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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
Mother’s oil stock certificate from 1901 helps tell the story of early Colorado oil wells and oilfield discoveries.
Dated March 1902, the old stock certificate was for a Wyoming corporation, the Savannah Oil, Coal and Gas Company. The company president’s signature was too hard to make out, according to a guest post on the the American Oil and Gas Historical Society’s Stock Certificate Q & A Forum (part of Is My Old Oil Stock worth Anything?).
The AOGHS site visitor sought information about the company, which he had researched and discovered that a 1902 biennial report of the Colorado secretary of state reported the company having a principal office in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and doing business in Colorado. The also report listed a T.F. Little as a sales agent with Boulder as a place of business.
“I would appreciate any information available on this company,” the AOGHS forum poster noted, adding, “Researching for my 90-year-old Mom! Thanks.”
The story of Savannah Oil, Coal and Gas begins one year before its incorporation when a headline-making oilfield discovery at Boulder, Colorado, inspired the founding of many exploration companies. Most would not survive.
Natural oil seeps first drew “bobbers” to the Boulder area, according to a 1905 Colorado Geological Survey report. “The principle on which the use of a bobber rests is the same as that by which the proper site of a water well is determined by the involuntary turning of a witch-hazel sprout when held in the hand,” the survey noted.
In the Boulder field, bobbers fixed “the exact location off a large proportion of the wells, the geological survey added. One such oil well was on the McKenzie farm, about three miles northeast of town. It was the discovery well that opened the Boulder oilfield — the first of many in the Denver Basin. The McKenzie well that launched Boulder field would pump oil until 2007.
Initially producing 70 barrels of oil a day, the 1901 McKenzie well spawned a scramble for nearby mineral leases as the local newspaper, The Daily Camera, reported a thousand companies formed in three months. Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas Company was among them.
Frowned upon by petroleum geologists, bobbers and other dowsing tools are available from the American Society of Dowsers (ASD).
Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas Company
Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas incorporated on February 11, 1902, with C.B. Younglove as president and its principal agent in Boulder. The vice president was T.F. Little.
Capitalized at only $15,000 with its main office in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the company needed early success in the Boulder oilfield to survive. When Younglove learned the Otero Company had drilled and completed producing oil wells northeast of Boulder, he managed to secure leases close by.
Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas Company would drill in Boulder County’s Section 8 and Section 9, Township 1 North, Range 70 West (Public Land Survey System – PLLS). Today, the well sites are near the intersection of Valhalla Drive and Kelso Road.
By late 1902, a business journal reported Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas drilling for oil in the Boulder field.
“T.F. Little, the vice president says they have one well 2,600 feet deep with about 1,000 feet of oil in it, and have recently moved derrick to land adjoining the Otero well (which is now producing about 100 barrels per day), and the run hole is now about 300 feet deep, just over the fence from the Otero property,” noted the American Investor, adding Vice President Little, “also says they are not now offering any stock for sale.”
By 1905, the U. S. Geological Survey (Bulletin No. 265) published more detail on the Younglove and Savannah producing oil wells, depths, unsuccessful attempts or “dry holes,” and use of nitroglycerin for fracturing oil-producing geologic formations (learn more in Shooters – A Fracking History).
Citing earlier wells drilled by the Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas Company, Mining American magazine in 1918 noted, “Possibilities of Greater Production in Boulder Oil Fields,”
The first three wells of Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas produced enough oil to support more drilling in the booming Boulder field. After production peaked in 1909 at more about 85,000 barrels of oil, some people would claim Boulder to be “one of the wildest, crookedest, and most disastrous booms.”
Local historian Silvia Pettem summarized, “Although the oil under the land northeast of Boulder was real, no amount of drilling could keep up with inflated expectations. In just a few months, the bottom fell out of the market.”
Although C.B. Younglove and T.F. Little’s Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas Company would fade away, by World War I, Mining American magazine teased speculative investors with “Possibilities of Greater Production in Boulder Oil Fields” (January 5, 1918), citing the exploratory wells of Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas. The magazine proclaimed, “Recent Survey Encourages Deeper Drilling…Younglove Well Commended by Expert.”
But the Boulder boom was already part of U.S. petroleum history. So was Savannah Oil, Coal, and Gas Company.
First Colorado Oil Well
The first commercially successful Colorado oil well was drilled in January 1862 near the mining supply town of Cañon City, about 45 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. The well produced oil just three years after the first U.S. oil well, which was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, by Edwin L. Drake for the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut.
In 1860, businessman Gabriel Bowen had established what many consider Colorado’s first oil venture, the G. Bowen & Company. Bowen claimed ownership of natural oil seeps at Oil Spring — above what would later prove to be the Florence oilfield.
However, Bowen’s claim, “apparently was jumped in the winter of 1860-61 by J.L. Dunn, who dug four pits at the spring,” according to Colorado Encyclopedia. “One of the pits produced a barrel per day, but the others yielded little. Dunn left the area in early 1861, after being charged with cattle rustling.”
Although Bowen regained control of Oil Spring, Alexander Cassidy bought the claim in January 1862 and formed the Colorado Oil Company, “the state’s first commercially productive oil enterprise,” the encyclopedia noted in 2021. Cassidy’s well produced “at most a few barrels per day, which the company sold in Cañon City, Denver, and Santa Fe.”
With wells reaching a depth of 1,445 feet by the 1890s, production in Colorado’s Florence oilfield would peak at more than 3,000 barrels of oil per day.
Recommended Reading: Geology of the Boulder district, Colorado: USGS Bulletin 265 (2013); High Altitude Energy: A History of Fossil Fuels in Colorado (2002). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join today as an AOGHS supporting member. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Exploring Boulder Oilfield History.” 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: August 24, 2021. Original Published Date: August 24, 2021, 2021.
Early petroleum exploration began near oil seeps in Indian Territory.
Drilled in 1889 and completed a year later near oil seeps at Chelsea in Indian Territory, the story behind the another first Oklahoma oil well is not as well known as the Bartlesville gusher seven years later.
Under President Andrew Jackson, Congress enacted the Indian Removal Act of 1830, forcibly relocating native American tribes westward to what would later become known as Indian Territory.
The Cherokee Nation town began as a stop on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad in 1881.
Land west of Arkansas, “remote from white settlements,” seemed a good place to send them at the time, explained a 1900 report by the American Geographical Society of New York (Vol. 32). “It was intended to settle them there for all time, whereby they could live to themselves, according to their own pleasure, with self-government, under the protection of the general Government.” (more…)
Although geologists, petroleum engineers and other earth scientists were far more helpful for finding “black gold,” Oil Prospectors Inc. preferred unscientific methods to sway unwary investors.
During the Great Depression, some fortune seekers were convinced a “divining rod, a doodlebug, a switch, or a twig” could find oilfields. In the 1950s, others invested in doodlebug technology they were told came from flying saucers. Then as now, any “miraculous machine “could help fleece the gullible.
Not long after December 1931 discovery of the Conroe, Texas, oilfield, a “doodlebug” device swindled Houston oil investors out of $20,000. It also sent Ralph Malone and Vivian Buie to jail in 1935.
During their trial in district court, a prosecution witness told of receiving letters describing the doodlebugger as capable of finding oil and natural gas and a field in Polk County.
Malone and Buie claimed their device would find “another field like the Conroe field” worth millions of dollars. They described their doodlebug as “a wonderful instrument that could locate oil pools.” Learn about Conroe’s oilfield in Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”
Despite their defense attornies’ efforts, Malone and Buie (the alleged “brains” of the doodlebug scam), were convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to terms in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. Then their defense attorneys were indicted as well.
While their former clients headed off to prison, Arthur Heemann and C. Ray Smith hired their own legal council. The new defense team asserted the accused, “merely were attorneys for the swindlers and did not participate in the scheme.”
It did not help that attorney Heemann had been charged five years earlier with the same crime while promoting the similarly fraudulent Oil Investors Company.
Nonetheless, the lawyers got the lawyers off when the judge ruled them not guilty on April 15, 1938. Two months later, Ralph Malone was transported from Leavenworth to a Tucson, Arizona, prison to finish his three-year sentence.
Doodlebugs, Magnetic Loggers, and Flying Saucers
Although Malone was absent from oil stock scams for several years, investors did not abandon their fascination with doodlebugs. The convicted con man resurfaced in the early 1950s when his penchant for mail fraud landed him in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“Often investigation is directed to highly objectionable sales literature which greatly over emphasize the possibilities of success from the proposed security purchase,” the SEC noted in its 17th annual report. “So it was in the case of Oil Prospectors, Inc. and Ralph Malone.”
A year later, the SEC again addressed the issue of doodlebugs, explaining the necessity to resorting to the courts to get compliance with the Securities Act.
“A substantial number of cases requiring injunctive action are those relating to oil and mining promotions,” noted the June 30, 1952, annual report. “The ‘gold brick’ aspect of many of these promotions has by now become quite stereotyped.” The SEC’s complaints seeking injunctions pointed out that, “sellers were omitting to disclose that these individuals had criminal records.”
The commission cited another example of “the almost perennial doodlebug” where the “defendants used in their operations a device called a ‘Magnetic Logger’ and the claims made for its efficacy in discovering oil were the usual ones and were false…There is reason to believe that the injunction obtained by the commission saved the investing public a substantial sum.”
An SEC injunction in 1951 finally brought an end to Oil Prospectors and Ralph Malone disappeared from the news. Doodlebug hoaxes continued.
Most notably, Silas Newton and Leo GeBauer, claimed their doodlebug machine “operated on the same magnetic principles as the flying saucers.” The $800,000 contraption had been developed secretly by the government.
They promoted the tale of a 1948 flying saucer crash site near Aztec, New Mexico, that had yielded 16 humanoid bodies (Roswell’s aliens had reportedly arrived a year earlier).
Newton and GeBauer claimed the Aztec crash site included revolutionary technology for finding oil.
Silas Newton and Leo “Dr. Gee” GeBauer convinced author Frank Scully (above right) that the government was hiding UFO crash sites and humanoid corpses. Investors believed their claims that a secret alien device could locate vast petroleum reserves.
Although some still maintain an elaborate government cover-up has concealed the real Aztec UFO story, the petroleum exploration technology has received little mention. By 1952, the terrestrial luck of Newton and GeBauer ran out. The Denver Post’s October 14 headline proclaimed, “Saucer Scientist in $50,000 Fraud.”
In 1950 Frank Scully had published Behind Flying Saucers, a book reporting crashed UFOs (powered on magnetic principles) and the discovery of dead extraterrestrial beings.
In September 1952, True Magazine investigated Frank Scully, Silas Newton, and Leo GeBauer, the three principals involved in Scully’s best-selling book, Behind the Flying Saucers.
In 1952 and again in 1956, True magazine published articles that exposed doodlebug machine promoters Silas Newton and “Dr. Gee” (identified as Leo GeBauer) as “oil con artists who had hoaxed a gullible Scully,” according to the 1998 book, UFOs & Alien Contact: Two Centuries of Mystery.
It turned out the UFO inspired oil doodlebug was just a box covered in dials and switches made from $3.50 in surplus radio parts. The revelation brought little comfort to swindled investors.
Stock Certificate Derricks
Speculating in oil stocks has been hazardous since the first company incorporated in 1854 in Pennsylvania (see First American Oil Well). As drilling booms moved westward, thousands of exploration companies competed to exploit “black gold.” Most failed after a few expensive dry holes – or without drilling a single well.
Especially during the major oilfield discoveries beginning after World War I and continuing through the Great Depression, the rush to form oil companies led to certificates that looked remarkably alike. Printing boiler-plate stock certificates was not uncommon in the scramble to find investors.
For example, many short-lived companies’ stocks features the same artwork as Oil Prospectors Inc. Here are just a few:
Buck Run Oil and Refining
Craven Oil and Refining
Hog Creek Carruth Company
Texas Production Company
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) published its first journal, Geophysics, in 1936. It included articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then used – seismic, gravity, and magnetic. All were based on the scientific method.
The journal’s lead article warned young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations. “This is the first time that the term ‘doodle-bug’ was applied to scientific methods, particularly if they had no scientific validity, according to the 1982 book, Geophysics in the Affairs of Men.
“Twenty years later, it was a badge of honor to be known as a doodlebugger, i.e., the field personnel of geophysical crews,” noted the authors Charles C. Bates, T. F. Gaskell and R. B. Rice. “Still later, the term was applied to everyone who worked in exploration geophysics.”
A bronze statue, “The Doodlebugger,” welcomes visitors to the Society of Exploration Geophysicists headquarters in Tulsa. The name is a badge of honor for geophysical crews seeking oil. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Editor’s Note – The sculptor of the SEG statue, Jay O´Meilia of Tulsa, Oklahoma, also was the artist who created two “Oil Patch Warrior” statues – one in Ardmore and another across the Atlantic. See Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
More research and articles about U.S. exploration and production companies joining petroleum booms (and avoiding busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?
Recommended Reading: 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.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join today as an annual AOGHS supporting member. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Prospectors, Inc.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/oil-prospectors-inc. Last Updated: September 5, 2021. Original Published Date: May 13, 2016.
Learning hard lessons about wasteful overproduction and depleted reservoir pressures.
The discovery of oil along a small creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in August 1859 launched the American petroleum industry. Drilled just 69.5 feet deep by former railroad conductor Edwin Drake, the well produced oil that could be refined into an inexpensive lamp fuel, kerosene.
Drake, who pioneered drilling technology, borrowed a local kitchen water pump to fill the first oil barrels. Early oil production from his and other northwestern Pennsylvania wells brought new refineries to Oil City and Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River. Demand for kerosene quickly outpaced the inexpensive but volatile lamp fuel camphene.
Kerosene also replaced expensive whale oil. A typical four-year whaling voyage returned with 40,000 gallons; New oilfields produced 10 million gallons of kerosene in 1860 alone.
Four acres close to the Sherman well sold for $220,000 as venture oil capitalists, entrepreneurs, and speculators tried their luck in the newly created petroleum industry.
Drake’s well, drilled for the first U.S. oil company established by George Bissell, brought the country’s first drilling boom as entrepreneurs rushed in. Farmers who leased their land were among the first to benefit. “Oil Creek was soon taken up and within a relatively short time, the entire valley as far back as into the hillsides, had been leased or purchased,” author Paul Gibbons noted.
With the science of petroleum geology yet to debut, early oil explorers searched near oil seeps and the “rich territory was limited to flats along the streams,” Gibbons added. Natural gas discoveries would later arrive to the benefit of Pittsburgh industries.
Sherman Well of 1861
J.T. Foster’s farm on Pioneer Run hillside off Oil Creek was in “the dry diggings” where few were willing to gamble. Nonetheless, newly minted oil operators gathered investors to try to find oil. Capital was hard to come by. On the 200-acre Foster farm, one struggling and almost cashless outfit had to trade a one-sixteenth interest for $80 and an old shotgun to continue drilling on its Sherman well.
Drilling along Oil Creek continued undiminished, but in September 1861 on the Funk farm, the Empire well began flowing a river of oil under its own pressure. They called it a “fountain well.” Some said it initially produced 2,000 barrels of oil a day. Other successful wells followed.
Back on the Foster farm lease, the Sherman well (saved earlier for $80 and a shotgun) in March 1862 was completed as the “best single strike of the year,” despite being “above all the other flowing wells” according to the Hornellsville Tribune. Leases on the farm became highly prized. Historian and author Terence Daintith observed that “subleasing was also a money machine.”
The Venango Citizen reported, “Territory along the river above and below Franklin has been changing hands at high figures, and preparations are being made for active work.” Just four acres close to the Sherman well sold for $220,000 as venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and speculators tried their luck in the newly created petroleum industry.
Foster Farm Oil Company drilled an 1866 well that produced 300 barrels of oil.
The Foster Farm Oil Company and the oddly named Shoe & Leather Petroleum Company were among the many corporations formed to exploit exploration opportunities.
Foster Farm Oil Company
Foster Farm Oil Company incorporated in February 1865. Based in Philadelphia and capitalized at $1.5 million, the company offered 150,000 shares to the public. “The Foster Farm is owned by a company of ten gentlemen, and is known as the Foster Farm Oil Company,” reported the The Titusville Morning Herald. E.C. Bishop (Elisa Chapman ) was principal owner as well as one time general agent, treasurer, and superintendent.
The new company secured acreage on the Foster farm that already had 12 wells pumping 100 barrels of oil a day. Foster leased acreage in small tracts to several new companies vying for closest proximity to known producers. Oil prices had always fluctuated wildly, but a standard 42-gallon barrel of crude oil sold in 1865 for about $6.50, including a Civil War excise tax of $1 per barrel.
Foster Farm Oil Company continued drilling and subleasing small tracts. In April 1866, it drilled a well producing 300 barrels of oil a day from 612 feet deep. Then a second well produced at 310 barrels, a third at 100, and another at 350 barrels of oil a day. In 1867, Foster Farm Oil Company sold 1,000 barrels of oil at $2.10 each.
All over the Pioneer Run hillside, wooden derricks with steam engines pumped away even as overproduction drained the oilfield. Margins disappeared and companies began to fail. Vanango County historians confirm, “Not one of the other fifty or sixty wells on the Foster farm, some of them Sherman’s, was particularly noteworthy.
”Foster Farm Oil Company’s fortunes faded as did the value of its stock. In 1869, total U.S.oil production topped 4 million barrels and oversupply drove many out of business. After 10 years in the oil patch, Elisha C. Foster departed to enter the banking business in Connecticut.
By 1871, shares of Foster Farm Oil were being auctioned off along with other “Stocks, Loans, etc.” The following year, 5,000 shares of Foster Farm Oil Company were offered at 11 cents a share. Litigation began to overtake the failing company in 1873; it would continue long after the drilling boom had moved on, finally being settled by the Connecticut Superior Court in 1886.
Shoe & Leather Petroleum
Shoe & Leather Petroleum Company incorporated in New York City in March 1865 to join the Pennsylvania oil rush. The company initially capitalized at $400,000, later reduced to $160,000. “Until the spring of 1865, the Foster Farm, Pioneer Run and vicinity were considered dry territory. Through the exertions of Mr. David Harris of this city, the Shoe & Leather Petroleum was formed,” reported the Titusville Morning Herald.
The company leased six acres on the Foster farm, then subleased them into 11 smaller tracts – the kind sought by smaller, speculative operations. “Substantial leaseholders could milk their leases by subleasing small lots for large premiums and high royalties,” historian Daintith later noted. “Far more money could be made this way than by actual production.”
By 1867, Shoe & Leather Petroleum had five producing wells, on five different tracts, with five different operators, yielding about 350 barrels of oil a day. But frantic production at Pioneer Run and Oil Creek, compelled land owners above oil reserves to drill, “regardless of price or market demand, in order to prevent his neighbor from draining his reserves.” This traditional “law of capture” rendered an oily landscape thick with derricks.
Overproduction and waste depleted reservoir pressures. Wells were pumped dry. Triumph Hill, and Pithole and other examples reinforced the precedent of oil discovery leading to drilling boom, and then to inevitable bust. By 1902, United States Investor reported Shoe Leather & Petroleum Company had “disappeared” and concluded, “The supposition is that the company has gone out of existence.”
In 1904, Smythe’s Directory of Obsolete American Securities and Corporations described Shoe & Leather Petroleum, “Extinct. Stock worthless.”
The stories of exploration and production companies can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?
Recommended Reading: Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Early Wells of Oil Creek.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/early-wells-of-oil-creek. Last Updated: April 10, 2021. Original Published Date: December 22, 2018.
John Wilkes Booth and actor friends drilled for Pennsylvania oil in 1864 — and found it.
After forming an oil company and drilling for “black gold” in booming northwestern Pennsylvania, the actor’s dreams of a petroleum fortune collapsed in June 1864. He then sought fame as a martyr to the Confederacy. A failed oilman turned assassin.
As the Civil War approached its bloody conclusion, John Wilkes Booth in January 1864 made the first of several trips to Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he purchased an oil lease on the Fuller farm. Maps of the day reveal the three-acre strip of land on the farm, about one mile south of Franklin and on the east side of the Allegheny River.
Hidden deep in the woods of the “Valley that Changed the World,” a small concrete marker can be found (with some effort) at the actual site where the future assassin drilled for oil. The weathered post and Booth’s capped well stand about 20 miles south of larger monument at an oil museum and park at Titusville — where the first commercial U.S. oil well was drilled by former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake.
John Wilkes Booth’s dreams of Pennsylvania oil wealth ended in July 1864. Photo by Alexander Gardner courtesy Library of Congress.
Drilled for the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, Drake’s August 27, 1859, discovery launched a drilling boom that made newspaper headlines (the industry’s first “dry hole” a few days later did not). Investors had organized Seneca Oil for tax advantages after founding the first American oil company established to drill for oil, the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York. (more…)