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Refurbished in 1979 and declared an Oklahoma state monument. 

Seventy-six feet tall and weighing about 22 tons, the “Golden Driller” – and oilfield roughneck – is the most photographed landmark in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

golden giant

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

Since the giant oilman’s first appearance at the 1953 International Petroleum Exposition, he has become a symbol a city once known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”

Tulsa and its Golden Driller have witnessed many booms – and busts – of the U.S. petroleum industry over the years.

Originally sponsored in 1953 by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, the giant proved very popular. So much so that a new version was temporarily erected again for the 1959 International Petroleum Exposition. The oilfield equipment expos will continue for decades at the Tulsa County Free Fair site, which began in 1903.

golden driller

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. Images courtesy Tulsa Historical Society.

Although again a temporary statue, the 1959 Golden Driller impressed visitors and exhibitors at the oil show.

“This time he was much more chiseled and detailed and was placed climbing a derrick and waving,” notes a Tulsa Historical Society volunteer. Known as “The Roustabout,” the 1959 rig-climbing version again attracted so much attention that Mid-Continent Supply refurbished it and donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority.

“Over the next seven years he had a makeover, actually he had to be completely re-made to withstand the elements,” explains Nancy “Tulsa Gal” of the Tulsa Historical Society.

golden driller

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

Today’s Golden Driller was originally created for Tulsa’s 1966 International Petroleum Exposition. Its designer was a Greek immigrant named George “Grecco” Hondronastas, an artist who had worked on the 1953 expo statue.

According to the 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 One.

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 explains. “Hondronastas fell in love with the city of Tulsa and later moved his wife and son from Chicago to a duplex near Riverview Elementary School, just south of downtown.”

Beaulieu adds 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 Idoloriginally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 22, November 15, 2014.

The late Tulsa photographer Walter Brewer documented construction of the giant with images later donated to the Tulsa Historical Society. Designated a state monument and refurbished again in 1979 (the year Hondronastas died), the statue as it appears today was permanently installed at the 21st Street and Pittsburg Avenue. It contains a total of 2.5 miles of rods and mesh, according to the Tulsa Historical Society. “Made from plaster and concrete, it can withstand 200 mph winds, which is a good thing here in Oklahoma.”

 golden driller

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

The Golden Driller’s right hand rests on an old production derrick moved from oilfields near Seminole, Oklahoma – which 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,” Nancy explains.

“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,” she concludes.

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

golden driller

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

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

Although the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress had no giant roughneck statue in 1923, the expo helped make Tulsa famous around the world. In 1905 – two years before Oklahoma became a state – an oil discovery on the Glenn farm south of Tulsa brought the city’s first drilling boom. Learn more in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a donation today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Golden Driller of Tulsa.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/golden-driller-tulsa. Last Updated: October 7, 2019.

A 1933 lease would earn hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

The largest U.S. private oil lease ever negotiated was signed in Texas during the Great Depression. The 825,000 acre King Ranch oil deal with Humble Oil and Refining helped establish a major petroleum company. The 1933 agreement has been extended ever since.

king ranch oil

Well known in 1957, Robert Kleberg, the grandson of ranch founder, Richard King, made hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from his grandfather’s 1933 lease deal.

Despite dry holes drilled more than a decade earlier, a geologist convinced his petroleum company to further explore a big ranch in South Texas.

At one point covering one million acres, King Ranch today is still bigger than the state of Rhode Island (776,960 acres).

According to the Texas State Historical Association, King Ranch began in 1852, when Richard King and Gideon Lewis set up a cattle camp on Santa Gertrudis Creek southwest of Corpus Christi.

The ranch expanded into Nueces, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties. Its Running W  brand appeared in the 1860s.

King Ranch became famous for its Texas longhorn cattle. Petroleum exploration there began as early as 1919. Exploratory wells drilled by a future major oil company – the largest in America – were dry holes.

Humble Beginnings

Humble Oil and Refining Company, a Houston company founded in 1917, drilled the King Ranch’s early “dusters.”

With no oil discoveries by 1926, the company let its lease expire. Years would  pass as new exploration and production terms were negotiated.

“Agreement was not reached until 1933 because Humble’s top management was uncertain about the oil potential of this part of Texas,” explained a 2010 article by John Ashton and Edgar Sneed.

Company geologist Wallace E. Pratt finally convinced Humble Oil and Refining President W.S. Parrish to lease the King Ranch for $127,824 per year, plus a one-eighth royalty.

King ranch oil

Humble Oil and Refining Company’s first home office was built in 1920 at Main and Polk streets in downtown Houston.

The petroleum lease, signed on September 26, 1933, would bring wealth to both the ranch and the young petroleum company.

Subsequent leases from neighboring ranches gave Humble Oil and Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. The first successful oil well on the King Ranch was completed in 1939.

“Drilling was minor until 1945, when the Borregas oilfield was discovered,” noted Ashton and Sneed in their Handbook of Texas Online King Ranch article.

“After that, several major oil and gas discoveries were made on the ranch, where in 1947 Humble operated 390 producing oil wells,” they added. The company constructed a refinery in Kingsville to handle its growing oil production in South Texas.

Destined for Greatness

By 1953 King Ranch had 650 producing oil and natural gas wells.

In 1980 a subsidiary – King Ranch Oil and Gas – was formed to conduct exploration and production in five states and the Gulf of Mexico. Eight years later the company sold its Louisiana and Oklahoma holdings to Presidio Oil for more than $40 million.

“In 1992 King Ranch Oil and Gas was one among several companies to discover natural gas off the coast of Louisiana,” concluded  Ashton and Sneed.

By 1994, the King Ranch had received oil and natural gas royalties amounting to more than $1 billion since World War II, they estimated.

king ranch oil

In Kingsville, Texas, the tiered Mediterranean-style main house of King Ranch headquarters, “looms like a palace over the kingdom.”

Humble Oil and Refining Company will consolidate operations with Standard Oil of New Jersey. By the 1950s it merges operations with Esso, leading to Exxon.

Today, as ExxonMobil,  the company continues to extend the King Ranch lease agreement that has been in effect since September 1933.

“The King family became the closest thing to royalty in Texas,” Nanette Watson proclaimed in her April 2012 article in Houses with History.

“Admired for their hard work and generosity, the family is expressly private and protective of their land,” she reported. “The ruling family’s tiered Mediterranean-style main house at the headquarters looms like a palace over the kingdom.”

Watson also said the family’s “destined for greatness” legacy was portrayed in the 1956 Hollywood epic “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson.

Although the rancher (Hudson) and the roughneck (Dean) are thrown into conflict prior to an oil gusher, by the time the movie was made, well control had been around more than 30 years (see Ending Oil Gushers – BOP).



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Oil Reigns at King Ranch.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/king-ranch-oil. Last Updated: September 22, 2019.

Sharp-Hughes Tool Company began in 1908 and new patents followed.


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

R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

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

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.

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

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

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

After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through a well.

By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga.

The R.C. Baker Memorial Museum was the 1917 machine shop and office of Baker Casing Shoe. When Baker Tools headquarters moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, the building remained a company machine shop. It was donated by Baker to Coalinga in 1959 and opened as a museum in 1961.

Carl Baker Sr. died in 1957 at age 85 – after receiving more than 150 U.S. patents in his lifetime. “Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” notes 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 they introduced a dual-cone roller bit patented by Hughes.

The business partners developed a bit “designed to enable rotary drilling in harder, deeper formations than was possible with earlier fishtail bits,” according to a Hughes historian. They conducted secret tests on a drilling rig in Goose Creek, Texas.

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.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

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.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

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

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

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

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

Learn more oilfield history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

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 record a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating first electric well log of geologic formations.

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


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


In perhaps the first raid on an oilfield in warfare, a regiment of Confederate cavalry in the spring of 1863 attacked the oil town of Burning Springs in what would soon become West Virginia. The rebel raiders destroyed equipment and thousands of barrels of oil.

confederates attack oilfield

“The First Virginia (Rebel) cavalry at halt. Sketched from nature by Mr. A. R. Waud.” From Harper’s Weekly, September 27, 1862. Gen. Jones’ Brigade consisted of the 6th, 7th, 11th, 12th Virginia Cavalry Regiments and 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion.

confederates attack oilfield

The Burning Springs oilfield (at bottom) was destroyed by Confederate raiders in May 1863 when Gen. William “Grumble” Jones and 1,300 troopers attacked in what some call the first oilfield destroyed in a war.

On May 9, 1863, the Burning Springs oilfield was destroyed by Confederate raiders led by Gen. William “Grumble” Jones. His brigade of Confederate cavalry attacked near the Ohio River in far western Virginia.

This surprise attack along the Kanawha River marked the first time an oilfield was targeted in war, “making it the first of many oilfields destroyed in war,” said David L. McKain, a noted West Virginian petroleum historian and author.

According to McKain, Gen. Jones later reported his rebel troops left burning oil tanks, a “scene of magnificence that might well carry joy to every patriotic heart.”

West Virginia Oil History

“After the Civil War, the industry was revived and over the next fifty years the booms spread over almost all the counties of the state,” explained McKain, who founded and an oil museum in Parkersburg (and was often seen in his black truck searching local valleys for rare oilfield artifacts).

confederates attack oilfield

In May 1861, the Rathbone brothers use a spring-pole to dig a well at Burning Springs that reaches 303 feet and begins producing 100 barrels of oil a day. An oil boom soon follows.

Almost a century earlier, George Washington had acquired 250 acres in the region because it contained oil and natural gas seeps.

“This was in 1771, making the father of our country the first petroleum industry speculator,” noted McKain, author of Where It All Began, a history of the West Virginia petroleum industry.

As early as 1831, natural gas was moved in wooden pipes from wells to be used as a manufacturing heat source by the Kanawha salt manufacturers.

A thriving commercial oil industry grew in Petroleum and California – towns near Parkersburg.

Then in 1861 at Burning Springs, the Rathbone brothers’ spring-pole oil well reached 303 feet – and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day.

“These events truly mark the beginnings of the oil and gas industry in the United States,” said McKain, who died in 2014.

confederates attack oilfield

Founded by oilman David McKain, the Oil and Gas Museum is near the Ohio River at 119 Third Street in downtown Parkersburg, West Virginia. As early as 1831, natural gas was moved in wooden pipes from wells to be used as a manufacturing heat source by salt manufacturers.

“Drilling and producing of both oil and natural gas continues throughout the state to this day,” added McKain, founder of the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg.

The incredible wealth created by petroleum was key to bringing statehood for West Virginia during the Civil War, he claimed.

“Many of the founders and early politicians were oil men – governor, senator and congressman – who had made their fortunes at Burning Springs in 1860-1861,” McKain explained. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation admitting the state on June 20.

Confederates attack Oilfield

When Confederate Gen. William “Grumble” Jones and 1,300 troopers attacked Burning Springs in the spring of 1863, they destroyed equipment and thousands of barrels of oil.

confederates attack oilfield

Confederate cavalry Gen. William “Grumble” Jones

“The wells are owned mainly by Southern men, now driven from their homes, and their property appropriated either by the Federal Government or Northern men,” said Gen. Jones of his raid on this early oil boom town.

Gen. Jones officially reported to Gen. Robert E. Lee that:

All the oil, the tanks, barrels, engines for pumping, engine-houses, and wagons – in a word, everything used for raising, holding, or sending it off was burned.

Men of experience estimated the oil destroyed at 150,000 barrels. It will be many months before a large supply can be had from this source, as it can only be boated down the Little Kanawha when the waters are high.

The Oil and Gas Museum, maintained by volunteers, added a small museum at Burning Springs and a park at California, about 27 miles east of Parkersburg on West Virginia 47.

In addition to Where It All Began, McKain published The Civil War and Northwestern Virginia – The Fascinating Story Of The Economic, Military and Political Events In Northwestern Virginia During the Tumultuous Times Of The Civil War.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


Formed by Harry F. Sinclair in 1916, Sinclair Oil is one of the oldest continuous names in the oil industry. The Sinclair dinosaur first appeared in 1930. “Dino” quickly became a marketing icon whose popularity with children – and educational value – remains to this day.

sinclair dinosaur

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.

Sinclair dinosaur

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.”

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

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 a day in 1920 to 100,000 barrels in 1926. It reached 150,000 barrels in 1932.

Sinclair Oil began using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels in 1930. Children loved it.

The first “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago during the 1933-1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. Read the rest of this entry »


Oil Exchanges

The Oil City, Pennsylvania, Oil Exchange incorporated in 1874. In 1877, it was the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind New York and San Francisco.

In a sign of the growing  power of John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil Company brings an end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative oil trading markets.

On January 23, 1895, the Standard Oil purchasing agency in Oil City notifies independent oil producers it will only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” – and not necessarily “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.” Read the rest of this entry »


New London Texas School Explosion

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.

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 an East Texas school.

Hundreds died at New London High School in Rusk County after odorless natural gas leaked into the basement and ignited.

The force of the explosion was felt even 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). They are remembered today at the New London Museum.

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. “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,” notes History.com. “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. “This practice – while not explicitly authorized by local oil companies – was widespread in the area,” he notes 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.

“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,” notes one local historian. At the scene, floodlights cast long shadows.

New London Texas School Explosion

The explosion hurled a concrete slab 200 feet onto a 1936 Chevrolet. Rusk County, Texas, had one of the richest rural school districts in the United States. On March 18 students were preparing for the next day’s Inter-scholastic meet in Henderson. Photos courtesy New London Museum.

“We hurried on to New London,” Cronkite writes 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…”

Decades later, Cronkite will 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, it 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,” he concluded in his book Gone at 3:17, the Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History

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.

New London Texas School Explosion

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

Today, the rotten-egg smell associated with natural gas is Mercaptan, the odorant added to indicate the potentially dangerous leaking of gas.

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.

Ward noted in a 2001 interview that among the museum’s exhibits was a blackboard found in the rubble.

“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 Texas School Explosion

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.

New London Texas School 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.

A 20-ton sculptured block of Texas granite – supported by two monolithic granite columns – depicts twelve life-size figures, representing children coming to school, bringing gifts and handing in homework to two teachers.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


oklahoma oil history

Discovered in 1928, the giant Oklahoma City oilfield added stability to the state’s economy during the Great Depression. This field alone produced more than 7.3 million barrels of oil over the next 40 years. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

oklahoma oil history

The Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well in April 1897 made Oklahoma oil history as its first discovery – and attracting hundreds of exploration companies to Bartlesville in what was then Indian Territory.

oklahoma oil history

In addition to attracting exploration companies, Oklahoma’s drilling booms brought traffic jams, including this one in Seminole, Oklahoma, circa mid-1920s. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Oil Museum.

Oklahoma oil history began when exploration companies rushed to Indian Territory in 1897 after a column of oil erupted from a well near Bartlesville, a small town on the Caney River just south of the Kansas border.

These “wildcatters” often used steam boilers to power heavy cable tools for Making Hole – Drilling Technology. It was a technique that had evolved from using a spring pole to drill brine wells for making salt. The 1897 Bartlesville oil gusher, which came a decade before statehood, was the First Oklahoma Oil Well, although some historians maintain a well drilled a decade earlier should be considered as Oklahoma’s Other First Oil Well. More oilfield discoveries quickly followed, each making national headlines and attracting investors seeking riches in Mid-Continent black gold.

Adding to the region’s oil fever, the 1901 Red Fork Gusher launched another historic drilling boom, soon Making Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World.” When Missouri investors saw opportunities in the oilfields at the Kansas-Oklahoma border, they formed Cahege Oil & Gas Company. Following statehood in 1907, more major discovers made the Sooner State famous worldwide.

More than 50 refineries once operated in the Cushing area about 50 miles west of Tulsa. Pipelines and storage facilities have since made it “the pipeline crossroads of the world.” Photo from Cushing oilfield, 1910-1918, courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

In March 1912 near Cushing, the Wheeler No. 1 wildcat well produced 400 barrels a day from less than 2,350 feet deep. It marked the first of many oil gushers by an independent oilman once known as Thomas “Dry Hole” Slick.

An historic marker commemorates the August 9, 1921, field testing of seismic technology. The site is located on I-35 about halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

Tom Slick would begin an 18 year streak of discovering some of America’s most prolific oilfields – and become known as Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters. In 1915, the Bartlesville-based Cities Service Company subsidiary discovered the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in Kansas. In 1928, another subsidiary, Empire Oil & Refining, discovered the Oklahoma City oilfield.

Thanks to a University of Oklahoma physicist, new earth-science technologies like reflection seismography began revolutionizing petroleum exploration in the 1920s. J.C. Karcher’s methods evolved from efforts to locate enemy artillery during World War I. He measured the first reflection seismograph geologic section during an experiment near Ardmore in 1921.

By the 1920s, auctions for Osage Nation mineral leases took place in the shade of a Million Dollar Elm near Pawhuska. Oil production Osage oilfields launched the careers of industry leaders like Frank Phillips, J. Paul Getty, Bill Skelly, E.W. Marland and Harry Sinclair.

South of Oklahoma City, the 1926 oilfield discovery at Seminole launched the Greater Seminole Oil Boom. More than 60 petroleum reservoirs were found in 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma – and seven were giants, producing more than a million barrels of oil each.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extends beyond his Wild West show. A Wyoming town named for him preserves his Big Horn Basin heritage. Lesser known is his brief exploration into the oil business.

buffalo bill oil company

“It would be hard to imagine the history of Wyoming around the turn of the 20th century without Buffalo Bill,” notes one historian. 1915 photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

In his day, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” made W.F. Cody the most recognized man in the world. His fanciful Indian attacks on wagon trains, the marksmanship by Annie Oakley, and other attractions drew audiences in America and Europe.

Cody became a promoter of the Wyoming frontier town he helped found in 1896 that bears his name. The local newspaper he and a partner started in 1899 is still publishing today. The Cody Enterprise continues to acknowledge W.F. Buffalo Bill Cody on its masthead.

buffalo bill oil company

A “Buffalo Bill Wild West show circa 1899” poster by Courier Lithographing Co., Buffalo, N.Y., shows cowboys rounding up cattle and a portrait of Col. W.F. Cody on horseback. Image courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As a partner in the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company, he enticed the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad to build an extension from Toluca, Montana, to Cody to ensure future growth and prosperity in the Big Horn Basin of north-central Wyoming.

 buffalo bill oil company

W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, right of center in black hat, and other investors at an oilfield on the Shoshone Anticline near Cody, Wyoming, around 1910. Photo courtesy the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Always an entrepreneur, the showman had earlier formed the W.F. Cody Hotel Company when the railroad reached Sheridan, about 150 miles east of Cody, in 1892. He opened the Irma Hotel (named after his daughter) in Cody in 1902. Historian Robert Bonner notes that the veteran showman promoted his enterprises endlessly with anyone who would listen.

“He saw great possibilities in every direction, and he had an unquestioned faith in his personal ability to achieve whatever he set out to do,” writes Bonner in William F. Cody’s Wyoming Empire: The Buffalo Bill Nobody Knows. “He was always willing to back up his words with his money.” Read the rest of this entry »


Founded in 1934, the Dallas Petroleum Club witnessed the city becoming a financial center for the Texas petroleum industry, notes author Nina P. Flournoy.

The historic club recently published her book to mark its 80th anniversary.

Dallas-based Flournoy’s book, The Lions Among Us: Celebrating 80 Years of The Dallas Petroleum Club describes how the club grew out of 1930s East Texas discoveries that ignited the Texas oil and natural gas industry. Founded in 1934, the club witnessed the city becoming a financial center for the Texas industry.

The club was organized just four years after Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner had discovered the East Texas oilfield near Kilgore, about 120 miles to the east. Read more about Joiner, “Doc ” Lloyd and Haroldson Lafayette Hunt in H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield. Read the rest of this entry »

A small church in Texas was once declared the richest in America.

In the fall of 1917, the Eastland County cotton-farming town of Merriman was inhabited by “ranchers, farmers, and businessmen struggling to survive an economic slump brought on by severe drought and boll weevil-ravaged cotton fields.” Everything changed on October 17, when a Texas & Pacific Coal Company wildcat well struck oil near Ranger, four miles away.

merriman church
The “Roaring Ranger” gusher of 1917 brought an oil boom to Eastland County, Texas, about 100 miles west of Dallas.

The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day, enough to buy nine new Ford Model-T touring cars every day. The rush to drill in the “Roaring Ranger” field soon became legendary among oil booms, even for Texas, home of the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop. As drilling continued, the potential yield of the Ranger oilfield led to peak production reaching more than 14 million barrels in 1919.

Texas & Pacific Coal Company had taken a great risk by leasing acreage around Ranger, but the risk paid off when lease values soared. The company quickly added “oil” to its name, becoming the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company. The price of company stock jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share as landmen, “scanned the landscape to discover any fractions in these holdings. A little school and church, before too small to be seen, now looked like a sky scraper.”

Warren Wagner, driller of the McCleskey discovery well, leased the local school lot and in August 1918 completed a well producing 2,500 barrels of oil a day. Merriman Baptist Church was a different kind of challenge. Deacon J.T. Falls complained in February 1919 that the drilling boom’s oil wells, “ran us out, as all of the land around our acre was leased, producing wells being brought in so near the house we were compelled to abandon the church because of the gas fumes and noisy machinery.”

Deacon J.T. Falls (second from left) was not amused when the Associated Press reported his church had refused a million dollars for the lease of the cemetery.

Falls added that, “So as we could not worship God on the former acre of ground, we decided to lease it and honor God with the product.” A Texas State Historical Society marker erected in 1999 records when the well on the church’s lease struck oil, earning the congregation a royalty of between $300 and $400 a day. Merriman Baptist Church, “kept a small amount for operating expenses and gave the rest to various Baptist organizations and charities.”

But drilling in the church graveyard was a different matter.

merriman church
A 1999 Texas State Historical Society marker explains how members of the Merriman Baptist Church generously shared oil royalties.

At the cemetery, a second, less seen Texas Historical Society marker notes the oil boom’s fierce competition to find property without a well already drilling on it: “Oil speculators reportedly offered members of the Merriman Baptist Church a large sum of money to lease the cemetery grounds for drilling.”

When local newspapers reported that the church had refused an offer of $1 million, the Associated Press picked it up and newspapers from New York to San Francisco ran the story. Literary Digest even featured “the Texas Mammon of Righteousness” with a photograph of the “The Congregation That Refuses A Million.”

Deacon J.T. Falls was not amused. “A great many clippings have been sent to us from many secular papers to the effect that we as a church have refused a million dollars for the lease of the cemetery. We do not know how such a statement started,” he opined.

“The cemetery does not belong to the church. It was here long before the church was. We could not lease it if we would and we would not if we could, the deacon explained. “If any person’s or company’s heart has become so congealed as to want to drill for oil in this cemetery, they could not – for the dead could not sign a lease and no living person has any right to do so.”

merriman church

Deacon Falls concluded with an ominous admonition to potential drillers that “those that have friends buried here have the right and the will to protect the graves and any person attempting to trespass will assume a great risk.”

A lack of knowledge about the young science of petroleum geology defused the issue. Roaring Ranger’s oil production dropped precipitously because of dwindling reservoir pressures brought on by unconstrained drilling.

Despite another oilfield discovery at Desdemona, by 1920 the Eastland County drilling boom was over. Many exploration and production companies failed (including fraudulent ones like Hog Creek Carruth Oil Company).

But today, a faithful congregation still gathers at Merriman Baptist Church every Sunday.

In the decades since the McCleskey No. 1 well, advancements in horizontal drilling technology have presented new legal challenges to mineral rights of the interred, according to Zack Callarman of Texas Wesleyan School of Law. Callarman wrote an award-winning analysis of laws concerning drilling to extract oil and natural gas underneath cemeteries. His “Seven Thousand Feet Under: Does Drilling Disturb the Dead? Or Does Drilling Underneath the Dead Disturb the Living?” was published in the Real Estate Law Journal in 2014.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


pennsylvania natural gas

A marker on Route 22 at Murrysville, Pennsylvania, commemorates the Haymaker brother’s historic natural gas well of 1878.

In 1878, the Haymaker brothers discovered a Pennsylvania natural gas field near Pittsburgh – and laid the foundation for many modern petroleum companies.

Like many young men of their time, Michael Haymaker and his younger brother Obediah had left their Westmoreland County farm to seek their fortunes in Pennsylvania’s booming petroleum industry.

The brothers first found work as drillers for oilman Israel Painter, who had brought in wells a few miles north of Oil City in Venango County – not far from Edwin L. Drake’s 1859 discovery less than 20 years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »


Exceptionally well written, exceptionally candid, impressively informative, and a simply riveting read from cover to cover, Tornados, Rattlesnakes & Oil: A Wildcatter’s Memories of Hunting for Black Gold is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography collections. – October 2018 issue of Small Press Bookwatch

oil book“Most books about the oil patch usually fall into one of two categories,” noted Robert Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, in a comment on the back cover of the 234-page Tornados, Rattlesnakes & Oil, published in August 2018. “The first are tributes to the ‘greatest gamblers.’ The others are tomes about the earth sciences. Rarely do we get a full-bodied peek into real life in the oil patch.”

Blackburn added that the book’s author, Thomas E. Cochrane, produced “a fast-paced and lyrical stroll through several decades of searching for oil and gas, punctuated with stories about the greatest gamblers, and insights into petroleum geology.” Another reviewer, Will Schweller, past president of the Northern California Geological Society, said this about Cochrane:

“His descriptions of his co-workers and how they put together deals is something that very few people in the modern oil and gas companies have much or any experience with. He gives apparently frank accounts of how many projects didn’t work out as well as a few that did, so I give him lots of credit for not exaggerating his successes and being honest about how hard it was to make a living doing what he did. I enjoyed reading the author’s experiences in the Oklahoma oil patch. ”

Cochrane, a longtime member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and former editor of “The Shale Shaker,” the journal of the Oklahoma City Geological Society, continues to work as a consulting geologist in his coastal region of Northern California. Cochrane is in his 80s. The former teacher also is author of Shaping the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast – Exploring the Coastal Geology of Northern California, a regional bestseller.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.


American Oil & Gas Historical Society articles help preserve U.S. petroleum history, which provides a context for understanding the modern energy business. For educators, students, and researchers, a recommended reading list (with links to Amazon books) has been derived from “This Week in Petroleum History,” updated every Monday. Recommended reading subjects provide a chronology of U.S. exploration and production heritage, including historic oilfield discoveries, technologies, pioneers, and disasters.

Suggestions from “This Week in Petroleum History”


Recommended Reading (January 1): Making Hole – Drilling Technology (AOGHS); John D. Rockefeller: The Wealthiest Man In American History (2017); Sign of the 76: The fabulous life and times of the Union Oil Company of California (1977); The Great Wildcatter (1953); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pa., Images of America (2000); Humble, Images of America (2013); Handbook of Petroleum Refining Processes (2016); Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund 1976-2011: A 35-year Michigan Oil and Gas Industry Investment Heritage in Michigan’s Public Recreation Future (2011).

Recommended Reading (December 25): Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist (1994); The Black Giant: A History of the East Texas Oil Field and Oil Industry Skulduggery & Trivia (2003); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Portrait in Oil: How Ohio Oil Company Grew to Become Marathon (1962).

Recommended Reading (December 18): Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans (2009); The Three Families of H. L. Hunt: The True Story of the Three Wives, Fifteen Children, Countless Millions, and Troubled Legacy of the Richest Man in America (1989); Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004); Bird’s Eye Views: Historic Lithographs of North American Cities (1998); Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (1994).

Recommended Reading (December 11): Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (1997); Apollo and America’s Moon Landing Program: Apollo 17 Technical Crew Debriefing with Unique Observations about the Final Lunar Mission – Astronauts Cernan, Schmitt, and Evans (2017); Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History (2010); Texas Oil and Gas, Postcard History (2013); The Wright Brothers (2016).

Recommended Reading (December 4): The Oklahoma City Oil Field in Pictures (2005); General Motors: A Photographic History (1999); The Legend of Coal Oil Johnny (2007); Stella Dysart of Ambrosia Lake: Courage, Fortitude and Uranium in New Mexico (1959); Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America (2012).

Recommended Reading (November 27): Los Angeles, California, Images of America (2001); The fire in the rock: A history of the oil and gas industry in Kansas, 1855-1976 (1976); America’s First Automobile: The First Complete Account By Mr. J. Frank Duryea Of How He Developed The First American Automobile, 1892-1893 (2012); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2000); Fill’er Up!: The Great American Gas Station (2013). ___________________________________________________________________________________

Recommended Reading (November 20): Be My Guest (1957); Magnolia Oil News Magazine (January 1930); Glenn Pool…and a little oil town of yesteryear (1978); The American Highway: The History and Culture of Roads in the United States (2000); History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century (2015); CONOCO: The First One Hundred Years Building on the Past for the Future (1975).

Recommended Reading (November 13): Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery (2008); Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (2011); John D. Rockefeller: The Wealthiest Man In American History (2017); The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016); Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2016).

Recommended Reading (November 6): Around Titusville, Pa., Images of America (2004); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Sheer Will: The Story of the Port of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel (2014); Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 (2017); Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century (1996).

Recommended Reading (October 30): Holy Toledo: Religion and Politics in the Life of “Golden Rule” Jones (1998); The Bradford Oil Refinery, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2006); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate (2011); Texon: Legacy of an Oil Town, Images of America (2011); The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia (2005); A History of the New York International Auto Show: 1900-2000 (2000).

Recommended Reading (October 23): The Salt Creek Oil Field: Natrona County, Wyo., 1912 (reprint, 2017); Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); The Reluctant Rocketman: A Curious Journey in World Record Breaking (2013); Historic Photos of Texas Oil (2012); Maclure of New Harmony: Scientist, Progressive Educator, Radical Philanthropist (2009).


Recommended Reading (October 16): Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century (2015); The 76 bonanza: The fabulous life and times of the Union Oil Company of California (1966); Ranger, Images of America (2010); Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf (2016); Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Postcard History Series (2000); Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982).

Recommended Reading (October 9): The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (2008); Arizona Rocks & Minerals: A Field Guide to the Grand Canyon State (2010); History of the Pure Oil Company: 1914 to 1941 (1941); The History of the Standard Oil Company: All Volumes (2015).

Recommended Reading, September 25:  Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982); Black Gold in California: The Story of California Petroleum Industry (2016); Early California Oil: A Photographic History, 1865-1940 (1985); Kings of Texas: The 150-Year Saga of an American Ranching Empire (2003); Oil in the Deep South: A History of the Oil Business in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, 1859-1945 (1993); Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field Hardcover (1989); Signal Hill, California, Images of America (2006); From Here to Obscurity: An Illustrated History of the Model T Ford, 1909 – 1927 (1971).

Recommended Reading, September 18: Utah Oil Shale: Science, Technology, and Policy Perspectives (2016); Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012); The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (2008); The Bazooka (2012); Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields (1990).

Recommended Reading, September 11:  Rochester Through Time, America Through Time (2015); Nacogdoches, Images of America (2009); Midland, Images of America (2010); Yates: A family, A Company, and Some Cornfield Geology (2000); Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf Hardcover (2016); Natural Gas for the Hoosier State (1995).

Recommended Reading, September 4Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (2012); Schlumberger: The History of a Technique (1978); An Illustrated Guide to Gas Pumps (2008); California State University, Dominguez Hills (2010); Pico Canyon Chronicles: The Story of California’s Pioneer Oil Field (1985); Atoms for Peace and War 1953-1961 (2017).

Recommended Reading, August 28: McKeesport – Images of America: Pennsylvania (2007); Street Lights of the World (2015); Conoco: 125 Years of Energy (2000); Phillips, The First 66 Years (1983); Vertical Reefs: Life on Oil and Gas Platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (2015); A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher (2012).

Recommended Reading, August 21: R.E. Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer (1977); Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery at Beaumont, Texas, in 1901 (2008); Santa Rita: The University of Texas Oil Discovery (1958); Growing Up In The Bradford Oil Fields (2008); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Black Gold: The Philatelic History of Petroleum (1995).

Recommended Reading, August 14: Western Pennsylvania’s Oil Heritage (2008); Winners’ Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race (2009); Glory Gamblers (1961); The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters (2014).

Recommended Reading, August 7Yates: A family, A Company, and Some Cornfield Geology Hardcover (2000); An American Hero: The Red Adair Story : An Authorized Biography (1990); Oil And Gas In Oklahoma: Petroleum Geology In Oklahoma (2013); Texas Art and a Wildcatter’s Dream: Edgar B. Davis and the San Antonio Art League (1998); Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (2012).

Recommended Reading, July 31: The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia (2005); Du Pont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain (1984); The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways (2012); Monsters Of Old Los Angeles – The Prehistoric Animals Of The La Brea Tar Pits (2008); Oil: From Prospect to Pipeline (1971); Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field (1989).

Recommended Reading, July 24: Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685 (1985); The Oil Scouts – Reminiscences of the Night Riders of the Hemlocks (1986); Wildcatters: Texas Independent Oilmen (1984); Eisenhower: Soldier and President (1968); Torpedoes in the Gulf: Galveston and the U-Boats, 1942-1943 (1995).

Recommended Reading, July 17: From the Rio Grande to the Arctic: The Story of the Richfield Oil Corporation, by former CEO Charles S. Jones (1972); Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska (2012); Texon: Legacy of an Oil Town, Images of America (2011); The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009); From Oklahoma to Eternity: The Life of Wiley Post and the Winnie Mae (1998).

Recommended Reading, July 10: Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, Center on Global Energy Policy Series (2017); Pump and Circumstance: Glory Days of the Gas Station (1993); The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America (2013); A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field (1981); Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles (2003).

Recommended Reading, July 3: Death and Oil: A True Story of the Piper Alpha Disaster on the North Sea (2011); Remington and Russell: The Sid Richardson Collection (1994); Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story (2009).

Recommended Reading, June 26: Official Guide to the Smithsonian, 4th Edition (2016); Eisenhower: Soldier and President (1968); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, PA (2000); Texas Rich: The Hunt Dynasty, from the Early Oil Days Through the Silver Crash (1982); Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America (2009); Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive, Railroads Past and Present (2007).

Recommended Reading, June 19: The Great Alaska Pipeline (1988); Artificial Lift-down Hole Pumping Systems: Conference Transcript (1984); Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2014); Ross Sterling, Texan: A Memoir by the Founder of Humble Oil and Refining Company (2012); Signal Hill, California – Images of America (2006); Tulsa Where the Streets Were Paved With Gold – Images of America (2000).

Recommended Reading, June 12: Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2014); Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982); Western Pennsylvania’s Oil (2008); Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (2011); Whiting and Robertsdale – Images of America (2013); Voice of the Marketplace: A History of the National Petroleum Council (2002).

Recommended Reading (June 4): The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010); Around Titusville, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2004); I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford (2014); Code Name MULBERRY: The Planning Building and Operation of the Normandy Harbours (1977); The Great Getty: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty – Richest Man in the World (1986); Corsicana, Images of America (2010).


Recommended Reading (May 28): Chronicles of an Oil Boom: Unlocking the Permian Basin (2014); Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 (2012); Rock Oil, The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere (1860); Blanton Museum of Art: Through the Eyes of Texas, Masterworks from Alumni Collections (1900).


Recommended Reading (May 21): Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.(2004); Huntington Beach, California, Postcard History Series (2009); Crayola Creators: Edward Binney and C. Harold Smith, Toy Trailblazers (2016); Burlington’s Zephyrs, Great Passenger Trains (2004); Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Review of Inception and Progress; Accessions and Donors, Historic Papers (2017).


Recommended Reading (May 14): Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004); Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012); Standard Oil Company: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Famous Monopoly (2016); Ohio Oil and Gas, Images of America (2008); Geophysicist Career Guide (2018).


Recommended Reading (May 7): Erle P. Halliburton: Genius with Cement (1959); Textile League Baseball: South Carolina’s Mill Teams, 1880-1955 (2004); The Civil War and Northwestern Virginia (2004); Conoco: 125 years of energy (2000); Phillips The First 66 Years (1983).


Recommended Reading (April 30): Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); The Seven Sisters: The great oil companies & the world (1975); The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010); The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World (2015).


Recommended Reading (April 16): Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982); The First Cars – Famous Firsts (2014); The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, and Scandal During the Roaring Twenties (1996); Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling: Report to the President (2011); The Osage Oil Boom (1989).

Recommended Reading (April 9): Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank (2008); The Greatest Gamblers: The Epic of American Oil Exploration (1979); Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania (2000); Oil in Oklahoma (1976).

Recommended Reading (April 2): Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap (2005); The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016); The Texaco Story: The First Fifty Years, 1902-1952 (2012); Mapping the Deep: The Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science (2000).

Recommended Reading (March 26): The Oklahoma Petroleum Industry (1980); Oil Lamps The Kerosene Era In North America (1978); Amazing Pipeline Stories: How Building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Transformed Life in America’s Last Frontier (1997); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Innovations in Energy: The Story of Kerr-McGee (1980); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Cherokee Strip Land Rush, Images of America (2006).

Recommended Reading (March 19): Oil Boom Architecture: Titusville, Pithole, and Petroleum Center, Images of America (2008); The Powell Expedition: New Discoveries about John Wesley Powell’s 1869 River Journey (2017); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Perspectives on Modern World History (2011).

Recommended Reading (March 12): “King of the Wildcatters:” The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930 (2004); Historic Battleship Texas: The Last Dreadnought (2007); The Secret of Sherwood Forest: Oil Production in England During World War II (1973); Discovery at Prudhoe Bay Oil (2008); San Joaquin Valley, California, Images of America (1999); A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field (1981); The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy (2016); A Texas Tragedy: The New London School Explosion (2012).

Recommended Reading (March 5): Kettles and Crackers – A History of Wyoming Oil Refineries (2016); American Fads (1985); Sour Lake, Texas: From Mud Baths to Millionaires, 1835-1909 (1995); Rigs-to-reefs: the use of obsolete petroleum structures as artificial reefs (1987); Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century Hardcover (1996); A Geophysicist’s Memoir: Searching for Oil on Six Continents (2017).

Recommended Reading (February 26): Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon (1996); As I See It: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty (1976); Erle P. Halliburton, Genius with Cement (1959); The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (1985); John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist (2006); History of Paola, Kansas (1956); Where it all began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Alfalfa Bill Murray (1968).

Recommended Reading (February 19): The Natural Gas Revolution: At the Pivot of the World’s Energy Future (2013); Herman Frasch -The Sulphur King (2013); The B.F. Goodrich Story Of Creative Enterprise 1870-1952 (2010); Caney, Kansas: The Big Gas City (1985); The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942: The Mystery Air Raid (2010); Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon (1996); Pawnee Bill: A Biography of Major Gordon W. Lillie (1995); Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend (2012). ___________________________________________________________________________________

Recommended Reading (February 12): Roadside Geology of Nevada (2017); The Taking of Getty Oil: Pennzoil, Texaco, and the Takeover Battle That Made History (2017); Images of America: Around Bradford (1997); Lufkin, from sawdust to oil: A history of Lufkin Industries, Inc. (1982); Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide (2000).

Recommended Reading (February 5): In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860 (1993); Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer (2017); Anomalies: Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology 1917-2017 (2017); Building Bartlesville, 1945-2000, Images of America: Oklahoma (2008).

Recommended Reading (January 29): Bertha Takes a Drive: How the Benz Automobile Changed the World (2017); The Oil Scouts: Reminiscences of the Night Riders of the Hemlocks Hardcover (1986); The Finest in the Land: The Story of the Petroleum Club of Houston (1984); Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West (2016). 

Recommended Reading (January 22): Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania (2000); Against the Fires of Hell: The Environmental Disaster of the Gulf War (1992); The Black Giant: A History of the East Texas Oil Field and Oil Industry Skulduggery & Trivia (2003); Slick Policy: Environmental and Science Policy in the Aftermath of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill (2018). ___________________________________________________________________________________

Recommended Reading (January 15): Ranger, Images of America (2010); U.S. Geological Survey; The Offshore Imperative: Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in Postwar America (2009); Ohio Oil and Gas, Images of America (2008).

Recommended Reading (January 8): Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (2004); Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery at Beaumont, Texas, in 1901 (2008); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); The Ford Century: Ford Motor Company and the Innovations that Shaped the World (2002); Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century (1996); Theodor Geisel: A Portrait of the Man Who Became Dr. Seuss (2010).



AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships.  © 2018 AOGHS.

Lloyd N. Unsell (1923-2007), a founding member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, in 1986, he received the industry’s prestigious Chief Roughneck Award in 1986 — the only person not affiliated with an oil company to do so since the award began in 1955. He joined the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 1948 and soon managed public and media relations; he was promoted to executive vice president in 1976 and president in 1985. Unsell was part of key industry industry debates — and also helped win final approval for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s design and construction in 1982. In December 2004, Unsell gave AOGHS exclusive permission to publish the draft forward and early chapters of his then in-progress memoirs, Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell.

Chapter Four: “Glitter of the Oil Capital”

When I went to work on the Tulsa World, I learned very quickly what it meant to be a little frog in a big pond. The dynamics of downtown Tulsa were fascinating for a small town reporter. The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce stationary still proclaimed that the city it served was “The Oil Capitol of the World.” Houston may have been edging up on that claim, but all the elements on which Tulsa had based the title were still in place – headquarters for Skelly Oil Co., Carter Oil Co., the SONJ domestic production subsidiary, Stanolind Oil & Gas, the Standard of Indiana production arm, Mid-Continent Petroleum Corp., Service Pipeline Co., National Tank, Bovaird Supply, Hinderliter tool, Unit Rig, and production headquarters for a dozen other medium to large integrated companies. But Tulsa was also headquarters for dozens of highly successful independent oil companies, and managers of the hundreds of phone book listings of oil-related enterprises which were competing for space in the bristling downtown area where business offices were at a premium.

Tulsa was headquarters for the then world’s largest commercial magazine, the Oil & Gas Journal which now only has a printing plant there, and a half dozen major industry associations. But one of the crown jewels of Tulsa’s claim as the major oil city was the International Petroleum Exposition (IPE) which had been a world renowned industrial exposition since 1923. When I arrived on the scene, feverish plans were already under way for the first postwar Exposition in May 1948, many months away. Tulsa had endemic housing and hotel room shortages, and an IPE Housing committee had been formed to find space for oil show visitors from 33 countries. It wasn’t going to be easy. Downtown Tulsa was a fascinating place in 1947. Major department stores and speciality shops lined Main Street and Boston Avenue for blocks, and shopping throngs crowded the streets on most days, giving the city the flavor of a bustling “big little town.” Great downtown theaters that matched any west of the Mississippi, particularly the Orpheum and the Ritz, attracted sellout throngs with long lines of movie-goers waiting for the next show. The downtown was blessed with eating establishments serving the after-theater crowds, and a favorite was Bishops, a spotless eatery open 24 hours, seven days a week. So popular was this restaurant that it almost always had lines of waiting patrons. Some of its waitresses were institutions, on their jobs there for decades.

The Tulsa World and the competing Tulsa Tribune both had daily oil pages, but neither had a business page. The two papers’ oil editors, Paul Hedrick at the World and Andrew Rowley at the Tribune were known to everyone in the Tulsa oil community, and had no problem filling their respective spaces with industry developments fresh to their readers. I was a assigned a “beat” that included the local banks, travel organizations, the railroads and airlines all of which had busy downtown offices competing for the patronage of the traveling public, and represented the World at the weekly luncheon meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, to cover anything of interest on which the group may act.

My earlier oil experience had consisted of lowest echelon work as an oilfield truck swamper, floor hand on oil well servicing rigs, and a small cog position in manufacturing oil tools at the Hinderliter plant in Tulsa. Now, I was getting to know some of the leading lights in the management of production operations of some of the largest oil companies in the land, exposed to their personalities, and learning about their backgrounds and experiences in the industry. Oil and gas leaders indeed were dominant in the Tulsa business community, and in the forefront of civic and business organizations in the city. It was my good fortune to get to know many of them well.

Chapter Five: “Mr. Tulsa”

When I moved to Tulsa, Skelly Oil Co. was a familiar name, not because I was a customer, because I didn’t own a car, but because a family friend had operated a Skelly service station in Seminole. The name W. G. (Bill) Skelly, however, meant nothing special to me, though to every long-term Tulsa resident he was known as the city’s top booster, and to many as “Mr. Tulsa.” Before long I would come to learn that Skelly earned that title because he simply loved the City of Tulsa, and for years had sought to express this affection in many visible ways.

Tulsa was making great plans to host the first post-war International Petroleum Exposition (IPE) scheduled in May of 1948, and the President of IPE since its founding in the 1920’s, W. G. Skelly, was worried. The IPE housing bureau had rapidly run out of hotel space, and many Tulsans had discovered they could schedule vacations during the “oil show” and rent their homes to exhibitors, oil companies and foreign visitor delegations for good money. Trouble was, this opportunity was becoming too much of a “good thing” to some folks, and Mr. Skelly’s phone and post office box were overloaded with complaints of outlandish demands being made by some who apparently were determined to “get rich” renting their homes to oilmen. It nettled Skelly that anyone living in Tulsa would make demands that would “alienate our visitors to the city,” so he called the Tulsa World seeking its support in appealing to the “civic conscience” of Tulsans to treat prospective oil show visitors as they would wished to be treated. I was sent to interview Skelly and do this story.

It wasn’t a long walk. The Skelly building, a rustic red brick structure, was on a corner adjoining The Tulsa World building. A secretary more than twice my age at the time, a clearly competent, pleasant lady having behind her long years of service to the founder of Skelly Oil, ushered me into the presence of “Mr. Tulsa,” introduced me, and announced my purpose. Mr. Skelly motioned me into a chair, and said, “This is a very simple story. We have some people trying to pick the pockets of folks wanting to come to the oil show. We want visitors to Tulsa to feel good about being here. We want them to want to come back. If they leave feeling they’ve been fleeced, they’ll never come back. That’s it; simple story.”

I told Mr. Skelly he had given me one paragraph, and that we needed to discuss the problem at some length so I could get the feel of it, and develop his philosophy about it since he was so incensed about the problem. He had other things to do, and saw little need of this extended conversation, but agreed, so he responded to my questions for the better part of an hour.

Mr. Skelly was a curious interviewee. He was bald, for the most part, with wisps of hair above both ears, had a very large head with an oversized W. C. Fields nose, astride which sat heavy thick-lense eyeglasses. To a visitor, the thick glasses magnified his eyes which appeared to be enormous, a little bulgy, and somewhat rheumy. He had a nervous habit of quickly stroking the side of his nose with the knuckle of his index finger, sniffing as he did so. He always stroked his nose twice, and sniffed twice, simultaneously, while making a point in the conversation. When he thought I had notes enough to do the story, he said so, and dismissed me when his secretary announced that a visitor with an appointment was cooling his heels in the anteroom.

I went back to the World newsroom, itself a little antiquated in those days. Every reporter used an old Underwood upright, any one of which could be heard on the street. All of them going at once created an indescribable racket, augmented by the clacking of a half-dozen AP teletype machines along one wall. To make matters worse, the city editor, Loren Williams, was near deaf (no doubt because of all the racket) and kept a police radio receiver on the wall behind his desk blaring at full volume. As a defense mechanism, I learned to consciously shut out all this tumult when I was concentrating on a story at deadline, and the habit sticks to this day.

I called the oil show office, and got a few examples of complaints about excessive rental demands, then went to work on the story. It was late morning on Friday and relatively quiet when I finished W. G. Skelly’s appeal to Tulsans not to abuse the pocketbooks of visitors to the much-heralded oil show, still many months away. I roughly edited the article, pasted the succeeding pages together which was the practice in those non-computerized days, tossed it into the city editor’s in-basket, and went off to cover my regular news beat.

When I returned to the newsroom in late afternoon, the Skelly article had been bounced to the managing editor, Lee Erhard, who called me over and said, “This reads good to me, but do me a favor. Take it over and let Mr. Skelly read it.”

I said I had several stories to write, and feeling a little offended by Erhard’s suggestion, I said if he wanted. Skelly to read the piece, he should send it over by a copy boy.

Erhard wasn’t persuaded. “Look,” he said, “Mr. Skelly is a special person in this city. If he wanted to add something to the story, the guy who wrote it ought to be there. So as a personal favor to me, take it over and let him read it.” There was a note of finality in his voice, as he handed me the copy.

In the stroll back to Skelly’s office, I unconsciously rolled the story into a cylinder perhaps an inch and a half in diameter. The same gracious secretary rang Mr. Skelly, and inquired whether he wished to read the story I had written. He did indeed. So she ushered me into his office, and I handed him the rolled-up copy. This suited him fine, because he held anything he read about 8 to 10 inches from his face, so he slowly unrolled the story as he read it, a process that seemed interminable. When he finally finished, he stroked his bulbous nose, sniffed, tilted his head back, and scrutinized me through those heavy eyeglasses. Finally, he said, “You’re a very fortunate young fella. I wouldn’t change a word of this.”

Still smarting from an immature notion that my professionalism had been compromised, and stillnot fully appreciative of W. G. Skelly’s exalted status in the community, I said, “You’re pretty lucky too, Mr. Skelly.”

“How’s that?” he asked.

I said, “You’re the only person I know who has editing privileges at the Tulsa World.”

The president of Skelly Oil Company looked at me for a long, tortuous moment, while I was biting my tongue at having made such a petty remark. “Just a minute,” he said. He pulled out a drawer of his desk, rummaged around in it a moment, then handed me a misshapen brown nut.

“Put this in your pocket,” he said, “and rub it now and then for luck.” Not knowing what he had given me, I dropped it into my pocket, thanked him, and departed.

Walking through the newsroom, I ran into Paul Hedrick, the World’s oil editor for many years.. Paul said. “I hear you’ve been interviewing Mr. Skelly.”

I said the rumor was true, and I pulled the brown nut from my pocket and showed it to Paul, asking if he knew what it was. He smiled and said, “I’ll be darned (strong language for Mr. Hedrick). You mean he gave you a buckeye? He only gives those to people he likes.” Paul went on to explain that Mr. Skelly was a native of Ohio, where the buckeye is the state tree, and

had absolute faith that the buckeye seed was a working good luck charm.

Mr. Skelly’s appeal to the “civic conscience” of Tulsans ran on Sunday, two columns wide down the left side of page one. At midweek, Mr. Skelly called me and said, “Young fella, your story is working. The housing office says what people are demanding to rent their homes is moderating already, and I’ve had some good response too. I thought you’d like to know.”

I thanked Mr. Skelly, who immediately changed the subject. “I called you because I wanted to offer you a little civic duty, young fella.” In the considerable time I was around Mr. Skelly, he never called me by name. He addressed me simply as, “Young Fella.” When he referred to me in conversation with others, he would tilt his head in my direction, and say, “…this young fella thinks,” or “this young fella says..”

This was before television found its way to Tulsa, but Mr. Skelly owned radio station KVOO, where perhaps the only broadcast “celebrity” other than Bob Wills was Sam Schneider, the farm editor. Sam had an early morning broadcast which had an enormous following among farmers all over the southwest, since KVOO had 50,000 watts of clear channel power. Sam was in constant demand as a speaker before farm groups, knew what he was doing, and was an all-around nice guy.

Skelly asked if I knew Sam, and I said yes that I knew him very favorably. “Well, this is good. We’re going to have the first Tulsa Fat Stock Show and Exposition next March. It’s developing well, but we need a publicity committee. I’d like you to serve as co-chairman with Sam. You can handle the newspapers, and Sam will be responsible for radio. Does that make sense?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“Then I can count on you.”

I was already beginning to learn that not many people said “no,” arbitrarily, to Mr. Skelly.

“I suppose so,” I said again.

“Good,” he said. “the planning group meets at my house, sometimes every week. You must attend those meetings. My secretary will advise you.” He hung up the phone.

Mr. Skelly’s home, built in the teen years of the 20th century as I recall, suited him perfectly. It was furnished in turn-of-the-century decor, one memorable example a massive teakwood dining room suite. The chair backs, hand carved, featured elephants in a curved line up both sides, the elephants increasing in size as both lines met at the center top of the massive chairs. I was told that Mr. Skelly personally bought the suite in India. The elephant motif was well-suited to him; he had been a Republican national committee member for as long as anyone could remember.

The stock show group met in the basement, where a huge table had been set up conference style. Two of the principals were Jay P. Walker, founder of the National Tank Co. who had an Angus ranch west of Sand Springs, and J. W. Sharp, whose ranch was on Mingo road northwest of Tulsa. Sharp raised Herefords, as I recall. These meetings were run loosely, and one quickly got the impression that plans for the Tulsa stock show were being developed without a plan. The only thing certain about this project was that it was near to the heart of W.G. Skelly. More than once in these meetings, he would declare with complete confidence that one day the Tulsa stock show would be “bigger than the Kansas City Royal,” which, of course, was then, and still is the granddaddy of all stock shows. But Mr. Skelly had such uncompromising faith in Tulsa that he could not imagine the city not spawning and nurturing to greatness a stock show measuring up to his boundless vision. He had for years given dozens of 4-H Club youngsters their first purebred calf, from his own ranch along the Verdigris river. It was a certainty in his mind that Tulsa was destined to have a stock show that would incubate and encourage the rise of young and successful ranchers the length and breadth of the “Magic Empire” of which his beloved city was the hub.

I recall that the central subject of the first meeting I attended was “money.” There wasn’t any in the till, so plans were progressing to have a dinner in the Mayo hotel to which all the city fathers would be invited, there to be pep-talked on the grand vision of Tulsa’s first annual Fat Stock Show and Exposition, then appealed to for funds which were needed to open an office and hire an exposition manager. Somehow, I got the feeling that all this deadly-serious planning should have been started a year earlier, at least. There was so much to do; animal categories to be designated, premiums to be established, catalogs to be printed (not to mention distributed), ribbons printed, trophies designed and ordered, and on and on ad infinitum.

I learned also at the first meeting what I suspected when I accepted the co-chairmanship of the “publicity committee.” Mr. Skelly advised that Charlie Border, who ran the agricultural department at the Chamber of Commerce in those days, had arranged a room complete with phone and typewriters where Sam Schneider and I could write the stock show publicity. I tried to reason privately with Mr. Skelly that I had a full-time job occupying me for l0-plus hours six days a week, and had little time to write press releases, work up newspaper mailing lists, and stuff envelopes, but he waved these protests off with assurances that it wouldn’t be that big a job.

Sam Schneider and I quickly came to the conclusion that what Mr. Skelly expected of us was beyond our doing, but Sam was on wobblier footing than I because he worked for Mr. Skelly. So it fell to me to suggest hiring a part-time person to build and maintain mailing lists, write publicity, and do all the follow-up work that was needed. We found a woman who had been a reporter on the Tulsa Tribune, and had quit the newspaper to start a family. She agreed to work four to five hours a day, for a nominal $3 an hour. Mr. Skelly fumed about this, and argued that we could get a journalism student from the University of Tulsa for 50 cents an hour, pleading the poverty of the stock show coffers. But reasoning the thing through, showing that we clearly had much work demanding experienced help, we prevailed and hired the former reporter. I breathed a sigh of relief, and so did my wife who had developed disdain for two things: l) morning newspapers with midnight deadlines, and 2) “civic duty” as defined by W. G. Skelly.

I forget the exact time, only that it was very cold, the night of the fundraising dinner held in a nice room on the mezzanine of the Mayo hotel, overlooking Fifth street. Jay Walker had arranged for special cuts of aged beef, and the Mayo supplied all the accompaniments. There were about 60 of Tulsa’s leading citizens there to be fed and solicited.. It was more than half a century ago, but I still remember a few of them: A. E. Bradshaw, chairman of the National Bank of Tulsa; R. Otis McClintock, president of the First National Bank; L. W. Grant, founder/president of Sooner Savings & Loan; R. W. McDowell, president of Mid-Continent Petroleum Corp., L. C. Clark of Clark-Darland Hardware (later to be mayor of Tulsa) C. H. Wright, founder of Sunray Oil, my boss Eugene Lorton, publisher of the Tulsa World, and others of similar stature.

There were three people at the head table including Mr. Skelly and Jay P. Walker, a natural born promoter who was there to preside. The third person was the “show piece” of the evening, a young man named Ray Gene Cinnamon, a farm boy from the hamlet of Garber, OK., who had taken his prize steer to the Kansas City Royal, was awarded the grand championship for the animal, and in recognition of his achievement had been named “Star Farmer of America” by the Future Farmers of America (FFA).

Jay Walker had found young Cinnamon and prevailed on him to come to Tulsa for the purpose of telling the city’s business luminaries what a wonderful thing they were about to do for young people like himself. Ray Gene didn’t disappoint. He said it was caring people just like those in his audience who had generated his interest in his life’s pursuit. Such men, through the Oklahoma State Fair at Oklahoma City, he said, had sparked the interest and shown the way to hundreds of young men then positioned to help elevate the quality of the livestock industry in Oklahoma. He said he couldn’t say enough for the wisdom of the men seated before him, for it was the interest of such men who had given him the vision which assured his success in the cattle business. He concluded by saying he felt so strongly about the mission of the Tulsa stock show, that he wanted the “privilege” of making the first contribution. He then plucked a crisp new hundred dollar bill from his shirt pocket, said “the first hundred dollars,” smiled, laid the bill on the table, and sat down.

Sitting near the head table, I turned to see if I could read the reaction. Ray Gene Cinnamon had Tulsa’s elite in his pocket. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It was only left for Jay Walker to say, “Well, gentlemen, it couldn’t have been said any better. If you see the point of what we’re up to now, we need your checks or your pledges.’ In a very few minutes, some $68,000 was put on the table, a lot of money in 1947. The Tulsa Fat Stock Show and Exposition wasn’t broke any more.

After the crowd had dispersed, I straggled into the cloak room in the corner of the mezzanine, and Jay Walker was there retrieving his topcoat. In a low voice, I told Mr. Walker he had done a great job of salting the mine.

“Whatta you mean?” he looked at me quizzically.

“Well, boy reporters don’t walk around with hundred dollar bills in their shirt. I know, because I am one, and I don’t think boy farmers do either.”

Jay Walker looked a little flustered, then took my arm and pulled me over against the wall. He said, “Mah gawd, boy, you ain’t gonna put anything like that in the paper are you?”

I told him heavens no, that I just wanted him to know there was a little skepticism left in his audience. Jay Walker walked out of the cloakroom grinning and shaking his head.

A few days after this, I was standing at one of the AP tickers which was moving a story about an entrepreneur in Denver who had sponsored a big winter carnival-type event to which nobody came because of blizzard conditions. The only thing that had saved this fellow, according to the story, was weather insurance. I made a mental note of this, and at a subsequent meeting of the stock show planners in Mr. Skelly’s basement, I broke my usual silence and reported on the Denver showman’s experience, then asked if any consideration had been given to such insurance.

Mr. Skelly looked at me with a strained tolerance, and declared such a thing would be a waste of money. He said they had looked back 20 years at conditions in the March time-frame when the stock show was scheduled, and the weather was always perfect, so there was nothing to worry about. Truth be told, W. G. Skelly just could not conceive that Providence or the elements would or could betray the city of Tulsa by spoiling an undertaking so important to its future.

Somehow, we all muddled through and things got done, and it was hectic every day, but

as the big opening day approached, everything had fallen into place. The epic (opening) day for Bill Skelly’s great outreach to farm youth of the Magic Empire and beyond was to be Friday the 13th of March. If that day means bad luck, it was sure set to justify its reputation this time!

Nobody could remember anything like the great Oklahoma blizzard of 1948. Almost seven inches of snow fell on Wednesday, March 11. By Thursday morning it was gauged at more than l0 inches, but much of it had been driven by winds of nearly 70 miles per hour, and drifting was a major problem. The low early Thursday was in the teens. Following the snow came sleet and ultimately the ground layer was like packed ice. Everything in Tulsa closed – the refineries, businesses, schools, all local traffic, and inter-city buses. Three youngsters from Washington County, stalled with their pigs in a truck bogged in a snowdrift, and one had severe frostbite. Volunteers pitched in to see that the hardy youngsters who braved the storm had three hot meals a day. The judging went forward, and 4-H and FFA boys and girls took home more than $112,000 in prize money for stock shown and sold at the first — and last — Tulsa Fat Stock Show.

Continuance of Bill Skelly’s dream depended on a large public turnout and a heavy gate at the turnstiles, but the crowds never materialized. As a fallback, the show’s officials thought attendance at the then popular Verne Elliott Rodeo, a highlight of the stock show, with the Lone Ranger himself a featured attraction, would be a big revenue generator. But the bitter cold kept the public away, even for this extravaganza. When the show was over and the thaw had come, the Tulsa Fat Stock Show was worse than broke, it was deep in the red. The blizzard of ‘48, so fierce in its biting ways, had killed Bill Skelly’s dream.

One of the things I remember was, with two other reporters on phones gathering and passing on information, I wrote the story of the blizzard and its devastating impact. It was the only news story I ever wrote with an eight-column headline, page one. Three or four weeks after the death of the Tulsa Fat Stock Show, I ambled into the Skelly Building barber shop for a haircut. Mr. Skelly was just getting out of one of the chairs, and the barber asked him if they would try to hold the stock show in l949.

“No, nobody thinks the city would put up the money to try it again,” he said.”We’re goin’ to have problems just paying the bills.”

“Really too bad,” the barber sympathized.

“Yes, a big disappointment,” Mr. Skelly said. Then nodding in my direction, he said “This young fella thinks the weather broke us, but we really could have used better publicity.” With that, he winked at me and ducked through the door leading to the building lobby.

It was a private joke, and as near as he would ever come to acknowledging that weather insurance wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

While Bill Skelly’s dream of founding a major stock show in Tulsa died aborning in the great blizzard of 1948, just six weeks later his International Petroleum Exposition opened, playing to sellout crowds for ten days, and was a success by all standards. And I was thrust, unexpectedly, into the midst of the “Big Oil Show,” as the Tulsa World’s key reporter on the event.

I took on that assignment a little bleary-eyed.

End of Chapters Three and Four! Visit AOGHS for more chapters to be added in 2019.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


Zebco reel oilfield history

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

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

Since its incorporation in 1932, the Zero Hour Bomb Company had become well known for manufacturing dependable electric timer bombs for fracturing geologic formations. It had designed and patented technologies for “shooting” wells to increase oil and natural gas production.

The company’s timer controlled a mechanism with a detonator in a watertight casing. The downhole device could be pre-set to detonate a series of blasting caps, which set off the well’s main charge, shattering rock formations.

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,” notes 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,” explains Sills, digital 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.”

Zebco reel oilfield history

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

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

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

“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,” reports Lee Leschper in a 1999 Amarillo Globe-News article.

Zebco reel oilfield history

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 notes. “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-desiged fishing reel at about age six, Leschper recalls the “tiny black pushbutton reel” came with 6 lb. monofilament line (a petroleum-based polymer), a four-foot white hollow fiberglass rod, and a hard yellow plastic practice plug.

It is even possible the plug was made from Marlex, a revolutionary plastic invented at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, 45 miles north of Tulsa (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Leschper adds that “I wore it down to a nub pitching it across the hard-baked grass in our front yard.”

Zebco reel oilfield history

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

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

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

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

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

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



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a donation today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.


new jersey oil well

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

There would be no East Coast oil boom, despite enthusiastic promotions of a fake New Jersey oil well 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.

new jersey oil well

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

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. 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.”

 Geologic Predictions of Dr. von Hagen 

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.”

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.”

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.

“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.”

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.”

new jersey oil well

“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.”

new jersey oil well

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

15 Minutes of Fake New Jersey Oil Well Fame

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.

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.”

Adding to the well’s long-forgotten story, Martin said he contacted a friend who lives in the area. The friend, who helped him find the site, said the well’s owners once collected “crankcase oil from the local garages and dumped it down the well and then claimed they struck oil!”


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? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.




A Wildcatter’s Trek: Love, Money and Oil tells the story of one man’s adventure through the East Texas boom of the 1930s and beyond.

oil history booksSAN ANTONIO, TX, Press Release – 07/8/2017

For Texas oilmen like Gene Ames Jr., A Wildcatter’s Trek: Love, Money and Oil, reads more like fact than fiction. Plucked from the authentic experiences of Texas wildcatters, Ames’ recently-published novel follows the life and career of a young oil-field pipe salesman-turned-wildcat driller, who gambles on a hunch in East Texas and discovers the largest oil field in the world.

Suddenly an unwitting player in the greedy, gritty world of big oil, this overnight oil magnate embarks on a page-turning journey through a minefield of great wealth, high-stakes gambling, and an insatiable drive toward the next major oil discovery.

It’s a subject oilman/author Ames knows well. A fourth-generation wildcatter, raised in the East Texas oilfield, Ames braids first-hand oil industry insights into the dramatic tale of one wildcatter’s trek through spectacular booms and busts in business and in his tumultuous life.

History, politics, geological science, technological advances and economic realities, provide a factual backdrop for the novel’s fascinating characters — many based on oil legends like Columbus “Dad” Joiner, Tom Slick, Clint Murchison, Hugh Roy Cullen and H.L. Hunt. The central character, Jordan Phillips, represents an amalgam of these early wildcatters — a fraternity of quiet, calculated drillers, who sealed high-stakes deals with a handshake and struck dry holes with a gamblers’ countenance.

Ames dedicates his book to “that generation of real oil wildcatters who, during one short era of our nation’s history, risked everything to join the drilling boom. Several made fortunes, but many wildcatters went broke trying.” What’s more, he contends “that the oil fields the wildcatters found made America the most prosperous nation in the history of mankind.”

Gene Ames Jr., a managing partner of Compadre Energy, Ltd., continues seeking to acquire oil and gas fields, with bypassed undeveloped reserve potential while never stopping the search for unexplored giant frontier oil and gas reserve drilling prospects.

Ames has served as chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, where he received the Chief Roughneck Award in 1995, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association. He is on the board of directors and is a former chairman of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

For more information or to interview the author, contact Nina Flournoy at npflournoy@gmail.com.



AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information.  © 2017 AOGHS.

Chickaloon Oil Company sought to be part of Alaska petroleum history, which includes milestones beginning with the territory’s first oil well in 1902, an important oilfield discovery in July 1957, and completion of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 2007.

Many small, independent exploration companies tried to become part of the state’s oil producing history, and many failed, including Chickaloon Oil.

Seeking investors, Chickaloon Oil’s first advertisement appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner of January 31, 1953. The new company proclaimed it had chosen an area near Chickaloon, about 75 miles northeast of Anchorage, “as one of the most promising drill sites” for petroleum exploration.

“Not only do our studies show a favorable structure in this area, but United States government geologists have marked this area as a probable oil producing land,” added the company, which claimed to have obtained leases for four sections of land, “where we can drill more than 300 wells if oil is found.”

Chickaloon was a coal-mining ghost town in the Alaska Territory. It had mostly perished in the 1920s after the U.S. Navy converted to oil-fired boilers for its ships (see Petroleum and Sea Power). The remains of Chickaloon were on federal property and later became part of Roosevelt’s New Deal community farming experiment, the “Matanuska Valley Colony.”

Around 1930, the U. S. Navy drilled an exploratory oil well in the Matanuska Valley. It was a “dry hole” and capped, but the U.S. Geological Survey cited reports on several other efforts. “A well drilled near Chickaloon in the Matanuska Valley is reported to have struck gas in association with coal,” the USGS noted. In 1929, the Peterson Oil Association had also drilled, but failed to find any oil.

Almost 25 years later, Chickaloon Oil and other exploration companies returned to the Matanuska-Nelchina area in search of Alaska’s first major oilfield.

To find investors for its highly speculative wildcat drilling, Chickaloon Oil advertised as far away as Oregon, offering $250,000 in stock to fund operations. In its ads, the company advised investors that the “veteran oilman from Texas,” Frank Dillard, would supervise the drilling of a 5,000-foot-deep test well in the summer of 1953.

In June 1953, a competitor, Alaska Oil & Gas Development Company, spudded a well just 50 miles down the Matanuska Valley near the Eureka Roadhouse. That well and several later ones would not strike oil.

However, Chickaloon Oil Company could not find sufficient funds to actually launch drilling operations. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has no record of the company and it would be another four-years before Richfield Oil Corporation (today’s ARCO) completed its Swanson River Unit No. 1 well, which produced 900 barrels of oil per day and changed Alaska’s future.

Chickaloon Oil Company, Alaska Oil & Gas Development Company, and many other small exploration ventures ultimately became small footnotes in Alaskan petroleum history.


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? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.




It was big news in North Texas when a wildcat well discovered an oilfield on S.L. Fowler’s farm on July 29, 1918. A drilling boom along the Red River would soon make Burkburnett world famous. Over The Top Oil Oil Company wanted in on the action.

‘‘Land values in and near town took a jump at once and all available land in and near that townsite has been either leased or offers have been made upon same,” reported the Burkburnett Star.

Over The Top Oil Oil was one of dozens of speculative ventures that quickly followed up the discovery. About 60 drilling rigs were at work within three weeks of the strike.

Over the Top Oil Company

By June 1919, Burkburnett, Texas, had more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.” Twenty trains ran daily between the town and nearby Wichita Falls.

Six months later, Burkburnett’s population had grown from 1,000 to 8,000. A line of derricks two-miles long greeted visitors.

With few skilled petroleum engineers, the rush to tap into oil wealth ignored reservoir management and conservation techniques. The Over The Top Oil Company was among those in a rush.

The company, with J.B. Thomas president and J.E. Lake secretary, issued $40,000 in par value $1 stock. International Petroleum Register noted the company’s holdings to be one lot encompassing only three-fourths of one acre, “out of block No. 21 on the Outer Block subdivision to the town of Burkburnett, Wichita County, Texas.”

The company began drilling its first well on its small lease.Then came the Spanish Flu. Amidst the boom town crowds and many hazards of drilling, the Wichita Daily Times of October 16, 1918, reported Burkburnett to be, “at a standstill on account of the epidemic.”

It was the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which would kill an estimated 675,000 in the United States alone. In Burkburnett, “Despite the millions of dollars that awaited to be tapped, the only economic activity that occurred was the sale of “bottled drinks….at soft-drink stands.”

Nonetheless, Over The Top Oil Company brought in a small producer in March 1919 – the No. 1 McKinney at 300 barrels. It was before overproduction, reduced reservoir pressures, and shrinking margins took their toll on Burkburnett.

By 1920, Oil and Gas in the Mid-Continent Fields reported how the town had experienced “that history which all oil fields go through, particularly those controlled by the small operator, namely, the location of far too many wells to the acres.”

Noting that “every little building lot has a rig upon it” and “every back door yard has a well all its own,” the author continued that “from a distance, the stranger would swear that the legs of the derricks were ‘crossed.’

Over the Top Oil Company

A popular 1940 MGM movie was based on the 1918 Burkburnett oilfield discovery.

“The fact is, many derricks are set up 20 feet apart. One derrick is squeezed in between two little houses, so that the legs are within a foot of a house on either side.”

Although Over The Top Oil Company remained in the American Oil Directory of 1922 at the same Wichita Falls address, no further drilling was apparently made and references fade from records. The Texas Railroad Commission maintains an archive of oil well records and may be able to assist with deeper drilling into the history of Over The Top Oil Company.

Learn more in North Texas oil history in Boom Town Burkburnett and Texas Production Company.


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? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.




lone wolf gonzaullas texas ranger

“Give Texas more Rangers of the caliber of ‘Lone Wolf’ Gonzaullas and the crime wave we are going through will not be of long duration,” reported the Dallas Morning News in 1934.

By September 3, 1930, when the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well near Kilgore first tapped the great East Texas oilfield, he was already known as “El Lobo Solo.” Gonzaullas brought his own methods for enforcing law and order.

Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas was born in 1891 in Cádiz, Spain, to a Spanish father and Canadian mother who were naturalized U.S. citizens. At age 15 he witnessed the murder of his only two brothers and the wounding of his parents when bandits raided their home. Fourteen years later, he joined the Texas Rangers.

“He was a soft-spoken man and his trigger finger was slightly bent,” independent oilman and philanthropist Watson W. Wise characterized him during a 1985 interview in his office in Tyler, Texas. “He always told me it was geared to that .45 of his.” Read the rest of this entry »


Refinery Supply Company Slide Rule


David Rance collects slide rules, those analog calculating devices that became obsolete when electronic pocket calculators hit the market in the early 1970s. He hopes someone will know something about a rare one from a refinery supply company.

Slide-Rule-detail-David-Rance-AOGHSRance contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society to see if anyone knows more about a recent addition to his private collection. Born in England, he worked in the petroleum industry for 25 years before moving to “the main bulb-growing area of The Netherlands.”

David’s Calculating Sticks website offers historical insights about the calculating devices, including details on the more than 550 slide rules in his collection. In August 2016, he emailed images of his 10-inch wooden slide rule, which has “Refinery Supply Company” and “AC-ME Pocket Calculator” printed on its back.

“Sadly, like the one in the MIT collection, it came without any documentation and despite my best efforts, I still know very little about its provenance,” he wrote, referring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s museum.

oilfield artifacts

The Refinery Supply Company of Tulsa and Dallas, “appears to have a rich history as a major supplier/reseller,” notes collector David Rance of the Netherlands.

The slide rule is “the iconic instrument of the engineering profession,” according to the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Every significant human-built structure of the past 150 years has involved its use.” Among the world’s top science and engineering universities, MIT was founded in 1861 – just two years after the first U.S. commercial oil well launched the oil and gas industry.

Rance believes his ruler was used in the petroleum industry for “orifice meters,” he says. “With the slide rule it is possible to calculate gas flows directly from static pressure, differential pressure and orifice coefficient settings.”

The supplier, the Refinery Supply Company of Tulsa (and Dallas), “appears to have a rich history as a major supplier/reseller, notes Rance. “I believe ‘AC-ME’ refers to the aptly named ‘AC-CURATE ME-ASUREMENT PRECISION INSTRUMENTS’ Company, possibly once based in Piqua, Ohio,” he adds. Refinery Supply Company of Tulsa was established in 1923 – but today cannot locate information about its old slide rule.

“Can the AOGHS help? From your archives or anyone associated with society, can you tell me anything about this AC-ME pocket calculator, the Refinery Supply Company or the AC-CURATE ME-ASUREMENT PRECISION INSTRUMENTS Company?”

Adding to the mystery is that the slide rule was made in Germany, Rance says. “A more natural choice would have been one of excellent U.S.-based slide rule makers such as Keuffel & Esser Company. So it begs the question, why would a Tulsa-based supplier import such an item?

“I look forward to hearing anything your knowledgeable AOGHS community can tell me about my rather mysterious AC-ME Pocket Calculator.”

Comment below if you would like to share some information about this slide rule.


The Kansas petroleum industry began in 1892 with an oil discovery at Neodesha. Later discoveries near Wichita revealed the giant Mid-Continent field, but it took years for business sense to arrive, according to the editor of a 1910 History of Wichita and Sedgwick County, Kansas.

“Sedgwick county has run the gamut of the hot winds, the drought, the floods, the grasshoppers, the boom, the wild unreasoning era of speculation, the land grafters, the oil grafters, the sellers of bogus stocks, speculation, over-capitalization, and all of the attendant and kindred evils,” observed Editor-in-Chief Orsemus Bentley. He added that from all these scourges, Kansans had “emerged into the clear noon-day of reason, out of a fool’s paradise into business sense.”

Although Wichita and Sedgwick County’s economies would remain dependent on farming and ranching, the age of oil soon began. In 1915, the Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, drilled with a cable-tool rig on the John Stapleton farm northeast of town. The company’s Stapleton No. 1 exploratory well (at a site chosen using the emerging science of petroleum geology) struck oil and launched a true Kansas oil boom.

wichita oil and gas“Day after day the tools stomped their way into the solid earth until a depth of 670 feet oil was discovered,” explains a historian in neighboring Butler County. “Word spread like a wind-whipped prairie fire and the black gold rush was on.”

Wichita Oil & Gas Company

Just a few months after the Stapleton well, Wichita Oil & Gas Company began drilling its first exploratory well on January 8, 1916. The Wichita Eagle reported company capitalization to be $100,000 with stock for sale at par value of $1.10 a share, adding the company would be “ready to start work on a derrick next week.”

Wichita Oil & Gas’ drilling fortunes depended on a portable Star Drilling Machine, a cable-tool drilling technology. The company leased land south of Wichita – just southeast of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad station at Schulte, Kansas.

Despite claims of a “2,000 acre lease around the town,” all Wichita Oil & Gas drilling would take place within a 500-foot radius of a spot on the 319-acre Folkers farm. (The well site was in Section 17, Township 28 South, Range 1 East.) After many months of making hole, the company updated its investors in November 1916.

wichita oil and gas

wichita oil and gas

Wichita Oil & Gas Company drilled southeast of the train station at Schulte, Kansas, in 1916. About 50 miles away, citizens of Anthony had gathered in 1902 to celebrate the driving of the first spike on the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railway. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

“Peter Schulte was up from the town Schulte today and reported the oil well near there progressing nicely. The drill is now down over 1,400 feet and far as can be judged at this stage, the drilling prospects for a strike are good.”

The company further assured investors, “The field is entirely new of course and no one can tell what may be discovered. If oil or gas found here it will put Wichita oil the map.”

For “poor boy” companies with limited capitalization like Wichita Oil & Gas, the costs of continued drilling were often financed through increased stock sales and hyperbole. Accurate newspaper accounts were rare. One Wichita Oil & Gas executive  appealed to potential investors on Christmas Eve in 1916.

After declaring that the company stock had been selling for $10 per share, Secretary-Treasurer A.L. Tuttle predicted it would advance to $15 per share. “This is the company that has been drilling the well at Schulte,” he noted. “We are down 1,400 feet.”

But when its well failed to find oil, the company relocated the cable-tool rig and tried again nearby. This well, the Folkers No. A 1, was plugged and abandoned after reaching a depth of 1,404 feet. The search for investors and loans continued even as drilling reports from the company began to dwindle. A decline in stock sales and financing woes may help explain the intermittent reporting.

Ultimately, the Kansas Attorney General launched a suit against Wichita Oil & Gas Company.

The American Gas Engineering Journal of September 7, 1918, reported the state was seeking a receiver for Wichita Oil & Gas with action “brought against the company, the directors and against each director individually.” The suit also noted, “A Star Rig was used, and when the company ran short of finances the depth was approximately 1,400 ft.”

It was the end of Wichita Oil & Gas Company.

The Kansas Geological Survey notes the Folkers farm well site drew new drilling activity even after Wichita Oil & Gas had failed. On May 12, 1919, White Oil Corporation spudded a well not far from the last dry hole drilled by Wichita Oil & Gas, but it had no better luck even 3,400 feet deep.

Few newly formed oil exploration companies would succeed in the risky wildcatting of the Mid-Continent (see Otter Creek Oil & Gas Company, formed by three Wichita businessmen). Oil fever also reached southeastern Kansas, where Missouri investors saw opportunities in 1904 and organized the Cahege Oil & Gas Company. Two years later, the boom town of Caney made headlines – and attracted tourists with a Kansas gas well fire that at night could be seen for miles.


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? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.




Although it’s just an old photograph from a major southern California port, a single photograph of Los Angeles Harbor tells a tale about both U.S. maritime and petroleum histories, including the story of Puente Oil Company.

Puente oil

Seeking to preserve her father’s years as an employee of the Los Angeles Harbor authority, Valerie Raynor contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (museum donating suggestions are in Oil Families). It did not take her long to find a permanent home for her collection of his photographs at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Raynor, who lives in the Los Angeles area, decided to donate her original family pictures after talking with the museum director. “Mary Frances seemed very knowledgeable and helpful, so I felt this would be a good place to start with all the pictures.” In exchange for her donation of the photographs, which the museum will share with the the San Pedro Bay Historical Museumthe Raynor family will receive high-resolution digital copies.    

“It’s a great way to have them preserved for future generations,” Raynor said. “The pictures will be kept in honor of my father, Paul J. Thome, who worked for the City of Los Angeles at the San Pedro Harbor in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Raynor admits she needed a quick lesson on how to scan. “I decided I should not use the excuse of ‘I can’t do this,’ when we tell our kids that that is not a good enough excuse! So, I called a friend who walked me through how to scan and send a pic.” Her family – and historians – have benefited, thanks to preservation of her father’s career.

puente oil

Steel 55-gallon drums (patented in 1905) gradually replaced traditional 42-gallon “bilged” wooden oil barrels.

Although an 1865 discovery near oil seeps in Humboldt County might be considered the first California oil well, the state’s petroleum exploration industry took off following an 1876 gusher that revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield. In 1892, about 35 miles south of Pico Canyon, a former gold prospector then discovered the massive Los Angels field.

Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield discovered oil in the hills northwest of downtown Los Angeles in 1892. Their well, drilled near present-day Dodger Stadium, revealed the Los Angeles City oilfield. As would be found at many of California’s oilfields, the area had natural oil seeps, most notably at the La Brea “tar pits.”

Doheny also opened up Orange County’s first oilfield with a successful well at Olinda in present-day Brea in 1897, explains Paul R. Spitzzeri in “Drilling for Black Gold in the Los Angeles Oil Field, 1890s.” The Puente Oil Company was a part of this southern California petroleum industry, which began in the mountains near Santa Clarita as early as 1865, Spitzzeri says. But oil production and efforts to make Los Angeles refineries profitable had limited success over the next two decades.

By 1886, William Rowland, son of the owner of Rancho La Puente, John Rowland, and his partner William Lacy had successfully drilled several oil wells on the ranch. The wells helped launch the Puente Oil Company in Los Angeles, one of many ventures that hoped to find oil in southern California at the turn of the century. One small enterprise with a similar name, the Puente Crude Oil Company, did not fare as well.

puetne oil

A log driver or “river rat” can be seen at work (center). Hill in background is Dead Man’s Island.

In the harbor photograph’s background, horse-drawn tank wagons, rail tracks, boats, river pigs, laborers, ladies and gentlemen all share a changing workplace.

Old and new technologies share the harbor site as well – Nellie Bly’s 55-gallon steel drums and old 42-gallon wooden barrels; the sails and train rails with log drivers (catty men, river rats, river pigs, etc.) corralling floating pilings; and on South Seaside Avenue, the Puente Oil Company – the first to exploit southern California’s Puente Hills’ oil.

Another detail from the harbor photo shows rail road tracks and horse-drawn oil tanks.

Because of its high-gravity, Puente Oil sold for up to $1.75 a barrel, while lesser grades sold at 75 cents to $1 per barrel. The company soon built a pipeline from its drilling sites to the Puente railroad depot. From Puente, tank cars (marked “P. O. Co.”) carried the oil to Los Angeles harbor. The company prospered.

In 1895, a six-year contract to supply substantial quantities of crude oil to the Chino Beet Sugar refinery prompted Puente Oil to build its own pipeline to the user, 16 miles away. Just the first year’s requirement was for 80,000 barrels. Puente Oil then built its own 800 barrel a day crude oil refinery nearby in Chino. This was prior to the Supreme Court’s 1911 ruling breaking up the Standard Oil monopoly, so Standard bought all of the Puente Oil refinery’s output.

By 1900, Puente Oil had grown to “a total of 4,700 acres of the best light oil-producing lands in California” with 85 wells pumping a total of 20,000 barrels of oil a month. Puente Oil in 1903 merged with the Columbia Oil Producing Company (a 1898 venture of W.L. Hardison, co-founder of Union Oil Company).

“The consolidation of the Puente and Columbia companies is with one exception the largest oil deal ever consummated in Southern California, and carries as great an oil value as any deal of record,” noted the Pacific Coast Reporter. Shell Union Oil Company acquired both Columbia Oil Producing and Puente Oil in 1922.

Today, much of the Puente Oil’s former oil producing land is managed by the Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Preservation Authority. The Port of Los Angeles handles almost 200 million tons of freight every year.

puente oil

Dead Man’s Island and Rattlesnake Island (both now part of the largely artificial Terminal Island) were first linked in 1893. Modern dredging has changed much of the harbor’s landscape.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.


In Memoriam: Charles W. Cookson, founder of the American Oil & Gas Reporter, who died July 17, 2015, in Wichita, Kansas. 

A true leader in petroleum industry journalism, “Cookie” Cookson, founder and publisher emeritus of The American Oil & Gas Reporter, died July 17, 2015, in Wichita, Kansas. He was 92. Together with his wife Joyce, he founded the industry trade magazine in 1958. He was inducted into the Butler County History Center and Kansas Oil Museum’s Legacy Gallery in 2010. Deepest condolences to the Charles W. Cookson family from all of us who had the privilege of reporting on the oil patch for him. Visit In Memory of Charles W. “Cookie” Cookson.


Among those who have served on the editorial staff at The American Oil & Gas Reporter with founder Charles W. “Cookie” Cookson (center) are, from left, Bruce Wells, Alex Mills, Bill Campbell and A.D. Koen. Cookson is holding the artist’s proof of a limited edition print, “Donkey in a Kansas Field,” by California artist JoAnn Cowans. It was presented to him by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, which honored Cookson with its first Oil History Journalism Award in April 2006. Wells founded AOGHS in 2003 and continues to serve as its executive director. Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers; Campbell remains with The American Oil & Gas Reporter as managing editor; and Koen is an independent energy writer and communications consultant in Houston. Photo courtesy of The American Oil & Gas Reporter.


 petroleum history calendar

The historical society’s 2015 calendar offers industry milestone dates with 12 historic oil patch photographs from the Library of Congress.

The 2015 petroleum history calendar by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society has been printed. Today in American Petroleum History – which included dates with descriptions of petroleum history milestones, technologies, inventions, oilfield discoveries, pioneers, etc.

Please call fax or email this easy order form.

The special energy education calendar, printed in partnership with the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, launches an annual project useful for energy workshop programs, association members, teachers, students and employees. Each month offers historical facts along with one of 12 Library of Congress oil patch photos from the 1930s.

Beginning in 2016, the industry’s milestone dates will be available in editions customized for companies, museums and other industry organizations.

The petroleum history calendar is an inexpensive energy education resource. Depending on the number ordered, the price per 11 inch by 17 inch calendar is as low as $5 each. Please contact Bruce Wells at bawells@aoghs.org.

Help AOGHS promote the Today in American Petroleum History 2015 calendar using this news release.