First Oil Book

Promoting a new source for making kerosene, 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,” Gale added.

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.”

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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), according to a geologist who has researched the earliest sightings of petroleum.

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.” 

Ethyl Gasoline Corp. gas pump logo.

Ethyl Corporation was established in 1923 by General Motors and Standard Oil of New Jersey,

Ethyl Corporation had been founded in 1923 by General Motors and Standard Oil of New Jersey in response to consumer demand for an improved automobile gasoline. The new company at first downplayed the danger of its tetraethyllead, a fuel additive that proved vital for aviation (and still is). The leaded fuel was banned for use in car engines in the 1970s.

Petroleum 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.

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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.


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 (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 Copyright © 2023 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: Last Updated: May 24, 2023. Original Published Date: May 31, 2020.


Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon

Marketing icon “Dino” and Jurassic friends first appeared at 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.


Harry Ford Sinclair establish his petroleum company in 1916, making it one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. energy  industry. Appearing among other Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs during the 1933-1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, “Dino” quickly became a marketing icon whose popularity – and educational value – with children remains today.

With $50 million in assets, Harry Ford Sinclair borrowed another $20 million and formed Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation on May 1, 1916.  Sinclair brought together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases-all acquired at bargain prices.

Traveling Sinclair dinosaurs like this visited shopping malls across United States.

Today known more correctly as Apatosaurus, in the 1960s a 70-foot “Dino” traveled more 10,000 miles through 25 states – stopping at shopping centers and other venues where children were introduced to the wonders of the Mesozoic era courtesy of Sinclair Oil.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produces six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million. The company’s refining capacity grew from 45,000 barrels of oil a day in 1920 to 100,000 barrels of oil a day in 1926. Refining capacity reached 150,000 barrels of oil per day in 1932. 

Sinclair Oil “Brontosaurus” debut in Chicago as exhibit during the 1933-1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

The first Sinclair Oil “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago as an exhibit during the 1933-1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

The prospering producing and refining company began using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels in 1930. Children loved it. Excited crowds gathered at Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs exhibit during the Century of Progress International Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, from May 27, 1933, to October 31, 1934.

Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs

As Sinclair’s dinosaur exhibit attracted Depression Era crowds. the company published a special edition newspaper, Big News, promoting the company’s diverse array of dinosaurs — and petroleum products.

Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs promoted in company newspaper at Chicago World's Fair..

“Sinclair uses dinosaurs in its motor oil adverting to impress on your mind the tremendous age of the crude oils from which Sinclair Motor Oils are made,” proclaimed one Big News article.

The Sinclair dinosaur exhibit drew large crowds once again at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. Four years later, even more visitors marveled at an improved 70-foot dinosaur in Sinclair’s “Dinoland Pavilion” at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.

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Sinclair’s green giant and his accompanying cast of Jurassic buddies, including Triceratops, Stegosaurus, a duck-billed Hadrosaurus, and a 20-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex – were again a success, especially among young people.

Sinclair gas station illustration on free Pennsylvania map.

Sinclair’s first super-fuel is marketed in 1926. The “HC” initials stand for “Houston Concentrate,” but some advertising men prefer the term “High Compression.”

Although it was the first U.S. exposition to be based on the future, with an emphasis “the world of tomorrow,” the Sinclair dinosaurs remained a popular attraction among other innovative exhibits. The Westinghouse Company featured “Electro the Moto-Man,” a seven-foot robot that talked and smoked cigarettes.

“Dino” and friends would return to New York City with even greater acclaim in 1964. But it was soon after the Chicago World’s Fair that the oil company recorded its most successful single promotion.

Sinclair Dinosaurs Stamps

In 1935, Sinclair Oil published dinosaur stamps and a  stamp album that could be filled only with colored dinosaur stamps — issued one at a time weekly at Sinclair service stations.

The first printing of Sinclair’s dinosaur stamp albums — distributed through its dealers within 48 hours after a single network radio broadcast of the offer — would astound marketing professionals.

Sinclair dinosaur

In 1935, Sinclair gas stations offered dinosaur stamp albums – and eventually handed out four million albums and 48 million stamps.

“The final totals were 4 million albums and 48 million stamps,” the company  noted about its campaign. “Dino” exceeded the other Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs in becoming an icon of successful petroleum marketing wherever it went.

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Refurbished, the 70-foot-long fiberglass green giant and his eight companions — including a large, 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex — woul return to New York for another world’s fair in 1964-1965.

Illustration of Sinclair Oil Company's Dinoland" at 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.

Fifty million New York City visitors attend the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair – with the Sinclair Corporation’s “Dinoland” exhibition among the most popular of all.

In early 1964, spectators along the Hudson River were amazed to see a barge crowded with an improved Dino and his kin floating downriver. The super-sized reptiles were again bound for a New York World’s Fair. One, Triceritops, was delivered by helicopter.

New York World’s Fair

“For the first time in 70 million years a herd of dinosaurs will travel down the Hudson River this month,” noted the September 1963 issue of Popular Science.

Sinclair dinosaur

Spectators in 1964 were amazed to see a barge on the Hudson River loaded with dinosaurs.

“Faithfully sculptured and big as life,” noted the magazine, the fiberglass dinosaurs traveled by barge from the Catskill Mountains studio of animal sculptor Louis Paul Jonas, his 18 assistants and paleontologist advisers. 

Dismantling of "the great statue that stood in the Sinclair Pavilion of the New York World's Fair, 1965."

Dismantling of “the great statue that stood in the Sinclair Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair, 1965.” Photo by Robert Walker, the New York Times Archives.

The nine dinosaurs took two months and $250,000 to complete by opening day, April 22, 1964. By the end of the World’s Fair, about 50 million visitors had marvelled at Sinclair’s “Dinoland” exhibit. Dino’s travels did not end when the fair closed in October 1965.

Sincalair Dinoland on exhibitin 1965 at Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota, where Andy and Doug Ward were photographed by their father David in front of Triceratops. Photo courtesy Doug Ward.

In July 1966, the Sinclair Dinoland exhibit visited Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota, where Andy and Doug Ward were photographed by their father David in front of Triceratops. Photo courtesy Doug Ward.

After being disassembled and configured for an extended road trip, Dino began visiting shopping centers and other venues where crowds of children were introduced to the wonders of prehistory, courtesy of Sinclair.

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Today, many fair visitors fondly remember another attraction of Sinclair’s Dinoland popular Pavilion – “Mold-A-Rama” machines that dispensed warm, plastic dinosaurs for 25 cents.

Poster promoting Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs at 1965 World's Fair Dinoland.

One of the New York World’s Fair dinosaurs would end up in Kansas.

After traveling more 10,000 miles through 25 states and 38 major cities, Dino retired to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth. He can still be seen there today. The Texas park contains some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world.

Sinclair Oil Company's 70-foot Apatosaurus on display at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas.

Sinclair Oil Company’s 70-foot Apatosaurus (and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex) are displayed in Dinosaur Valley State Park, 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Texas. Photo courtesy Dinosaur Valley State Park.

“There are two fiberglass models,” the park notes, “a 70-foot Apatosaurus and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex. They were built, under commission of the Sinclair Oil Company, for New York World’s Fair Dinosaur Exhibit of 1964 – 1965.”

Orginal Corythosaurus in Kansas

Although Sinclair was born in Benwood, West Virginia, today a Wheeling suburb, he grew up in Independence, Kansas. The Historical Museum of Independence educates visitors with an Oil Room exhibiting Sinclair’s extensive Mid-Continent oilfield production and refining heritage.

Corythosaurus pictured on a Sinclair Oil Company dinosaur stamp.

Sinclair Oil Corporation distributed 48 million dinosaur stamps in a highly successful marketing campaign.

On display in a nearby public park is Corythosaurus – one the dinosaurs from Sinclair’s “Dinoland” exhibit at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. The museum’s Old Post Office building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

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“The museum’s permanent exhibits in 22 rooms tell stories of the early settler’ lifestyle; the history of the oil industry; some of the Indian Culture collection and various historical artifacts,” explains the Historical Museum of Independence.

Sinclair dinosaur made in a "Mold-A-Rama" machine for 25 cents.

Young New Work World’s Fair visitors recall Sinclair’s “Mold-A-Rama” machine that made a souvenir dinosaur for 25 cents. “See it formed right before your very eyes!” Two sides of a mold came together, producing a still warm plastic dinosaur.

Although later a respected American industrialist, Harry Sinclair was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal. Albert Fall, appointed Interior Secretary in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding, was found guilty of accepting a bribe in 1929 — the first cabinet member to be convicted of a felony.

With full control of the Naval Petroleum Reserves, Fall had awarded noncompetitive leases to Sinclair’s Mammoth Oil Company for Teapot Dome oil reserves. Harry Sinclair was acquitted of giving a bribe, but served six-and-a-half months in prison for contempt of court and the U.S. Senate. He died on November 10, 1956. 


Recommended Reading:  The Exciting World of Dinosaurs, Sinclair Dinoland, New York World’s Fair 1964-65 (1958); Teapot Dome Scandal (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 (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 © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: April 28, 2023. Original Published Date: January 27, 2010.


Golden Driller of Tulsa

Erected for the 1953 International Petroleum Exposition, a towering roughneck evolved into an Oklahoma landmark. 


With an arm resting on a steel derrick, a 76-foot oilfield worker cannot be missed by visitors to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Popularly known as the “Golden Driller,” the first version of the 22-ton Oklahoma 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 at Tulsa Fairgrounds..

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.

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“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. 

In 1953, an oilfield service company built the first "golden driller" statue for the international oil expo in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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.

Mid-Continent Supply Company constructed a permanent version of the Tulsa golden driller in 1966 with steel rods to withstand up to 200 mph winds.

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.

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.” 

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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 East 21st Street and South 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,

The popular golden driller statue sports local advertising -- a giant T-shirt -- in Tulsa, OK.

Tulsa’s giant driller has sported t-shirts, belts, beads, neckties and other promotions during state fairs. A Covid-19 mask was added in the summer of 2020. 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.

The golden driller Tulsa statue's shoe, circa 1950s. with swimsuit model sitting on it wearing a hardhat.

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 statue with the 2007 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. Photo by Timothy G. Wells.

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 (learn more in Red Fork Gusher).

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An even bigger oilfield discovery arrived in 1905 on a farm south of the future oil capital. On November 22, 1905, the The No. 1 Ida Glenn well erupted a geyser of oil southeast of Tulsa. The Glenn Pool field would forever change Tulsa and Oklahoma history.

Learn more Tulsa history in the extensive collection of the Tulsa Historical Society.


Recommended Reading: Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004); Tulsa Where the Streets Were Paved With Gold – Images of America (2000). 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 © 2023 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: Last Updated: May 6, 2023. Original Published Date: March 1, 2006.


Petroleum History Research Forum

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


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 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 History Research Forum


Research Request: April 12, 2023

Information about Wooden Barrel

From researcher who has a barrel with a red star and

I have got this old oil barrel. I’m trying to find out more information about it. I’m guessing around the 1920’s but I really have no clue. I was hoping someone there could shed some light on it. I’m not interested in selling it just some information. Much appreciated!

— Robert

Top and side view of a wooden petroleum barrel.

Please post reply in comments section below or email

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 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,

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,

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

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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,

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 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

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.

AOGHS membership ad for 2020

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 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 and Oil History

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

— John

Painting related to Standard Oil History

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

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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 

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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  

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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  

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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 

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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.

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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. Contact the society at if you would like a research question added. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.


New London School Explosion

Horrific East Texas oilfield tragedy of 1937.


At 3:17 p.m. on March 18, 1937, with just minutes left in the school day and more than 500 students and teachers inside the building, a natural gas explosion leveled most of what had been the wealthiest rural school in the nation.

Hundreds died at New London High School in Rusk County after odorless natural gas leaked into the basement and ignited. The sound of the explosion was heard four miles away. Parents, many of them roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield, rushed to the school.

Despite immediate rescue efforts, 298 died, most from grades 5 to 11 (dozens more later died of injuries). After an investigation, the cause of the school explosion was found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked unscented gas that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. 

Illuminated nighttime scene of the New London school explosion destruction.

Roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield rushed to New London school after the March 18, 1937, explosion — and searched for survivors throughout the night. Photo courtesy New London Museum.

“The school was newly built in the 1930s for close to $1 million and, from its inception, bought natural gas from Union Gas to supply its energy needs,” noted “The school’s natural gas bill averaged about $300 a month.”

In early 1937 the school board canceled its contract with Union Gas to save money and tapped into a pipeline of residue gas (also called casinghead gas) from Parade Gasoline Company, according to historian James Cornell.

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“This practice — while not explicitly authorized by local oil companies — was widespread in the area,” he reported in The Great International Disaster Book. “The natural gas extracted with the oil was considered a waste product and was flared off.”

Walter Cronkite reaches Scene

A young man working for United Press in Dallas, Walter Cronkite, was among the first reporters to reach the scene of the disaster south of Kilgore, between Tyler and Longview. It was dark and raining in East Texas.

“He got his first inkling of how bad the incident was when he saw a large number of cars lined up outside the funeral home in Tyler,” noted a local historian. Floodlights cast long shadows at the site of the disaster.

“We hurried on to New London,” Cronkite wrote in his book, A Reporter’s Life. “We reached it just at dusk. Huge floodlights from the oilfields illuminated a great pile of rubble at which men and women tore with their bare hands. Many were workers from the oilfields.”

New London Texas School Explosion news photos of destruction in 1939.

The March 18, 1937, explosion hurled a concrete slab 200 feet onto a new Chevrolet. At the time, Rusk County was among the richest rural school districts in the United States. Students had been preparing for the next day’s Inter-scholastic meet in Henderson. Photos courtesy New London Museum.

Decades later, Cronkite would add, “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.”

David M. Brown, who researched the tragedy for a 2012 book, described the “sad irony” of how the East Texas oil boom financed building the wealthiest rural school in the nation in 1934 — and the faulty heating system that permitted raw gas to accumulate beneath it.

According to Brown, the explosion was partly the result of school officials making a bad decision.

To save money on heating the school building, the trustees had authorized workers to tap into a pipeline carrying “waste” natural gas produced by a gasoline refinery. “The resulting explosion that laid waste to a town’s future,” Brown concluded in his book Gone at 3:17, the Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History. 

New London Texas School Explosion museum exhibit of personal accounts.

The New London Museum includes extensive personal accounts of the tragedy taken from newspaper articles and personal interviews. Considered state-of-the-art for its time, the school housed grades K-11.

Following the disaster, a temporary morgue was set up near the school as well as nearby Overton and Henderson, noted Robert Hilliard, a volunteer for the New London Museum.

“Many burials were made in the local Pleasant Hill cemetery that to this day, still symbolize the great loss that families endured, added Hilliard, among those who have maintained the museum’s website. “Many of the grave sites display porcelain pictures of the victims,” he said. “Marbles that were once played with were pushed into the cement border outlining the graves.”

Making Natural Gas Safer

As a result of the disaster, Texas was the first state to pass laws requiring that natural gas be mixed with a “malodorant” to give early warning of a gas leak. Other states quickly followed. The now mandated rotten-egg smell associated with natural gas is Mercaptan, the odorant added to indicate the potentially dangerous leaking of gas.

School at New London, Texas, before deadly 1937 explosion.

The London School campus for grades 5 through 11, “was a new showplace in 1937, the product of new oil wealth that could not have been imagined 10 years earlier,” according to the New London Museum.

New London’s community museum, across the highway from the school site, began in 1992 thanks to years of work by its founder and first curator, Mollie Ward, who was 10 when she survived the devastating explosion. She said in a 2001 interview that among the museum’s exhibits was a blackboard found in the rubble.

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“Sometime in the night a worker found a blackboard that had been on the wall that read ‘Oil and natural gas are East Texas’ greatest mineral blessing,'” said Ward, who spent years helping start a former students association that reunited survivors of the New London explosion.

New London museum backboard in recreated school room from 1937 gas explosion.

One museum exhibit is a recovered blackboard that reads: “Oil and natural gas are East Texas’ greatest mineral blessing.” Photo by Bruce Wells.

Near the museum is a 32-foot-high granite cenotaph dedicated in 1939. In December 1938, a contract for building a monument was awarded to the Premier Granite Quarries of Llano, Texas. Donald Nelson of Dallas was appointed designing and supervising architect for the project.

After a competition in which seven Texas sculptors submitted preliminary models, Herring Coe of Beaumont was awarded the task of making the model for the sculptural block at the top.

New London Texas School Explosion monument from 1939.

A granite cenotaph was dedicated in 1939 to the more than 300 students and teachers who perished.

The 20-ton sculptured block of Texas granite — supported by two monolithic granite columns — depicts 12 life-size figures to represent children coming to school, bringing gifts and handing in homework to two teachers.

The East Texas tragedy and those who died there are remembered today at the New London Museum.


Recommended Reading:  Gone at 3:17, the Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History (2012); A Texas Tragedy: The New London School Explosion (2012); The Great International Disaster Book (1976). 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 © 2023 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “New London School Explosion.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: March 8, 2023. Original Published Date: March 11, 2011.


Wyatt Earp’s California Oil Wells

Famous lawman and wife gambled on Kern County oil leases.


Old West lawman and gambler Wyatt Earp in 1920 bet oil could be found on a barren piece of California scrub land. A century later, his Kern County lease still paid royalties.

Ushered into modest retirement by notoriety, Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt Earp were known — if not successful — entrepreneurs with abundant experience running saloons, gambling houses, bordellos (Wichita, Kansas, 1874), real estate, and finally western mining ventures. 

Quietly retired in California, the couple alternately lived in suburban Los Angeles or tended to gold and copper mining holdings at their “Happy Days” camp in the Whipple Mountains near Vidal.  Josephine “Josie” Marcus Earp had been by Wyatt’s side since his famous 1881 O.K. Corral gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona.

Wyatt Earp and wife Josie at mining camp.

Circa 1906 photo of Wyatt Earp and wife Josie at their mining camp with dog “Earpie.”

Also in California, Josie’s younger sister, Henrietta Marcus, had married into wealth and thrived in Oakland society while Josie and Wyatt roamed the west. “Hattie” Lehnhardt had the genteel life sister Josie always wanted but never had. When Hattie’s husband Emil died by suicide in 1912, the widow inherited a $225,000 estate.

Money had always been an issue between the Earps, according to historian John Gilchriese. Josie liked to remind Wyatt he had once employed a struggling gold miner  — Edward Doheny — as an faro lookout (armed bouncer) in a Tombstone saloon. Doheny later drilled for oil and discovered the giant Los Angeles oilfield in the early 1880s.

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The Los Angeles field launched southern California’s petroleum industry, creating many unlikely oil millionaires — including local piano teacher Emma Summers, whose astute business sense earned her the title of  “Oil Queen of California.”

Wyatt Earp’s ride into the California oil patch began in 1920, when he gambled on an abandoned placer claim.

Kern County Lease Gamble

In 1901, an oil exploration venture had drilled a wildcat well about five miles north of Bakersfield in Kern County. The attempt generated brief excitement, but nothing ultimately came of it. When Shasta Oil Company drilled into bankruptcy after three dry holes, the land returned to its former reputation — worthless except for sheep grazing.

Earp decided to bet on black gold where Shasta Oil had failed. But first, California required that he post a “Notice of Intent to File Prospectors Permit.” He sent his wife to make the application. But on her way to pay the fees with paperwork in hand, Josie was diverted by gaming tables. She lost all the money, infuriating Wyatt and delaying his oil exploration venture.

Later and largely with sister-in-law Hattie Lehnhardt’s money, Earp finally secured the Kern County lease claim he sought.

Wyatt Earp CA oil Lease map.

Wyatt Earp purchased a mineral lease in Kern County, PLSS (Public Land Survey System) Section 14, Township 28 South, Range 27 East.

The San Francisco Examiner declared, “Old Property Believed Worthless for Years West of Kern Field Relocated by Old-Timers.” The newspaper — describing Earp as the “pioneer mining man of Tombstone” — reported that the old Shasta Oil Company parcel had been newly assessed.

“Indications are that a great lake of oil lies beneath the surface in this territory,” the article proclaimed. “Should this prove to be the case, the locators of the old Shasta property have stumbled on to some very valuable holdings.”

Meanwhile, competition among big players like Standard Oil of California and Getty Oil energized the California petroleum market. By July 1924, Getty Oil had won the competition and began to drill on the Earp lease.

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On February 25, 1926, a well on the lease was completed with production of 150 barrels of oil a day. By 1926, nine wells produced almost 153,000 barrels of oil. “Getty has been getting some nice production in the Kern River field ever since operations were started,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Rarely exceeding 300 barrels of oil a day, the Getty wells were not as large as other recent California discoveries (see Signal Hill Oil Boom), but they produced oil from less than 2,000 feet deep, keeping production costs low. Royalty checks would begin arriving in the mail.

At age 78, Wyatt Earp’s oil gamble finally paid off. But there was a catch.

No Royalty Riches

Because of her gambling, Josie Earp had become so notoriously incapable of managing money that Earp gave control of the lease to her younger sister, Hattie Lehnhardt. At the same time, he directed that his beloved wife, “receive at all times a reasonable portion of any and all benefits, rights and interests.”

With that, Earp’s venture in the Kern County oil business became a footnote to his legend, already well into the making. By the time of his death on January 13, 1929, his gamble on oil, still known as the Lehnhardt Lease, had paid Josie only $6,000.

The disappointing results would prompt Josie to write, “I was in hopes they would bring in a two or three hundred barrel well. But I must be satisfied as it could have been a duster, too.”

When benefactor Hattie Lehnhardt died in 1936, her children (and some litigation) put an end to the 20 percent of the 7.5 percent of the Getty Oil royalties formerly paid to their widowed aunt Josephine. Eight years later, when Josephine died, she left a total estate of $175, including a $50 radio and a $25 trunk.

The Lehnhardt lease in Kern County would remain active. From January 2018 to December 2022, improved secondary recovery in the Lehnhardt oil properties of the California Resources Production Corporation produced 440,560 barrels of oil, according to records at ShaleXP.

Kern County Museums

Beginning in 1941, the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield has educated visitors with petroleum exhibits on a 16-acre site just north of downtown. The museum offers “Black Gold: The Oil Experience,” a permanent $4 million science, technology, and history exhibition.

The museum also preserves a large collection of historic photographs.

Oil-Worker Monument at West Kern Oil Museum.

A roughneck monument with a 30-foot-tall derrick was dedicated at in Taft, California, in 2010. Photo courtesy West Kern Oil Museum.

In Taft, the West Kern Oil Museum also has images from the 1920s showing more than 7,000 wooden derricks covering 21 miles in southwestern Kern County, according to Executive Director Arianna Mace. 

Run almost entirely by volunteers — and celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023 — the oil museum collects, preserves, and exhibits equipment telling the story of the Midway Sunset field, which, by 1915, produced half of the oil in California. The state led the nation in oil production at the time.

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Since 1946, Taft residents have annually celebrated “Oildorado.” In 2010, the community dedicated a 30-foot Oil Worker Monument with a derrick and bronze sculptures of Kern County petroleum pioneers.

Both Kern County museums played credited roles in the 2008 Academy Award-winning movie “There Will Be Blood.” Production staff visited each while researching realistic California wooden derricks and oil production machinery.

During a visit to the West Kern Oil Museum, the film’s production designer purchased copies of authentic 1914 cable-tool derrick blueprints.


Recommended Reading:  Black Gold in California: The Story of California Petroleum Industry (2016); Early California Oil: A Photographic History, 1865-1940 (1985); Pico Canyon Chronicles: The Story of California’s Pioneer Oil Field (1985); Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans (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 © 2023 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Wyatt Earp’s California Oil Wells.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: February 15, 2023. Original Published Date: October 30, 2013.


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