Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball

Company town players made it to the Big Leagues — and the Hall of Fame.

 

The first pitcher ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 worked in oilfields as a teenager and began his career on an oil town baseball team in California.

As baseball became America’s favorite pastime in the early 20th century, many new oil patch boom towns fielded their own teams – with names that reflected their communities’ enthusiasm and often, their livelihood.

Oilfields of Dreams

In Texas, the Corsicana Oil Citys made baseball history in 1902 with a 51 to 3 drubbing of the Texarkana Casketmakers. Oil Citys catcher Jay Justin Clarke hit eight home runs in eight at bats during the game – still an unbroken baseball record.

Baseball 1924 exhibition game poster featuring Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth

The once pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells – Walter “Big Train” Johnson – joined “Babe” Ruth in a 1924 exhibition game.

In 1922, the Wichita Falls minor league team lost its opportunity for a 25th consecutive victory when the league determined the team had “doctored the baseball.” The Wichita Falls ballpark caught fire in June — during a game — and burned to the ground. It was a memorable season.

In Oklahoma oilfields, the Okmulgee Drillers for the first time in baseball history had two players who combined to hit 100 home runs in a single season of 160 games. First baseman Wilbur “Country” Davis and center fielder Cecil “Stormy” Davis accomplished their home run record in 1924, although their team faded away by 1927.

Oil company town baseball Tulsa Drillers logo.

Today’s Tulsa Drillers play in the Texas League as a AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

The Tulsa Oilers were the strongest team in the Western League for a decade, winning the pennant in 1920, ‘22, ‘27, ‘28 and ‘29. The name continues in the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers. The Tulsa Drillers, a AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, a Major League club, play in downtown Tulsa.

In baseball’s first official night game, the Independence, Kansas, Producers lost to Muskogee Chiefs 13 to 3 on April 28, 1930. The game was played under portable lights supplied by the Negro National League’s famed Kansas City Monarchs.

Welcome to the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail in California.

“More than 250 producing wells once dotted these hill,” according to the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail near Brea, California.

The Independence Producers were one of the 96 teams in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, now known as Minor League Baseball.

Iola Gasbags and Borger Gassers

Thanks to mid-continent oil and natural gas discoveries, in just nine years beginning in 1895, Iola, Kansas, grew from a town of 1,567 to a city of more than 11,000. Gas wells lighted the way.

However, the Iola Gasbags reportedly adopted their team name not for the resource, but after becoming known as braggers in the Missouri State League. “They traveled to these other cities, and they’d be bragging that they were the champions, so people started giving them the nickname Gasbags,” reported baseball historian Tim Hagerty in a July 2012 National Public Radio interview.

National Baseball Hall of Fame Library images of Iola Gasbags players in 1904.

From a booming town in Kansas thanks to natural gas, the Iola Gasbags are pictured in 1904. Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

In 1903, the players renamed themselves the Iola Gaslighters — but had a change of heart and reverted to the original name the following season.

“They said, ‘You know what? Yeah, we are, We’re the Gasbags.'” added Hagerty, author of Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Names and the Stories Behind Them. “I think the state of Kansas may take the prize for the most terrific names – the Wichita Wingnuts, the Wichita Izzies, the Hutchinson Salt Packers…and the Iola Gasbags.”

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In the Texas Panhandle, the Borger Gassers disappeared after the 1955 season, despite Gordon Nell hitting a record-setting 49 homers in 1947. Team owners blamed television and air-conditioning for reducing minor league baseball attendance and profitability.

Detail from 1909 baseball card featuring Pacific Coast League pitcher Jimmy Wiggs.

Detail from 1909 baseball card featuring Pacific Coast League pitcher Jimmy Wiggs. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

In Beaumont, Texas, site of the great Spindletop oil discovery of 1901, minor league baseball lasted for decades under several names. The first team, the Beaumont Oil Gushers of the South Texas League, was fielded in 1903. By the 1904 season the team was known as the Millionaires and then the Oilers before becoming the Beaumont Exporters in 1920.

 Van, Texas, baseball fielding practice at the oil town's high school.

East of Dallas, in Van, Texas, fielding practice at the oil town baseball high school includes a reminder of a prolific oilfield discovered in 1929. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Although many thought the name should be changed to the Refiners, reflecting the city’s industry, for the 1950 season the team was briefly known as the Roughnecks.

Beaumont’s last AA Texas League team was the Golden Gators, which folded in 1986. Another team in the Texas League, the Shreveport Gassers, on May 8, 1918, played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was finally declared a tie at one to one.

Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Olinda Oil Wells

In 1894, the Union Oil Company of Santa Paula purchased 1,200 acres in northern Orange County for oil development. Four years later the first oil well, Olinda No. 1, came in and created the oil boom town.

Perhaps baseball’s greatest product from the oilfield was a young man who was a roustabout in the small oil town of Olinda, California. Walter “Big Train” Johnson would earn national renown as the greatest pitcher of his time.

Around the turn of the century, Olinda Oil Wells baseball players began making a name for themselves among the semi-pro teams of the Los Angeles area.

Tabloid "Baseball Scoops" features Walter Johnson pitching 56 scoreless innings in 1913.

A 1961 baseball card notes headline of the former California oilfield roustabout’s amazing 1913 pitching record, which lasted until Don Drysdale pitched 58 scoreless innings in 1968.

By 1903 the Orange County team was sharing newly built Athletic Park in Anaheim, “two hours south of Olinda by horse and buggy,” notes one historian. Youngster Walter Johnson rooted for the local team, the Oil Wells.

Today, tourists visit the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail. This historic Orange County site includes Olinda Oil Well No. 1 of 1898, the oil company field office and a jack-line pump building.

Johnson, originally from Humboldt, Kansas, moved to the thriving oil town east of Brea with his family when he was 14. He attended Fullerton Union High School and played baseball there while working in the nearby oilfields. His high school pitching began making headlines, including a 1905 15-inning game against rival Santa Ana High School where he struck out 27.

A sign for California's Olinda Oil Museum and Trail.

An 1898 oil discovery made by the Olinda No. 1 well launched an oil boom town that ked to a local baseball team.

By 17, Johnson was playing for his oil town baseball team, the Olinda Oil Wells, as its ace pitcher. He shared in each game’s income of $25, according to Henry Thomas in Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train. “Not a bad split for nine players considering that a roustabout in the oilfields started at $1.50 a day,” Thomas noted in his book. Johnson finished with a winning season and soon moved on to the minor leagues.

Johnson’s major league career began in 1907 in Washington, D.C., where he played his entire 21-year baseball career for the Washington Senators. The former oil patch roustabout remains major league baseball’s all-time career leader in shutouts with 110, second in wins (417) and fourth in complete games (531).

In 1936, “Big Train” Johnson was inducted into baseball’s newly created Hall of Fame with four others: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson. In 1924, Johnson returned to his California oil patch roots. On October 31, he and his former baseball teammates played an exhibition game in Brea against Babe Ruth and the Ruth All-Stars.

The Brea Museum & Historical Society today includes exhibits, rare photographs, and research facilities. There’s also an on-going project recreating Brea in miniature.

Texon Oilers of the Permian Basin 

On May 28, 1923, a loud roar was heard when the Santa Rita No. 1 well erupted in West Texas. People as far away as Fort Worth traveled to see the well. Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made the discovery. The oilfield, about 4.5 square miles, revealed vast oil reserves in West Texas. Exploration spread into other areas of the Permian Basin, still one of the largest oil-producing regions in the United States.

First oil “company town” in the Permian Basin, Texon, baseball team and field.

The first oil “company town” in the Permian Basin, Texon, was founded in 1924 by Big Lake Oil Company. The Texon Oilers won Permian Basin League championships in 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1939. Texon remains a tourist attraction – as a ghost town.

Early Permian Basin discoveries created many boom towns, including Midland, which some would soon refer to as “Little Dallas.” By 1924, Michael L. Benedum, a successful independent oilman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other successful independent producers – wildcatters – formed the Big Lake Oil Company. The new company established Texon, the first oil company town in the Permian Basin.

Today a ghost town, Texon was considered a model oil community. It had a school, church, hospital, theater, golf course, swimming pool – and a semi-pro company baseball team. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Texon Oilers baseball team was the centerpiece of the employee recreation plan of Levi Smith, vice president and general manager of the Big Lake Oil Company. Smith, an avid baseball fan, organized the club soon after he founded the Reagan County town (a few miles west of today’s town of Big Lake).

 The Big Lake oilfield was featured during the beginning of a 2002 movie.

The Permian Basin oilfield was featured in a 2002 movie featuring a high school teacher and baseball coach. Image from Walt Disney Pictures poster.

By the summer of 1925 a baseball field was ready for use. In 1926 a 500-seat grandstand completed the facility. “In 1929 the Big Lake Oil Company began a tradition of hosting a Labor Day barbecue for employees and friends, highlighted by a baseball game,” noted historian Jane Spraggins Wilson.

“Management consistently attempted to schedule well-known clubs, such as the Fort Worth Cats and the Halliburton Oilers of Oklahoma,” added Wilson, who explained that during the Great Depression, “before good highways, television, and other diversions, the team was a source of community cohesiveness, entertainment, and pride.”

After the World War II, with its famous the oilfield diminishing and the town losing population, aging Oilers left the game for good, Wilson reports. By the mid-1950s the Texon Oilers were but a memory.

Hollywood visits Oilfields

The 2002 movie “The Rookie” – filmed almost entirely in the Permian Basin of West Texas – featured a Reagan County High School teacher. Based on the “true life” of baseball pitcher Jimmy Morris, it tells the story of baseball coach, Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), who despite being in his mid-30s briefly makes it to the major leagues.

The movie – promoted with the phrase, “It’s never too late to believe in your dreams” – opens with a  flashback scene near Big Lake, the Santa Rita No. 1 drilling site.

oil town baseball

At the beginning of the 2002 movie “The Rookie,” Catholic nuns christened the Santa Rita No. 1 cable-tool rig. In reality, one of the well’s owners climbed the derrick and threw rose petals given to him by Catholic women investors.

As the well is being drilled, Catholic nuns are shown carrying a basket of rose pedals to christen it for the patron Saint of the Impossible – Santa Rita.

“Much is made of the almost mythic importance of oil in Big Lake, with talk of the Santa Rita oil well,” explains ESPN in the The Rookie in Reel LifeLearn more about the Permian Basin in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin and visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland.

Oilmen of Whiting, Indiana

In 1889, the Standard Oil Company began construction on its massive, 235-acre refinery in Whiting, Indiana. Today owned by BP, the Whiting refinery is the largest in the United States.

NW Indiana "Oilmen" baseball Indiana team logo.

Whiting has been home to the North-west Indiana Oilmen since 2012.

In 2012, Whiting fielded a baseball team. On June 3, the North-west Indiana Oilmen crushed the Southland Vikings 14-3 at Oil City Stadium in Standard Diamonds Park for the first win in franchise history. The Oilmen team became one of eight in the Midwest Collegiate League, a pre-minor baseball league.

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Standard Oil’s giant refinery in Whiting, Indiana, processed “sour crude” in the early 1900s. Now owned by BP, it is the largest U.S. refinery. The city of Whiting incorporated in 1903.

“The name Oil City Stadium celebrates Whiting’s history as a refinery town tucked away in the Northwest corner of Indiana for over 120 years,” noted team owner Don Popravak. “The BP Refinery, located just beyond they outfield fence is a constant reminder of the blue collar attitude Whiting was built on,” he added.

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Recommended Reading:  Textile League Baseball: South Carolina’s Mill Teams, 1880-1955 (2004). 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/oil-town-baseball. Last Updated: May 3, 2021. Original Published Date: September 1, 2007.

 

Rouseville 1861 Oil Well Fire

Tragedy would lead to new oilfield technologies and a work of art.

 

America’s first oil well ignited slightly more than a month after finding oil on August 27, 1859, becoming the new U.S. petroleum industry’s first oil well fire.  More well infernos followed as the Pennsylvania oil region’s wooden derricks multiplied. But the fatal explosion and fire at Rouseville in 1861 added urgency to inventing technologies for making oil exploration and production safer.

Historical marker for Henry Rouse of Warren County, Pennsylvania.

A marker dedicated in 1996 on state hwy. 8 near Rouseville by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Henry Rouse’s reputation made him one of the most respected leaders of the early industry.

On April 17, 1861, a well gushing a geyser of oil exploded in flames on the Buchanan Farm at Rouseville, killing the well’s owner and more than a dozen bystanders. Journalist Ida Tarbell had lived in Rouseville as a child.

Sometimes called “Oil Well Fire Near Titusville” but more accurately, Rouseville, the early oilfield tragedy was overshadowed by the greater tragedy of the Civil War. Fort Sumter fell on April 13, 1861; Henry Rouse’s oil well exploded four days later.

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The Little and Merrick well at Oil Creek, drilled by respected teacher and businessman Henry Rouse,  unexpectedly had hit a highly pressurized oil and natural gas geologic formation at a depth of just 320 feet. Given the limited drilling technologies for controlling the pressure, the well’s production of 3,000 barrels of oil per day was out of control.

The Rouse Estate later reported, “A breathless worker ran up to him, telling him to ‘come quickly’ as they’d ‘hit a big one.’ According to the best accounts of the time, the ‘big one’ was the world’s first legitimate oil gusher. As oil spouted from the ground, Henry Rouse and the others stood by wondering how to control the phenomenon.”

The towering gusher also had attracted people from town, covering many in the oil when. Perhaps ignited by the steam-engine’s boiler, the well suddenly erupted into flames, which engulfed Rouse, killing him and 18 others, seriously burning many more.

Detail from “Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania”

Detail from “Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” a painting by James Hamilton of the 1861 oil well fire that killed Henry Rouse today is in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Historian Michael H. Scruggs of Pennsylvania State University found a dramatic account from an eyewitness, who reported:

“One of the victims it would seem had been standing on theses barrels near the well when the explosion occurred; for I first discovered him running over them away from the well. He had hardly reached the outer edge of the field of fire, when coming to a vacant space in the tier of barrels from which two or three had been taken, he fell into the vacancy, and there uttering heart-rending shrieks, burned to death with scarcely a dozen feet of impassable heated air between him and his friends.”

Oval portrait of Henry Rouse.

Henry R. Rouse, 1823-1861.

In his 2010 article, Scruggs noted the 37-year-old Henry Rouse was dragged from the fire severely burned, and expecting the worst, dictated his Last Will and Testament, “to the men surrounding him as they fed him water spoonful by spoonful.”

Engraved on an 1865 marble monument (re-dedicated to Rouse’s memory during a family reunion in 1993) is this tribute: Henry R. Rouse was the typical poor boy who grew rich through his own efforts and a little luck. He was in the oil business less than 19 months; he made his fortune from it and lost his life because of it. He died bravely, left his wealth wisely, and today is hardly remembered by posterity. — from the Rouse Estate.

The 1865 Atlas of the Oil Regions of Pennsylvania by Frederick W. Beers described this early petroleum industry tragedy in detail:

It was upon this farm (Buchanan) that the terrible calamity of April 1861, occurred, when several persons lost their lives by the burning of a well. The “BURNING WELL” as it has since been called, had been put down to the depth of three hundred and thirty feet, when a strong vein of gas and oil was struck, causing suspension of operations and ejecting a stream from the well as high as the top of the derrick.

Cover of Oil Region Atlas, 1865

“Atlas of the Oil Regions of Pennsylvania,” published by Frederick W. Beers in 1865.

Large numbers of persons were attracted to the scene, when the gas filling the atmosphere took fire, as is supposed, from a lighted cigar, and a terrible explosion ensued, which was heard for three or four miles. The well well continued to burn upwards of twenty hours destroying the tanks and machinery of several adjacent wells, and several hundred barrels of oil. The scene is represented as terrific beyond comparison.

The well spouted furiously for many hours, and the column of flame extended often two and three hundred feet in height, the valley being shut in, as it were, by a dense and impenetrable canopy of overhanging smoke. Fifteen persons were instantly killed by the explosion of the gas, and thirteen others scarred for life.

Among the persons killed was Mr. Henry R. Rouse, who had then recently become interested in that locality, and after whom Rouseville takes its name. The well continue to flow at the rate about one thousand barrels per day for a week after the fire, when it suddenly ceased, and has since produced very little oil as a pumping well.

These fires have not been unfrequent, and it is a little remarkable that in every case where wells have been so burned they have never after produced save in very small quantities.

Stereograph of circa 1860s PA oil well.

Late 1860s stereograph by William J. Portser showing men and women standing on a storage tank and two men at the top of an oil derrick in Pennsylvania, courtesy Library of Congress.

According to historian Michael H. Scruggs, the knowledge gained from the 1861 disaster along with other early oilfield accidents brought better exploration and production technologies. The first “Christmas Tree” — an assembly of control valves – was invented by Al Hamills after the 1901 gusher at Spindletop Hill, Texas.

Although the deadly Rouseville well fire cause devastation, “the knowledge gained from the well along with other accidents has help paved the way for new and safer ways to drill,” Scruggs wrote in a 2010 article. “These inventions and precautions have become very important and helpful, especially considering many Pennsylvanians are back on the rigs again, this time drilling for the Marcellus Shale natural gas,” he concluded.

Learn more about another important invention, Harry Cameron’s 1922  blow out preventer in Ending Gushers – BOP.

Burning Oil Well at Night

The deadly Pennsylvania oil well fire was immortalized by Philadelphia artist James Hamilton, a mid-19th century painter whose maritime works are in collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington, D.C.

The deadly Pennsylvania oil well fire was immortalized by Philadelphia artist James Hamilton, a mid-19th century painter whose maritime works are in collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington, D.C.

"Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania," by James Hamilton (circa 1861), on display at the Smithsonian Art Museum.

“Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” by James Hamilton (circa 1861), was on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in 2018. Photo by Bruce Wells.

In 2017, the Smithsonian museum acquired Hamilton’s “Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” circa 1861 (oil on paperboard, 22 inches by 16 1⁄8 inches, currently not on view).

“Rouseville, Pennsylvania, lay within a few miles of Titusville and Pithole City, two of the most famous boom towns in Pennsylvania ’s oil fields,” notes the museum label for the painting. “From 1859 until after the Civil War, new gushers brought investors, cardsharps, saloons, and speculators into these rural settlements. As quickly as they grew, however, the towns collapsed, often from the effects of fires like the one shown here.

In the 1860s, American industrialist John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) was in the thick of this oil boom, maneuvering to establish the Standard Oil Company. Rockefeller’s investments in railroads and refineries would make him one of America’s richest men, long after the wildcatters in the Pennsylvania fields had gone bust.”

Detail from "Burning Oil Well at Night" painting of Rouseville tragedy.

“Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” by James Hamilton, was acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

“Rouseville, Pennsylvania, lay within a few miles of Titusville and Pithole City, two of the most famous boom towns in Pennsylvania ’s oil fields,” notes the museum label for the painting. “From 1859 until after the Civil War, new gushers brought investors, cardsharps, saloons, and speculators into these rural settlements. As quickly as they grew, however, the towns collapsed, often from the effects of fires like the one shown here.

In the 1860s, American industrialist John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) was in the thick of this oil boom, maneuvering to establish the Standard Oil Company. Rockefeller’s investments in railroads and refineries would make him one of America’s richest men, long after the wildcatters in the Pennsylvania fields had gone bust.”

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Recommended Reading: Warren County (2015); Atlas of the oil region of Pennsylvania (1984); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000). 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Fatal Oil Well Fire of 1861.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-oil-well-fire. Last Updated: April 15, 2021. Original Published Date: April 29, 2013.

 
 

Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark

Petroleum company’s historic red Pegasus soars again in Dallas.

 

Mobil Oil’s Pegasus was perched on the famed Dallas, Texas, Magnolia building from 1934 until August 1999, when rust and structural issues forced its removal. On Jan. 1, 2000, a carefully crafted duplicate replaced it atop today’s Dallas Magnolia Hotel.

Thanks to its local popularity, the high-flying trademark returned to Dallas as the twin flying red horses — one on each side — and the duplicated red neon today glows bright. As 1999 dew to a close, the Mobil Oil Pegasus was painstakingly recreated by the American Porcelain Enamel Company of Dallas. 

Years later, a Dallas hotel restored much of the Magnolia building’s original Pegasus after finding its remains in a city-owned shed. The Omni Dallas Hotel funded the restoration, and in 2015 the red neon-edged symbol (now one-sided) was re-lit in front of the hotel on Lamar Street.

Detail of Mobil trademark Pegasus neon sign.

The rotating 35-foot by 40-foot Pegasus sign first beamed its red neon glow above a Dallas hotel in 1934.

Wherever seen today, the Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil) trademark has been a feature of Dallas since first welcoming attendees to a 1934 petroleum convention. It remains among the most well recognizable corporate symbols in American history.

Magnolia Petroleum

When the 400-foot-tall Magnolia Petroleum building opened in 1922, it was the city’s first skyscraper — and tallest building west of the Mississippi River. With 29 floors and seven elevators, the Magnolia building towered over the nearby Adolphus Hotel, built in 1913. It was designed by Sir Alfred Bossom of the United Kingdom in a “modified classical design.”

Postcard of Magnolia Building in Dallas with red Pegasus logo.

The Vacuum Oil Company trademarked the Pegasus logo in 1911 and by the 1930s was marketing Pegasus Motor Spirits and Mobiloil. Completed in 1922, the Magnolia Petroleum building was “a great peg driven into the ground holding Dallas in its place.”

The Magnolia also was the first high rise in the United States to have air conditioning, according to the management company that acquired the building in 1997. The restored lobby features a gold leaf decorative plaster and the original elevator doors engraved with the Pegasus logo. With much of the original architecture’s classical design and gold leaf restored in 1999, the Dallas Magnolia Hotel has become a “boutique hotel” blending its past with modern amenities.

high-flying trademark

More than 70 years old, this 11-foot Pegasus dominates the lobby of the Old Red Museum of the Dallas County History and Culture. The winged logo was originally displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair and later atop a Mobil gas station in Casa Linda in East Dallas.

After the 1922 opening, a local reporter described the Magnolia – which cost the oil company $4 million to build – as “a great peg driven into the ground holding Dallas in its place.” In 1925, when Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) acquired Magnolia Petroleum Company, the Dallas headquarters building was included. Nine years later Pegasus would land on the roof.

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Pegasus begins

The flying red horses began their journey in 1911, when a Vacuum Oil Company subsidiary in Cape Town, South Africa, first trademarked the Pegasus logo. Based in Rochester, New York, Vacuum Oil had built a successful petroleum lubricants business around an 1869 patent by its founder, Hiram Everest, long before gasoline was even a branded product.

Vacuum Oil Company's products used this gargoyle Mobiloil logo.

Vacuum Oil Company’s products used a gargoyle prior to adopting the winged horse of mythology.

At first, a stylized red gargoyle advertised the company, which produced early petroleum-based lubricants for horse-drawn carriages and steam engines. The Pegasus trademark proved to be a more enduring image. In Greek mythology, Pegasus – a winged horse – carried thunderbolts for Zeus.

By 1931 growth of the automobile industry expanded the Vacuum Oil product lineup to include Pegasus Spirits and Mobilgas – later simplified to Mobil. When Standard Oil of New York and Vacuum Oil combined to form Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, the new company adopted the familiar winged trademark, as does an affiliate, Magnolia Petroleum.

Certificate from Cape Town, South Africa, for Vacuum Oil Company of South Africa Limited.

The certificate from Cape Town, South Africa, notes that the “Vacuum Oil Company of South Africa Limited” is named “as proprietor of the Trade Mark represented above.” Image courtesy ExxonMobil Historical Collection/Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin.

It took a year to build the rotating 35-foot by 40-foot Pegasus sign. It first beamed its red neon glow in 1934, welcoming the first annual meeting to be held in Dallas by the American Petroleum Institute. For decades the emblem slowly rotated above the growing city as corporate consolidations and mergers changed Socony-Vacuum ownership.

In 1955, the name of the company changed to Socony Mobil Oil; in 1966 became just Mobil Oil. A neon Pegasus displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair found its way to a Mobil gas station in Casa Linda, Texas, and later to the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture — where it’s on exhibit today.

Project Pegasus

In 1974 the petroleum icon’s motor ground to a halt. Mobile Oil moved out of the Magnolia building three years later and sold the aging skyscraper and glowing but unmoving sign to the city of Dallas. Twenty-years later, Pegasus’ neon lights finally went out.

As a Denver-based developer restored and transformed the deteriorating Magnolia building into a luxurious 330 room hotel in the late 1990s, a group of patrons and corporate partners joined in to bring the broken and rusty Pegasus sign back to life. They raised more than $600,000 for the project.

The Project Pegasus team targeted New Year’s Eve of 1999 and dawn of the new millennium to reintroduce Dallas citizens to their petroleum heritage landmark. Restoration of the 8,000-pound sign proved challenging. The derrick-like tower structure was reparable and the old mechanical rotation system could be updated with new technology. But time and weather had damaged the porcelain coated steel signage and neon tubing. New 16-gauge steel panels had to be cut, using the originals as templates.

Only two facilities in the United States were large enough to accommodate baking the emblematic red porcelain onto the new panels; fortunately, both were in Dallas. More than 1,000 feet of new neon tubing was required to trace the familiar outlines as craftsmen and technicians remained faithful to the original.

high-flying trademark

A view of Pegasus in photographer Carolyn Brown’s 2004 book, Dallas: Where Dreams Come True.

The efforts of all were rewarded at midnight on December 31, 1999, when fireworks and millennium celebrations welcomed Pegasus back to the Dallas skyline.

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“You can’t tell the new one from the old one except for the fact that the faces are now red and not rusty,” explained one of the restorers (see Sign Makers Restore Historical Flying Red Horse). “We replaced every old piece with a new piece that was exactly the same as it was before.”

The Pegasus sign “is a beloved icon of the city of Dallas,” proclaimed Kay Kallos, public art manager in the Office of Cultural Affairs, which manages its maintenance. Mobil Oil merged with Exxon in 1999, creating today’s ExxonMobil, headquartered in Irving, Texas. Visit the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/high-flying-trademark. Last Updated: March 14, 2021. Original Published Date: March 14, 2010.

 

“Smokesax” Art has Pipeline Heart

Bob “Daddy-O” Wade used petroleum pipelines to create a Texas landmark.

 

Of about 2.5 million miles of U.S. energy pipelines, at least one small fraction has contributed to the arts, as an offbeat Texas sculptor demonstrated in 1993.

Many Texans have seen monumental sculptures of Bob “Daddy-O” Wade (1943-2019), who was known for “keeping it weird” since he arrived in Austin in 1961, according to Texas A&M University Press.

Bob "Daddy-O" Wade giant saxophone made from oil pipelines

Petroleum pipeline sections are part of the 1993 sculpture some call the largest (non-playable) saxophone in the world.

Remembered for artwork reflecting the spirit of Texas’ sense of scale, “Daddy-O” in 1993 completed a 63-foot tall saxophone sculpture at a nightclub on Houston’s west side.

Wade and his crew of three transformed two 48-inch-wide sections of steel pipeline into a free-standing sculpture supported by a 25-foot-deep pylon for the opening of Billy Blues Bar & Grill. The Fabulous Thunderbirds played at the restaurant’s February 20 gala as the crowd admired Wade’s pipeline artwork, which has the same width as the 800-mile-long Alaskan pipeline.

The giant sculpture also incorporated almost all of a Volkswagen, a surfboard, beer kegs, and other incongruous pieces to create a blue-painted saxophone, soon known around Houston as the “Smokesax.”

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Although deemed by the Houston City Council to be art and thus not subject to signage ordinances, it took arguments about the First Amendment to reach that decision; the “Smokesax” had been accused of violating Houston’s sign ordinance prohibiting advertising billboards taller than 40 feet.

“While embraced by the local art community, the Sax was targeted by the Houston Sign Administration as being in violation of the Houston Sign Code,” noted the trade publication Billboard Insider in 2018.

Bob "Daddy-O" Wade oil pipeline saxophone under construcion


Bob “Daddy-O” Wade used two 48-inch steel sections of pipeline and a Volkswagen to create his work of art.

The creative use of 48-inch-wide steel pipe was noted by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, which described artist Wade as a, “pioneer of Texas Funk and connoisseur of Southwestern kitsch.” Even musician Willie Nelson opined, “Now that I understand art, I realize what a genius Daddy-O Wade really is.”

Other notable Wade artwork includes 40-foot-tall cowboy boots outside the North Star Mall in San Antonio, and a 12-foot-tall iguana at the Ft. Worth Zoo’s animal hospital.

When Billy Blues Bar & Grill moved from Richmond Avenue to a new site in 2001, the future was uncertain for Houston’s pipeline pop art, declared by some as the largest (non-playable) saxophone in the world. After the club closed, the building stood empty for years, and the sculpture was neglected, as well as vandalized, noted one Houston blogger. But in 2000, Smokesax was restored, and the blue saxophone “once again stands proudly against the blue Texas sky.”

The iconic Austin sculpture left Richmond Avenue to ensure preservation; in 2013, Houston’s Orange Show Center for Visionary Art acquired Bob “Daddy-O” Wade’s 63-foot imaginative work, which today remains a petroleum industry milestone of modern art.

Also see Oil in Art.

Modern Pipeline Infrastructure

Oil and natural gas pipelines have been part of the petroleum industry since the earliest U.S wells. During the World War II, “Big Inch” pipelines with diameters of 24 inches and 20 inches connected prolific Texas oilfields with Chicago and East Coast refineries.

united states map of pipelines

The United States has almost 2.5 Million miles of oil and natural pipelines. Image courtesy U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Since starting operations in June 1977, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System has delivered more than 17.5 billion barrels of oil from North Slope and Prudhoe Bay oilfields(as of 2018). The pipeline’s maximum throughput was more than 2 million barrels of oil a day in 1988.

Giant storage tanks at Cushing, Oklahoma, in the late 2010s reached a capacity of 85 million barrels of oil, enhancing the town’s self-proclaimed status as “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.”

Since the 1990s, companies have used “in-line” tools to inspect for corrosion and other defects while the pipelines stay in use, according to the American Petroleum Institute. An electronic “smart pig,” introduced in 1965, became a now generic name for sophisticated in-line inspection tools that target defects with greater accuracy, API noted in 2001.

With construction debated and often controversial, by 2018 about 2.5 million of miles of petroleum pipelines operated daily as part of U.S. energy infrastructure.

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Recommended Reading: Daddy-O’s Book of Big-Ass Art (2020); Oil: From Prospect to Pipeline (1971) and Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993). Your Amazon purchases benefit 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 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: “’Smokesax’ Art has Pipeline Heart.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/smokesax-art-has-pipeline-heart. Last Updated: February 15, 2021. Original Published Date: February 18, 2019.

 

Seuss I am, an Oilman

Dr. Seuss once created zoological oddities for Esso products of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

 

Seuss the oilman? Thirty years before the Grinch stole Christmas in 1957, many strange and wonderful critters of the children’s book author were seen in Standard Oil advertising campaigns.

Early Dr. Seuss cartoon drawn for Esso lube product.

Few know that Theodor S. Geisel created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil for many years. This Standard Oil Company “Essolube” oil change card was issued between 1930 and 1940.

During the Great Depression, fanciful creatures drawn by the future Dr. Seuss promoted Essolube and other products for Standard Oil of New Jersey. He later said his experience at Standard, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

Seuss first cartoon for Flit bug spray ad.

Standard Oil’s “Flit” was a popular bug spray.

In the cartoon that launched his career, Theodor Seuss Geisel drew a peculiar dragon inside a castle. The January 14, 1928, issue of New York City’s Judge magazine featured the beast. Geisel would soon introduce America to many less threatening characters inhabiting his imaginative menagerie.

“Flit,” was a popular bug spray of the day – especially against flies and mosquitoes. It was one of many Standard Oil Company of New Jersey consumer products derived from petroleum. Late in 1927, Standard Oil’s growing advertising department, which had focused on sales of Standard and Esso gasoline, lubricating oil, fuel oil and asphalt, reorganized to promote other products, according to author Alfred Chandler Jr.

seuss the oilman Theodor Geisel sketches the Grinch

Dr. Seuss later said his experience working at Standard Oil helped him develop his fantastical characters and tales.

“Specialties, such as Nujol, Flit, Mistol, and other petroleum by-products that could not be effectively sold through the department’s sales organization were combined in a separate subsidiary – Stanco,” noted Chandler in his book, Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise. Chandler’s 1962 book also examined the organization of General Motors, Sears, Roebuck and Co., and E.I. du Pont de Nemours.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”

Geisel’s fortuitous bug-spray cartoon depicted a medieval knight in his bed, facing a dragon who had invaded his room, and lamenting, “Darn it all, another dragon. And just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit.”

According to the curators of the Dr. Seuss Collection at the University of California, San Diego, an anecdote in Judith and Neil Morgan’s 1995 book Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, the wife of the ad executive who handled the Standard Oil account saw the dragon cartoon. (more…)

Oil Town “Aero Views”

Cartographer artist visited new oil towns to create popular bird’s-eye views.

 

Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas at the turn of the century, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler created popular panoramic maps of many of America’s earliest petroleum boom towns. His cartographic depictions appeared to have been drawn from great heights.

Thaddeus Fowler panorama of Oil City, Pennsylvania, in 1896.

More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified. There are 324 in the Library of Congress, including this one of Oil City, Pennsylvania, in 1896. Source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.

Today, T.M. Fowler has the greatest number of hand-drawn panoramic maps in the collection of the Library of Congress. Lithographs of his cartography (done without a balloon) have fascinated people since the Victorian Age.

An 1896 M. Fowler panorama of Titusville, Pennsylvania,

An 1896 Fowler panorama of Titusville, Pennsylvania, where Edwin L. Drake launched the U.S. petroleum Industry in August 1859.

Panoramic maps were a popular cartographic form used to depict U.S. towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of what Fowler called “aero views” captured the small cities near America’s earliest oil and natural gas fields. (more…)

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