Standard Oil curbs excitement of unruly speculators trading oil and pipeline certificates.
In a sign of the growing power of John D. Rockefeller at the end of the 19th century, Standard Oil Company brought a decisive end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative — and often confusing — trading markets at oil exchanges.
On January 23, 1895, the Standard Oil Company’s purchasing agency in Oil City, Pennsylvania, notified independent oil producers it would 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.”
The North Texas church once proclaimed as richest in America.
In the fall of 1917 near Ranger, Texas, the 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 in Eastland County when a wildcat well drilled by Texas & Pacific Coal Company struck oil at Ranger, four miles from Merriman. The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day.
McCleskey No. 1 cable-tool oil well, the “Roaring Ranger” gusher of 1917, brought an oil boom to Eastland County, Texas, about 100 miles west of Dallas.
The rush to acquire leases that followed the oilfield discovery became legendary among drilling booms, even for Texas, home of the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” on Spindletop Hill at Beaumont.
As drilling continued, yield of the Ranger oilfield led to peak production reaching more than 14 million barrels in 1919. Production from the “Roaring Ranger” well and its giant North Texas oilfield helped win World War I — with a British War Cabinet member declaring, “the Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”
Texas & Pacific Coal Company had taken a great risk by leasing acreage around Ranger, but the risk paid off when lease values soared. The exploration company added “oil” to its name, becoming the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.
“So as we could not worship God on the former acre of ground, we decided to lease it and honor God with the product,” explained Merriman Baptist Church Deacon J.T. Falls. Photo courtesy Robert Vann, “Lone Star Bonanza, the Ranger Oil Boom of 1917-1923.”
The price of the oil company stock jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share as a host of 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. Leasing at Merriman Baptist Church proved to be a challenge.
Deacon J.T. Falls complained in February 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.”
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.”
Deacon J.T. Falls (second from left) was not amused when the Associated Press reported in 1919 that his church had refused a million dollars for the lease of the cemetery.
A Texas Historical Commission marker erected in 1999 described when the well on the church’s lease began producing 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.”
However, drilling in the church graveyard was a different matter.
As oil production continued to soar in North Texas, the congregants of Merriman Baptist Church initially resisted one drilling drilling site. As a January 18, 1919, article in the New York Times noted in its headline, “CHURCH MADE RICH BY OIL; Refuses $1,000,000 for Right to Develop Wells in Graveyard.”
Respecting the Dead
At Merriman’s church cemetery, a less seen historical marker erected in 1993 explains the drilling boom’s fierce competition to find property without a well already on it: “Oil speculators reportedly offered members of the Merriman Baptist Church a large sum of money to lease the cemetery grounds for drilling.”
Near Ranger in Eastland County, Texas Historical Commission markers erected in 1993 (left) and 1999 explaining how members of the Merriman Baptist Church shared their wealth from petroleum royalties. Photos courtesy the Historical Marker Database.
When local newspapers reported 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,” the deacon 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 cleric added.
“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,” Falls proclaimed.
The church deacon concluded with an ominous admonition to potential drillers, “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 1918 article noted a “Merriman school house” oil well drilled to 3,200 feet in record time for North Central Texas.
Roaring Ranger’s oil production dropped precipitously because of dwindling reservoir pressures brought on by unconstrained drilling. Many exploration and production companies failed (including fraudulent ones like Hog Creek Carruth Oil Company).
In the decades since the McCleskey No. 1 well, advancements in horizontal drilling technology have presented more 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. “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.
Despite yet another North Texas oilfield discovery at Desdemona, by 1920 the Eastland County drilling boom was over. The faithful still gather at Merriman Baptist Church every Sunday.
Recommended Reading: Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Texas Oil and Gas, Postcard History (2013); Wildcatters: Texas Independent Oilmen (1984). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Riches of Merriman Baptist Church.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/oil-riches-of-merriman-baptist-church. Last Updated: January 11, 2024. Original Published Date: January 18, 2019.
Picturing California petroleum history in a family album.
Preserving a family’s photographs from Los Angeles Harbor brought insights about California maritime and petroleum heritage, including the story of Puente Oil Company.
Seeking to share the legacy of her father’s years as an employee of the Los Angeles Harbor authority, Valerie Raynor contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society in the summer of 2017. It wasn’t long before Raynor found a permanent home for her family’s treasured collection.
One Raynor photo of an oil company facility at San Pedro Harbor of Los Angeles tells a petroleum history story (for help preserving oil patch legacies, see Oil Families). (more…)
Seeking information about petroleum industry pocket calculator.
“I look forward to hearing anything your knowledgeable AOGHS community can tell me about my rather mysterious AC-ME Pocket Calculator.”
David Rance of Sassenheim, Netherlands, has collected a lot slide rules — analog calculating devices that became obsolete when hand-held electronic calculators gained widespread use in the early 1970s. He preserves among the largest “pocket calculator” collections in the world.
Since many of the devices he collected came from the petroleum industry, Rance emailed the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS). Would any of AOGHS’ many website visitors have information about a refinery supply company’s slide rule?
Before computers, the slide rule, a collectible pocket calculator.
Born in England, he worked in the petroleum industry for 25 years before moving to “the main bulb-growing area of the Netherlands.” (more…)
As the U.S. petroleum industry expanded following the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill in Texas, service company pioneers like Carl Baker and Howard Hughes brought new technologies to oilfields.
Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools specialized in maximizing petroleum production, as did oilfield service company competitors Schlumberger, a French company founded in 1926, and Halliburton, which began in 1919 as a well-cementing company.
Baker Oil Tool Company (later Baker International) had been founded by Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker Sr., who among other inventions patented a cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company in Coalinga, California.
R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.
Oil wells Carl Baker had drilled near Coalinga encountered hard rock formations that caused problems with casing, so he developed an offset cable-tool bit allowing him to drill a hole larger than the casing. He also patented a “Gas Trap for Oil Wells” in 1908, a “Pump-Plunger” in 1914, and a “Shoe Guide for Well Casings” in 1920.
Baker Tools Company founder R.C. “Carl” Baker in 1919.
Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” according to the Baker Museum. Baker organized small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.
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. His invention revolutionized oilfield production.
In 1913, Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga.
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. Two years later, the original machine shop and office of Baker Casing Shoe reopened as the R.C. Baker Memorial Museum.
By the time Carl Baker Sr. died in 1957 at age 85, he had been awarded more than 150 U.S. patents in his lifetime. “Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” reported the Coalinga museum.
Baker Tools became Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after the 1987 merger with Hughes Tool Company.
The Houston manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo courtesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
Howard R. Hughes Sr.
The Hughes Tool Company began in 1908 as the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company founded by Walter B. Sharp and Howard R. Hughes, Sr.
“Fishtail” rotary drill bits became obsolete in 1909 when the two inventors introduced a dual-cone roller bit. They created a bit “designed to enable rotary drilling in harder, deeper formations than was possible with earlier fishtail bits,” according to a Hughes historian. Secret tests took place on a drilling rig at Goose Creek, south of Houston.
“In the early morning hours of June 1, 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. packed a secret invention into the trunk of his car and drove off into the Texas plains,” noted Gwen Wright of History Detectives in 2006. The drilling site was near Galveston Bay. Rotary drilling “fishtail ” bits of the time were “nearly worthless when they hit hard rock.”
The new technology would soon bring faster and deeper drilling worldwide, helping to find previously unreachable oil and natural gas reserves. The dual-cone bit also created many Texas millionaires, explained Don Clutterbuck, one of the PBS show’s sources.
“When the Hughes twin-cones hit hard rock, they kept turning, their dozens of sharp teeth (166 on each cone) grinding through the hard stone,” he added.
Although several inventors tried to develop better rotary drill bit technologies, Sharp-Hughes Tool Company was the first to bring it to American oilfields. Drilling times fell dramatically, saving petroleum companies huge amounts of money.
Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1901 patent for a dual-cone drill bit.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers has noted that about the same time Hughes developed his bit, Granville A. Humason of Shreveport, Louisiana, patented the first cross-roller rock bit, the forerunner of the Reed cross-roller bit.
Biographers have noted that Hughes met Granville Humason in a Shreveport bar, where Humason sold his roller bit rights to Hughes for $150. The University of Texas Center for American History collection includes a 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that chance meeting. He recalled spending $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.
A February 1914 advertisement for the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company in Fuel Oil Journal.
Frank Christensen and George Christensen had developed the earliest diamond bit in 1941 and introduced diamond bits to oilfields in 1946, beginning with the Rangley field of Colorado. The long-lasting tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s.
After Baker International acquired Hughes Tool Company in 1987, Baker Hughes acquired the Eastman Christensen Company three years later. Eastman was a world leader in directional drilling.
When Howard Hughes Sr. died in 1924, he left three-quarters of his company to Howard Hughes Jr., then a student at Rice University. The younger Hughes added to the success of Hughes Tool while becoming one of the richest men in the world. His many legacies include founding Hughes Aircraft Company and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
Oilfield Service Competition
A major competitor for any energy service company, today’s Schlumberger Limited can trace its roots to Caen, France. In 1912, brothers Conrad and Marcel began making geophysical measurements that recorded a map of equipotential curves (similar to contour lines on a map). Using very basic equipment, their field experiments led to invention of a downhole electronic “logging tool” in 1927.
After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers lowered another electric tool into a well. They recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating first electric well log of geologic formations.
Meanwhile another service company in Oklahoma, the Reda Pump Company had been founded by Armais Arutunoff, a close friend of Frank Phillips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artificial lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump.
Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump (also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology).
Recommended Reading: History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. © 2023 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/carl-baker-howard-hughes. Last Updated: December 14, 2023. Original Published Date: December 17, 2017.
Seeking information about relative who worked in Texas oilfields, circa 1930.
Researching her family’s distant connection to the U.S. oil patch, Marianne Jans of the the Netherlands discovered the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website. She hopes visitors to the site’s Petroleum History Research Forum might help add to her limited information about a great-great uncle who worked in Texas oilfields. He apparently was as a driller from the 1920s until the early 1930s.
Although details are scarce, Jans seeks news about her great-great uncle Ralph “Dutch” Weges — who in 1962 reportedly returned to the Netherlands by ship. His petroleum-related career included serving on merchant vessels.
Regarding his work in Texas, she has a 1927 letter of recommendation with some clues.
Marianne Jans’ scan of the August 1927 Barry Fuel Oil Company’s letter of recommendation for her great-great uncle, Ralph Weges.
“In papers he left behind, he also had a recommendation from his employer in 1927,” according to Jans. “J. Barry Fuel Oil Co. is not in your list of historic companies, so I am sending this document.” she added.
Transcription of the great-great uncle’s letter, dated August 9, 1927:
J. Barry Fuel Oil Co.
1501 Francis Avenue
Aug 9th 1927
To whom it may concern:
This is acknowledgement that Ralph (Dutch) Weges
worked for me [&] Drilled on a number of wells
which I drilled as contractor for Humble Oil and
Refining [unreadable] Northern Field, Texas and [for] Texas Pacific
Coal & Oil [unreadable] Co, Texas.
His [unreadable] careful rig [unreadable] and was specifically good in keeping
his equipment in good shape.
His work was good, wells finished properly and time
just as good as other contractors in same fields.
Not finding more information about the J. Barry Fuel Oil Company, Jans learned more about the two well-documented companies J. Barry worked with as a drilling contractor.
Humble Oil and Refining Company (now ExxonMobil) was founded in 1917. The company, which would discover many oilfields, in 1933 signed an historic lease with the King Ranch. The other company referenced in the letter was the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.
In addition, Ralph Weges had other connections with the U.S. petroleum industry, according to Jan’s research. Her great-great uncle traveled overseas aboard the SS La Campine in September 1916.
Launched in 1889, La Campine was an early transatlantic oil tanker owned by the American Petroleum Company of Rotterdam and later by an Esso subsidiary in Belgium (it was sunk by a German submarine during World War I).
“What surprised me, was that Ralph Weges was anyway on board two ships that transported cargo for Esso, now Exxon Mobile,” Jans noted. “So he already worked for a petroleum/oil company on these ships. First as a 2nd cook and later petty officer. Two other vessels, the Anacortes and the SS Vigo, I must research further.”
As her investigation into family history continues from the Netherlands, Marianne Jans seeks information about her great-great uncle’s overseas career, the J. Barry Fuel Oil Company, and his role in Texas oilfields,
Please post reply in comments section below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Driller from Netherlands.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/driller-from-netherlands. Last Updated: February 10, 2024. Original Published Date: October 24, 2023.