Zebco Reel Oilfield History

Oilfield service provider Zero Hour Bomb Company produced “cannot backlash” fishing reels in 1949 — and became Zebco.


When Jasper R. Dell Hull walked into the Tulsa offices of the Zero Hour Bomb Company in 1947, he carried a piece of plywood with a few nails in a circle wrapped in line. Attached was a coffee-can lid that could spin. Hull, known by his friends as “R.D.,” was an amateur inventor from Rotan, Texas. He had an appointment with executives at the Oklahoma oilfield service company.

Since its incorporation in 1932, the Zero Hour Bomb Company had become well known for manufacturing dependable electric timer bombs for fracturing geologic formations. It had designed and patented technologies for “shooting” wells to increase oil and natural gas production. The company’s timer controlled a mechanism with a detonator in a watertight casing. The downhole device could be pre-set to detonate a series of blasting caps, which set off the well’s main charge, shattering rock formations.

Oil well explosive timers of the Zero Hour Bomb Company

The Zero Hour Bomb Company was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1932. Photos courtesy Zebco.

Hull’s 1947 visit was timely for Zero Hour Bomb Company, because post World War II demand for its electrically triggered devices had declined. With the military no longer needing oil to fuel the war, the U.S. petroleum industry was in recession. The company and other once booming Oklahoma service companies were reeling, and the future did not look good.

“Vast fossil fuel reserves beneath other Middle Eastern nations were being unlocked,” noted journalist Joe Sills in a 2014 article. “OPEC was beginning to take shape, and Texas and Oklahoma-based domestic oil in the U.S. was about to take a decades-long backseat to foreign oil.”

Further, with company patents expiring in 1948, “the Zero Hour Bomb Company needed a solution,” explained Sills, an editor for Fishing Tackle Retailer. After examining Hull’s contraption, a prototype fishing reel, the company hired him for $500 a month. Hull later received a patent that would transform Zero Hour Bomb Company – and sport fishing in America.

Downhole Patents and a Fishing Reel

Beginning in the early 1930s, Zero Hour Bomb engineers patented many innovative oilfield products. A 1939 design for an “Oil Well Bomb Closure” facilitated assembly of an explosive device capable of withstanding extreme pressures submerged deep in a well. A 1940 invention provided a hook mechanism for safely lowering torpedoes into wells. The locking method was to “positively prevent premature release of the torpedo while it is being lowered into the well.”

Two patent drawings from July 1953 for the Zero Hour Bomb Company

Two patents in July 1953 for a well bridge would be among the last the Zero Hour Bomb Company received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer, thanks to a fishing reel designed by R.D. Hull in the late 1940s and patented on February 2, 1954.

A 1941 patent improved positioning blasting cartridges with a canvas plugging device that looked like an upside-down umbrella. The “well bridge” automatically opened “when the time bomb or weight reached a position at the bottom of the well.”

A 1953 design that took this concept even further would be the last patent Zero Hour Bomb received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer. By then, the earliest model of Hull’s new “cannot backlash” reel was attracting crowds at sports shows.

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“After trying to design ‘brakes’ for bait-casting reels, and even failing at launching one fishing reel company, Hull hit on a better way one day as he watched a grocery store clerk pull string from a large fixed spool to wrap a package,” reported Lee Leschper in a 1999 Amarillo Globe-News article.

First Zebco reel of 1949

Zero Hour Bomb Company’s first “cannot backlash” reel made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June 1949.

Hull realized he needed a cover to keep the line from spinning off the reel itself and soon developed a prototype, Leschper noted. “Zero Hour officials asked two company employees who were avid fishermen for their opinions on the reel. One tied his set of car keys to the end of the line and sent a cast flying through one of the windows in the plant. The other sent a cast high over the building. All were impressed.”

Given his own Hull-deigned fishing reel at about age six, Leschper recalled, the “tiny black pushbutton reel” came with 6 lb. monofilament line (a petroleum-based polymer), a four-foot white hollow fiberglass rod, and a hard yellow plastic practice plug. It is possible the plug was made from Marlex, a revolutionary plastic invented at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Leschper added, “I wore it down to a nub pitching it across the hard-baked grass in our front yard.”

Closeup of Zero Hour Bomb Company Zebco reels

A Zero Hour Bomb Company package addressed to President Eisenhower was submerged in water by White House security in 1956. Photo courtesy Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine.

Earlier, Hull, had tested several designs before developing a production process; the first reel was produced on May 13, 1949. Called the Standard, it made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June. By 1954, the reel’s simple push-button system used today was introduced.

Panic at White House

The regional marketing name – Zebco – became popular, but the bottom of each reel’s foot was stamped with the the name of the manufacturer, Zero Hour Bomb Company. The official name change to Zebco came in 1956, soon after a friend of President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked the company to send a reel to the president.

According to a Zebco company history, when White House security officers saw the package labeled “Zero Hour Bomb Company,” they plunged it into a tub of water and called the bomb squad. After changing its name to Zebco, the company left the oilfield for good.

In 1961, Zebco was acquired by Brunswick Corporation and introduced the 202 ZeeBee spincast, “an instant classic.” After shifting reel assembly production to China in 2000, Brunswick a year later sold Zebco to the W.C. Bradley Company. Zebco headquarters today remains in Tulsa, where it leases a 200,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center.

Jasper R. Dell “R.D.” Hull was inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame in 1975 after receiving more than 35 patents. At the time of his induction, 70 million Zebco reels had been sold. He retired from the former oilfield time-bomb company in January 1977 after being diagnosed with cancer and died in December at age 64.


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: “Zebco Reel Oilfield History.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/zebco-reel-oilfield-history. Last Updated: July 24, 2021. Original Published Date: February 20, 2018.


Oil Well Tractor Ad Keepsake

Son preserves magazine advertisement with father operating “Caterpillar” D4 Diesel Tractor in New York oilfield.


While working as a foreman in the oilfield service industry in Pennsylvania and New York, Charles Gerringer’s father operated an innovative diesel-fueled tractor. The family kept a circa 1950 trade magazine advertisement featuring Harold Gerringer as he worked at a well using the “Caterpillar” D4.

“My Dad worked for N.V.V. Franchot and was a foreman in the oil and gas fields around Allegany, New York,” Charles noted in a 2019 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “I have an advertisement of him using one of the first modern Caterpillar tractors to pull a well.”

Caterpillar tractor at New York oil well circa 1950.

Thanks to his son Charles, this image of Allegany lease tractor operator Harold Gerringer (at right) in a Caterpllar advertisement has been preserved. This partially restored image of a well workover is from the ad, which appeared in Producers Monthly Magazine.

The trade magazine advertisement featured Harold Gerringer with a “Caterpillar” D4 at a workover site (replacing production equipment to extend the life of a well).  The promotion came from an prominent machine company in the region that sold the “Caterpiller” D4, whose virtue was its low diesel fuel consumption.

Franchot oil lease

“Never was there a cheaper power on a lease,” the ad proclaimed. Originally designed for farm use, the 41-horsepower tractor proved popular in oilfields. Its ads appeared in Producers Monthly magazine, published by the Bradford District of the Pennsylvania Oil Producers Association from 1936 to 1969.

The “Caterpiller” D4 ad began with a simple description of the oilfield photo. “Four men and a tractor are putting new economy into their work on the N.V.V. Franchot lease at Four Mile, New York, lease pictured above. Credit is due to the N.V.V. F. Munson, the general superintendent, Lawrence Gallets, the foreman, Harold Gerringer the tractor operator, and Norbert Karl, the able helper,” the text noted.

Caterpillar Tractor D4 Diesel at oil well advertisment.

“For more than three months now this ‘Caterpillar’ Diesel D4 Tractor has been operating at the amazingly low fuel consumption of only four gallons of Diesel fuel in an eight-hour day,” the ad continued.

The Caterpillar Company ad, promoting the region’s supplier, Beckwith Machine Company, proclaimed: “Never was there a cheaper power on a lease, never so much work for so little fuel cost, and never greater satisfaction for the owner built into a Tractor.”

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Beckwith Machine provided contact information for sales at field offices in Pittsburgh, Bradford, Wilkes-Barre, and Harrisburg. Bradford today is home to the Penn-Brad Oil Museum. Not far away in New York, the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar also preserves the region’s considerable petroleum history.

Special thanks to Charles Gerringer, a supporting member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, for sharing a brief part of his father’s oilfield history. Learn about other families’ efforts to preserve their petroleum heritage in American Oil & Gas Families.

Recommended Reading:  Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State (1949) by John P Herrick. “If you are doing business in the oil and gas industry in New York State this is a must read. The level of historical research is excellent,” noted one reviewer in 2014 after reading the 474-page history. Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


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: “Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad. Last Updated: July 2, 2021. Original Published Date: June 14, 2020.


A Chronology of U.S. Petroleum History

Milestones of American Petroleum History (in progress)


Although some early pioneers who drilled brine wells sometimes found oil instead, the U.S. petroleum industry began with an 1859 Pennsylvania well drilled specifically for oil for refining into kerosene lamp fuel. This oil and natural gas history chronology is a limited sample of the industry’s milestones — exploration, production, technologies, products, transportation, etc.

The petroleum industry history timeline is part of an on-going project of the American Oil & Gas historical Society’s Energy Education Committee (you are invited to join the research effort). Importantly, fossil fuel history provides a context for understanding modern energy challenges. Comments, suggestions — and additions — are welcomed.

Pump jack art for AOGHS oil history website

The U.S. petroleum industry began on August 27, 1859, with a Pennsylvania well drilled specifically for oil.

“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.


1817     America’s first public street lamp (fueled by manufactured gas) lit in Baltimore, Maryland. Illuminating gaslight brought dazzling “gems of light” to Rembrandt Peale’s art museum.

1821     First U.S. natural gas well dug near Fredonia, New York.

1829     A spring-poled well seeking brine found oil instead (bottled for medicine) from Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well.

1836     Manufactured “coal gas” street lighted Philadelphia streets.

1846     Canadian Abraham Gesner refined illuminating fuel from coal and named it kerosene (trademarked in 1855).

1850     Samuel Kier distilled oil into “carbon oil” for medicine in Pittsburgh.

1855     George Bissell studied oil seeps, organized Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company.

1859     Edwin L. Drake completed first U.S. oil well on August 27, at Titusville, Pennsylvania, launching the U.S. petroleum industry.

1859     On August 30, John Grandin drills first “dry hole” exploring for oil.

1863     Confederates raided oilfield in western Virginia, burning derricks and storage tanks.

1863     First oilfield pipeline (2.5 miles, 2-inch cast iron) operated in Pennsylvania.

1864     Union Col. E.A.L. Roberts uses down-hole explosives to fracture oil-bearing sands, “shooting” the well.

1866     First Texas oil well drilled in Nacogdoches County by Lyne Taliaferro Barret.

1876     First major California oil well competed in Pico Canyon after limited production in 1850s.

1878     Haymaker brothers well discovered massive natural gas field, making headlines, “Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.”

1882     John D. Rockefeller established Standard Oil Trust.

1885     Lima Oilfield discovered in Ohio.

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1886     Indiana’s Trenton natural gas field proved to be 5,000 square miles (13,000 km).

1886     “Great Karg Well” natural gas discovery made in Findlay, Ohio.

1892     First Kansas oil well drilled at Neodesha.

1894    New rotary method used for drilling discovered first major Texas oilfield at Corsicana, Texas.

1896     Piers used for offshore drilling on California beaches.

1897      First Oklahoma oil well drilled at Bartlesville, Indian Territory.

1900     New York City hosted first U.S. auto show.

1901     Giant Spindletop oilfield revealed by “Lucas Gusher.”

1901     First Louisiana oil well revealed giant Jennings oilfield. 

1902     First Alaska oil well drilled in rugged territory known for oil seeps. 

1905     Glenn Pool oilfield discovered in Oklahoma, helping Tulsa to become “Oil Capital of the World.”

1908     First Model T “Tin Lizzy” produced by Ford Motor Company in Detroit.

1909     Sharp-Hughes dual-cone drill bit patented, soon nicknamed the “rock eater.”

1911     Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil broken up into 34 companies.

1911     Lakewood oil gusher in California (uncapped for 18 months).

1911     667,000 automobiles registered in United States (8.5 million by 1920).

1912     USS Texas launched, last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers.

1913     First gas station opened by Gulf Oil in Pittsburgh.

1913     Carl Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company in California.

1917     “Roaring Ranger” oil discovery in North Texas.

1917     American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) founded; 38,000 members in 2018.

1920     Permian Basin oilfield discovered in West Texas.

1920     Huntington Beach oilfield discovered in California.

1921     El Dorado, Arkansas, oilfield discovered, boosting career of H.L. Hunt.

1921     First seismograph geologic experiments made near Oklahoma City.

1922     First New Mexico oil well brought more discoveries.

1923     Permian Basin Big Lake oilfield revealed by Santa Rita No. 1.

1923     Anti-knock leaded gasoline patented.

1923     First Tulsa International Petroleum Exposition (last in 1979).

1923     Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey first used Esso trademark.

1926      Armais Arutunoff patented electric submersible pump; soon founded Reda service company.

1926     Greater Seminole oilfield discovered in Oklahoma.

1927     Schlumberger brothers invent down-hole electronic “logging tool” in France.

1927     Phillips Petroleum high-octane aviation powers Woolaroc, winner of air race from California to Hawaii.

1929     Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

1929     First recorded true horizontal oil well, drilled near Texon, Texas.

1930     Headline-making “Wild Mary Suddik” oil well erupted in Oklahoma City oilfield.

1930     East Texas oilfield discovered, proved to be 43 miles long and 12.5 miles wide.

1930     George E. Failing invented first portable rotary rig (used at Conroe, Texas).

1930     Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) founded; 14,000 members in 2018.

1931     Ram-type blow-out preventer patent by James Abercrombie.

1933     Sinclair Oil’s popular “Dino” debuted at the Chicago Century of Progress Fair.

1933     Hughes Tool Company patents tri-cone bit patent.

1937     Tragic New London school explosion in East Texas.

1938     DuPont Corp. introduces “Nylon.”

1939     Young geologist helps discover first Mississippi oil well.

1940     First Nebraska oil well completed after 57 years of dry holes.

1941     Frank Christensen and George Christensen developed diamond bit.

1943     First Florida oil well completed after state offers $50,000 bounty.

1943     World War II top-secret mission sent Oklahoma roughnecks to drill in Sherwood Forest.

1944     First Alabama oil well completed by wildcatter H.L. Hunt.

1947     Gulf of Mexico offshore oil industry began.

1949     First commercial hydraulic fracturing of oil well (Oklahoma).

1951     The first North Dakota oil well endured blizzards on Cliff Iverson’s farm northeast of Williston.

1951     Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America organized.

1953     Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act became law.

1954     Shell Oil Company completed the first Nevada oil well.

1954     “Mr. Charlie” launched, world’s first practical mobile offshore drilling unit.

1955     American Association of Petroleum Landmen (AAPL) founded in Fort Worth, Texas.

1956     Federal-Aid Highway Act created “system of interstate and defense highways.”

1957     Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) founded (164,000 members in 2018).

1958     First down-hole drilling motors used.

1960     Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) founded in Baghdad, Iraq.

1960     Shell Oil and Hughes Aircraft modified a Manipulator Operated Robot (MOBOT) for offshore.

1967     Hall of Petroleum opened at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology.

1967     U.S. government tests nuclear “fracking” of natural gas wells.

1968     Prudhoe Bay oilfield discovered.

1969     Massive oil spill occurred six miles off Santa Barbara, California.

1970     Environmental Protection Agency established.

1974     Construction began on 800-mile Alaska pipeline system.

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1975     Petroleum Museum opened in Midland, Texas.

1977     Improved diamond-tungsten carbide drilling bits.

1979     Exxon experimental subsea structure led to “Rigs to Reefs” program.

1980     Hydraulic fracturing used in horizontal wells in the Barnett Shale, Ft. Worth, Texas.

1988     Deadly fire at Piper Alpha platform in North Sea; 167 workers died.

1989     Exxon Valdez super tanker ran aground, creating massive oil spill.

1999     Exxon and Mobil corporations merged.

2010     Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster began 41 miles off the Louisiana coast.

2013     Average time to drill 21,000-foot-deep well falls to 18 days or less.

2016     Energy companies agreed to reduce methane emissions from natural gas operations.

2018     Shale oil and natural gas production made U.S. energy independent.

2019     United States became top petroleum producer in world.


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. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Milestones of American Petroleum History.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/oil-riches-of-merriman-baptist-church. Last Updated: June 6, 2021. Original Published Date: October 15, 2019.


Carl Baker and Howard Hughes

Founders of oilfield service company giants Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools.


As the U.S. petroleum expanded following the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop in Texas, service company pioneers like Carl Baker and Howard Hughes brought new technologies to oilfields. Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools specialized in maximizing oil and natural gas production (competitors would include Schlumberger, a French company founded in 1926 and Halliburton, which began in 1919 as a well-cementing company

Baker Oil Tool Company, later Baker International, was founded by Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker Sr. of Coalinga, California, who among other inventions patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.

Baker Tools Company founder R.C. "Carl" Baker in 1919.

Baker Tools Company founder R.C. “Carl” Baker in 1919.

R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.

“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Coalinga historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”

Baker also patented a “Gas Trap for Oil Wells” in 1908, a “Pump-Plunger” in 1914, and a “Shoe Guide for Well Casings” in 1920.

Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” reports the Baker Museum. Baker organized small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.

After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through a well. By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga.

The R.C. Baker Memorial Museum was the 1917 machine shop and office of Baker Casing Shoe. When Baker Tools headquarters moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, the building remained a company machine shop. It was donated by Baker to Coalinga in 1959 and opened as a museum in 1961. Carl Baker Sr. died in 1957 at age 85 – after receiving more than 150 U.S. patents in his lifetime.

“Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” reported the Coalinga museum.

Baker Tools became Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after the 1987 merger with Hughes Tool Company.

 The Houston, Texas, manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo couttesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

The Houston manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo courtesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

Howard R. Hughes Sr.

The Hughes Tool Company began in 1908 as the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company founded by Walter B. Sharp and Howard R. Hughes, Sr.

“Fishtail” rotary drill bits became obsolete in 1909 when the two inventors introduced a dual-cone roller bit. They created a bit “designed to enable rotary drilling in harder, deeper formations than was possible with earlier fishtail bits,” according to a Hughes historian. Secret tests took place on a drilling rig at Goose Creek, south of Houston.

“In the early morning hours of June 1, 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. packed a secret invention into the trunk of his car and drove off into the Texas plains,” noted Gwen Wright of History Detectives in 2006. The drilling site was near Galveston Bay. Rotary drilling “fishtail ” bits of the time were “nearly worthless when they hit hard rock.”

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The new technology would soon bring faster and deeper drilling worldwide, helping to find previously unreachable oil and natural gas reserves. The dual-cone bit also created many Texas millionaires, explained Don Clutterbuck, one of the PBS show’s sources.

“When the Hughes twin-cones hit hard rock, they kept turning, their dozens of sharp teeth (166 on each cone) grinding through the hard stone,” he added.

Although several inventors tried to develop better rotary drill bit technologies, Sharp-Hughes Tool Company was the first to bring it to American oilfields. Drilling times fell dramatically, saving petroleum companies huge amounts of money.

Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas.

Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1901 patent for a dual-cone drill bit.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers has noted that about the same time Hughes developed his bit, Granville A. Humason of Shreveport, Louisiana, patented the first cross-roller rock bit, the forerunner of the Reed cross-roller bit.

Biographers note that Hughes met Granville Humason in a Shreveport bar, where Humason sold his roller bit rights to Hughes for $150. The University of Texas’ Center for American History has a rare 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that chance meeting. Humason recalls he spent $50 of his sale proceeds at the bar during the balance of the evening.

After Sharp died in 1912, his widow Estelle Sharp sold her 50 percent share in the company to Hughes. It became Hughes Tool in 1915. Despite legal action between Hughes Tool and the Reed Roller Bit Company that occurred in the late 1920s, Hughes prevailed – and his oilfield service company prospered.

By 1934, Hughes Tool engineers design and patented the three-cone roller bit, an enduring design that remains much the same today. Hughes’ exclusive patent lasted until 1951, which allowed his Texas company to grow worldwide. More innovations (and mergers) would follow.

1914 advertisement for the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company.

A February 1914 advertisement for the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company in Fuel Oil Journal.

Frank Christensen and George Christensen had developed the earliest diamond bit in the 1941 and introduced diamond bits to oilfields in 1946, beginning with the Rangley field of Colorado. The long-lasting tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s.

After Baker International acquired Hughes Tool Company in 1987, Baker Hughes acquired the Eastman Christensen Company three years later. Eastman was a world leader in directional drilling.

When Howard Hughes Sr. died in 1924, he left three-quarters of his company to Howard Hughes Jr., then a student at Rice University. The younger Hughes added to the success of Hughes Tool while becoming one of the richest men in the world. His many legacies include founding Hughes Aircraft Company and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Learn more oilfield history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

Oilfield Service Company Competition

A major competitor for any energy service company, today’s Schlumberger Limited can trace its roots to Caen, France. In 1912, brothers Conrad and Marcel began making geophysical measurements that recorded a map of equipotential curves (similar to contour lines on a map). Using very basic equipment, their field experiments led to invention of a downhole electronic “logging tool” in 1927.

After successfully developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers lowered another electric tool into a well. They recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating first electric well log of geologic formations.

Meanwhile another service company in Oklahoma, the Reda Pump Company had been founded by Armais Arutunoff, a close friend of Frank Phllips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artifical lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump. Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump (also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology).


Recommended Reading:  History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


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: “Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/carl-baker-howard-hughes. Last Updated: May 28, 2021. Original Published Date: December 17, 2017.


First Oil Book of 1860

The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere


Less than 10 months after former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well in August 1859 along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Thomas A. Gale wrote a detailed study about the new rock oil — petroleum. 

The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere described a radical fuel source for the popular lamp fuel kerosene, which had been made from coal for more than a decade.

“Those who have not seen it burn, may rest assured its light is no moonshine; but something nearer the clear, strong, brilliant light of day,” Gale declared in his 1860 pamphlet, published by Sloan & Griffith and sold for 25 cents. “In other words, rock oil emits a dainty light; the brightest and yet the cheapest in the world; a light fit for Kings and Royalists, and not unsuitable for Republicans and Democrats.”

Thomas Gale 1860 rock oil history book.

Thomas Gale’s 80-page pamphlet in 1860 marked the beginning of the petroleum age, illuminated with kerosene lamps.

Gale’s descriptions of the value of petroleum helped launch investments in new exploration companies. He noted the commercial qualities of Pennsylvania oil for refining into kerosene (today also used as a rocket fuel).

Rarest of Oil Books

Many historians have regarded Gale’s 80-page pamphlet as the first book about America’s new petroleum industry.

In 1952, the Ethyl Corporation of New York republished Gale’s historic The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere.

“Not by the widest stretch of the imagination could Thomas Gale have realized, when he put down his pen on June 1, 1860, that he had written a book destined to become one of the rarest of all oil books,” noted the Ethyl historian in 1952 when the company republished Gale’s work. Only three copies were known to exist in 1952.


Ethyl Corporation noted the scarcity of copies of the book had prevented “all but a few historians” from giving the book the attention it deserved. “Gale wrote his book to satisfy a public desire for more information about petroleum. Newspapers had carried belated accounts of Drake’s discovery well, and the mad scramble for oil that followed, but actually the world new little about petroleum.”

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The book’s 11 chapters explained practical aspects of the new petroleum industry. Chapters one and two, “What is Rock Oil?”and “Where is the Rock Oil found?” were followed by “Geological structure of the oil region.” Chapters four though six explained the early technologies (and costs) for pumping the oil, while the next two chapters examine “Uses of Rock Oil.” The final three chapters offered “Sketches of several oil wells,” “History of the Rock Oil enterprise,” and “Present condition and prospects of Rock Oil interests in difference localities.”

Originally published by Sloan & Griffith of Erie, Pennsylvania, the 1860 cover noted the author as “a resident of Oil Creek” and included a biblical quote: “The Rock poured me out rivers of oil,” from Job, 29:6.

Was Thomas Gayle’s 1860 work the first oil book, as Ethyl Corporation historians believed when they reprinted it in 1952? Natural oil and gas seeps were recorded millennia ago (including the bible). In more recent centuries, writers around the world have noted coal, bitumen, and substances like petroleum – a word derived from the Latin roots of petra, meaning “rock” and oleum meaning “oil.” 

Several years prior to Drake’s historic 1859 oil well, businessman George Bissell had hired a prominent Yale chemist to study the potential of oil and its products to convince potential investors.

“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,” reported Benjamin Silliman Jr.

in his 1855 “Report on the Rock Oil, or Petroleum, from Venango Co., Pennsylvania, with Special Reference to its Use for Illumination and Other Purposes,” convinced the investors to drill at Titusville.

Learn more in George Bissell’s Oil Seeps.

According to historian Paul H. Giddens in the 1939 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry, Silliman’s 1855 report, “proved to be a turning-point in the establishment of the petroleum business, for it dispelled many doubts about its value.”


Recommended Reading: The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere (1952); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1939); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


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. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Oil Book of 1860.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/first-oil-book-of-1860. Last Updated: May 28, 2021. Original Published Date: May 31, 2020.


Golden Driller of Tulsa

Erected temporarily for a 1953 petroleum expo, this roughneck grew into an Oklahoma landmark. 


With an arm resting casually resting on a steel derrick, a 76-foot oilfield worker cannot be missed by any visitor to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Popularly known as the “Golden Driller,” the first version of the 22-ton roughneck appeared at the 1953 International Petroleum Exposition.

The leading oil and natural gas equipment expo, which began in 1923 as the International Petroleum Exposition and Congress, took place for decades at the Tulsa County Free Fair site. The original 1953 “roustabout” statue, conceived as a promotion by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, returned in 1959 before receiving a major makeover.

golden giant Tulsa roughneck statue with hand on derrick.

Designated an Oklahoma state monument in 1979, the Golden Driller was permanently installed for the 1966 International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Refurbishment and neglect would then follow with the fortunes of the petroleum industry. But civic leaders now proclaim the the Tulsa driller the most photographed landmark in the city once known as “Oil Capital of the World.” 

Although Mid-Continent Supply’s smaller first statue of 1952 impressed expo visitors, it was the 1959 version with a oilfield worker climbing a derrick that led to Tula’s current Golden Driller. “This time he was much more chiseled and detailed and was placed climbing a derrick and waving,” explained a volunteer for  the Tulsa Historical Society in 2010.

According to the society’s “Tulsa Gal,” the 1959 rig-climbing roustabout’s popularity inspired Mid-Continent Supply to donate it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority when the expo ended. 

golden driller old statue  images from Tulsa oil expos

The original Golden Driller of 1953, left, proved so popular that a smaller, rig-climbing version (called The Roustabout) returned for the 1959 International Petroleum Exposition. The Tulsa fairgrounds opened in 1903. Images courtesy Tulsa Historical Society.


Over the next seven years he had a complete redesign to withstand the elements, she noted. The current Golden Driller was originally created for Tulsa’s 1966 International Petroleum Exposition. Its new look came from a Greek immigrant, George “Grecco” Hondronastas, an artist who had worked on the 1953 exposition’s statue.

golden driller

Mid-Continent Supply Company constructed a permanent version in 1966 with steel rods to withstand up to 200 mph winds. Refurbished again in 1979, it was designated a Oklahoma state monument.

According to a 2014 article by Tony Beaulieu, Hondronastas was an eccentric and prolific artist who was proud of becoming a U.S. citizen through his military service in World War I.

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Hondronastas, who attended the Art Institute of Chicago and later became a professor, came to Tulsa for the first time in 1953 “to help design and build an early version of the Golden Driller,” Beaulieu explained.  The artist, “fell in love with the city of Tulsa and later moved his wife and son from Chicago to a duplex near Riverview Elementary School, just south of downtown.” 

Beaulieu added that “Hondronastas was always proud of designing the Golden Driller, and would tell anyone he met, according to his son, Stamatis Hondronastas.”

Learn more in An Oil Town’s Golden Idol, originally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 22, November 15, 2014.

The late Tulsa photographer Walter Brewer documented construction of the giant with images later donated to the Tulsa Historical Society. Designated a state monument and refurbished again in 1979 (the year Hondronastas died), the statue as it appears today was permanently installed at the 21st Street and Pittsburg Avenue. 

The statue contains 2.5 miles of rods and mesh, along with tons of plaster and concrete. It can withstand up to 200 mph winds, “which is a good thing here in Oklahoma,” according to Tulsa Gal.  It was painted it’s golden mustard shade in 2011,

 golden driller statue with local advertising

The giant has sported t-shirts, belts, beads and ties.This shirt is from the 2014 Tulsa State Fair and KMOD radio. Images courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

The Golden Driller’s right hand rests on an old production derrick moved from oilfields near Seminole, Oklahoma – a town that has its own extensive petroleum heritage.

Fully refurbished in the late 1970s, the Golden Driller – by now a 43,500-pound tourist attraction – is the largest free-standing statue in the world, according to Tulsa city officials. “Over time the Driller has seen the good and the bad,” said Tulsa Girl. “He has been vandalized, assaulted by shotgun blasts and severe weather. But he has also had more photo sessions with tourists than any other Tulsa landmark and can boast of many who love him all around the world.”

The Golden Driller, a symbol of the International Petroleum Exposition. Dedicated to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God’s abundance a better life for mankind. – Inscription on the plaque at the statue’s base.

golden driller circa 1950s giant shoe with model

An unidentified model posed on one of the Golden Driller’s shoes, probably sometime during construction of the permanent version in time for the 1966 petroleum expo.

golden driller American Oil and Gas Historical Society field trip members

A 2007 American Oil & Gas Historical Society Energy Education Conference and Field Trip in Oklahoma City included visits to museums in Seminole, Drumright and Tulsa – with a stop at the Golden Driller.

Although the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress had no giant roughneck statue in 1923, the expo helped make Tulsa famous around the world. Leading oil and gas companies were attracted to Tulsa as early as 1901, six years before Oklahoma became a state (see Red Fork Gusher). An even bigger discovery arrived in 1905 on a farm just south of the future oil capital.

Research and learn more Tulsa history at the Tulsa Historical Society.


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. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Golden Driller of Tulsa.” Authors: B.A. and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/golden-driller-tulsa. Last Updated: May 9, 2021. Original Published Date: March 1, 2006.


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