Edwin Drake and his Oil Well

Biography explores father of U.S. oil industry to total depth.


The man who would create the American petroleum industry was down to his last few pennies in August 1859. A letter was on its way from the company that had hired him to drill for oil near in remote Titusville, Pennsylvania. The letter instructed “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake to close operations.

“As far as the company was concerned, the project was finished,” noted William Brice, PhD, in his 2009 biography of the former railroad conductor. “Fortunately that letter was not delivered until after they found oil.” (more…)

Oil & Gas History News, October 2023

October 18, 2023  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 4, No. 10

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our October newsletter. This month features many historic discoveries, including the “Roaring Ranger” of 1917 that helped fuel victory in World War I. Our weekly summaries include a 1931 multi-state pipeline; a converted offshore platform that began launching rockets in 1999; the founding of Skelly Oil in 1919; and wells drilled in New Mexico in the 1920s. October’s featured articles explore the record-setting King Ranch lease signed in 1933; the significance of geology in a 1915 Kansas oilfield discovery; newsworthy mid-19th century California oil wells; and the many stories behind the “Black Giant” discovered in East Texas on October 3,1930. Thanks for subscribing!

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

Links to summaries from four weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers.

October 16, 1931 – Natural Gas Pipeline sets Record

America’s first long-distance, high-pressure natural gas pipeline went into service during the Great Depression; it linked the prolific Texas Panhandle gas fields to consumers in Chicago. The 980-mile bolted flange pipeline required 2,600 separate right-of-way leases…MORE

October 9, 1999 – Converted Offshore Platform launches Rocket

Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway, launched its first commercial rocket using the Ocean Odyssey, a modified semi-submersible drilling platform. After a demonstration flight in March, a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket carried a DirecTV satellite to geostationary orbit…MORE

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. 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…MORE

September 25, 1922 – First New Mexico Oil Well

Midwest Refining Company launched the New Mexico petroleum industry by completing the state’s first commercial oil well. Drilled near Shiprock on the Navajo Indian Reservation, the Hogback No. 1 well produced 375 barrels of oil per day. Midwest completed 11 more wells to establish the Hogback field as a major producer of the San Juan Basin…MORE

Energy Education

The 1917 oilfield discovery at Ranger, Texas, created a drilling boom as petroleum demand soared in Europe during World War I. Following the 1918 armistice, a member of the British War Cabinet would declare, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.” Photo courtesy family of W.K. Gordon Jr. and Ranger Historical Preservation Society.

“Roaring Ranger” helps fuel WW I Victory

A wildcat well drilled halfway between Abilene and Dallas, erupted oil on October 17, 1917, launching a Texas drilling boom that helped fuel the Allied victory in World War I. The J. H. McCleskey No. 1 well revealed a giant oilfield two miles south of the small town of Ranger, which had been founded in the 1870s near a Texas Ranger camp in Eastland County. After the Great War, among the veterans attracted to North Texas was a young Conrad Hilton, who visited Cisco intending to buy a bank. When he witnessed the long line of roughnecks waiting for a room at the Mobley Hotel, he decided to buy the hotel instead. Ranger residents annually celebrate their 1917 oilfield discovery with a festival and parade down Main Street.

Learn more in Roaring Ranger wins WWI and Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.

Featured Articles

King Ranch signs Largest Private Oil Lease

The largest U.S. private oil lease ever negotiated was signed in Texas during the Great Depression. The 825,000 acre King Ranch oil deal with Humble Oil and Refining, signed in 1933, would help the company become ExxonMobil, which has extended the agreement ever since. Despite unsuccessful wells drilled on the south Texas ranch for more than a decade, a Humble Oil geologist had been convinced an oilfield could be found.

Learn more in Oil Reigns at King Ranch.

Petroleum Geology reveals Mid-Continent Oilfield

In October 1915, the science of petroleum geology played a key role in discovering the El Dorado oilfield in Kansas — and the many other Mid-Continent fields that followed. Community leaders in El Dorado had been desperate for their town to live up to its name, especially after natural gas discoveries at nearby Augusta.  Drilled by a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the discovery well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield.

Learn more in Kansas Oil Boom.

First California Oil Wells

About 35 miles north of Los Angeles, Pico Canyon produced limited amounts of crude oil as early as 1855, but there was no market for the oil. A small boom came a decade later in the northern part of the state when a well near natural oil seeps in Humboldt County, attracting more exploration companies. California’s first truly commercial oil well of September 26, 1876, led to construction of a pipeline and a kerosene refinery.

Learn more in First California Oil Wells.

“Black Giant” discovered in East Texas

With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders and others watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well was “shot” with nitroglycerin near Kilgore, Texas, on October 3, 1930. Geologists would be surprised when it became apparent the well on the widow Bradford’s farm — along with two other wells far to the north — proved to be part of the same oil-producing formation (the Woodbine) encompassing more than 140,000 acres.

Learn more in East Texas Oilfield Discovery.

Thank you for reading our October summary of petroleum history — the milestones that have shaped the modern energy industry. Your interest in this history is important, and if there are articles you especially liked, please share them with your friends. Also tell others about the AOGHS website, which continues to grow and attract a wider audience, including educators and students. Thanks too for any financial support of our work to preserve an important — but often neglected — part of American history.

— Bruce Wells

Help preserve history. Donate today.

Million Barrel Museum

1928 experimental concrete reservoir for Permian Basin oil became a water park three decades later. For one day.


Tourists traveling I-20 in West Texas should not miss the Monahans oil museum in the heart of the Permian Basin. Not just a collection of artifacts, the Million Barrel Museum’s big attraction is a former experimental oil tank the size of three football fields.

The Permian Basin once was called a “petroleum graveyard” — until a series of oilfield discoveries beginning in 1920 brought exploration companies to the vast, arid region. Completed near Big Lake in 1923, the Santa Rita No. 1 well alone would endow the University of Texas with millions of dollars.

But as oilfield discoveries grew, the lack of infrastructure for storing and transporting large volumes of oil proved to be a problem. (more…)

Oil & Gas History News, September 2023

AOGHS logo Newsletter

September 20, 2023  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 4, No. 9

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our latest look at U.S. petroleum history milestones and thank you for subscribing. We begin with America’s first company founded to drill for oil — it was reorganized in 1855 after having trouble finding investors; the 1866 establishment of the future Mobil Oil; a look at early cable-tool “jarring” technology; Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom of 1919; and the 1897 founding of Olds Motor Vehicle Company. Also featured this month is how a World War II anti-tank weapon evolved into a well perforating technology. We conclude with historic discoveries in three states: the first oil wells completed in California, Utah, and Louisiana. Thanks again for joining this unique history education network.

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

Links to summaries from five weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers.

September 18, 1855 – First U.S. Oil Company reorganizes

In need of more capital, George Bissell and partner Jonathan Eveleth reorganized their New York-based Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company — America’s first oil exploration company — into the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. They continued to seek investors for drilling a well to produce oil that could be refined into kerosene…MORE

September 11, 1866 – Distilling Kerosene in Vacuum leads to Mobil Oil

Carpenter and inventor Matthew Ewing patented a new method for distilling kerosene in a vacuum to produce lubricants. His innovation would lead to Mobil Oil. Three weeks after receiving his U.S. patent, Ewing and partner Hiram Everest founded the Vacuum Oil Company in Rochester, New York. Their first product was “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil,” a leather conditioner…MORE

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

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris of West Virginia patented his “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…MORE

August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom at McKeesport, Pennsylvania

The “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, revealed a natural gas field that attracted hundreds of exploration companies — and speculators. Drilled near the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh, the discovery well produced 60 million cubic feet of gas a day. The drilling frenzy the gas field inspired resulted in $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area…MORE

August 21, 1897 – Olds Motor Vehicle Company founded

American automotive pioneer Ransom Eli Olds (1864–1950) founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan. Renamed Olds Motor Works in 1899, the company became the first auto manufacturer established in Detroit. By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one powered by steam, electricity, and gasoline…MORE


Energy Education

Downhole Bazooka article AOGHS

Henry Mohaupt in September 1951 applied to patent anti-tank technologies he developed during World War II, including a conically hollowed out explosive “rocket grenade” fired from bazookas. 

Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology

When World War II veteran Henry H. Mohaupt patented his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun,” he brought anti-tank technology — the bazooka — to the petroleum production industry. Mohaupt, a Swiss-born chemical engineer, had led a secret U.S. Army program to develop the weapon. His design to improve perforation of well casing used conically hollowed-out explosive charges to focus each detonation’s energy. This “rocket grenade” battlefield technology would greatly improve earlier oilfield perforating “bullets,” described in a 1938 Popular Science Monthly article as “another of the latest scientific aids to oil men, the underground machine gun.”

Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

Featured Articles

California’s First Oil Boom

The earliest petroleum exploration companies often drilled near natural oil seeps. Discoveries of “black gold” after the Civil War launched the California petroleum industry. Even earlier, Pico Canyon, less than 35 miles north of Los Angeles, produced small amounts in 1855, but there was no market for the oil. The first California oil boom arrived a decade later in the northern part of the state.

Learn more in First California Oil Wells

Oil discovered in Uinta County, Utah

After decades of failed attempts by major oil companies, J.L. “Mike” Dougan of Salt Lake City on September 18, 1948, discovered Utah’s first significant oilfield. He had searched the state for more than 25 years before finding the Uinta Basin field about 10 miles southeast of Vernal. The Uinta Basin witnessed Utah’s first drilling boom following the discovery. A boom would later return later thanks to coalbed methane.

Learn more in First Utah Oil Wells.

Start of the Louisiana Oil Industry

Nine months after the headline-making January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill in Texas, another giant oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana. W. Scott Heywood completed a wildcat well on the farm of Jules Clement that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day from 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.”

Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Wells.

Thanks for reading and sharing September’s newsletter articles. Our website also has been updated with new state and national resource links, including Story Maps from the Texas General Land Office. As always, your feedback and suggestions are welcomed as we continue to expand the society’s network of oil patch historians. Help preserve petroleum history by supporting our efforts. Even a small contribution makes a real difference.

— Bruce Wells


© 2023 American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, DC 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996

ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums

Oklahoma museums preserve oil and natural gas history in Bartlesville and Ponca City.


As part of Oklahoma statehood centennial celebrations, ConocoPhillips opened two petroleum museums in 2007. The state-of-the-art energy education facilities preserve oilfield technologies, rare artifacts and images. Education programs focus on the petroleum industry’s past and future at the Ponca City and Bartlesville museums. (more…)

Oil & Gas History News, August 2023

AOGHS Logo - Oil and Gas History Newsletter

August 16, 2023  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 4, No. 8



Oil & Gas History News


Welcome to our end of summer (and back to school) petroleum history newsletter. Thanks for subscribing and sharing these articles, which helps add website visitors. This month’s topics offer a variety of people and events — from the 1986 opening of an oil museum in Union Oil’s historic headquarters to a 1920s oilfield cartographer who created a comic strip. Also featured is the iron pipeline that delivered natural gas in 1872; the evolution of a major British oil company’s logo; experiments with oilfield firefighting technologies; and how Spanish explorers in 1769 discovered “tar pits” that became a West Coast tourist attraction. We conclude with Howard Hughes Sr. patenting a two-cone roller bit in 1919 and two pipelines that helped win World War II. Thank you again for joining this petroleum history network! 



This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update


Links to summaries from four weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers. 



August 14, 1986 – Oil Museum Building listed as National Historic Place


The original headquarters of the Union Oil Company in Santa Paula, California, constructed in 1890 and turned into an oil museum since 1950, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the California Oil Museum on 1001 East Main Street offers docent-led tours of the restored Union Oil offices on the second floor…MORE



August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip


Although the comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared in August 1933, the popular Depression Era newspaper comic strip began with 1920s oilfield discoveries in the Permian Basin. A small West Texas oil town would later proclaim itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin…MORE



August 1, 1872 – Iron Pipeline delivers Natural Gas


The first recorded large-scale delivery of natural gas by pipeline began when gas was sent to more than 250 residential and commercial customers in Titusville, Pennsylvania, home of America’s first oil well, drilled in 1859. The two-inch iron pipeline carried natural gas five miles from a well producing four million cubic feet of natural gas a day…MORE



July 24, 2000 – BP unveils New Green and Yellow Logo


BP, the official name of a group of companies that included Amoco, ARCO and Castrol, unveiled a new corporate identity brand, replacing the “Green Shield” logo with a green and yellow sunflower pattern…MORE



Energy Education


Three-bladed airplane propeller

A “windmaking machine” driven by a three-bladed airplane propeller and powerful motor was used in 1929 to blow away the heat from men fighting an oilfield fire at Santa Fe Springs, California. “A track of boards was built for the machine over a lake of oil, mud and water in the ‘hot zone’ of the big fire.” Photo courtesy Hathaway Ranch and Oil Museum.


Oilfield Firefighting Technologies


Oilfield fires have challenged America’s petroleum industry since the earliest 19th century oil and natural gas wells. Oil storage tank fires, often caused by lightning strikes, were commonly fought using Civil War cannons. In the summer of 1929, about 400 volunteers fought a raging oilfield fire that had destroyed seven derricks at Santa Fe Springs, California. “Roaring Flames Turn Black Gold To Smoke,” proclaimed the Los Angeles Times. A local oil museum has preserved rare motion picture images of the propeller-driven “windmaking machine” in action — a silent film depicting an intense fire and firefighting equipment, “appropriately distant from the well head, including the wind machine. It looks like its use is more or less limited to blowing hot air, smoke and steam away from the workers and toward the fire.” 


Learn more in Oilfield Firefighting Technologies and Oilfield Artillery fights Fires


Featured Articles


Spanish describe La Brea Asphalt Pits


A Spanish expedition along the West Coast on August 3, 1769, came across what would be called the La Brea (the tar) Pits. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted a Franciscan friar. Commonly called tar pits, the sticky pools between modern Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. are actually comprised of natural asphalt, also known as bitumen.


Learn more in Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”


Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Bit 


“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete on August 10, 1909, when Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented a roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to drilling faster and deeper. Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp secretly tested a prototype in the Goose Creek oilfield and established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the dual-cone bit.


Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.


Big Inch Pipelines of WWII


In response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, construction began on the “Big Inch” pipeline on August 3, 1942. The $95 million project laid a 1,254-mile, 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from East Texas oilfields to Illinois. An accompanying 20-inch-wide line (Little Big Inch) carried gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and kerosene as far as New Jersey. 


Learn more in Big Inch Pipelines of WW II.



Every summer, oil and gas history festivals offer annual reminders of the role of petroleum in shaping the modern world. Many community museums participate in these oilfield heritage celebrations, helping preserve exploration and production milestones — and educating visitors about the industry’s early products (see kerosene for lamps). These museums also offer unique facilities for hosting K-12 education programs. Support them by visiting. Thanks again for reading our August newsletter. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed.


— Bruce Wells


© 2023 American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, DC 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996

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