Oil & Gas History News, April 2022

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April 20, 2022  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 4

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our latest look back at U.S. petroleum history, the people and events that shaped the energy industry. This month’s article links include technology breakthroughs, first oilfield discoveries, and two inventive brothers in the early Pennsylvania oil region. An offshore article notes how a converted drilling platform launched a rocket in 1999. Finally, whether kerosene saved the whales can be debated, but kerosene saved lives by replacing a popular but volatile lamp fuel.

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. 

April 18, 1939 – Patent for perforating Well Casing

Ira McCullough of Los Angeles patented a multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system. He explained the object of his oilfield invention was “to provide a device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well in which projectiles or perforating elements are shot through the casing and into the formation.”…MORE

April 11, 1957 – Oklahoma Independent William Skelly dies

William Grove Skelly died in Tulsa after a long career as an independent producer that began as a 15-year-old tool dresser in early Pennsylvania oilfields. Prior to World War I, Skelly found success in the El Dorado field outside Wichita, Kansas. He incorporated Skelly Oil Company in Tulsa in 1919, and helped make the Oklahoma boom town the “Oil Capital of the World.”…MORE

April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin

After eight months of drilling in weather that included severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered a North Dakota oilfield. The well revealed the Williston Basin two miles beneath Clarence Iverson’s farm near Tioga. Exploration companies rushed to the region and leased about 30 million acres within two months. The petroleum-rich geologic basin proved to extend into Montana, South Dakota, and Canada…MORE

March 28, 1886 – Discovery launches Indiana Natural Gas Boom

A drilling boom began at Portland, Indiana, after the Eureka Gas and Oil Company found a natural gas field at a depth of only 700 feet. The discovery arrived just two months after a spectacular natural gas well about 100 miles to the northeast — the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio…MORE

March 21, 1881 – Earth Scientist becomes USGS Director

President James Garfield appointed John Wesley Powell director of the United States Geological Survey, a federal scientific agency established two years earlier. Powell, a respected geologist and expedition leader, led USGS for the next decade, laying the foundations for modern earth science research…MORE

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Energy Education

Densmore brothers oil tank railroad car, circa 1865.

The first functional railway oil tank car was invented and constructed in 1865 by James and Amos Densmore at the Miller Farm along Oil Creek, in northwestern Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum, Titusville, Pennsylvania.

First Oil Tank Railroad Cars

As U.S. oil production skyrocketed following the Civil War, the new petroleum industry’s infrastructure struggled to keep up. Railroad tank cars designed and fabricated by two brothers helped improve shipment volumes from oilfields to kerosene refineries. On  April 10, 1866, James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, patented their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum.” The dual wooden tank design did not last, but greater success came when Amos invented the “QWERTY” keyboard arrangement, leading to the Densmore Typewriter Company.

Learn more in Densmore Brothers invent First Oil Tank Car.

Featured Articles

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Converted Offshore Platform launches Rocket

The Ocean Odyssey, a self-propelled, semi-submersible platform designed to endure massive North Atlantic waves, became a floating equatorial launch pad on March 27, 1999. The former ARCO drilling platform launched a Russian Zenit-3SL rocket, fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen, placing a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit from a remote Pacific Ocean launch site.

Learn more in Offshore Rocket Launcher.

Kerosene replaces Explosive Lamp Fuel

In the years leading to the Civil War, most Americans could only afford light emitted by animal-fat, tallow candles. The most popular lamp fuel by far was the “burning fluid” called camphene, a mixture of turpentine, alcohol and camphor oil extracted from camphor trees. It was inexpensive but had a tendency to explode. Kerosene, patented by Canadian Abraham Gesner in 1854, would soon illuminate the world.

Learn more in Camphene to Kerosene Lamps.

As summer approaches, new energy education opportunities are emerging at community oil and gas museums. Help them by visiting this summer. Consider hosting an educational event like a teacher workshop at their facilities. Thank you again for subscribing to this newsletter — and for visiting our AOGHS website, which has been adding content, new links (and visitors) thanks to financial help from our annual supporting members.

— Bruce Wells

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© 2022 American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, District of Columbia 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996

Oil & Gas History News, March 2022

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March 16, 2022  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 3

Oil & Gas History News

The historical society’s March newsletter features some hard lessons in exploration and production history, major oilfield discoveries, advances in refining processes, and petroleum polymers that changed the world. The USS Texas, today a museum in La Porte, illustrates how oil replaced coal-fired boilers at sea in the early 20th century. Thank you for subscribing — and sharing — these petroleum history summaries and links!

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. 

March 14, 1910 – Lakeview No. 1 Well erupts in California

The Union Oil Company Lakeview No. 1 well erupted a geyser of oil at dawn in Kern County, California. With limited technologies for managing deep, highly pressured formations of the Midway-Sunset field, drillers could not control the well. As new well-control methods evolved, California had experienced other accidental spills, including the Shamrock gusher in 1896 and the 1909 Midway gusher…MORE

March 7, 1902 – Oil discovered at Sour Lake, Texas

Adding to giant Texas oilfields, the Sour Lake field was discovered about 20 miles west of the world-famous Spindletop field of January 1901. The spa town of Sour Lake became a boom town where several major oil companies, including Texaco, got their start. Originally settled in 1835 and called Sour Lake Springs, the town’s healing “sulphureus spring water” fed a nearby lake…MORE

February 28, 1935 – DuPont Chemist invents Nylon

A former Harvard chemistry professor working in a DuPont research laboratory discovered the world’s first synthetic fiber, the petroleum product nylon. After experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, Wallace Carothers created a long molecule chain — a stretching plastic. The inventor had earlier discovered neoprene (commonly used in wetsuits), advancing understanding of polymers…MORE

February 21, 1887 – Refining Process brings Riches to Rockefeller

Mining engineer and chemist Herman Frasch applied to patent his process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” The former employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey was quickly rehired by John D. Rockefeller, who owned oilfields near Lima, Ohio, that produced a thick, sulfurous oil. Rockefeller had accumulated a 40-million barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.”…MORE

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Energy Education

Plumes of smoke from coal-burning warships - Petroleum and Sea Power AOGHS

Fleets of coal-powered warships required strategically placed worldwide coaling stations, which influenced America’s foreign policies. Commissioned in 1914, the USS Texas was the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers. It burned up to 10 tons of coal every hour, producing dense smoke and tons of ash. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy.

Petroleum and Sea Power

Congress began evaluating oil as a replacement for coal to fire the Navy’s boilers as early as 1866. The experts decided to keep using coal. By 1916, the Navy had commissioned its first two capital ships with oil-fired boilers, the USS Nevada and the USS Oklahoma. To resupply them, “oilers” were designed to transfer fuel while at anchor, although underway replenishment was possible. Before converting to oil-fired boilers in 1925, the USS Texas — the “Mighty T” — carried 2,000 tons of coal with a crew of “coal passers.” The post-World War I worldwide change from coal to oil power at sea became another chapter of petroleum history.

Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power.

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Featured Articles

First Commercial Hydraulic Fracturing

A team of scientists and petroleum engineers from Halliburton and Stanolind companies on March 17, 1949, performed the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing on an oil well 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma. Two years earlier, they had tested fracturing formations with a pressurized liquid at a natural gas well near Hugoton, Kansas, proving the method’s efficacy for increasing production. Stanolind developed the technology with an exclusive license issued to Halliburton Company.

Learn more in Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History.

“Diamond Glenn” opens Shamrock Hotel

On St. Patrick’s Day of 1949, flamboyant Texas independent producer Glenn H. McCarthy hosted the grand opening of his $21 million, 1,100-room Shamrock Hotel on the outskirts of Houston. McCarthy, who had discovered 11 oilfields by 1945 and appeared on the cover of TIME in 1950, reportedly spent $1 million for his hotel’s opening day gala. He arranged for a 16-car Santa Fe Super Chief train to bring friends from Hollywood.

Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.

Wham-O and Petroleum Product Hoopla

In 1954, two research scientists at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, invented a high-density polyethylene. Phillips marketing executives named the new petroleum product “Marlex,” but transition from lab to market proved difficult as they searched for buyers. Then the Wham-O toy company found the durable plastic ideal for making hoops and flying platters.

Learn more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.

Research Request Update

A professional engineer from El Dorado, Arkansas, responded to last month’s request from an MIT professor seeking information about Wilber L. Nelson, author of the 1936 textbook Petroleum Refinery Engineering. Nelson, who taught at the University of Tulsa, also wrote a technology column for the Oil and Gas Journal. The reply has been posted in the comments on the Petroleum History Forum.

Two years after the beginning of Covid, community oil and gas museums are beginning to reopen. Please plan a visit — or school field trip — to support these dedicated energy educators. Volunteer docents are often retired petroleum geologists. Today more than ever, petroleum history is relevant. Thanks again for visiting our website and subscribing. We depend on supporting members.

— Bruce Wells

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© 2021 American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, District of Columbia 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996

Oil & Gas History News, February 2022

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February 16, 2022  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 2

Oil & Gas History News

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Welcome to our latest summary of events in U.S. oil and natural gas industry history. This February newsletter features exploration and technology milestones, including the 1944 discovery of Alabama’s first oilfield by H.L. Hunt, who earlier made discoveries in Arkansas and East Texas. Also featured this month is a research request from an MIT associate professor, one of many educators who appreciate the AOGHS website’s outreach to petroleum industry professionals. Thank you again for subscribing.

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

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

February 15, 1982 – Atlantic Storm sinks Drilling Platform

With rogue waves reaching as high as 65 feet during a deadly Atlantic cyclone, offshore drilling platform Ocean Ranger sank on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Canada, killing all 84 on board. Described at the time as the world’s largest semi-submersible platform, Ocean Ranger in November 1981 began drilling a third well in the Hibernia oilfield for Mobil Oil of Canada…MORE

February 7, 1817 – First Manufactured Gas Street Light

America’s first public street lamp fueled by manufactured gas illuminated Baltimore. The city’s Gas Light Company became the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company by distilling tar and wood to make its lamp gas. A replica of the original 1817 street light was dedicated in 1997 at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street…MORE

January 31, 1888 – Death of a Pennsylvania Oil Scout

Thirty-seven-year-old Justus McMullen, already a famous Pennsylvania oil scout, succumbed to pneumonia contracted while investigating production data from a well near Canonsburg. Often called “night riders of the hemlock,” oilfield detectives like McMullen debunked rumors and demystified well production reports, sometimes despite armed guards…MORE

January 24, 1895 – Independent Producers organize Pure Oil

To counter market dominance John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company and Trust, Pennsylvania independent oil producers, refiners, and pipeline operators organized Pure Oil Company in Pittsburgh. Before building a Chicago skyscraper for its new headquarters in 1926, Pure Oil had become the second vertically integrated U.S. petroleum company after Standard…MORE

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Energy Education

Alabama-geololgical-map-

Geological Map of Alabama printed in 1849 by Michael Tuomey, professor of geology, mineralogy and agricultural chemistry at the University of Alabama. He published the “First Biennial Report of the Geology of Alabama” one year later. Image courtesy University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections.

First Alabama Oil Well

Tar pills reportedly had been curing ills since the middle of the19th century, but Alabama’s petroleum industry officially began with discovery of its first oilfield in 1944. “Mineral tar” reports from the 1840s had inspired independent producer Haroldson Lafayette “H.L” Hunt to drill the Jackson No. 1 well, which he completed on February 17, 1944, at a depth of 2,585 feet in the Selma chalk. Michael Tuomey, the first state geologist of Alabama from 1848 until his death in 1857, had noted, “Patients visiting the Spring find the tar taken and swallowed as pills, the most efficient form of the remedy.”

Learn more in First Alabama Oil Well.

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Featured Articles

Walter Trout’s Nodding Donkey

From eccentric wheels to the counter-balanced “nodding donkey,” technology for producing oil improved in 1925, thanks to Walter Trout. While working at Lufkin Foundry & Machine Company in East Texas, Trout sketched out his idea for a highly efficient oil production device — today’s iconic pump jack. A prototype was installed at a Humble Oil Company well near Hull, Texas. “The well was perfectly balanced, but even with this result, it was such a funny looking, odd thing that it was subject to ridicule and criticism,” Trout noted.

Learn more in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology

Texas Pipeline Art of “Daddy-O” Wade

Of about 2.5 million miles of U.S. energy pipelines, two 48-inch-wide sections have contributed to modern art. In 1993, offbeat Texas artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade used petroleum pipe segments to make a giant, blue saxophone. Known for “keeping it weird” since making the scene in Austin in 1961, Wade created his sculpture for a Houston jazz club.

Learn more in “Smokesax” Art has Pipeline Heart.

Research Request

MIT associate professor: “I am doing research on the role of the University of Tulsa in the education of petroleum refining engineers and in particular am seeking information about a professor who taught there named W.L. Nelson, author of the textbook Petroleum Refinery Engineering, first published in 1936…”

Learn more in Petroleum History Forum.

Thanks for reading our monthly look at petroleum history milestones. Visit the AOGHS website for the latest articles and updated energy education contacts. Your suggestions are welcome, especially for adding links to the popular pages of state and national resources. Reader input also improves our editorial content for new and returning website visitors, just as sharing articles expands outreach. So does financial help from supporting members.

— Bruce Wells

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© 2021 American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, District of Columbia 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996

Oil & Gas History News, January 2022

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January 19, 2022  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 3, No. 1

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2022. Thank you for subscribing. January’s petroleum history milestones include the beginning of a pre-World War I oil boom in North Texas; the iconic Spindletop gusher of 1901; a deep 1948 Permian Basin discovery; an 1890s businesswoman who made explosives; and the 1950s search for oil west of Seattle. This month also features an offshore pioneer in technologies for remotely operated vehicles and dynamic positioning. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed.

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.

January 17, 1911 – North Texas Oil Discovery brings Boom

Producers Oil Company revealed the Electra oilfield in North Texas when its Waggoner No. 5 well began producing 50 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 1,825 feet. A rush of exploration companies resulted in many more discoveries on William Waggoner’s ranch, bringing prosperity to the town named after his daughter…MORE

January 10, 1901 – Texas Well launches Modern Oil Industry

The modern U.S. petroleum industry began on a hill in southeastern Texas when a well erupted near Beaumont. The Spindletop oilfield, which yielded 3.59 million barrels of oil by the end of 1901, would produce more oil in one day than all the rest of the world’s oilfields combined. The “Lucas Gusher” and other nearby discoveries changed American transportation by providing abundant oil for cheap gasoline…MORE

January 4, 1948 – Deep Discovery in Permian Basin

After years of frustration, exploration of the Permian Basin suddenly intensified again when a wildcat well found oil and natural gas in a deep geologic formation. The Slick-Urschel Oil Company drilled the well in partnership with geologist and independent producer Michael Late Benedum, who had discovered oilfields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia since the 1890s…MORE

December 28, 1898 – Mrs. Alford inherits a Nitro Factory 

Byron S. Alford died and left his nitroglycerin factory to his wife Mary, who would make the Bradford, Pennsylvania, business thrive. She was “the only known woman to own a dynamite and nitroglycerin factory,” declared a 2017 Smithsonian magazine article…MORE

December 20, 1951 – Oil discovered in Washington State 

A short-lived oil discovery in Washington foretold the state’s production future when the Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company completed a well in Grays Harbor County. The Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well near Ocean City initially produced 35 barrels of oil a day…MORE

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Energy Education

ROV-Patent-AOGHS-e1358172248935

An “underwater manipulator with suction support device” was one of many patents awarded to Howard L. Shatto Jr. for his offshore technology innovations. While working for Shell Oil Company, Shatto designed remotely operated vehicles that could install production equipment at a greater depth than divers could safely work. 

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ROVs — Swimming Socket Wrenches

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Underwater robot technology began in the late 1950s when Hughes Aircraft developed a Manipulator Operated Robot — MOBOT — for the Atomic Energy Commission. Working on land, the robot performed in highly radioactive environments. The offshore oil industry recognized the potential of “underwater electronic nerves, hydraulic muscles, and TV eyes.” Howard L. Shatto Jr. (1924-2018) developed ROVs for the first subsea wellheads. In 1960, he designed the world’s first automatic control for dynamic positioning for Eureka, a Shell Oil core drillship. He was inducted into the Oilfield Energy Center Hall of Fame in 2000.

Learn more in ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench.

Featured Articles

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Asphalt paves the Way

President Ulysses S. Grant in December directed that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad asphalt in December 1875. One year later, the president’s paving project covered about 54,000 square yards. By 1903, Congress had established a mechanical and chemical laboratory to test road materials. Within a decade, petroleum asphalt dominated the marketplace.

Learn more in Asphalt paves the Way

1866 Rotary Rig Design

An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent issued after the Civil War included the basic elements of the modern petroleum industry’s rotary rig. On January 2, 1866, Peter Sweeney of New York City was granted U.S. patent No. 51,902 for a drilling system with many innovative technologies.

Learn more in Sweeny’s 1866 Rotary Rig

Inventive Oilfield Service Company Founders

Exploring the roots of oilfield service company giants Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools:  As the U.S. petroleum expanded following the January 1901 Spindletop discovery in Texas, service company pioneers like Ruben “Carl” Baker and Howard Hughes Sr. brought new technologies to oilfields.

Learn more in Carl Baker and Howard Hughes

Thank you again for helping the historical society preserve America’s petroleum history. We hope you will share this newsletter with your friends and colleagues. Telling others about AOGHS articles helps bring more visitors to our energy education website. Please also consider becoming a supporting member to increase our 2022 outreach.

— Bruce Wells

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In memory of my brother Timothy G. Wells (1958 – 2022)

© 2021 American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, District of Columbia 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996

Oil & Gas History News, December 2021

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December 15, 2021  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 2, No. 12

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our last monthly chronology of U.S. petroleum history for 2021. Thank you again for subscribing and sharing these articles with others. This latest newsletter features a 1905 gas-electric hybrid auto, helium produced from natural gas, an early boom town entertainer, and a pipeline that would challenge Standard Oil’s monopoly of railroad tank cars. There’s a lot more in our December issue, which concludes with a holiday article featuring a waxy petroleum product.

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.

December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears

“The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” declared a 1905 article in the Horseless Age. The popular monthly journal, first published in 1895, described early motor technologies, including compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam and diesel power, as well as hybrids…MORE

December 7, 1905 – Helium discovered in Natural Gas

Scientists at the University of Kansas revealed the importance of natural gas for producing helium when they discovered significant amounts of helium in a 1903 natural gas well drilled at Dexter, Kansas. The town’s “Gas That Wouldn’t Burn” led to a multi-million dollar industry, according to the American Chemical Society, which in 2000 designated the discovery of Kansas helium in natural gas a national historic chemical landmark…MORE

December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth arrives at Famous Oil Boom Town

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania, America’s first famously notorious oil boom town. A January 1865 oilfield discovery had launched the drilling frenzy that created Pithole, which within a year had 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania…MORE

November 22, 1878 –  Tidewater Pipe Company established

Byron Benson organized the Tidewater Pipe Company in Pennsylvania. In 1879 his company would build the first oil pipeline to cross the Alleghenies from Coryville to the Philadelphia Reading Railroad 109 miles away. The work – much of it done in winter using sleds to move pipe sections – bypassed Standard Oil Company’s dominance in transporting petroleum…MORE

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Energy Education

Newsletter-artillery-cannon-AOGHS

Early petroleum technologies included cannons for fighting oilfield fires, especially in the great plains where lightning strikes often ignited storage tanks. Shooting holes in the tank allowed oil to drain until the fire died out. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum, El Dorado.

Fighting Oilfield Fires with Cannons

“Oil Fires, like battles, are fought by artillery,” proclaimed an 1884 student newspaper article at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The firsthand account, “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country,” described the problem of oilfield lightning strikes. The MIT article not only reported the fiery destruction, but also the practice of using solid shot from cannons to extinguish burning oil tanks.

Learn more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.

Featured Articles

Oil Queen of California

Emma Summers would become a woman to be reckoned with in the early Los Angeles petroleum industry. A refined southern lady who graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, Summers moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano. With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field in 1892, she caught oil fever.

Learn more in Oil Queen of California.

First U.S. Drive-In Gas Service Station

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold on December 1, 1913, when Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Unlike earlier simple curbside stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation.

Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

Rise and Fall of “Coal Oil Johnny”

The lucky life of John Washington Steele began in December 1844, when he was adopted as an infant to grow up on the McClintock family farm along Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. Fifteen years later, when the widow McClintock suddenly died, Johnny, at age 20, inherited a fortune in royalties. His petroleum wealth would not last, but for a time, “Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known,” reported the New York Times.

Learn more in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.”

Oleaginous History of Wax Lips

Paraffin from America’s earliest oilfields soon found its way from refinery to candles, crayons, chewing gum, and an unusual candy. When Ralphie Parker and his 4th-grade classmates dejectedly handed over their Wax Fangs to Mrs. Shields in “A Christmas Story,” a generation might be reminded of what a penny used to buy at the local Woolworth’s store.

Learn more in Oleaginous History of Wax Lips

As we head into 2022, show your support for the American Oil & Gas Historical Society and its energy education website. A special thanks to this year’s members who have contributed to our efforts to preserve the history of exploration, production, transportation, products, etc. Too often neglected, U.S. petroleum history offers a context for understanding today’s energy challenges.

— Bruce Wells

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“A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.” – San Francisco Call newspaper, July 21, 1901.

Oil & Gas History News, November 2021

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November 17, 2021  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 2, No. 11

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s monthly chronology of U.S. petroleum history. Our November issue features a 1952 Williston Basin oil production milestone; the 1880 death of the man who drilled America’s first oil well; an innovative two-tank railroad car of 1865; and the infamous 1929 Teapot Dome scandal. Also featured is the first U.S. auto show, which took place in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1900; the most popular models proved to be electric, steam, and gasoline…in that order.

Support AOGHS History News

“Very educational and interesting. Keep up the good work.” — New AOGHS Member

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.

November 15, 1952 – Williston Basin produces Millionth Barrel of Oil

The Williston Basin produced its millionth barrel of oil, which came from five fields in three North Dakota counties. By the end of 1952, monthly production would reach 356,000 barrels of oil. “Oil was first found in the Williston Basin along the Cedar Creek Anticline in southeastern Montana, in the 1920s,” noted the North Dakota Geological Survey…MORE

November 8, 1880 – Death of Father of U.S. Petroleum Industry

Edwin Laurentine Drake, the former railroad conductor who drilled the first U.S. commercial oil well, died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at age 61. His famous 1859 Pennsylvania oil discovery had brought prosperity to many, but Drake lost all his money in speculative ventures. He became so destitute the Pennsylvania legislature voted him a $1,500 pension in 1873…MORE

November 1, 1865 – Densmore Railroad Oil Tank Car arrives

The first of James and Amos Densmore’s innovative railroad cars with two oil tanks arrived at the Miller Farm, four miles south of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The inventors would be awarded a U.S. patent in early 1866 for their dual tank design. Crude oil for the iron-banded wooden tanks on a flatcar came from Samuel Van Syckle’s two-inch iron pipeline, another petroleum industry first…MORE

October 25, 1929 – Cabinet Member guilty in Teapot Dome Scandal

Albert B. Fall, appointed Interior Secretary in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding, was found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office, becoming the first cabinet official in U.S. history to be convicted of a felony. An executive order from Harding had given Fall full control of the Naval Petroleum Reserves…MORE

Energy Education

Winton Motor Carriage 1898 ad

Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in 1900, less than a thousand were powered by gasoline. This ad for a Winton Motor Carriage with “hydrocarbon motor” – often identified as the first American automobile ad – appeared in a 1898 issue of Scientific American magazine. 

New York City hosts First U.S. Auto Show

America’s first gathering of the latest automotive technologies on November 3, 1900, attracted thousands to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Manufacturers presented 160 different vehicles and conducted driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that encircled the exhibits. A 200-foot ramp tested hill-climbing power. New Yorkers welcomed automobiles as a way to reduce the estimated 450,000 tons of horse manure annually removed from the city’s streets.

Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion — 1st U.S. Auto Show.

Featured Articles

Manufactured Gas Companies become Con Edison

In November 1884, the largest U.S. gas utility company at the time was established in New York City when six gas-light companies — using manufactured “coal gas” — merged to form the Consolidated Gas Company. With revenue of $12.25 billion in 2020, Consolidated Edison can trace its earliest roots to the New York Gas Light Company, which received a charter from the state legislature in 1823. Later conflicts between crews from competing companies gave rise to the term “gas house gangs.”

Learn more in History of Con Edison.

Natural Gas Well lights Pittsburgh in 1878

While exploring for oil near Murrysville, Pennsylvania, a well drilled by Michael and Obediah Haymaker erupted natural gas on November 3, 1878. “Every piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind,” Michael Haymaker recalled. Without technologies to cap the well and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities, the Haymaker brothers’ well drew thousands of onlookers to a flaming torch that burned for 18 months. “Outlet of a natural gas well near Pittsburgh — a sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly.

Learn more in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.

Olinda Oil Wells Star Pitcher vs. Babe Ruth

Former oilfield worker Walter “Big Train” Johnson returned to his oil patch roots for an exhibition game with Babe Ruth in Brea, California, on October 31, 1924. Three decades earlier, Johnson had started his baseball career as a 16-year-old pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells. As baseball became America’s favorite pastime, many oil patch boom towns fielded teams – with names that reflected their communities’ enthusiasm and often their livelihood.

Learn more in Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball.

Thanks to you, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society helps preserve U.S. petroleum history, which provides a context for understanding the modern energy business. With your continued support, AOGHS can expand its energy education resources, including links to community museums, historical societies, libraries, and others. Please share this newsletter to expand our petroleum history network. Generously support maintenance of the AOGHS website!

— Bruce Wells

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“Gentlemen, it appears to me that there is much ground for encouragement in the belief that your company have in their possession a raw material from which, by simple and not expensive processes, they may manufacture very valuable products.” — Yale Professor Benjamin Silliman Jr. 1855 report to the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company.

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