Elk Basin United Oil Company

Elk Basin United Oil Company incorporated in 1917 seeking oil riches in Wyoming’s booming Elk Basin oilfield. Oilfields found in North Texas, including a 1911 gusher at Electra, already had resulted in a rush of new exploration ventures – and created boom towns like Burkburnett

Wherever found, America’s newly discovered oilfields led to the founding of many exploration ventures that competed against more established companies. These young companies frequently struggled to survive as competition for financing, leases, and drilling equipment intensified.

Wyoming’s earliest oil wells produced easily refined oil as early as 1890.

Oil gusher at the Elk Basin Field in Wyoming, circa 1917.

“Gusher coming in, south rim of the Elk Basin Field, 1917.” Photo courtesy American Heritage Center.

In a remote, scenic valley on the border of Wyoming and Montana, a discovery well opened Wyoming’s Elk Basin oilfield on October 8, 1915. Drilled by the Midwest Refining Company, the wildcat well produced up to 150 barrels of oil a day of a high-grade, “light oil.” Credit for oil discovery is given to geologist George Ketchum, who first recognized the Elk Basin as a likely source of oil.

Ketchum, a farmer from Cowly, Wyoming, in 1906 had explored the area with C.A. Fisher, who had been the first geologist to map a region within the Bighorn Basin southeast of Cody, Wyoming, where oil seeps were discovered in 1883.

The Elk Basin, which extends from Carbon County, Montana, into northeastern Park County, Wyoming, attracted further exploration after the 1915 well. More successful wells followed. Once again, oil discoveries in unproved territory attracted speculators, investors, and new companies – including the Elk Basin United Oil Company.

Established petroleum companies like Midwest Refining – and the Ohio Oil Company, which would become Marathon Oil – came to the Elk Basin. These oil companies had the financial resources to survive a run of dry holes or other exploration hazards. The many smaller and under-capitalized companies would prove especially vulnerable.

Advertisement promoting Elk Basin United Oil Company.

Audacious advertising claims helped Elk Basin United Oil Company compete for investors.

Is My Old Oil Stock Worth Anything features several such small players in Wyoming’s petroleum history, including the notorious Dr. Frederick Albert Cook (Arctic Explorer turns Oil Promoter). Even Wyoming’s famous showman, Col. William F. Cody, got caught up in the state’s oil fever (Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company).

Elk Basin United Oil Company

Elk Basin United Oil Company of Salt Lake City, Utah, incorporated on July 30, 1917, and acquired a lease of 120 acres in Wyoming’s Elk Basin oilfield. By February 1918, company stock sold for 12 cents a share.

Enthusiastic newspaper ads promoted its “6 properties in 3 different fields…A 6 to 1 shot!” Twenty producing wells were reputed to be within one mile of Elk Basin United Oil’s Wyoming well site.

Meanwhile, Elk Basin United Oil reported expansion plans underway in a growing Kansas Mid-Continent oilfield. The company secured leases near Garnett and completed four producing oil wells, yielding a total of about 500 barrels of oil a month. It added an additional 112 acres and planned a fifth well. Prairie Pipe Line Company (later Sinclair Consolidated) completed pipelines into the Garnett field through which several companies looked to transport their crude oil production.

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However, growing competition from better funded exploration ventures and low crude oil prices ranging between $1.10 and $1.98 per barrel of oil in 1917 and 1918 drove many small companies into consolidations, mergers or bankruptcy.

Elk Basin United Oil, exploring back in Wyoming by March 1919, sought a lease on the property of the First Ward Pasture Company bordering the Utah line, “with a view of prospecting the property declare the surface showing to be very favorable for an oil deposit.” But financial issues continued to burden the company.

In December 1919, Elk Basin United Oil Company was reported by Oil Distribution News to be negotiating a merger of with the Anderson Oil Company, and the Kansas-United Oil Company, with a capitalization of $1 million. The results of this proposed merger have not been found. Elk Basin United Oil Company disappeared from financial records soon thereafter.

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

AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships.  © 2021 AOGHS.

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Marathon of Ohio Oil

The Ohio Oil Company drilled a well more than four miles deep in 1954.

 

Founded in 1887 by Henry M. Ernst, the Ohio Oil Company got its exploration and production start in northwestern Ohio, at the time a leading oil producing region. Two years later,  John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust purchased the company — known as “the Ohio” — and in 1905 moved headquarters from Lima to Findlay.

Soon establishing itself as a major pipeline company, by 1908 the Ohio controlled half of the oil production in three states. The company resumed independent operation in 1911 following the dissolution of the Standard Oil monopoly. The new Ohio Company’s petroleum exploration operations would expand to Wyoming and beyond.

Marathon of Ohio Oil motor oil advertisement

The Ohio Oil Company in 1930 purchased Transcontinental Oil, a refiner that had marketed gasoline under the trademark “Marathon” since 1920. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1915, the company assigned 1,800 miles of pipeline, as well as gathering and storage facilities, to its newly acquired Illinois Pipe Line Company. The Ohio then purchased the Lincoln Oil Refining Company to better integrate and develop crude oil outlets.

“Ohio Oil saw the increasing need for marketing their own products with the ever increasing supply of automobiles appearing on the primitive roads,” explained Gary Drye, a collector of gas station antiques, in a 2006 forum at Oldgas.com.  The company ventured into marketing in June 1924 by purchasing Lincoln Oil Refining Company of Robinson, Illinois.

With an assured supply of petroleum, Ohio Oil’s “Linco” brand quickly expanded.

Marathon of Ohio Oil gas station

The Ohio Oil Company marketed its oil products as “Linco” after purchasing the Lincoln Oil Refinery in 1920. Undated photo of a station in Fremont, Ohio.

Meanwhile, a subsidiary in 1926 co-discovered the giant Yates oilfield in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and West Texas. “With huge successes in oil exploration and production ventures, Ohio Oil realized they needed even more retail outlets for their products,” Drye reported.

By 1930, Ohio Oil Company distributed Linco products throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Kentucky.

Marathon of Ohio Oil

In 1930 Ohio Oil purchased Transcontinental Oil, a refiner that had marketed gasoline under the trademark “Marathon” across the Midwest and South since 1920. Acquiring the Marathon product name included the Pheidippides Greek runner trademark and the “Best in the long run” slogan.

Marathon of Ohio Oil Marathon logo

Adopted in 2011, the third logo for corporate branding in Marathon Oil’s 124-year history.

According to Drye, Transcontinental “can best be remembered for a significant ‘first’ when in 1929 they opened several Marathon stations in Dallas, Texas in conjunction with Southland Ice Company’s ‘Tote’m’ stores (later 7-Eleven) creating the first gasoline/convenience store tie-in.”

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The Marathon brand proved so popular that by World War II the name had replaced Linco at stations in the original five state territory. After the war, Ohio Oil continued to purchase other companies and expand throughout the 1950s. In 1962, celebrating its 75th anniversary, The Ohio changed its name to Marathon Oil Company and launched its new “M” in a hexagon shield logo design. Other milestones include:

1981 – U.S. Steel (USX) purchased the company.
1985 – Yates field produced its billionth barrel of oil.
1990 – Marathon opened headquarters in Houston.
2005 – Marathon became 100 percent owner of Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC, which later became Marathon Petroleum Corp.
2011 – Completed a $3.5 billion investment in the Eagle Ford Shale play in Texas.

On June 30, 2011, Marathon Oil became an independent upstream company and unveiled an “energy wave” logo as it prepared to separate from Marathon Petroleum, based in Findlay. Read a more detailed history in Ohio Oil Company and visit the Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay.

Ohio Oil’s California Record

As deep drilling technologies continued to advanced in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Marathon of Ohio Oil magazine article

Petroleum Engineer magazine in 1954 noted the well set a record despite being “halted by a fishing job.”

The deep oil well drilling attempt about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, experienced many challenges. A final problem led to it being plugged with cement on December 31, 1954. At more than four miles deep, down-hole drilling technology of the time was not up to the task when the drill bit became stuck.

The challenge of retrieving obstructions from deep in a well’s borehole – “fishing” – has challenged the petroleum industry since the first tool stuck at 134 feet and ruined a well spudded just four days after the famous 1859 discovery by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania. See The First Dry HoleIn a 1954 article about deep drilling technology, The Petroleum Engineer noted the Kern County well of the Ohio Oil Company – today’s Marathon Oil – set a record despite being “halted by a fishing job.”

The well was lost. A 1953 Kern County well drilled by Richfield Oil Corporation produced oil from 17,895 feet, according to the magazine. At the time, the average U.S. cost for the nearly 100 wells drilled below 15,000 feet was about $550,000 per well. More than 630 exploratory wells with a total footage of almost three million feet were drilled in California during 1954, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. 

Visit the West Kern Oil Museum.

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Recommended Reading: Portrait in Oil: How Ohio Oil Company Grew to Become Marathon (1962).

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Marathon of Ohio Oil.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/marathon-ohio-oil. Last Updated: September 25, 2021. Original Published Date: December 28, 2014.

 

Ute Oil Company – Oil Shale Pioneer

Utah exploration company sought wealth from Gilsonite deposits.

 

The Ute Oil Company was America’s first petroleum company to attempt to extract oil from oil shale.

In 1861, a survey party reported the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah was “one vast contiguity of waste and measurably valueless, except for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians, and to hold the world together.”

After reading the report, Brigham Young, who had founded Salt Lake City in 1847, scrapped his plans to send Mormon settlers into the area.

Gilsonite, a coal-like natural asphalt.

Gilsonite is a coal-like natural asphalt found in the Uintah Basin in northeastern Utah.

According to the Utah Humanities Council, Young thought the arid region better suited for a Ute Indian reservation. President Abraham Lincoln soon created the Uintah Reservation by executive order.

However, by the time Utah became the forty-fifth state in 1896, the sparsely populated region bordering Colorado had begun revealing its mineral wealth, including gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper.

Coal and a coal-like hydrocarbon — Gilsonite — brought mineral exploration companies to eastern Utah soon after the turn of the century. Gilsonite, also known North American Asphaltum, was unique to the region known for its oil shale resources.

Miners remove Gilsonite from narrow mines, circa 1920s.

In the 1920s, companies extracted oil shale and Gilsonite from narrow mines.

Aspiring entrepreneurs arrived to exploit these new, elusive petroleum resources. The companies would be among the earliest anywhere seeking to make money by squeezing oil from shale.

Today, the Uinta Basin is one of the largest coalbed methane producing areas in the United States.It is estimated this remote desert plateau in Utah and Colorado contains between eight trillion cubic feet and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

The Gilsonite Maneuver

“The first attempt at oil shale exploitation took place in 1917 by the Ute Oil Company,” noted the Bureau of Land Management in a 2007 technical report about oil shale and tar sands areas in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Established in 1916, Ute Oil Company was created to refine petroleum from a dense shale mined north of Watson, Utah. Oil shales had proven abundant there. So had Gilsonite found in deep vertical veins. The coal-like natural asphalt had many industrial uses.

Color map courtesy Utah Geological Society of Utah oil shale deposits.

Although Ute Oil Company found Gilsonite and oil shales abundant in northeastern Utah, processing the hard shale proved too expensive as other conventional U.S. discoveries brought far lower oil prices. Color map courtesy Utah Geological Society.

 

Gilsonite had been vigorously promoted since 1886 by Samuel H. Gilson, its principal investigator, marketer and namesake. He formed a company to mine and market Gilsonite on a commercial scale.

Gilson, a former rider for the Pony Express between California and Missouri, believed his Gilsonite (or Uintahite) practical for use in everything from a waterproof coating for wooden pilings, as an insulation for wire cable, and as paint or a varnish. He even promoted the natural, resinous hydrocarbon as an additive for chewing gum.

Utah’s Gilsonite was selling for more than $12 a ton when in 1888, despite Bureau of Indian Affairs protests, Congress opened a 7,040 acre oil shale and Gilsonite-laden strip on the Uinta Ouray Reservation for placer mine claims.

 October 1918 article about shale oil in "Petroleum Age" magazine.

An October 1918 article in “Petroleum Age” magazine described a planned shale oil plant at Watson, Utah, that would be the largest in United States. The author is the plant’s designer, St. Louis engineer George W. Wallace, who will become superintendent of Ute Oil Company.

Placer claims could be filed for mining a fixed amount of acreage by a person or group. These claims on Indian Reservations often led to lengthy litigation. The law required production of resources in order for the claimant to be granted a legitimate right to the land. Read more about the Placer Act in First Wyoming Oil Well.

Ute Oil Company’s interest was in oil shale’s kerogen (naturally occurring organic matter) content. Oil shales like Gilsonite can yield petroleum when sufficiently “cooked.” The distillates boil off and are captured as in other refining operations.

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In eastern Utah, Ute Oil Company made a 100 acre placer claim near Watson alongside the White River, about 100 feet up a hillside where promising oil shale deposits could be cheaply mined and then refined. Other companies had the same idea.

Oil Shale Boom Towns

The rough and tumble boom towns of Watson, Dragon Junction and Rainbow were spawned amidst new Gilsonite mines. A narrow gauge (and short-lived) Uintah Railroad was built specifically to link them to the Rio Grande Western Railway 63 miles away.

Oil shale production mining technology, circa 1920s

Oil shale production mining technologies of the 1920s were dangerous and expensive. Above is Ute Oil Company’s processing plant under construction.

By 1911, what was called the “crookedest railroad in the West” had overcome steep mountain grades and crossed 40 bridges to reach Watson and the Rainbow Gilsonite mine, above the White River. Crane Shale Oil, Utah Shale & Oil, and the Western Shale Oil Company all planned oil and gasoline reduction plants near Watson. 

As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began tracking these early efforts to make money by extracting oil from shale, Ute Oil led the way as a petroleum industry pioneer for the oil shale boom that began in the mid-2000s.

Although the company would never complete its ambitious construction of a retorting plant for processing shale, it explored new technologies to maximize production. A 2007 BLM report explained how the company planned building its plant at Watson, today a Uintah County ghost town.

“Construction began on a tramway and processing plant ,” the report noted. “Processing was supposed to extract 90 percent of the oil contained in the pulverized oil shale to produce an average of 54 gallons of oil per ton of shale.”

A train carrying Ute oil shale on a mountainside.

It was difficult and dangerous to get the shale out of the isolated region.

By November of 1919, construction of Ute Oil’s new refinery was nearing completion near the old White River stagecoach station. The company predicted yields of 51.5 gallons of oil and 3.6 gallons of gasoline per ton of processed oil shale when the 18 retorts went on stream. The new plant had a projected capacity of 400 tons daily.

Even using modern technology, the U.S. Geological Survey has reported typical shale yields are between 15 gallons and 25 gallons of oil per ton.

In 1920, industry trade publications continued to praise oil shale developments in Utah and Colorado, but noted that high processing costs for limited production were proving hard to overcome with the day’s technology.

Hard Oil Shale Lessons

Oil shale possibilities intrigued investors and the “American Gas Engineering Journal” of January 3, 1920, crowed: “Twenty-Two Billion Barrels of Oil a Possibility of the Process – Estimates of Production Cost Show Possibility of Shale Oil Competing with Gasoline at Its Lowest Previous Level.”

A Geological Survey investigator proclaimed oil shales offered “more than eight times all of the oil available from the oilfields of the United States!”

Oil industry trade publications recognized that Gilsonite and products made from other oil shales like Asphaltite might supplement production from U.S. oilfields, but the business model was risky. Much hinged on a small margin — limited by extraction technologies and the price of crude oil.

Mine entrance where Ute Oil Company attempted to profit from oil shale.

“A few crumbling buildings” are all that reman of Watson, Utah, where the Ute Oil Company was the first company to attempt to profit from oil shale. Quote and 1998 photo courtesy Jeremy Carter, Ghosttowns.com.

“Crude shale oil, obtained by retorting oil shale, cannot find a general market until the price of well oil is above the cost of producing shale oil,” reported the October 1921 Mining and Oil Bulletin.

“This cost has been conservatively estimated at $1.85 a barrel, for mining and retorting,” the trade publication added. “When the price of well petroleum approaches or better — exceeds this figure — the production of crude shale oil will take on renewed activity.”

Ute Oil Company had optimistically projected its cost at only $1.02 per barrel. In 1918, the year after the company formed, oil sold for about $1.98 per barrel, but in 1920, it dropped to $1.73. It would get much worse. By 1931, oil prices had dropped to only about 65 cents per barrel.

Ute Oil company’s profit margin depended a high price for oil, but surging oil supplies from traditional oil wells in Texas and other states drove down the price.

Ute oil shale article in 1920 Oil and Gas News

By the 1920s, many industry publications were following attempts to develop oil shales in Utah and Colorado. In addition to the “Oil and Gas News” prediction above, the “American Gas Engineering Journal” envisioned production of 22 billion barrels of oil from shale.

End of Ute Oil Company

In addition to the financial and technological risks that Ute Oil faced, regulatory issues added to its misery. In 1920, Congress passed the Mineral Leasing Act, updating the archaic 1872 law and requiring for the first time that the federal government receive royalty payments from successful placer claims.

An ominous 1921 “Petroleum Times” article noted work had been delayed “by a controversy with the Government over title to the land.”

The litigation among private, state, federal and Indian tribal interests would last decades. The controversy came from renewed congressional interest in rectifying injustices that had historically deprived the Uinta Basin Indians since the reservation had been formed in 1861.

Ute Oil Company patent drawing for retort for processing oil shale.

Ute Oil Company failed in 1923 before it could complete its uniquely designed retort for processing oil shale.

Although legal battles would continue, Ute Oil’s fate was sealed. Trade publications reported that the company undertook reorganization in 1923, but did not survive. The BLM would later note that “interest in oil shale production rebounded when oil prices peaked in the 1970s.”

During the 1920s Earl Douglas, a paleontologist who discovered Dinosaur National Monument, became an eloquent spokesman for Utah’s oil industry after several small oil discoveries. After drilling for oil in Utah for more than 25 years, J.L. “Mike” Dougan made the state’s first major oil strike in 1948.

Learn more in First Utah Oil Wells.

In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Congress declared U.S. oil shale and tar sands strategically important domestic energy resources that should be developed to reduce the nation’s growing dependence on oil from foreign sources.

As of 2010, Utah produced more than 8.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas valued at more than $1.7 billion. The market price of Gilsonite ranged from $250 to $1,800 per ton, compared to $10 to $12 per ton in the late 1800s. The hydrocarbon is used in paints, inks, and in some cements — and the petroleum industry uses it in oil-based drilling muds.

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Recommended Reading: Utah Oil Shale: Science, Technology, and Policy Perspectives (2016); From the Ground Up: A History of Mining in Utah (2006). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Ute Oil Company — Oil Shale Pioneer.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/oil-shale-pioneer. Last Updated: September 12, 2021. Original Published Date: April 6, 2016.

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Exploiting North Texas Oil Fever

Exploration ventures that took advantage of investors seeking “black gold” riches, real or imagined.

 

Exaggerated, questionable, and sometimes fraudulent claims by shady business ventures seeking investors grew in the years following World War I. As the Great Depression approached, many states passed “blue sky laws” to regulate securities sales and protect the public from fraud.

But it would take an act of Congress in 1934 to stop skilled swindlers from taking advantage of unwary investors seeking often fictional profits. Federal lawmakers established the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to help rein in exaggerated claims found in newspaper advertisements, mail solicitations, and other stock promotions.

Since the U.S. petroleum industry’s earliest booms and busts in Pennsylvania following the Civil War, the need for dependable information and early financial centers — petroleum exchanges — led to a new profession — the oil scout.

As demand for refined kerosene for lamps grew, the search for new oilfields moved to mid-continent. Thousands of exploration and production companies were established. Most drilled dry holes. When wildcat wells (remote) revealed giant oil and natural fields in Texas and Oklahoma, a new generation of business financing hucksters took advantage. 

Giant oilfield discoveries in North Texas made headlines, leading to the hundreds of new exploration companies (see Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?). Many began by seeking capital from local investors, often banks, doctors, and civic leaders.

Newspapers nationwide reported wells with geysers of oil at Electra (1911), Ranger (1917), and the “World’s Wonder Oilfield” of Boom Town Burkburnett (1918). Publicity about these oil booms rekindled enthusiasm for Texas petroleum riches not seen since the giant oilfield discovery at Spindletop Hill in 1901, the famous “Lucas Gusher.”

Sudden, unexpected “black gold” or “Texas tea” wealth brought prosperity to struggling farming communities. Thanks to the Ranger oilfield, Eastland County’s Merriman Baptist Church (and graveyard) was once declared the richest church in America.

Black Gold Dreams

Criminals specializing in financial deception joined the influx of drilling contractors, workers, equipment suppliers, lease brokers, and associated oilfield service companies. In part to combat fraud in North Texas, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), founded in 1917, American Petroleum Institute (API), founded in 1919, and other industry associations organized.

With so many oil boom-inspired companies forming so quickly, the rapid printing of eye-catching but boiler-plate stock certificates often occurred (see Oil Prospects Inc. for one of the most common certificate vignettes).

Frequently used oil stock certificate image with field of wooden derricks.

In a rush to find investors, quickly formed exploration companies ended up using the same oilfield scene for stock certificates. It might have saved time and money by choosing a printer’s common vignette.

Already iconic U.S. boom towns and busts (see the remarkable 1865 rise and fall of Pithole, Pennsylvania) would help launch major companies like Marathon and Texaco, as did the first California oil wells. New petroleum discoveries attracted experienced companies  — and many more inexperienced exploration and production ventures that aggressively sought leases, equipment and men, and investors.

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However, with little knowledge of the new science of petroleum geology and drilling technologies, few of newly formed companies would find oil. Most did not survive long in the highly competitive oilfields.

Crowding too many wells on leases and a lack of infrastructure for storing and transporting oil harmed the environment. Many companies learned from hard experience, but more went bankrupt without ever finding oil.

Competing exploration companies, lacking petroleum engineers and efficient production technologies, often overproduced geological formations. Unchecked drilling and oversupply in the oil market led prices to collapse as low as 15 cents per 42-gallon oil barrel in the giant East Texas oilfield of the 1930s.

Huckster of Hog Creek

The lure black gold also attracted skilled confidence men who could create oil companies on paper. J.W. “Hog Creek” Carruth was among the most notorious. 

Financial World in 1912 described “Hog Creek” Carruth as a con man who made a fortune selling worthless oil stocks. The magazine also cited the far better known infamous explorer Dr. Frederick Cook (learn more in Arctic Explorer turned Oil Promoter).

In September 1918 a discovery well near Desdemona blew in after reaching a depth of 2,960 feet, initially producing 2,000 barrels of oil a day. “Unlike Ranger, Desdemona was a small operator’s field. Production reached a peak of 7,375,825 barrels in 1919, and then dropped sharply, chiefly because of over drilling,” according to the Handbook of Texas Online.

“Hog Creek” Carruth proclaimed himself to be the discoverer of the Desdemona oilfield (he was not). He advertised expansively to sell worthless stocks inflated by his phony reputation.

Pilgrim Oil Company

Pilgrim Oil Company formed as a common law trust estate (unincorporated business managed by trustees) in Fort Worth, Texas, on December 20, 1920. The company’s trustees included George M. Richardson and Warren H. Hollister. and was capitalized at $1 million with 100,000 shares offered at par value of $10.

The petroleum company, another fraudulent enterprise of J.W. “Hog Creek” Carruth, would be his last.

Wooden oil derricks in Desdemona, Texas, oilfield, circa 1919.

J.W. “Hog Creek” Carruth falsely claimed to have discovered the Desdemona, oilfield, along Hogg Creek. Detail from circa 1919 panoramic photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The oilfield along Hog Creek had been discovered in 1918, just one year after the famous Ranger well. This new field at Desdemona (once called Hog Town) attracted the usual rush of new exploration companies, many with little or no drilling experience.

Among the Eastland County startups, a wily financial conman’s Hog Creek Carruth Oil Company profited by colorful stock sale advertisements to attract investors.

The skillfully exaggerated promotions of Carruth prompted one contemporary writer to admire the crook’s audacity. “Any reader who cannot get a thrill out of Carruth’s highly colored advertising literature is indeed phlegmatic,” the observer declared.

But harm to many small, unwary investors was real. Most of the stock sales’ dollars went into Carruth’s pockets instead of his companies. Even the failure of his oil companies became part of his schemes.

Hogg Oil  + Hog Creek Carruth Oil

Carruth merged two of his insolvent petroleum companies — Hogg Oil Company and Hogg Creek Carruth Oil Company — to create the Pilgrim Oil Company. His latest venture attracted some skeptical attention from financial magazine editors. The Pilgrim Oil Company, “makes a business of gathering in defunct oil companies,” reported Financial World.

As part of his connived merger game plan, stockholders of the two bankrupt Carruth oil ventures had to buy an additional 25 percent of Pilgrim Oil Company shares (in cash) or lose their investments entirely. Carruth used this money to pay dividends, thereby luring more buyers into his petroleum company Ponzi scheme.

Financial World noted, “This is a promoter’s way of reloading old stockholders with additional $25 worth of stock for every $100 they hold in a defunct company.”

Stock certificate of Hog Creek Carruth Oil Company.

J.W. Carruth merged his fraudulent Hogg Creek Carruth Oil with his other fraudulent oil company to create Pilgrim Oil company, a Ponzi scheme using investors’ purchase money to pay dividends and lure more buyers.

In 1923, a federal court indicted J.W. “Hog Creek” Carruth for mail fraud. Also indicted were Pilgrim Oil Company trustees Richardson and Hollister. Eighty-nine other shady characters also were named in a sweeping indictment aimed at stock hucksters.

U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth

Federal prosecutors reviewed financial harm to innocent Pilgrim Oil Company shareholders, who pleaded to the court for justice.

“False, fraudulent, and untrue representations were made for the purpose of inducing plaintiffs to buy the said stock of the said two companies, and for the purpose of cheating, swindling, and defrauding plaintiffs out of their money, and did cheat, swindle, and defraud plaintiffs out of their said money,” the attorneys declared.

“That in 1922, and for a long time prior and subsequent thereto, defendant was engaged in handling and selling oil stock certificates and owned and controlled interests in various oil companies and concerns in this state,” the prosecutors added. Dozens of convictions followed.

Carruth earned a one-year sentence in Leavenworth, Kansas. He joined the federal penitentiary’s oil-scheme alumni Dr. Frederick Cook, the fraudulent Arctic explorer turned oil well promoter. Pilgrim Oil Company and the other Carruth company shareholders were left with stock certificates of no value, except perhaps as a family stories and heirlooms.

Convicted felon “Hog Creek” Carruth, who died in obscurity in 1932, should not be confused with former Texas Governor James S. “Big Jim” Hogg, who helped discover the important West Columbia oilfield in 1917 — learn more in Governor Hogg’s Texas Oil Wells.

More articles about U.S. exploration and production companies and links for further research can be found in Oil Stock Certificates.

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Recommended Reading (October 9): The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (2008); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1936); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join today as an annual AOGHS annual supporting member. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Exploiting North Texas Oil Fever.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/pilgrim-oil-company-exploiting-oil-fever. Last Updated: September 12, 2021. Original Published Date: September 9, 2021.

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Cities Service Company

Kansas and Oklahoma Cities Service subsidiaries discover giant Mid-Continent oilfields.

 

Cities Service Company was established in September 1910 by Henry Latham Doherty as a public utility holding company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, home of the first commercial Oklahoma oil well. Five years after its founding, Doherty’s company would make its own historic discoveries.

Doherty began by selectively purchasing natural gas producing properties in Kansas and Oklahoma. He acquired distributing companies and linked them to his natural gas supplies. Cities Service Company derived income from the subsidiary corporations’ stock dividends. One natural gas subsidiary drilled exploratory wells in central Kansas.

Cities Service stock certificate.

Occidental Petroleum acquired Cities Service Company in 1982. Stock certificates have only collectible value.

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McKeesport Gas Company

The 1919 “Snake Hollow Gusher” brought a natural gas drilling boom (and bust) to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

“Rarely, a community sees its pulse quicken with a get-rich quick beat, feels the boom fever strike, suffers the chill of disillusion when the ‘El Dorado’ fades out and then recovers,” noted the Pittsburgh Press on July 15, 1934. 

“But this is what happened at the McKeesport gas field, scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash,” the newspaper added. McKeesport Gas Company was among the many petroleum company casualties.

McKeesport ,PA, drilling derricks and a McKeesport Gas Company stock certificate.

Pennsylvania natural gas fields attracted investors to many ambitious drilling ventures, including McKeesport Gas Company.

Following America’s first commercial oil discovery in Northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, natural gas development began in Western Pennsylvania in the late 1870s. Two brothers discovered a massive natural gas field on November 3, 1878, and brought a new energy resource to Pittsburgh factories. 

“By 1887, for the first time in decades, the smoky skies over Pittsburgh cleared as mills, furnaces, and factories burned natural gas instead of coals,” noted a Pennsylvania historian in 2009. Learn more about the once famous Haymaker gas well in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.

For investors in 1919, the region’s gas history would seem to be repeating itself.

McKeesport Gas Company was one of about 300 petroleum companies that sprang up within six months of an August 30, 1919, discovery — a runaway natural gas well near McKeesport. The “Snake Hollow Gusher” between the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, blew in at more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.

The headline-making gas well, drilled by S.J. Brendel and David Foster, prompted a frenzy that saw $35 million dollars invested during the boom’s seven-month lifespan.

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McKeesport Gas Company incorporated on December 5, 1919, and two-weeks later enticed investors with advertisements in the Pittsburgh Press and the Gazette Times newspapers. “Over 500 Acres of Leases in the Heart of the McKeesport Gas Fields,” proclaimed one newspaper ad, offering stock at $1.25 a share.

Biggest Boom, Loudest Crash

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” noted a local reporter. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses in anticipation of fortunes to be made.”

However, of the estimated $35 million sunk into the nine square mile area of the boom, only about $3 million came out. By the beginning of 1921, natural gas production was falling in about 180 producing wells — and more than 440 wells were dry holes.

The McKeesport natural gas field was reported as, “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.”

Library of Congress image of McKeesport, PA, "Snake Hollow Gas Belt."

A detail from “McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt,” a circa 1920 panoramic image by Hagerty & Griffey. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

A circa 1920 panoramic photograph at the Library of Congress captured the drilling boom at the McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt, by Hagerty & Griffey. 

 McKeesport Gas Company most likely drilled a few of the boom’s hundreds of dry holes and with funds exhausted, disappeared into petroleum history. Fifteen years later, McKeesport Mayor George H. Lysle explained to a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter how the town survived the “seven-month wonder” natural gas boom:

“Other boom towns,” he said, “were built merely on the strength of the wealth that was to pour from their wells or mines. But McKeesport and vicinity was established before the boom came. When it was over, people still had their jobs in the mills and stores, the permanent population remained, and the natural resources of the district, except for gas, were still as great as ever. We were still a great industrial community.”

Advanced in the science of petroleum geology and improved production technologies are promising far surer results than the Snake Hollow Gusher. The region’s latest gas boom — the Marcellus Shale — extends across western Pennsylvania into other Appalachian Basin states.

McKeesport Gas Company stock certificates have collectible value.

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

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Recommended Reading:  McKeesport – Images of America: Pennsylvania (2007); Western Pennsylvania’s Oil Heritage (2008); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved. 

Citation Information: Article Title: “McKeesport Gas Company.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/mckeesport-gas-company. Last Updated: September 1, 2021. Original Published Date: April 29, 2013.

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