Driller from Netherlands

Seeking information about relative who worked in Texas oilfields, circa 1930.


Researching her family’s distant connection to the U.S. oil patch, Marianne Jans of the the Netherlands discovered the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website. She hopes other AOGHS site visitors might help add to her limited information about a great-great uncle who worked in Texas oilfields. He apparently was as a driller from the 1920s until the early 1930s.

Although details are scarce, Jans seeks news about her great-great uncle Ralph “Dutch” Weges — who in 1962 reportedly returned to the Netherlands by ship. His petroleum-related career included serving on merchant vessels.

Regarding his work in Texas, she has a 1927 letter of recommendation with some clues.

Marianne Jans' scan of the  August 1927 Barry Fuel Oil Company's letter of recommendation for her great-great uncle, Ralph "Dutch" Weges.

Marianne Jans’ scan of the August 1927 Barry Fuel Oil Company’s letter of recommendation for her great-great uncle, Ralph Weges.

“In papers he left behind, he also had a recommendation from his employer in 1927,” according to Jans. “J. Barry Fuel Oil Co. is not in your list of historical companies, so I am sending this document.” she added.

Transcription of the great-great uncle’s letter, dated August 9, 1927:

J. Barry Fuel Oil Co.
1501 Francis Avenue
Houston, Texas
                                           Aug 9th 1927
To whom it may concern:
This is acknowledgement that Ralph (Dutch) Weges
worked for me [&] Drilled on a number of wells
which I drilled as contractor for Humble Oil and
Refining [unreadable] Northern Field, Texas and [for] Texas Pacific
Coal & Oil [unreadable] Co, Texas.
His [unreadable] careful rig [unreadable] and was specifically good in keeping 
his equipment in good shape.
His work was good, wells finished properly and time 
just as good as other contractors in same fields.
                                                  RJ Barry

Not finding more information about the J. Barry Fuel Oil Company, Jans learned more about the two well-documented companies J. Barry worked with as a drilling contractor.

Humble Oil and Refining Company (now ExxonMobil) was founded in 1917. The company, which would discover many oilfields, in 1933 signed an historic lease with the King Ranch. The other company referenced in the letter was the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.

In addition, Ralph Weges had other connections with the U.S. petroleum industry, according to Jan’s research. Her great-great uncle traveled overseas aboard the SS La Campine in September 1916.

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Launched in 1889, La Campine was an early transatlantic oil tanker owned by the American Petroleum Company of Rotterdam and later by an Esso subsidiary in Belgium (it was sunk by a German submarine during World War I).

“What surprised me, was that Ralph Weges was anyway on board two ships that transported cargo for Esso, now Exxon Mobile,” Jans noted. “So he already worked for a petroleum/oil company on these ships. First as a 2nd cook and later petty officer. Two other vessels, the Anacortes and the SS Vigo, I must research further.”

As her investigation into family history continues from the Netherlands, Marianne Jans seeks information about her great-great uncle’s overseas career, the  J. Barry Fuel Oil Company, and his role in Texas oilfields, 

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Driller from Netherlands.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/driller-from-netherlands. Last Updated: October 26, 2023. Original Published Date: October 24, 2023.


Icy Ball, Kerosene Ice Maker

Crosley Radio Company’s kerosene-heated refrigeration appliance for rural America.


Only three percent of U.S. farms had electricity in 1925, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. For most of rural America, kerosene lamps extended the day. On some farms, battery-powered radios brought news and entertainment at night.

By 1927, Crosley Radio Company reported sales of $18 million, making it the largest radio manufacturer in the world. Crosley radios were marketing with the slogan, “You’re There With A Crosley.”

Founded in the early 1920s by Powel Crosley Jr., the Cincinnati-based corporation became known for innovative engineering.

Advertisement for circa 1928 Crosley Icy Ball refrigerator.

Production of Crosley Radio’s Icy Ball refrigerator began in 1928, and the Icy Ball sold for about $80, complete with a 4.25 cubic foot cabinet.

Crosley, sometimes called “The Henry Ford of Radio,” would expand the company into manufacturing automobiles, aircraft, and home appliances. 

He also recognized a lucrative market awaited in the millions of farm homes lacking electricity, not just for radio, but for his company’s first venture into refrigeration.

Crosley Icy Ball — Heated Refrigeration

Built on earlier patents developed for absorption refrigeration and assigned to Crosley, the radio company began production of a new appliance, promoting the device’s simplicity, durability, and economy.

With no moving parts, the Crosley Icy Ball (or Icyball) was designed to chill by using intermittent heat absorption with a water ammonia mixture as the refrigerant.

Once “charged” by heating for 90 minutes with a cup of kerosene, an Icy Ball could provide a day or more of refrigeration, plus a few ice cubes. No electricity required.

A patent drawing submitted in June 1927 for an "icy ball" refrigeration appliance.

Crosley Radio Corporation bought the rights to the “icy ball” refrigeration idea from David Keith of Canada, who had applied for a U.S. patent in June 1927.

Crosley Radio’s new refrigerating appliance was simple to operate, much like Standard Oil’s “Perfection” stove and similar kerosene stoves, along with the Monitor Sad Iron Company’s popular gasoline iron

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“Especially for women in rural and farm households, kerosene provided an important bridge fuel to the newer age of gas and electricity. To ignore it is to ignore what was for many an important introduction to modern times,” explained Mark Aldrich in Agricultural History Journal, Winter 2020, “The Rise and Decline of the Kerosene Kitchen.”

Illustration of a Crosley Icy Ball being heated.

Heated with a kerosene stove, the Crosley icy ball chilled by using intermittent heat absorption with a water ammonia mixture as the refrigerant.

Crosley Radio’s instructions for the “Icyball Refrigerator” stated, “The Perfection kerosene stove has been designed especially for the Icyball and is recommended.”

Production of the Crosley Icy Ball began in 1928, and it sold for about $80, complete with a 4.25 cubic foot cabinet. Crosley Radio declared sales of 22,000 for the refrigeration appliance in the first year alone.

“Refrigeration – everyday necessity to household economy and family health – is possible now WITHOUT ELECTRICITY – at a cost so low that about 2 cents a day covers it everywhere,” proclaimed company advertisements.

Rural Electrification Act

The New Deal’s Rural Electrification Act of 1936 empowered the federal government to make low-cost loans to farmers bringing electricity to rural America.

Among the most successful of President Franklin Roosevelt’s programs, the loans allowed thousands of farms to exploit the labor savings that electric lights, tools, and appliances could bring. Electrification grew from only 3.2 percent in 1925, to 90 percent by 1950.

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Crosley adapted to the electrified market and made an even bigger hit with its 1933 refrigerator, the “Shelvador” Model D-35, which featured the unheard of innovation of door shelving and automatic interior lighting within its three and a half cubic feet. More electric appliances followed, and for decades the company remained preeminent in refrigerators.

Electrification of rural America rendered Crosley Icy Balls obsolete and production ended in 1938, but Crosley Radio endured.

Smithsonian Icy Ball Exhibit

Powel Crosley Jr. bought the rights to the icy ball refrigeration design from David Keith of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, who had applied for a patent in June 1927 and received it on December 24, 1929 (No. 1,740,737). Crosley Radio improved the device while acquiring additional patents.

Crosley Radio Icy Ball refrigeration appliance circa 1930.

Crosley Radio Corporation sold thousands of Icy Ball refrigeration appliances (with ice maker) before production ended in 1938.

Although not on display, a Crosley Icy Ball has been preserved at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Refrigeration artifact (No. 1988.0609.01) was tested in 1998 and successfully completed a heat charge cycle, producing a temperature of 18 degrees Fahrenheit.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Crosley Icy Ball Refrigerator.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/crosley-icy-ball-refrigerator. Last Updated: October 14, 2023. Original Published Date: October 14, 2023.

LaViness Family Oilfield History

Researching the life of Mareau LaViness, who worked in early Oklahoma oilfields.


While researching their history, the LaViness family discovered a relative who worked in America’s earliest Pennsylvania oilfields. Family member Mareau Fisher LaViness drilled oil wells in Kansas and the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma in 1907.

By the time he died in 1930, Mareau had explored for oil in the new state of Oklahoma, especially near Drumright, in a giant field between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Years of research by his descendants revealed he ended up spending 16 years in Oklahoma’s Drumright-Cushing oilfield.

According to the family’s ancestry research, their relative was awarded the honorary title “Father of the Oil Industry in Oklahoma” during the International Petroleum Exposition and Congress in downtown Tulsa, an annual event that would continue for decades.

Oklahoma newspaper photo of Mareau F. VaViness, 1927.

Mareau F. LaViness was proclaimed “The Father of the Oil Industry in Oklahoma ” in 1927, three years before his death at age 78. Photo from Tulsa Daily World.

The LaViness family discovered Mareau’s petroleum industry history after pouring over newspaper clippings, visiting local libraries and county archives, and spending hours traveling in Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York looking for information on Mareau LaViness (also spelled LeViness).

Researching an Oil Patch Life

According to research by relative William Knoles, three generations on his mother’s side of the family worked in Pennsylvania oilfields in the late 1800s. He contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) in November 2021 seeking information about his family’s link to the early U.S. petroleum industry.

“I am trying to find out as much information regarding my mother’s family last name LaViness, sometimes recorded as LeViness,” Knoles explained in his email to AOGHS. 

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As U.S. petroleum exploration moved westward from Pennsylvania oilfields, so apparently did the family’s great-grandfather (and possibly great-great grandfather). Mareau LaViness reached booming Kansas and Oklahoma oilfields by the early 1900s.

Knoles included in his email an image of a newspaper article describing Mareau as “The Father of the Oil Industry in Oklahoma.” The one-paragraph story appeared in the September 28, 1927, edition of the Tulsa Daily World with the headline, “Oil Industry’s Dad.”

M.F. Laviness, 75, of Drumright, can claim without any contradiction to be the father of the oil industry in Oklahoma. He drilled the first two wells in Oklahoma to find oil in marketable quantities. They were drilled in 1896 and 1897 at Muskogee and Bartlesville, respectively. Laviness began his connection with the infant oil industry 63 years ago when he was but 12 years of age. He has been connected with it ever since.

He was one of the enthusiastic old-timers of the oil game who took part in the International Petroleum Exposition Monday, the article reported.

Originally held in downtown Tulsa beginning in 1923, the IPE in 1927 found a permanent home on acreage leased from the Tulsa State Fair, according to “Tulsa Gal” of the Oklahoma Historical Society. The expo date was moved to May to not conflict with fall festivities at the fairgrounds.

After some preliminary research, the LaViness family learned that Mareau was employed by the Cudahy Oil Company.

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Exploring the AOGHS website, the family decided to seek help and joined the society as a supporting member. “I am just trying to find as much information as I can find and any information you could supply or direct me toward would be greatly appreciated.”

Renee’ LaViness seeks Oil History

In February 2022, Renee’ LaViness emailed the historical society and offered more family details (William Knoles is her husband’s first cousin). She also has explored ancestry websites and found newspaper clippings from Kansas and Oklahoma confirming that Mareau Fisher LaViness took part in the first commercial oil well in Oklahoma.

“My husband said his parents once took him and his brothers to see the Nellie Johnstone and Mareau’s name was on a plaque that named all the men who drilled that well,” she explained. Completed in 1897, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 was drilled along the Caney River near Bartlesville, at the time a trading post in Indian Territory.

Today, a granite marker and 72-foot replica of the well’s cable-tool derrick preserve Oklahoma’s petroleum history in Bartlesville’s Discovery One Park. Other exhibits include an oilfield cannon once used for extinguishing oil tank fires — by shooting holes in them (see Oilfield Artillery fights Fires).

A pink granite rock marks the spot of first Oklahoma oil well.

A pink granite rock marks the spot where a large crowd gathered at Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well to witness history being made in 1897. Photo by Bruce Wells.

But when Renee’ and husband visited the well in its park a few years ago, “Mareau’s name was not on the current plaque that is there. This really bothered my husband, so I set out to find what I can to prove his part.”

Cudahy Oil Company

Renee’ hopes AOGHS members and website visitors might offer more information. Her newspaper clippings describe Mareau as the “Father of the Oil Industry in Oklahoma,” because of his role in drilling the Bartlesville well.

Cudahy Oil Company, owned by a Chicago millionaire, financed drilling the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well, which first showed signs on oil in March 1897. 

On April 15, 1897, Cudahy Oil fractured the downhole geologic formation by  “shooting” the well with nitroglycerin.  The oilfield discovery well began producing up to 75 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 1,320 feet. LaViness family research revealed Cudahy Oil’s fracturing expert came from Neodesha, Kansas, weeks earlier. At the site, he worked with “Mr. M.F. Laviness, the superintendent of works.”

First Oklahoma oil well noted in Neodesha (Kansas) Register, April 2, 1897..

Family history research discovered M.F. LaViness in this Neodesha (Kansas) Register article of Friday, April 2, 1897.

Despite the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well’s oil production, Cudahy Oil Company was confronted with a lack of infrastructure for moving oil to markets. With no storage tanks, pipelines, or railroads available, the well was capped for two years.

Although the 1897 Bartlesville well would be considered Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well, several Indian Territory oil wells preceded it.

Mareau Fisher LaViness (1852-1930).

Mareau Fisher LaViness (1852-1930). Photo courtesy Renee’ LaViness.

Dr. H.W. Faucett and Choctaw Oil and Refining Company successfully completed a small producing well in 1888. One year later, another small producer was drilled near oil seeps at Chelsea (learn more in Another First Oklahoma Oil Well). Another marginally producing well was drilled in 1889 by Cudahy Oil and Mareau at Muskogee, according to Renee’.

As the 20th century began, other mid-continent exploration companies and industry pioneers arrived, including wildcatter Thomas Slick, who discovered the giant Cushing-Drumright field in 1912 (see Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters). 

Father of the Oil Industry in Oklahoma

Cudahy Oil Company and Mareau LaViness are connected to Oklahoma’s earliest petroleum discoveries. According to his 1930 obituary in the Drumright Derrick, the title “The Father of the Oil Industry in Oklahoma” was awarded to Mareau during the 1927 Tulsa international oil expo.

“As a driller, Laviness was employed on the first oil well drilled in Oklahoma near Bartlesville,” the Drumright newspaper noted. “He was 78 years old, a member of the Knights of Pythias and a resident of Drumright for 16 years. He was well known in the oil fields there.”

Mareau Fisher LaViness 1930 obituary.

Mareau Fisher LaViness died on August 24, 1930, at 78, according to his Drumright, Oklahoma, obituary.

Family research uncovered that Mareau traveled from Lima, Ohio, to Oklahoma on a regular basis, stopping in Kansas, “where he was frequently mentioned in the newspapers as ordering more supplies for the drilling in Oklahoma,” Renee’ reported. “Gene’s mother had conveyed that he worked for Cudahy when she first told us about the family history and we started researching. So, that was finally confirmed when I found the articles.” 

Darker Discoveries

“I believe Mareau may have known William Hale, who was involved in the Osage murders,” Renee’ added, referring to a bloody criminal conspiracy of unsolved 1930s murders that left dozens of Osage killed for headrights to their land (Oklahoma Historical Society historian Jon D. May’s Osage Murders).

“But I’ve never found any information to link them, other than one water-damaged photo that looks like it might have Mr. Hale in it,” Renee’ La Viness noted. “But I think most of the oil men in the Territory knew each other, or knew of each other, from what I’ve seen in the newspapers.”

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Mareau was buried in the Drumright city cemetery. “Family lore says Mareau was quite well off, but he blew it all on women and wine. From what I’ve seen of the times and the town where he spent most of the last part of his life, I can believe that, sadly,” Renee’ wrote in her email to AOGHS.

More information about her research is on Ancestry.com, according to Renee’, who said researchers can visit that site to look up Mareau Fisher LaViness. “If you find photos and records by JesPiddlin, that’s me,” Renee’ explained, adding she would be happy to share copies of documents and newspaper clippings she has discovered.

“I’m excited to be in contact with you and look forward to finding ‘proof’ of my husband’s great-great-grandfather’s part in the oil industry,” Renee’ concluded.

Want to help Renee’ LaViness and William Knoles learn more about the petroleum industry career of Mareau Fisher La Viness? Please comment below or contact bawells@aoghs.org

A California company offers research resources, including public records sources and tips for interviewing, according to Ourpublicords Marketing Specialist Sarah Moore. “We’ve just created a great guide to help people interview their elderly family members for genealogical research, and how to get the best experience and understanding from those interviews,” she noted in an email to AOGHS.


Recommended Reading:  Oil in Oklahoma (1976); The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (1985); Killers of the Flower Moon (2018). 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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “LaViness Family Oilfield History.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/laviness-family-oilfield-history. Last Updated: November 10, 2023. Original Published Date: March 1, 2022.

Oil Reigns at King Ranch

America’s largest ranch signed a record-setting oil lease in 1933, launching a major oil company.


The largest U.S. private oil lease ever negotiated was signed in Texas during the Great Depression. The 825,000 acre King Ranch oil deal with Humble Oil and Refining, signed on September 26, 1933, would help the company become ExxonMobil, which has extended the agreement ever since.

At its peak covering one million acres, the King Ranch has remained bigger than the state of Rhode Island (776,960 acres). Despite unsuccessful wells drilled on the south Texas ranch for more than a decade, a Humble Oil geologist was convinced an oilfield could be found. (more…)

Zebco Reel Oilfield History

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


Zebco oilfield history began in 1947 when Jasper R. Dell Hull walked into the Tulsa offices of the Zero Hour Bomb Company. The amateur inventor from from Rotan, Texas, carried a piece of plywood with nails arranged in a circle and wrapped in line. Attached was a coffee-can lid that could spin.

Hull, known by his friends as “R.D.,” 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 designed and patented technologies for “shooting” wells to increase oil and natural gas production.

Explosive device of Zero Hour Bomb Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1932.

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

Zero Hour Bomb Company’s timer controlled a mechanism with a detonator inside 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.

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.

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“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-designed fishing reel at about age six, Leschper recalled, the “tiny black pushbutton reel” came with 6 lb. monofilament line (see Nylon, A Petroleum Polymer) and a four-foot hollow fiberglass rod. His small rig included a hard, yellow plastic practice plug. “I wore it down to a nub pitching it across the hard-baked grass in our front yard.”


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

Earlier, Hull had tested several designs before developing a manufacturing 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.

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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.”

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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2023 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 13, 2023. Original Published Date: February 20, 2018.


Carl Baker and Howard Hughes

Inventive founders of oilfield service company giants Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools.


As the U.S. petroleum industry expanded following the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill 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 petroleum production, as did oilfield service company competitors 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) had been founded by Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker Sr., who among other inventions patented a cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company in Coalinga, California.

R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.

Oil wells Carl Baker had drilled near Coalinga encountered hard rock formations that caused problems with casing, so he developed an offset cable-tool bit allowing 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,” according to the Baker Museum. Baker organized small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.

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

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

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.

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By the time Carl Baker Sr. died in 1957 at age 85, he had been awarded 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.

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“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.”

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 have noted 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 recalled he spent $50 of his sale proceeds at the bar during the balance of the evening.

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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 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 in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

Oilfield Service 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.

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After 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 Phillips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artificial 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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2023 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: December 14, 2022. Original Published Date: December 17, 2017.


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