Petroleum History Research Forum

Forum for sharing information about artifact research and preserving petroleum history.

 

Updated September 6, 2022

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) established this oil history forum page to help AOGHS members share research. For oilfield-related family heirlooms, the society also maintains an Oil & Gas Families page to help locate suitable museum collections for preserving these unique histories. Information about old petroleum company stock certificates can be found at the popular forum linked to Is my Oil Oil Stock worth Anything?

Here is a simple way to help researchers share ideas and oil and gas historical information! Contact the society at bawells@aoghs.org if you would like your research question added to this oil history forum. Please use the comment section to answer or make suggestions. Post your answers or comments at the bottom of this page.

 

Oil and Gas History Research Forum

 

Research Request: September 3, 2022

Identifying a Circa 1915 Gas Pump

From the lead mechanic at San Diego Air & Space Museum

I’m hoping someone visiting the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s website can help me identify the gas pump we are restoring here at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. I believe it’s a Gilbert and Barker from 1915 or so.

 Circa 1905 Gas Pump details.

The data plate is missing and I’ve been having trouble finding a similar one in my online search. Thanks!

— Gary Schulte, Lead Mechanic, SDASM

Please email Gary engshop@sdasm.org or post your reply in the comments section below. 

Learn more history about early kerosene and gasoline pumps in First Gas Pump and Service Station; a collector’s rare 1892 pump in Wayne’s Self-Measuring Pump; and the 24-hour Gas-O-Mat in Coin-Operated Gas Pumps.

 

Research Request: August 11, 2022

Gas Streetlights in the Deep South

From a professor, author and “history detective”

I am doing historical research on gas streetlights in the Deep South. Any suggestions will be much appreciated. My big problem at the moment is Henry Pardin. He bought the patent rights to a washing machine in Washington, DC, in 1856 and was in Augusta, Georgia, in 1856. Pardin set up gas streetlights in Baton Rouge, Holly Springs, Natchez, and Shreveport in 1857-1860. I have failed to find him in any of the standard research sources.

Any help on gas street lights in the south before the Civil War is appreciated. Thank you for your time.

— Prof. Robert S. “Bob” Davis, Blountsville, Alabama, Genws@hiwaay.net

Please email Bob or post your reply in the comments section below. 

 

Research Request: August 5, 2022

Drop in Stop Action Film

From a stop action film researcher:

“Your website is doing good things for education. It is a gold mine for STEM high school teachers — and also for people like me, who like stop motion oil industry films, Bill Rodebaugh noted in an August 2022 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. 

stop action character shaped  like a drop.

Researcher seeks the origin of stop action film (oil?) drops.

Rodebaugh, who has researched many stop motion archives (including AOGHS links at Petroleum History Videos), seeks help finding the source of an unusual character — a possible oil drop with a face and arms. The purpose of the figures remains unknown.

“I am discouraged about finding that stop motion film, because I have seen or skimmed through many of those industry films, which are primarily live action,” Rodebaugh explained. He knows the puppet character is not from the Shell Oil educational films, “Birth of an Oil Field” (1949) or “Prospecting for Petroleum” (1956). He hopes a website visitor can assist in identifying the origin of the hand-manipulated drops. “I am convinced that if this stop motion film can be found, it would be very interesting.”

— Bill Rodebaugh, brodebaugh@suddenlink.net

Please email Bill or post your reply in the comments section below. 

 
Research Request: July 2022
 

Gas Station Marketplace History

From an automotive technology writer:

I’m looking for any information on the financial environment during the early days of the automotive and gasoline station industry. The idea is to compare and contrast the market-driven forces back then to the potential for government subsidies/investments etc. to pay for electric vehicle charging stations today.

At this point, I have not found any evidence but I wanted to be thorough and ask the petroleum history community. From what I have seen, gas stations were funded privately by petroleum companies and their investors and shareholders.

I’m not talking about gas station design or the impact on the nation/communities, but the market forces behind the growth of the industry. Please let me know of any recommended sources. I have already read The Gas Station in America by Jackie & Sculle.

— Gary Wollenhaupt, gary@garywrites.com

Please email Gary or post your reply in the comments section below. 
 
 
Research Request: April 2022
 

Seeking Information about Doodlebugs

From a Colorado author, consulting geologist and engineer:

I am trying to gather information on doodlebugs, by which I mean pseudo-geophysical oil-finding devices. These could be anything from modified dowsing rods or pendulums to the mysterious black boxes. Although literally hundreds of these were used to search for oil in the 20th century, they seem to have almost all disappeared, presumably thrown out with the trash. If anyone has access to one of these devices, I would like to know.

— Dan Plazak

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org. Dan Plazak is a longtime AOGHS supporting member and a contributor to the historical society’s article Luling Oil Museum and Crudoleum.

 

Research Request: February 2022

Know anything about W.L. Nelson of University of Tulsa?

From an associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts:

I am doing research on the role of the University of Tulsa in the education of petroleum refining engineers and in particular am seeking information about a professor who taught there named W.L. Nelson, author of the textbook Petroleum Refinery Engineering, first published in 1936. He taught at Tulsa until at least the early 1960s. He was also one of the founders of the Oil and Gas Journal and author of the magazine’s “Q&A on Technology” column. If anyone has any leads for original archival sources by or about Nelson and UT, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Thank you and best wishes, M.G. 
 
Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.
 
 
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Oil History Forum

Research requests from 2021:
 

Star Oil Company Sign

Looking for information about an old porcelain sign from the Star Oil Company of Chicago.

Learn more in Seeking Star Oil Company.

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Bowser Gas Pump Research

I have a BOWSER, pump #T25988; cut #103. This is a vintage hand crank unit. I can’t seem to find any info on it! Any help would be appreciated, Thank You. (Post comments below) — Larry

A early Bowser Gasoline Pump illustration in AOGHS oil history forum.

Hand-cranked Bowser Cut 103 Pump.

Originally designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” early S.F. Bowser pumps added a hose attachment for dispensing gasoline directly into automobile fuel tanks by 1905. See First Gas Pump and Service Station for more about these pumps and details about Bowser’s innovations.

Bowser company once proclaimed its “Cut 103” as “the fastest indoor gasoline gallon pump ever made” with an optional “hose and portable muzzle for filling automobiles.”

Collectors’ sites like Oldgas.com offer research tips for those who share an interest in gas station technological innovations.

Circa 1900 California Oilfield Photo

My grandfather worked the oilfields in California in the early 1900’s.

Detail of circa 1900 CA oilfield posted in AOGHS oil history forum.

Unidentified California oilfield, circa 1900, posted in AOGHS oil history forum.

He worked quite a bit in Coalinga and also Huntington Beach. He had this in his old pictures. I would like to identify it if possible. The only clue that I see is the word Westlake at the bottom of the picture. What little research I could do led me to believe it might be the Los Angeles area?

I would appreciate any help you can provide. (Post comments below.) — B.

Cities Service Bowling Teams

I was wondering if there are any records or pictures of bowling leagues and teams for Cities Service in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Houston, Texas, or Lafayette, Louisiana. I would appreciate any information. My dad was on the team. (Post comments below.)  — Lisa

Oilfield Storage Tanks

My family has a farm in western PA and once had a small oil pump on the land. I’m trying to learn how the oil was transported from the pump. I know a man came in a truck more than once each week to turn on the pump and collect oil, but I don’t know if there was a holding tank, how he filled his truck, etc. (My mother was a child there in the ’40s and simply can’t recall how it all worked.) Can anyone point me at a resource that would explain such things? I’m working on a children’s book and need to get it right. Thank you. — (Post comments below.)  Lauren

Author seeking Historical Oil Prices

Can anyone at AOGHS tell me what the ballpark figures are in the amount of petroleum products so far extracted, versus how much oil-gas is left in the world? Also: the price per barrel of oil every decade from the 1920s to the present. And the resulting price per gallon during the decades from 1920 to the present year? I have almost completed my book about an independent oilman. Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

— John

Painting related to Standard Oil (ESSO)

I am researching an old oil painting on canvas that appears to be a gift to Esso Standard Corp. Subject: Iris flowers. There is some damage due to age but it is quite interesting. The painting appears to be signed in upper right corner: Hirase?

ESSO flower print for customers in AOGHS oil history forum.

On the back, along each side, is Japanese writing that I think translates to “Congratulations Esso Standard” and “the Tucker Corporation” or “the Naniwa Tanker Corporation.” Date unknown, possibly 1920s.

I am not an expert in art nor Japanese culture, so some of my translation could be incorrect. I was hoping you or your colleagues might shed some light on this painting.

— Nancy

Please post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Early Gasoline Pumps

For the smaller, early stations from around 1930, was the gas stored in a tank in the ground below the dispenser/pump? — Chris  Please ad comment below.

Oilfield Jet Engines

I was wondering about a neat aspect of oil and natural gas production; namely, the use of old, retired aircraft jet engines to produce power at remote oil company locations, and to pump gas/liquid over long distances in pipelines. Does anyone happen to recall what year a jet engine was first employed by the industry for this purpose? Nowadays, there is an interesting company called S&S Turbine Services Ltd. (based at Fort St. John, British Columbia) that handles all aspects of maintenance, overhaul and rebuilding for these industrial jets.

— Lindsey 

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

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Natalie O. Warren Propane Tanker Memorabilia

My father spent his working life with Lone Star Gas, he is gone many years now I am getting on. Going through a few of his things. A little book made up that he received when he and my mother attended the commissioning of the Natalie O. Warren Propane Tanker. I am wondering if it is of any value to anyone. Or any museum.

— Bill  

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

Elephant Advertising of Skelly Oil

My grandfather owned a Skelly service station in Sidney, Iowa in the 1930s and 1940s. I have a photo of him with an elephant in front of the station. I recall reading somewhere that Skelly had this elephant touring from station to station as an advertising stunt. Does anyone have any more history on the live elephant tour for Skelly Oil? I’d love to find out more. —  Jeff  Please ad comment below.

Tree Stumps as Oilfield Tools

I am a graduate student at the Architectural Association in London working on a project that looks at the potential use of tree stumps as structural foundations. While researching I found the following extract from an article on The Petroleum Industry of the Gulf Coast Salt Dome Area in the early 20th century: “In the dense tangle of the cypress swamp, the crew have to carry their equipment and cut a trail as they go. Often they use a tree stump as solid support on which they set up their instruments.” I have been struggling to find any photos or drawings of how this system would have worked (i.e. how the instruments were supported by the stump) I was wondering if you might know where I could find any more information?

— Andrew  

Post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Texas Road Oil Patch Trip

“Hi, next year we are planning a road trip in the United States that starts in Dallas, Texas, heading to Amarillo and then on to New Mexico and beyond. We will be following the U.S. 287 most of the way to Amarillo and would like to know of any oil fields we could visit or simply photograph on the way. From Amarillo we plan to take the U.S. 87. We realise this is quite a trivial request but you help would be much appreciated.”

— Kristin 

Please post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Antique Calculator: The Slide Rule

Here’s a question about those analog calculating devices that became obsolete when electronic pocket calculators arrived in the early 1970s…Learn more in Refinery Supply Company Slide Rule.

Please post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. Contact the society at bawells@aoghs.org if you would like a research question added. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.

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Fake New Jersey Oil Well

“New Jersey Not a Good Field for Oil Investments.”

 

There would be no East Coast oil boom, despite enthusiastic promotions of a mythical New Jersey oilfield after a family in Millville decided to expand from real estate into oil exploration business on their farm in Cumberland County.

As early as August 1916, a West Coast newspaper covered the unusual attempt to find oil East Coast oil. “Lewis Steelman, the man who has been prospecting for oil near Millville, N.J., for some time, has begun active work to locate an oil well and he confidently expects to strike the fluid,” reported California’s Santa Ana Register.

Steelman Realty Gas & Oil Company

“Steelman has secured options on the property in the vicinity of his estate at Cumberland, near here, and has erected a derrick 75 feet high, by which the drilling will be done,” the newspaper explained.

Map of a Millville, New Jersey, fake oil well location in 1916.

A New Jersey “oil well” drilled in 1916 was said to have found a previously unknown geologic oil-bearing formation.

Steelman Realty Gas & Oil Company officially incorporated on November 13, 1916, with $300,000 in capital. Most of the company’s stock was sold to Pittsburgh independent producers. Officers included Lewis Steelman, Merton Steelman and Leroy Steelman. Their objective was to “drill for natural gas and oil on lands of the company.”

When a Steelman exploratory well reportedly discovered oil 800 feet deep on a 1,500-acre tract, the Petroleum Gazette in Titusville, Pennsylvania, took note of the discovery.

“Lewis Steelman struck oil on his estate four miles east of Millville in the depths of a big forest,” the Gazette reported. “Experts who were here several months ago assured Steelman that there was oil on the property and he built a derrick and today struck a deposit which it is believed will yield 25 barrels of crude oil daily.”

The Petroleum Gazette (published where the first U.S. oil well had been drilled in 1859) added that Steelman was not satisfied with the oil strike and would “go a few feet lower to protect himself from prospectors who might drain his well.”

Dr. von Hagen’s Predictions 

With Steelman Realty Gas & Oil said to be buying hundreds of acres of forest land surrounding Steelman property, company stock sales were buttressed by the declarations of geologist Dr. H. J. von Hagen, cited as “one of the world’s greatest living geologists and petroleum engineers.”

Dr. von Hagen also predicted this previously unknown geologic oil-bearing formation extended into Maryland and West Virginia, varied in width, “but is nowhere more than fifteen miles across.” Dr. von Hagen had spent two years in tracing it, the newspaper added.

Covering news of the New Jersey wildcat well from North Carolina, the Durham Morning Herald reported Dr. von Hagen as one of the men who had struck oil at Millville. The newspaper quoted the geologist as saying the petroleum came from “a great belt which starts near Moncton, New Brunswick, reappears at the eastern end of Long Island, runs near Lakewood, N.J.”

Newspaper clipping reported the new jersey oil well "discovery."

Newspapers as far away as California reported the dubious New Jersey oil discovery.

“Dr. von Hagen says he and his associates have received a $100,000 offer for the well which they are sinking, and from which they can get about fifteen barrels of oil a day, though the final depth has not been reached,” reported the Morning Herald. Dr. Von Hagan himself leased thousands of acres of land east of Millville, as well as nearby Hammonton.

It looked like the beginning of New Jersey’s first commercial oil production. Then Bridgewater’s Courier-News reported startling news. “Dr. von Hagen and His Bag Gone,” the account began. “Residents of this city, Millville and other places in this section are puzzled over Dr. von Hagen and his oil locating scheme. The doctor is away, his offices here are unoccupied at the present, no oil has been struck, and no one has been asked to buy stock.”

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The Courier-News also had something to say about the geologist and his unusual methods. “The story about the doctor sinking his wells for wireless communication with Germany is all rot. He claims to have discovered the secret of locating oil under ground. He has a little bag with a golden cord attached. When that Is held over ground where there is oil the bag becomes agitated and swings violently.”

Meanwhile, another account of the well from the Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter said the discovery had “brought considerable notoriety to a locality in which geologic conditions, as promptly announced by the State geologist, are unfavorable to the occurrence of oil in commercial quantities…No instance of oil seepage and no oil-bearing shales have ever been observed by any worker on the State Geological Survey.”

The publication added that the survey had been “continuously active since 1864” and the geology of New Jersey had been studied “to a more minute degree than that of any other State, the conclusion seems irresistible that they (oil-bearing formations) do not occur.”

No New Jersey Oil Boom

Articles describing a successful oil well in New Jersey nonetheless excited investors and apparently attracted more drillers and cable-tool rigs.  “Discovery of Flow Near Millville, N.J., Starts Rush of Prospectors,” proclaimed the Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Times. “The Steelman Realty, Gas and Oil Company, which recently struck oil at their well on the 1,500 [acre] tract three miles east of Millville, has received pipe for a second well which will be started at once.”

Map of of leading to the site on Oil Well Road" at Millville, N.J.

“The old timers called the woods road leading to the site Oil Well Road,” notes one Millville resident.

The newspaper said pipe and drills had arrived “for three independent concerns, and prospectors from Oklahoma and elsewhere will sink the wells on leased ground near the location of the well where oil has been struck.”

However, the state geologist remained dubious. “All drilling for oil here is extremely speculative and should be undertaken only by those who fully understand the hazards of the game and can afford to lose their entire venture,” he warned. “The public should therefore beware of stock-selling schemes based on reported discoveries or assumed occurrences of oil in New Jersey.”

An October 1917 report on the well’s status noted technical problems. “For months no work was done at the well owing to the loss of tools and obstruction of the casing (see Fishing in Petroleum Wells).” Despite this trouble, “the sale of stock in an oil and realty company controlling adjoining territory was actively pushed by some of the persons interested in the company which sank the well.”

Millville resident George Martin at an abandoned New Jersey oil well.

Millville resident George Martin tracked down the abandoned New Jersey well.

Perhaps the New Jersey State Geologist had the last word about the well when:

“Facts have come to his knowledge which verify what he formerly suspected, namely, that the reputed discovery at Millville was a fake pure and simple, although not all of the persons interested in drilling the well had knowledge of the fraud.”

Steelman Realty, Gas and Oil Company stock certificates today are valued by collectors as remnants of a failed petroleum speculation scheme. “New Jersey Not a Good Field for Oil Investments,” concluded the April 1921 Oil Trade Journal.

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For a thoroughly researched chronology of the Steelman well, visit the Millville Historical Society and see Paul M. McConnell’s “A Century Ago, Southern New Jersey Had Its Fifteen Minutes of Fame.”

Home to major East Coast refineries, New Jersey has never produced commercial quantities of oil or natural gas.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society thanks long-time Millville resident George R. Martin, who trekked the countryside to find the Steelman well in 2017. “”My father and my uncle took me to see it many years ago,” he recalled. “The old timers called the woods road leading to the site Oil Well Road.”

The stories of exploration and production companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?

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Recommended Reading: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991); 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.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join today as an annual AOGHS supporting member. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Fake New Jersey Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/steelman-realty-gas-oil-company. Last Updated: August 24, 2022. Original Published Date: July 20, 2018.

 

Zebco Reel Oilfield History

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

 

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 had designed and patented technologies for “shooting” wells to increase oil and natural gas production.

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.

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.”

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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.

“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.”

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 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.

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.

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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.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society 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. © 2022 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 25, 2022. Original Published Date: February 20, 2018.

 

Preserving a 1921 Atlantic Refining Publication

Grandfather scouted Philadelphia streets for earliest gas station locations.

 

Seeking to preserve heirlooms, families often turn to local museums, colleges, and historical societies for help. When related to petroleum business careers, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) website maintains updated links to special resources, community oil and gas museums, and some help for researching old oil company stock certificates.

A recent addition to the AOGHS Oil & Gas Families page has its own connection with U.S. refining history — and an artifact in search of an archive home.

“I have an old Atlantic Richfield brochure that I’d be glad to donate to any interested party,” Jane Benner noted in a June 2022 email to AOGHS. “My grandfather (G.E. Cooper) and his brother (Albert Cooper) as well as a future brother-in-law (W.R. Pierce) are pictured among the staff salesmen and administrators. The handwriting identifying them is that of my grand mother, Eleanor Cooper Benner.” 

The Atlantic Connecting Rod

Seeking advice for locating an interested museum, Benner attached the cover and interior photos from her family’s 1921 issue of “The Atlantic Connect Rod” (perhaps an employee publication of the Atlantic Refining Company). The Philadelphia-based venture incorporated in 1870 to refine lamp kerosene and other petroleum products.

Brenner family 1921 publication from Atlantic Refining.

Jane Benner’s grandfather George Edward Cooper stands among other Atlantic Refining Company salesmen and administrators in 1921.

Taken over by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust by the end of the 20th century, Atlantic Refining Company returned as an independent company following the U.S. Supreme Court’s dissolution of the monopoly in 1911.

With its South Philadelphia refinery among the largest in the United States, in 1966 Atlantic Refining merged with Richfield Oil Corporation, creating the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO). Two years later, the new major oil company made the first oil discovery in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, leading to construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the mid-1970s.

Early Philly Gas Stations

“All I know of my grandfather’s work is that he was responsible for identifying locations to open gas stations in Philadelphia (right side of the road, heading out of town, as my mother told me). He died in 1927, so likely his work there was during the 1910s and 1920s,” Benner explained.

The Gulf Refining Company had opened America’s first gas station in Pittsburgh in late 1913, and three years later, the company’s “Good Gulf Gasoline” also went on sale in West Philadelphia.

Atlantic Refinery Company brochure with Benner Family 1921

The Atlantic Refining publication features Albert Cooper, brother of Jane Benner’s grandfather, as well as a future brother-in-law (W. R. Pierce). The handwriting identifying them is that of her mother, Eleanor Cooper Benner.

The Gulf station opening at 33rd and Chestnut streets was the start of the “Battle for Gasadelphia,” according to PhillyHistory. In April 1916, Gulf added a second station at at Broad Street and Hunting Park Avenue.

“How did the competition respond? The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh-based Atlantic Refining Company formed a committee to brainstorm,” the 2013 blog noted. Gulf Refining’s first station used a distinctive pagoda style architecture. More designs would emerge to attract consumers.

Both refining companies used service station location and architecture to explore the earliest combinations of integrating functionalism with new or classical designs, noted Keith A. Sculle in his 2004 article, “Atlantic Refining Company’s Monumental Service Stations in Philadelphia, 1917-1919,” published in the Journal of American & Comparative Cultures (see Wiley Online Library).

Preserving Oil History

To find a home for her family’s Atlantic Refining artifact, Benner has been contacting Pennsylvania museums while researching more about the company and her grandfather’s career. She hopes her small but meaningful family heirloom will be preserved as part of America’s petroleum history.

“The booklet is remarkably informative about the company and their sales objectives at that time, including locations and photos of the early stations,” Benner noted in her email to AOGHS. “It’s fine to post my family story, as sparse as it is,” concluded the granddaughter of G.E. Cooper.

Benner added that she planned on contacting curators and archivists at oil museums, “in case anyone is interested.”

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Recommended Reading:  An Illustrated Guide to Gas Pumps (2008). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society 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. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Preserving a 1921 Atlantic Refining Publication.” 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: July 12, 2022. Original Published Date: July 12, 2022.

Carl Baker and Howard Hughes

Inventive 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 petroleum production — as would 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, 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.

R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.

Wells that Baker 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.

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.

“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 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 artificial lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump.

Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump (also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology).

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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.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 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: December 16, 2021. Original Published Date: December 17, 2017.

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First Oil Book

Promoting a new kerosene source, Rock Oil, “The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century.”

 

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

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's 1860 rock oil history book, which sold for 25 cents.

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).

Rock Oil

Oil patch historians regard 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.”

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.”

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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.” 

A Valuable Product

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 1855.

Silliman’s groundbreaking “Report on the Rock Oil, or Petroleum, from Venango Co., Pennsylvania, with Special Reference to its Use for Illumination and Other Purposes,” convinced the petroleum industry’s earliest investors to drill at Titusville. Cable-tool technology developed for brine wells would drill the well.

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.”

The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company would evolved into the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, which became America’s first oil company after Drake completed the first U.S. commercial well drilled seeking oil in 1859.

Learn more in George Bissell’s Oil Seeps.

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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 annual 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 26, 2022. Original Published Date: May 31, 2020.

 

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