Edwin Drake and his Oil Well

Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry

 

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 a well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The letter instructed him to close operations.

cover of Edwin Drake biography by William Bruce“As far as the company was concerned, the project was finished,” writes William Brice, PhD, in his detailed biography of Edwin L. Drake. “Fortunately that letter was not delivered until after they found oil.”

On Saturday afternoon on August 27, at a depth of 69.5 feet, the drill bit had dropped into a crevice, Brice notes. Late the following afternoon Drake’s driller, “Uncle Billy” Smith, visited the site “and noticed a very dark liquid floating on top of the water in the hole, which, when sampled, turned out to be oil.

“Drake’s Folly, as it was known to the local population, was not such a folly after all, for Drake had shown that large quantities of oil could be found by drilling into the earth. And so began the modern petroleum industry.”

Commissioned in 2007 by the Oil Region Alliance in Oil City, Pa., to write a new Drake biography, Brice, professor emeritus in geology and planetary science at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, published his 661-page Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.

The book, part of the 2009 celebration of the 150th anniversary of America’s first oil well, includes more than 200 pages of reference material and dozens of rare images. “Bill dug through the history related to Drake as no one has before, and the result is a much more complete picture of the man, his family and his accomplishments,” proclaimed geologist and editor of the Oilfield Journal Kathy J. Flaherty.

Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin L. Drake and the Early Oil Industry is a well-written account of Drake and his times — and the history and significance of his 1859 discovery,” adds Bruce Wells of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “Bill Brice provides the careful research needed to sort out the nonsense and brilliance of the man who established the American petroleum industry.”

A Johnstown resident, Pennsylvania, Brice was on the Pitt-Johnstown faculty from 1971 through 2005 and was a visiting professor in earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University from 1976 to 2002. Brice received the Distinguished Service Award from the History of Geology Division of the Geological Society of America in 2008. He currently is editor of the Petroleum History Institute journal Oil-Industry History.

“August 27, 1859, is one of those dates on which the world changed, Brice explains. “Edwin Drake’s quest to find oil by drilling was a success, and the modern oil and gas industry took a giant leap forward. Even though the use of petroleum dates back to the first human civilizations, the events of that Saturday afternoon along the banks of Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania, provided the spark that propelled the petroleum industry toward the future.”

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Edwin Drake and his Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resourc

AAPG – Geology Pros since 1917

World War I and vastly growing petroleum demand brought challenges to the sciences of exploration and production.

 

As 20th century worldwide demand for oil grew, the petroleum science for finding it remained obscure when a small group of geologists organized the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).

 

American Association of Petroleum Geologists 1917 logo

AAPG members maintain a professional business code.

Beginning as the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about 90 geologists gathered at Henry Kendall College, now Tulsa University. Meanwhile, deadly mechanized technologies of the First War I brought desperation to finding and producing vast supplies of oil.

On February 10, 1917, the group of earth scientists formed an association “to which only reputable and recognized petroleum geologists are admitted.”

In early January 1918, AAPG held a convention in Oklahoma City with a membership of 167 active and 17 associate members. The association issued its first technical bulletin from the papers delivered at the 1917 meeting.

The new association’s mission included promoting the science of geology, especially as it related to oil and natural gas, and encourage “technology improvements in the methods of exploring for and exploiting these substances.”

AAPG founded in this Tulsa college

AAPG was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Henry Kendall College — today’s Tulsa University.

AAPG would also “foster the spirit of scientific research among its members; to disseminate facts relating to the geology and technology of petroleum and natural gas.”

Adopted its present name a year after the meeting at Henry Kendall College, AAPG began publishing a bimonthly journal that remains among the most respected in the industry.

The peer-reviewed Bulletin included papers written by leading geologists of the day. With a subscription price of five dollars, the journal was distributed to members, university libraries, and other industry professionals.

By 1920, one petroleum trade magazine – after complaining of the industry’s lack of skilled geologists – noted the “Association Grows in Membership and Influence; Combats the Fakers.” The article praised AAPG professionalism and warned of “the large number of unscrupulous and inadequately prepared men who are attempting to do geological work.”

Similarly, the Oil Trade Journal praised AAPG for its commitment “to censor the great mass of inadequately prepared and sometimes unscrupulous reports on geological problems, which are wholly misleading to the industry.”

Using very scientific terminology, A.D. Lloyd’s document described Rusk County geology – its anticlines, faults, and a salt dome – all features associated with substantial oil deposits…and all completely fictitious.Perhaps the best known such fabrication is related to the men behind the 1930 East Texas oilfield discovery – a report entitled  “Geological, Topographical And Petroliferous Survey, Portion of Rusk County, Texas, Made for C.M. Joiner by A.D. Lloyd, Geologist And Petroleum Engineer.”

The fabrications nevertheless attracted investors, allowing Joiner and “Doc” Lloyd to drill a well that uncovered a massive oil field – still the largest conventional oil reservoir in the lower-48 states.

AAPG magazine cover of Bulletin

AAPG’s peer-reviewed journal.

Equally imaginative science came from Lloyd’s earlier descriptions of the “Yegua and Cook Mountain” formations and the thousands of seismographic registrations he ostensibly recorded. Lloyd, a former patent medicine salesman, and other self-proclaimed geologists, were the antithesis of the AAPG professional ethic.

In 1945, AAPG formed a “Committee on Boy Scout Literature” to assist the Boy Scouts of America in updating requirements for the “mining” badge, which had been awarded since 1911 (learn more in Merit Badge for Geology). By 1953, AAPG membership had grown to more than 10,000 and a permanent headquarters building opened Tulsa.

Today, the association is the world’s largest professional geological society with more than 31,000 members in 116 countries. AAPG still embraces a membership code that assures “integrity, business ethics, personal honor, and professional conduct.”

AAPG’s Robbie Rice Gries – with help from many dedicated volunteers – in March 2017 published a 405-page history of pioneering women in petroleum geology: Anomalies – Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917 to 2017, The First 100 Years.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join AOGHS today to help us maintain this energy education website, expand historical research, and extend public outreach. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “AAPG – Geology Pros since 1917.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/aapg-geology-pros-since-1917. Last Updated: February 2, 2020. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.

Felty Outdoor Oil Museum

North Texas petroleum history preserved by a dedicated Burkburnett independent producer.

 

Three generations of the Felty family have kicked historic Burkburnett oilfield mud from their boots while maintaining the Felty Outdoor Oil Museum. The first, Francis “F.T.” Felty Sr., worked in Wichita County through the revival of a North Texas drilling boom during World War Two. Responding to the war’s steel shortages, he crisscrossed the oil patch in a truck pulling used casings. It turned into a long career in the oil patch. (more…)

Wisconsin Petroleum Museum

Businessman’s service station artifacts preserve U.S. transportation history and educate visitors.

Ed Jacobsen, once an oil company sales representative in the Chicago area, bought his first service station in the late 1960s. More than three decades and six stations later, he retired to his wife’s hometown of Three Lakes in the Northwoods region of upper Wisconsin.

But Ed missed the world of service stations. He began visiting flea markets and garage sales before creating a Wisconsin petroleum museum.

Ed Jacobsen’s expertise – and love for “the world of service stations” – resulted in the 2006 opening of Wisconsin’s Northwoods Petroleum Museum. The museum has help attracted nearly 2,000 people to an annual car show.

By 2006, as Ed’s petroleum-related memorabilia climbed above 2,700 items. He (and his wife) realized there was a looming storage problem — although he still maintained that technically, he was not a collector.

“Many collectors buy, sell or trade memorabilia to make money,” he says. “I believe in the educational value of these items – and preserving a history many people may have forgotten.” (more…)

ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums

Oklahoma oil and natural gas history exhibited in Ponca City Bartlesville.

 

As part of Oklahoma statehood centennial celebrations, ConocoPhillips in 2007 opened two state-or-the-art museums. Today, rare oilfield artifacts, historic images, and energy education programs focus on the petroleum industry’s past and future at the Ponca City and Bartlesville museums .

 ConocoPhillips oil museums oil tank wagon

A circa 1880s Continental Oil Company horse-drawn tank wagon welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma, which opened in 2007. Phillips Petroleum Company, once headquartered 70 miles east in Bartlesville, merged with Conoco in 2002. Photo by Bruce Wells.

conocophillips petroleum museum interior oil exhibits

The Conoco Museum tells the story of a petroleum company that began as a small kerosene distributor serving 19th century pioneer America.

“These museums reaffirm our Oklahoma roots,” proclaimed Jim Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, on May 12, 2007. His company built the Conoco Museum in Ponca City and the Phillips Museum in Bartlesville as “gifts to the people of Oklahoma, visitors to the state, and our employee and retiree populations around the world.” (more…)

ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums

Two museums celebrate Oklahoma statehood centennial in 2007.

As part of Oklahoma statehood centennial celebrations, ConocoPhillips in 2007 opened two state-of-the-art museums. Today, rare oilfield artifacts, historic images, and energy education programs focus on the petroleum industry’s past and future at the Ponca City and Bartlesville museums .

conocophillips petroleum museum

A circa 1880s Continental Oil Company horse-drawn tank wagon welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma, which opened in 2007. Phillips Petroleum Company, once headquartered 70 miles east in Bartlesville, merged with Conoco in 2002. Photos by Bruce Wells.

 

conocophillips petroleum museum

The Conoco Museum tells the story of a company that began as a 19th century kerosene distributor in Utah.

“These museums reaffirm our Oklahoma roots,” proclaimed Jim Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, on May 12, 2007. His company built the Conoco Museum in Ponca City and the Phillips Museum in Bartlesville as “gifts to the people of Oklahoma, visitors to the state, and our employee and retiree populations around the world.” (more…)