations that would be encountered as they drilled.” The Rocky Pasture No. 1 well would drill beyond 1,650 feet in search of what Cayce described as a 40,000 barrel per day “Mother Pool.” It was a dry hole. Cayce Petroleum Company ran out of money and failed.
In a 2017 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, long-time AOGHS member Dan Plazak noted Cayce spoke of finding oil at a salt dome at Luling. Petroleum and the geology of salt domes had been in the news since one had been found with a gusher at Spindletop Hill in 1901.
Plazak, a consulting geologist and engineer, reported that that Cayce, “speaking in a trance, proclaimed that oil would be found at Luling associated with a salt dome. But there are no salt domes at Luling, and Cayce’s bad psychic advice could only have prevented Davis from finding oil.
“It was a geologist working for Davis who saw faulting in the outcrop, and correctly predicted that the oil would be trapped behind the fault,” Plazak added.
An associate of Cayce, David Kahn, later wrote Davis asking the successful oilman to give some of the Luling profits to Cayce, but Davis declined. “Edgar Davis was famously generous, but his refusal to reward Cayce indicates that he didn’t consider Cayce to have been of much help,” explained Plazak in an email to AOGHS. “However, he continued to consult Cayce concerning Davis’ presidential ambitions (he was convinced that he was destined for the White House).”
Plazak explained that it was a geologist working for Davis who saw faulting in the outcrop, and correctly predicted that the oil would be trapped behind the fault. After a few early wells, “Cayce’s oil-exploration readings were a complete bust, both for his own oil company, and later for many other oil drillers, in locations all over the country.”
In his email, Plazak — a “geologist and researcher of finding oil with doodlebugs, dreams, and crystal balls” from Colorado — added there are still those today who believe in psychic advice who no doubt are “raising money on the internet to drill yet another dry hole in San Saba County.”
Despite the psychic’s exploration readings not working, investors apparently can still be tempted with promotions of Cayce’s ability to find a “mother pool of oil.”
Additional interesting research from oil patch detective Dan Plazak can be found at Mining Swindles. A graduate of Michigan Tech and the Colorado School of Mining, Plazak in 2010 wrote “an entertaining and informative volume that delightfully investigates the history of mining frauds in the United States from the Civil War to World War I,” according to his publisher, the University of Utah Press.
“In his estimable work, A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top, Dan Plazak strikes it rich with his examination of the old west’s most successful villains and their crimes.” — Utah Historical Quarterly
Today, the psychic legacy of failed oilman Edgar Cayce lives on at the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia, founded in 1931, and “the official world headquarters of the works of Edgar Cayce, considered America’s most documented psychic.”
A psychic’s petroleum product sold today.
An invention from Cayce’s venture into the oil business remains on the market — his “pure crude oil” product he recommended as a first step toward replenishing healthy hair. Cayce invented a “pure crude oil” product he called Crudoleum, which is sold today as a cream, shampoo and conditioner. Baar Products Inc. of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, offers Crudoleum Pennsylvania Crude Oil Scalp Treatment.
Recommended Reading: Texas Art and a Wildcatter’s Dream: Edgar B. Davis and the San Antonio Art League (1998); Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language(2012); Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet (2001); A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top: Fraud and Deceit in the Golden Age of American Mining (2010). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
Learn more U.S. petroleum history by visiting the Luling Oil Museum in the historic Walkers Brothers building in downtown Luling.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/luling-oil-field. Last Updated: April 1, 2021. Original Published Date: June 21, 2015.
Petroleum industry secretaries hosted a 1951 energy education convention at Shamrock Hotel in Houston.
Since the first Desk and Derrick club meeting in 1949 in New Orleans, this national association has “ebbed and flowed with the tides of the energy and allied industries.”
“Greater Knowledge – Greater Service” is the motto of the Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America, which began with a club founded in New Orleans.
Soon, hundreds of the growing number of women working in the petroleum industry – primarily as secretaries – were organizing clubs in other cities.
The first Desk and Derrick club was founded in New Orleans in 1949.
In 1951, they gathered in New Orleans to share ways to promote energy education in the United States and Canada. ADDC articles of association were signed on July 23 by presidents of the clubs founded in Los Angeles, Houston, Jackson and New Orleans.
“A New Orleans secretary working for Humble Oil & Refining organized the first Desk and Derrick,” noted a January 2012 article in the Permian Basin Petroleum Association magazine PBOil&Gas.
“Inez Awty (later Schaeffer) was tired of writing reports about things she knew little about and believed women working for oil companies wanted to see and know more about a derrick and other aspects of the industry,” the PBOil&Gas article explained.
By 1951, there were 1,500 Desk and Derrick members in the United States and Canada. Photo courtesy Permian Basin Petroleum Association.
The article also quoted a 1951 Midland Reporter-Telegram that reported, “Miss Awty thought if men in the oil industry could be organized and know other men outside their own company, then the women could do likewise.”
With a combined membership of 883 women, the charter clubs dedicated themselves to “the education and professional development of individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries and to educate the general public about these industries.”
The PBOil&Gas article added that in April 1957, a guest speaker was a young Midlander named George H.W. Bush, who reviewed offshore drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Bit of Fun” for Young People
Educating youth about the earth sciences and how the petroleum industry works has remained part of the Desk and Derrick mission. Since 2004, the group has published (in English and Spanish) “Bit of Fun with PetroMolly and PetroMack,” an energy activity book designed for third and fourth graders.
In 1957, the organization’s members adopted a motto, “Greater Knowledge – Greater Service,” according to the nonprofit ADDC website. Membership numbers have fluctuated over the year in close relation to the state of the oil and gas industry – and oil prices. In 2018, about 1,200 women – and men – employed in or affiliated with the energy and allied industries comprised 48 clubs in seven regions.
ADDC today promotes its energy education mission using variety of programs, including seminars, field trips, and individual clubs hosting the annual national convention. “Thousands of hours of education have been provided for members through monthly programs on the many facets of this industry and given by speakers ranging from company CEO’s to oil-well-fire fighters,” explains the website.
Among ADDC’s historic milestones are: 1949 – The first club is founded in New Orleans by Inez Awty Schaeffer.
July 23, 1951 – Articles of association are signed by presidents of the clubs founded earlier in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston and Jackson, Mississippi.
December 1-2, 1951 – First Board of Directors meet in New Orleans.
ADDC published its first “Bit of Fun” Energy Activity Book in 2004.
1952 – A newsletter is published (today’s The Desk and Derrick Journal) after Josephine Nolen of Odessa, Texas, wins a contest for its name: The Oil and Gal Journal.
1952 – The first convention is held at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston led by the first association president, Lee Wilson Hoover. Forty member clubs are represented by almost 1,000 registrants.
1957 – “Greater Knowledge – Greater Service” is adopted as a motto.
1977 – “of North America” is deleted from the association’s name and the acronym ADDC becomes common usage.
1987 – The ADDC Foundation is established and the first issue of The Desk and Derrick Journal published, replacing the Oil and Gal Journal.
1988 – Delegates at the annual convention approve equitable membership in the association, opening membership to men.
1996 – The first association website goes online in September.
2001 – Celebration of the association’s 50th anniversary year.
2004 – Publishes the first “Bit of Fun” Energy Activity book.
2010 – Website is revamped; updated and improved.
West Virginia ADDC Convention in 2013
ADDC annual convention field trips have visited offshore drilling rigs, refineries, manufacturing plants, and pipeline facilities. The 2013 convention took place in late September in Charleston, West Virginia. The West Virginia Desk and Derrick Club hosted “Autumn in Appalachia” for the 62nd annual convention, says General Arrangements Chair Melinda Johnson. The club has 95 member companies and meets the third Tuesday of each month at various locations across the state, adds Johnson.
Clubs in each of the seven ADDC regions host membership meetings.
Her convention’s program included education seminars and the choice of five day-long field trips. Among the seminars were Five Traits of Professionalism; Intro to Petroleum Engineering; Hot Oil and Gas Plays in the Appalachian Basin; Formulas and More – Excel Training; and Leadership and Effective Communication.
On one of field trip, service company representatives from Nabors Services provided a seminar and demonstration on fracturing treatments in the Marcellus Shale. Convention attendees learned the steps in performing a hydraulic fracturing treatment and the difference between how a conventional reservoir and an unconventional reservoir is fractured, says Johnson.
Another field trip visited a Halliburton oil field service yard for education on coil tubing – with a “snubbing” unit demonstration. Another trip was to a Baker Hughes center in Clarksburg where visitors learned about directional drilling and viewed down hole motors, rotary steerable subs, and different kinds of drill bits.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Desk and Derrick Educators.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/desk-derrick-educators. Last Updated: July 19, 2021. Original Published Date: July 21, 2014.