Oil & Gas History News, May 2021

AOGHS logo Newsletter

May 19, 2021  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 2, No. 5

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our May summary of U.S. energy milestones that have led to today’s energy industry. This month includes more oil and gas museum news, the story of an 1882 “mystery well” in Pennsylvania, and two noteworthy patents for oilfield-related technologies. As always, your comments are welcomed — and a special thank you to our new subscribers and the many readers who share this newsletter.

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. 

May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well shocks Pennsylvania Oil Prices

With the U.S. petroleum industry less than 25 years old, a “Mystery Well” at Cherry Creek, Pennsylvania, flowed at 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Once a closely guarded secret, news of the prolific discovery sent shock waves through early oil trading markets. Certificates for more than 4.5 million barrels of oil were sold in one day at oil exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford…MORE

May 12, 2007 – Oil and Gas Museums open in Oklahoma

As part of the Oklahoma statehood centennial celebration, ConocoPhillips Corp. opened the Conoco Museum in Ponca City and the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville. Conoco began in 1875 as the Continental Oil and Transportation Company, using horse-drawn wagons to deliver kerosene in Ogden, Utah. Brothers Frank and L.E. Phillips in 1917 consolidated their successful exploration companies to form Phillips Petroleum Company, which merged with Conoco in 2002…MORE

May 3, 1870 – Lantern with Two Spouts patented

Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, received a U.S. patent for his “safety derrick lamp,” a two-wicked lantern popularly known as the “Yellow Dog” in early oilfields. Dillen created his lamp, “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places…MORE

April 26, 1947 – Oil Industry promoted on Radio

For the first time since its establishment in 1919, the American Petroleum Institute (API) launched a national advertising campaign. “The theme of the drive is that the petroleum industry is a modern and progressive one, and is now turning out the best products in its history,” noted Billboard. “Radio this week struck real pay dirt as a ‘Gusher’ will come mainly from expansion of current air time…MORE

Energy Education

George Failing Drilling Truck AOGHS

On May 19, 1942, George E. Failing received a U.S. patent for a portable drilling rig he had invented a decade earlier using his Ford farm truck and an assembly to transfer power from the engine to the drill. Failing would receive more than 300 patents for oilfield tools. Photo courtesy GEFCO.

Technology Pioneers save Conroe Oilfield

When a catastrophic fire threatened the entire production of a Texas oilfield in early 1933, George E. Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, and H. John Eastman of Long Beach, California, applied new technologies to end the crisis. A well in the Conroe field had roared into flames, cratered, and swallowed two nearby rigs before Failing arrived with his portable rig to drill relief wells. H. John Eastman, known today as the father of directional drilling, later would apply recently perfected surveying instruments that allowed “the bit burrowing into the ground at strange angles,” according to Popular Science. Learn more in Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”

Oil & Gas Museums

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton  began welcoming visitors on May 16, 1961. Volunteer docents explained the history of what was then the largest natural gas field in the world. Covering more than 14 counties in Kansas, the Hugoton field extends 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. It remains the world’s greatest source of helium. Learn more in Hugoton Natural Gas Museum.

All oil patch historians are encouraged to visit community oil and gas museums this summer. Many have begun reopening in PennsylvaniaOklahomaTexasCalifornia, and other states.

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

As the historical society adds more teacher and student subscribers, an encouraging number of supporting members are active or retired petroleum engineers, geologists, and other industry professionals. Their financial support, comments, and suggestions are appreciated. Thanks again to all AOGHS members for helping to preserve petroleum history.

— Bruce Wells

Summer Travels to Oil Museums

It’s summertime and visiting a petroleum museum is easy.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Happily, the spring of 2021 has witnessed many community oil and gas museums beginning to reopen — and they now need your support, because Covid-19 put an abrupt end to visits. The links below can help you check any museum’s status for both in-person distance learning programs.


As millions of Americans cautiously begin trekking across the country on summer vacations, among the most educational but less well known stops are community oil and natural gas museums in the 33 producing states. For the many thousands of people who today work (or have worked) in the energy industry, energy education opportunities abound at community festivals.

Oklahoma and Texas alone offer dozens of museums with petroleum related exhibits and events. Meet the dedicated docents – many retired petroleum geologists, engineers, exploration and production executives, oilfield services company (and station) owners, and more. Plan your summer travels to oil museums today!

Texas Energy Museum exhibit

Petroleum exhibits educate visitors to the Texas Energy Museum in Beaumont, where a 1901 oil discovery at Spindletop Hill launched the modern petroleum industry. Photo by Bruce Wells.

In Texas, the Petroleum Museum in Midland includes many summer energy education programs for kids, as does an offshore rig museum in Galveston. Other community oil and gas museums and annual “derrick festivals” can be found in California, Illinois, Wyoming, West Virginia, and Ohio. Alabama even has a small county museum in Gilbertown with an “old Hunt oil rig” similar to the one that discovered the first oilfield in Alabama in 1944.

Further, many communities celebrate their petroleum heritage every summer with parades, special events, and museum tours (see Community Oil & Gas Festivals).

Kids play at Drake Well Museum wooden derrick

Visitors to the Drake Well Museum along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, can tour a replica of the Edwin Drake’s cable-tool derrick and steam-engine house among other outdoor exhibits. Photo by Bruce Wells.

For those interested in the industry’s exploration and production history and traveling this summer, check out these petroleum museums with exhibits chronicling the nation’s discoveries.

Western New York boasts a museum in Bolivar with some of the nation’s earliest petroleum artifacts. While dairying and livestock have become the cash crops, the region still produces a small amount of very high quality oil and natural gas, says Director Kelly Lounsberry. This museum tells the story of oil and natural gas production in the region.

Pioneer Oil Museum of New York

Exhibits at a museum in Bolivar, N.Y., include oilfield engines, maps, documents, pictures, models and tools. Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum once owned an petroleum products company there – and sold oil cans. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The first U.S. well specifically intended to obtain natural gas was dug near Fredonia by William Hart, who had noticed gas bubbles on the surface of a creek. In 1821, he dug a 27-foot well and built a “log pipe” to bring gas to nearby houses for lighting.

Hart’s work led to the formation of the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company – the first U.S. natural gas company, according to the American Gas Association, Washington, D.C., which was founded in 1918.

Further, thanks to the region’s oilfield production, L. Frank Baum opened a petroleum products business in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1883. The future author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz once sold buggy wheel axle grease – and oil cans (learn more in Oil in the Land of Oz).

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Just to the south of Bolivar, there are many museums and historic attractions in the state where the modern industry began: Pennsylvania.

East of I-79 in northwestern Pennsylvania, the Drake Well Museum in Titusville exhibits “Colonel” Edwin Drake’s famous August 27, 1859, discovery well – today recognized as the first U.S. oil producer. Soon after Drake made his discovery, iron pipelines about two inches in diameter were transporting natural gas more than five miles.


The Drake Well Museum’s outdoor exhibits include a recreation of the original cable-tool derrick Drake used. A popular summer attraction is the “Nitro” well fracturing reenactment that demonstrates the use of “go-devils” for fracturing a well. Visit the museum gift shop to find a reprint of the Early Days of Oil, by Dr. Paul Giddens, a book considered to be the “Bible” of information about the birth of the U.S. petroleum industry. Many images are from originals made by photographer John A. Mather and today housed at the museum.

Located on 270 Seneca Street in Oil City – in a Beaux Arts building listed in the National Register of Historic Places – the Venango Museum of Art, Science & Industry preserves the oil region’s industrial heritage. Its exhibits include a 1928 Wurlitzer Theater Organ.

Once a world-fomous Pennsylvania boom town, visitors today can walk the grassy paths of Pithole’s former streets.

Once a world-famous Pennsylvania boom town, visitors today can walk the grassy paths of Pithole’s former streets. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Another must-see visit, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Historic Pithole Visitors Center – site of a vanished 1865 oil boom town today managed by Drake Well Museum. The ghost town is in Oil Creek State Park

A dedicated group of railroad enthusiasts maintain the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, a nonprofit group that offers trips through the historic oil region. Near the railroad is the refurbished home of “Coal Oil” Johnny. Read his fascinating tale in the Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.”

In nearby by Oil City is a center dedicated to the study of the oil heritage region at Clarion University – Venango Campus.

The Barbara Morgan Harvey Center for the Study of Oil Heritage contains hundreds of rare books that document the history of the region, newspaper clippings from the early 1900s, minutes from the meetings of early companies from the late 1800s, maps and photographs.

America’s First Billion Dollar Oilfield

The Penn-Brag Museum -- and Historical Oil Well Park -- is located three miles south of Bradford, Pennsylvania, on Route 219, near Custer City.

The Penn-Brad Oil Museum — and Historical Oil Well Park — is located three miles south of Bradford, Pennsylvania, on Route 219, near Custer City. Photo by Bruce Wells.

A few hours drive to the east of Titusville, the Penn-Brad Oil Museum (and historical oil well park), near Bradford, takes visitors back to the early boom times of “The First Billion Dollar Oil Field.” Guided tours are conducted by retired geologists or petroleum engineers who volunteer their time to relate exciting first-hand experiences. The museum is located three miles south of Bradford, along Rt. 219, near Custer City. Nearby is the 125-year-old refinery of the American Refining Group – reportedly the oldest continuously operating refinery in the country.

 The museum maintains stationary internal combustion engines for education and enjoyment.

The museum maintains stationary internal combustion engines for education and enjoyment. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Before leaving Pennsylvania, visit one of the world’s largest collections of oilfield engines. Century old “hit and miss” gas engines, vintage oilfield equipment, and early electric generators are among the permanent exhibits at a unique “power museum” in Coolspring.

With perhaps the largest 19th century engine collection in the world, the museum is housed in 13 buildings with about 250 engines – many of them operational.

The Coolspring Power Museum is located east of Pittsburgh just off Route 36 midway between Punxsutawney to the south and Brookville to the north. According to Director Paul E. Harvey, the collection presents an illuminating history of the evolution of internal combustion technology that put an end to the steam powered era. Twice a year engine collectors from around the country gather on the extensive grounds – and the “barking” of hundreds of antique engines lasts several days.

Community oil and gas museums are linked to the AOGHS website. Museum events and K-12 education efforts are featured alongside stories of America’s petroleum heritage.


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. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Summer Travels to Oil Museums” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/pennsylvania-petroleum-vacation. Last Updated: May 15, 2021. Original Published Date: May 7, 2013.

ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums

Oklahoma oil and natural gas history exhibited in Ponca City and 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 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. Photo by Bruce Wells.

“These museums reaffirm our Oklahoma roots,” proclaimed Jim Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, on May 12, 2007. The major oil 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.”

The Conoco Museum includes five areas exhibiting the evolution of the company’s business identity, marketing – and onshore and offshore technologies. (more…)

Hugoton Natural Gas Museum

Kansas museum exhibits 1920s natural gas field and history of world’s greatest source of helium.


In far southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton began welcoming visitors on May 16, 1961. They would learn about one of the largest natural gas fields in the world.

The community above the Sunflower State’s largest natural gas field hosts an annual “Gas Capital Car Show & Rod Run” every August. Hugoton’s history museum, founded by Gladys Renfro and a small group of dedicated volunteers, has served “as a memento of the Hugoton gas field and the progressive development of Stevens County.” (more…)

Oil & Gas History New, April 2021

AOGHS logo Newsletter

April 21, 2021  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 2, No. 4


Oil & Gas History News


Welcome to our April newsletter featuring inventors and exploration pioneers, including a prospector who discovered the Los Angeles oilfield in 1892 near present-day Dodgers Stadium. Pennsylvania’s extensive petroleum heritage also is noted, along with how Texaco got its start, and news from community oil and gas museums — frontline energy educators.


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 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Auto


Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea test drove the gasoline powered automobile they had built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop. Considered the first car model to be regularly manufactured for sale in the United States, 12 were produced by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company…MORE


April 13, 1974 – Depth Record set in Oklahoma


After drilling for 504 days and costing $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reached a total depth of about 5.95 miles before being stopped by liquid sulfur. Drilled in the heart of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, it was the world’s deepest well…MORE


April 5, 1860 – Early Success for New Oil Industry


After drilling more than twice as deep as the first commercial U.S. oil well, the Phillips, Frew & Company found another Pennsylvania oil-producing sand formation at a depth of 197 feet. The new exploration company discovered the oilfield along the Allegheny River at Oil City…MORE


March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of American Petroleum Industry


Edwin Laurentine Drake was born in Greenville, New York. Forty years later, he would use a steam-powered cable-tool rig to drill America’s first oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania. The former railroad conductor overcame many technical challenges of “Drake’s Folly” and was the first to use iron pipe casing…MORE


March 23, 1858 – Seneca Oil replaces Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company 


Investors organized the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, after purchasing the Titusville leases of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first U.S. oil company founded four years earlier by George Bissell. Seeking oil for refining into kerosene lamp fuel, Seneca Oil Company hired Edwin L. Drake to drill a well along Oil Creek, where Bissell had found oil seeps…MORE


Energy Education

Los Angeles Oilfield CIrca 1900 AOGHS

“View of oil derricks surrounding houses, two men walking down the street,” Los Angeles City oilfield,1890 photo detail courtesy California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento.


Prospector discovers Los Angeles City Oilfield


When struggling prospector Edward Doheny and his mining partner Charles Canfield decided to search for oil, they chose a site in Los Angeles already known for its “tar” pools that bubbled to the surface. Doheny had noticed a cart with bitumen on its wheels. On April 20, 1892, their well revealed the Los Angeles City field. Learn more in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.


The Texas Company founded during Spindletop Boom


Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan and Arnold Schlaet on April 7, 1902, established The Texas Company in Beaumont to transport and refine oil. The next year, company driller Walter Sharp discovered an oilfield at the spa town of Sour Lake Springs. Learn more in Sour Lake produces Texaco.


Oil & Gas Museums


Many community museums are beginning to reopen, including the Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas. If you have vaccinated travel plans, support energy education by visiting them and the many other oil and gas museums.


The Luling Oil Museum in Texas has reopened in its recently restored downtown 1885 mercantile building. Exhibits include drilling and production equipment from the 1920s Luling oilfield. The museum also educates visitors about the modern industry. It gives no credence to the once widely told tale of the Luling field being discovered thanks to a “reading” by a famous psychic. Learn more in Luling Oil Museum and Crudoleum.


School groups will be returning to the Olinda Oil Museum & Trail outside Brea, California, according to volunteer docent Chris Farren, who adds that the museum now has a 1910 oil worker’s cottage. He is a sixth generation member of an oil worker family originally from Oil City, Pennsylvania. Farren joined the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, “because I have the same mission and interests.”




New research links and editorial content are possible thanks to our growing number of supporting members. There are other ways to help, especially with website outreach. Consider volunteering your expertise to expand our network and add new member services. Reply to this email to learn more — and thank you for helping to preserve petroleum history.


— Bruce Wells

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“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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

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Vintage Oil Postcards from Texas

Proven production from a petroleum geologist, oil patch historian, collector, and author.


For anyone interested in learning about Texas oil and gas history or oilfield photography used in vintage postcards, the work of petroleum geologist Jeff Spencer offers both in 128 pages of both. Published by Arcadia Publishing in 2013, Texas Oil and Gas is a teaching resource that should be in every Texas high school.

oil postcards

Published in 2013, Texas Oil and Gas, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s series of books featuring historic postcards.

A geologist with Amromco Energy, Houston, Spencer has authored or co-authored more than 20 oilfield history papers. His petroleum-related vintage postcard collection includes images from West Virginia, California, Ontario, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and of course Texas. The majority of the book’s more than 200 images are from the author’s private collection (more…)

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