George Bissell’s Oil Seeps

Businessman founded first U.S. oil exploration company, launched new industry.


The stage was set in 1854 for the start of America’s petroleum industry when a lumber company sold 105 acres along a creek with oil seeps.

oil seeps oil map of Vanago County PA

Kerosene for lamps will replace the medicinal “Seneca Oil” product from an historic Pennsylvania oil seep.

On November 10, 1854, the lumber firm Brewer, Watson & Company sold a parcel of land at the junction of the east and west branches of Oil Creek southeast of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The buyers were George Bissell and Jonathan Eveleth.

Earlier, Joel Angier (a future mayor of Titusville) had collected and sold medicinal “Seneca Oil” from an oil seep on acreage near the company’s sawmill.

Kerosene Lamp Fuel

Bissell and his partners strongly believed oil could be used to produce kerosene for lamps (a safer fuel than the popular but volatile camphene).

If inexpensive to produce, oil refined into kerosene could compete with kerosene popularly known as coal oil. Bissell hired a scientist friend – a professor at Yale – to conduct early experiments. (more…)

Indiana Natural Gas Boom

Alternative turn-of-the-century fuel for manufacturers.


A series of major Indiana natural gas discoveries in the late 1880s revealed the Trenton Field, which extended across the state into Ohio. New pipelines and abundant gas supplies soon attracted manufacturing industries to the Midwest.

Indiana natural gas flambeaux were bright but wasted gas

Indiana lawmakers banned “flambeaux” lights in 1891, becoming one of the first states to legislate conservation. Photo of Findlay during its 1888 Gas Jubilee courtesy Hancock Historical Museum.

Discoveries of natural gas in Eaton and Portland quickly ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom. New exploration and production will dramatically change the state’s economy.

Replacing Manufactured Gas

In 1859, the same year that “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake drilled the country’s first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, there already were almost 300 “manufactured gas” (known as coal gas) companies in the 33 United States. Coal gas was produced in a distillation process that extracted it from wood or coal. After further purification, coal gas was distributed via low-pressure street mains to consumers.

Coal gas, also called manufactured gas, provided home illumination to almost five million customers. (more…)

World-Famous “Wild Mary Sudik”

It would take “clever equipment” to control this 1930 headline-making Oklahoma City gusher.


The 1930 geyser of “black gold” was ideal for Hollywood newsreels as the worst of the Great Depression loomed. NBC Radio rushed to cover efforts to control the “Wild Mary Sudik” blow-out and gusher. Within a week the struggle to contain the Oklahoma City oilfield well made headlines worldwide.

Wild Mary Sudik oil gusher seen in 1 1930 panorama photo

“Wild Mary Sudik” newsreels soon appeared in theaters around the country. When the well was brought under control, crews recovered 200,000 barrels of oil from pits and ponds.

The Mary Sudik No. 1 well had erupted after striking a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath the Sudik farm. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control.

The well produced an astonishing 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day – too much for the drilling technologies of the day. Efforts to tame “Wild Mary” became a public sensation. The attempts were regularly featured in newsreels and on radio, according to Oklahoma Journeys, an audio program of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

“At about 6:30 the morning of March 26, 1930, the crew of roughnecks drilling a well on the property of Vincent Sudik paused in their work,” the program begins about the well, which is near I-240 and Bryant Street in present day Oklahoma City. “The tired drillers had been waiting for daylight to continue their work,” the audio tape notes.

wild mary sudik

Experts control the well with “a clever ball-shaped contrivance” that lowers a two-ton “overshot” cap.

The crew was unfamiliar with the formation’s hazards, explains narrator Michael Dean, who says that after drilling to 6,471 feet, they overlooked signs of a dangerous pressure increase in the well.

“The exhausted crew failed to fill the hole with mud,” he reports. “They didn’t know the Wilcox Sand formation was permeated with natural gas under high pressure, and within minutes that sand under so much pressure found a release.”

The drilling crew was caught off guard when oil and natural gas suddenly “came roaring out of the hole,” Dean adds.

“Pipe stems were thrown hundreds of feet into the air like so many tooth picks. First there was gas then the flow turned green gold and then black,” he reports. “Oil shot hundreds of feet into the air, and for the next eleven days, the Mary Sudik ran wild.”

“Wild Mary Sudik” Daily Updates

On April 6, Floyd Gibbons of NBC Radio – who broadcast regularly about the well – reported that after two unsuccessful attempts, the well was closed with a two-ton “overshot” cap.

An Associated Press article described the “clever equipment” required to control the well without sparking a fire – a “double die was screwed into four inches of casing threads…a clever ball-shaped contrivance, called a fantail, was used to affix the double die to the casing.”

The fantail was placed over the well, “and the ‘Wild Mary’s’ pressure, playing through jets in the contrivance, aided in lowering the cap through the blast,” the article explained. “With the petroleum geyser halted, operators in the field drew sighs of relief,” it concluded. “A stray spark from two clanking pieces of steel and the territory might have become a raging inferno.”

With the well was brought under control and the danger of fire eliminated, drilling continues at a frantic pace elsewhere in Oklahoma City.  But the extremely high-pressure of the Wilcox sands formation continued to challenge drillers and the industry technologies.

A Wild Mary Sudik article in the Southwest Missourian newspaper reported: Oklahoma City, April 7 – A gas well, estimated to be producing at a rate of 75,000,000 cubic feet a day, blew in at the edge of the city today, creating a new fire threat less than 24 hours after the wild No. 1 Mary Sudik gusher, several miles to the south, had been brought under control.

Recognizing the risks of drilling into the Wilcox sand, Oklahoma City passed additional ordinances for safety and well spacing in the city. The first ram-type blowout preventer had been patented by James Abercrombie in 1926, but many high-pressure oilfields would take time to tame.

Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park in Oklahoma City oilfield

The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City includes the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park. Photo by Bruce Wells.

In December 1933, Abercrombie patented a greatly improved blowout preventer that would help set a new standard for safe drilling during the Oklahoma City oilfield boom.

Visitors today can see the valve that split in half and view newsreel film of the Wild Mary Sudik in the oil and gas and natural resources on exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center.

There also is the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park with drilling and production equipment at the center, located on N.E. 23rd Street just east of the state capitol building.



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 © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “World-Famous Wild Mary Sudik.” Author: Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: March 23, 2020. Original Published Date: March 24, 2013.


Oil Boom at Pithole Creek

The beginning of a new industry’s infrastructure.


Discoveries at Pithole Creek created a famous but short lived Pennsylvania boom town for the U.S. petroleum industry, which began with Edwin Drake’s 1859 well drilled in nearby Titusville. Some claim an 1865 well at Pithole Creek was America’s first oil gusher.

In 1864, Ian Frazier already was a successful businessman after finding oil at Cherry Creek, Pennsylvania. After earning $250,000, he looked for another opportunity in the hills and valleys becoming known for providing oil to Pittsburgh kerosene refineries.

Frazier hired a diviner to search along Pithole Creek, which smelled like “sulfur and brimstone,” according to one historian. “He went to the creek and followed the diviner around until the forked twig dipped, pointing to a specific spot on the ground,” notes Douglas Wayne Houck.

pithole creek giant wooden oil storage tanks

Tanks holding oil in Pithole, Pennsylvania. In 1865, Samuel Van Syckel will build the first oil pipeline, a two-inch iron line linking the Frazier well to a railroad station about five miles away. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

America’s First Oil Gusher

Although Frazier’s United States Oil Company’s steam powered, cable-tool derrick first drilled a dry hole,  a second well erupted spectacularly on January 7, 1865, producing 650 barrels of oil a day. The Frazier well, which Houck calls the first U.S. oil gusher, brought  a flood of drillers and speculators to Pithole Creek. Two more wells blew in on January 17 and 19, each flowing at about 800 barrels a day.

The Titusville Herald proclaimed Pithole as having “probably the most productive wells in the oil region of Pennsylvania, Houck writes in his 2014 book, Energy & Light in Nineteenth-Century Western New York. Frazier’s United State Oil Company subdivided its property and began selling lots for $3,000 for a half-acre plot. Fortunes were being made and lost in the oil region. See the cautionary tale of the Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.”

As the news spread through Venango County, “everyone came to the Pithole area to try their luck,” noted one reporter. Many were Confederate and Union war veterans. And as more successful wells came in, about 3,000 teamsters rushed to Pithole to haul out the growing number of oil barrels. It was hard to keep up. By May of 1865, the town is home to 15,000 people, 57 hotels, many homes, shops, and its own daily newspaper. It has the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania – handling 5,500 pieces of mail a day.

pithole creek diorama of hotels and businesses and muddy streets

Managed by the Drake Well Museum, the Pithole Visitors Center includes a diorama of the vanished boom town.

“Many factors fueled the Pithole oil boom,” explains an article at Scripophily, a company marketing to collectors who buy and sell historic stock certificates.
“The end of the Civil War found the country flooded with paper currency whose holders were anxious to invest and make more money. Thousands of soldiers had been discharged from the army,” notes the article.

Many veterans wanted jobs, others wanted to make a fortune quickly after having spent long months on army pay. “The speculative bubble of 1864 and 1865 was at its peak,” the article reports.

pithole creek

Today, visitors can walk the grassy paths of Pithole’s former streets and see vintage equipment, including antique steam boilers. Volunteers “mow the streets.” Photo by Bruce Wells.

First Oil Pipeline

As Pithole’s oil tanks overflowed and fires increased, Samuel Van Syckel conceived a solution many today consider an engineering marvel.

In 1865, his newly formed Oil Transportation Association put into service a two-inch iron line linking the Frazier well to the Miller Farm Oil Creek Railroad Station – about five miles away.

“The day that the Van Syckel pipe-line began to run oil a revolution began in the business. After the Drake well it is the most important event in the history of the Oil Regions,” noted Ida Tarbell in her History of the Standard Oil Company.

With 15-foot welded joints and three 10-horsepower Reed and Cogswell steam pumps, the pipeline transported 80 barrels of oil per hour – the equivalent of 300 teamster wagons working for ten hours. With their livelihoods threatened, teamsters attempted to sabotage the pipeline, until armed guards intervened.

Unfortunately for Syckel, Pithole oil storage tanks continued to catch fire even as the Frazier well production began to decline. Other wells were beginning to run dry when in 1866 fires spread out of control and burned 30 buildings, 30 oil wells and 20,000 barrels of oil. “Pithole’s days were numbered,” concludes historian Houck. “Buildings were taken down and carted off. A few people hung around until 1867.”

 plaque on the grounds of the Drake Well Museum

The American Petroleum Institute in 1959 dedicated a plaque on the grounds of the Drake Well Museum as part of the U.S. oil centennial.

From beginning to end, America’s famous oil boom town had lasted about 500 days. Pithole was  added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 20, 1973.

Today, a visitors’ center added in 1975 is maintained by the Drake Well Museum. The center contains exhibits, including a scale model of the city at its peak and a small theater.

Volunteers “mow the streets” on the hillside so that tourists can stroll where the petroleum boom town once flourished. Among the oil region’s early – and most infamous – investors was John Wilkes Booth. Learn more in the Dramatic Oil Company.



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 © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: March 16, 2020. Original Published Date: March 15, 2014.


Seminole Oil Boom

Although the area’s first discoveries came at Wewoka in 1923 and Cromwell in 1924, the long hoped-for giant oilfield arrived in 1926.


Many historic oil and natural gas discoveries followed the Indian Territory’s first oil well drilled at Bartlesville in 1897, especially after statehood came a decade later. Few of these discoveries had the tremendous economic impact as the greater area Seminole oil boom of the 1920s. 


Although oil from the 1897 Bartlesville discovery could not get to refineries for two years (a lack of infrastucture), the first Oklahoma oil well brought more exploration. Other major discoveries soon arrived, including the Red Fork Gusher of 1901, which helped in Making Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World.”  (more…)

Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well

Cumberland County Pioneers drilled for brine, found oil, bottled and sold it as medicine.

An 1829 spring-poled well seeking brine found oil instead. Petroleum from Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well would be bottled and sold for medicinal purposes. Also known as the Old American Well, the discovery was among the earliest commercial oil wells in the United States.