First Louisiana Oil Wells

Acadia Parish oil seeps inspired 1901 Jennings oilfield discovery.

 

The first Louisiana oil well discovered the giant Jennings field in 1901 and launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. Almost a quarter million wells would be drilled by 2014.

Nine months after the 1901 headline-making oil discovery at Spindletop, Texas, oil erupted 90 miles to the east. W. Scott Heywood – already successful wildcatter at Spindletop – drilled a well that revealed the Jennings oilfield.

Heywood’s September 21, 1901, Louisiana oil gusher initially produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day.

The widow of Louisiana's oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood," unveiled an historical marker in 1961.

Mrs. Scott Heywood, “the widow of Louisiana’s oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood,” unveiled an historical marker on September 23, 1951, as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Louisiana’s first commercial oil well came in on the Jules Clements farm about seven miles northeast of Jennings. Local investors earlier had formed the Jennings Oil Company and hired Scott, who recognized that natural gas seeps found nearby were nearly identical to the conditions observed at Spindletop.

Scott would insist on drilling deeper than many investors thought wise.

Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana.

The Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana on September 21, 1901. Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

“At the age 29, W. Scott Haywood was already a seasoned, experienced and successful explorer,” noted Scott Smiley, a  Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS) historian. “He had gone to Alaska in 1897 during the great Yukon gold rush, sinking a shaft and mining a profitable gold deposit.”

Haywood, who also had drilled several successful oil wells in California, was one of the first to reach Spindletop following news of the “Lucas Gusher” of January 10, 1901. Haywood eventually convinced the reluctant Clements to allow drilling in the farmer’s rice field. The Clements farm was at the small, unincorporated community of Evangeline in Acadia Parish, northeast of Jennings.

W. Scott Heywood, who drilled the first Louisiana oil well.

W. Scott Heywood

However, after drilling to 1,000 feet without finding oil or natural gas, the Jennings Oil Company’s investors wanted to abandon the first attempt.

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“After all, 1,000 feet had been deep enough to discover the tremendous oil gushers at Spindletop field,” explained Smiley in a 2001 history of the Jennings field. “Instead of drilling two wells to a depth of 1,000 feet each, Heywood persuaded the investors to change the contract to accept a single well drilled to a depth of 1,500 feet.”

More drilling pipe was brought in and the well deepened.

Deeper Drilling Pays Off

Heywood found signs of oil at a depth of 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors had sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, shares of the Jennings Oil Company still sold for as little as 25 cents each. Patient investors were rewarded when 7,000 barrels of oil per day suddenly erupted from the well.

“The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” reported the Jennings Daily News. 

Scott Haywood and his oil well drilling crew circa early 1900s

W. Scott Heywood (5) and Elmer Dobbins (3) — “one of the drillers of the original Spindletop discovery in Texas.” Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Although the Jules Clements No. 1 well is on only a 1/32 of an acre lease, it marked the state’s first oil production and launched the Louisiana petroleum industry. It opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks.

The Jennings oilfield reached its peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906. Meanwhile, an October 1905 discovery in northern Louisiana further expanded the state’s young petroleum industry (visit the Louisiana Oil Museum in aptly named Oil City).

Haywood returned to Alaska in 1908 on a big-game hunting trip. He retraced much of his travels to the Klondike gold fields, notes Smiley. “After a brief retirement in California, he returned to Jennings and drilled several wells at Jennings and elsewhere in Louisiana,” Smiley reports, adding the he also found success at the Borger and Panhandle oilfields in Texas.

“Heywood returned to Jennings in 1927 and assisted Gov. Huey P. Long in passing legislation to provide schoolbooks for children,” concluded the LGS geologist in Jennings Field – The Birthplace of Louisiana’s Oil Industry, September 2001.

Early 1900s scene of the Jennings oilfield of Louisiana.

Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Among the petroleum producing states in 2014, Louisiana ranked fourth in natural gas production and tenth in oil production. Cumulative number of wells drilled in Louisiana from the first year of production (1902 for oil, 1905 for natural gas) up to 2014 was 230,647, according to the IPAA 2014 Oil & Gas Producing Industry in Your State. Of those wells, 35 percent (80,907) were dry holes.

Editor’s Note – A retired professor challenged the date of Louisiana’s first commercial oil well during a 2011 presentation at Carnegie Library in Sulphur. Thomas Watson, PhD, “has uncovered evidence that the first producing oil well in Louisiana was at the Sulphur Mines in 1886,” noted an article in the Sulphur Daily News. “This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana.”

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Recommended Reading: Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012). 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 today. 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: “First Louisiana Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-louisiana-oil-well. Last Updated: September 19, 2021. Original Published Date: September 1, 2005.

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First Florida Oil Well

Humble Oil found oil in 1943, after desperate lawmakers offered a $50,000 bounty.

 

Among its petroleum history records, Florida’s first — but certainly not last — unsuccessful attempt to find commercially viable oil reserves began in 1901, not far from the Gulf Coast panhandle town of Pensacola. Two test wells, the first drilled to 1,620 feet and the second reaching 100 feet deeper, were abandoned.

Whether the wildcatter had followed science or intuition, contemporary accounts of his efforts reveal only a small footnote: Florida’s first two dry holes. Twenty years later, as U.S. petroleum demand soared, oil still had not been found in Florida. The state’s panhandle still looked promising, despite a growing number of failed drilling ventures.

first florida oil well oil pumps at Collier County Museum

Florida’s first oil well’s site is by present day Big Cypress Preserve in southwest Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the resort city of Naples.

Indian legends and a petroleum company’s stock promoter’s claim of oil inspired another attempt near what would later become Falling Waters Park, about 100 miles east of Pensacola. A steam-powered cable-tool rig with a wooden derrick drilled to a depth of 3,900 feet.

Brief signs of natural gas at the well excited area residents with a false report of a possible gusher. Undeterred, the exploration company continued to drill to 4,912 feet before finally giving up. No commercial amount of oil was found and the well was capped in 1921. Another Florida dry hole. (more…)

Indiana Natural Gas Boom

Abundant alternative to coal attracted late 19th century manufacturers.

 

Natural gas discoveries of the 1880s revealed the giant Trenton Field in Indiana, which extended into Ohio. New pipelines and abundant gas supplies would attract manufacturing industries to the Midwest — where small towns competed with cities to attract new industries. It was an Indiana natural gas boom too good to last.

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.  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. America’s first public street lamp used it to illuminate Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1817. Coal gas, also called manufactured gas, eventually would provide home illumination to almost five million U.S. customers.

Natural gas flambeaux light streets in Indiana, wasting the 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.

Although natural gas was known to burn much cleaner, hotter, and more efficiently than coal gas, pre-Civil War technology made handling it far too dangerous for commercial applications. When drilling for oil, natural gas was often found — a colorless, odorless, highly flammable and unwelcome hazard.

Drillers sought oil to send to refiners for distilling into kerosene, a safe and affordable lamp fuel. But while demand for kerosene built wooden derricks up and down the Allegheny River, and the coal gas business still prospered, natural gas was just an impediment.

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First Utah Oil Wells

Determination and deeper wells launched state’s petroleum industry in 1948.

After decades of expensive failed exploration attempts (a few small producers but mostly dry holes), the first significant Utah oil well was competed on September 18, 1948, in the Uinta Basin. The Ashley Valley No. 1 well, about 10 miles southeast of Vernal, produced about 300 barrels a day from a depth of 4,152 feet.

“The honor of bringing in the state’s first commercial oil well went not to the ‘Majors’ but to an ‘Independent’ — the Equity Oil Company,” noted a Utah historian in 1962.

 The Uinta Basin drilling courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

The Uinta Basin witnessed Utah’s first drilling boom following a 1948 oil discovery. A modern boom would return thanks to coalbed methane gas. Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society.

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First California Oil Wells

1876 Pico Canyon oil well brought pipelines, refineries, and Chevron.

 

Following an 1859 oil discovery in Pennsylvania, America’s early oil exploration companies began reaching the West Coast, attracted by California’s natural oil seeps. Some made small but historic discoveries of “black gold” soon after the Civil War. The state’s first gusher arrived in 1876 — and launched the California petroleum industry.

The Pico Canyon produced limited amounts of crude oil as early as 1855, but there was no market for the oil, which was found near oil seeps about 35 miles north of Los Angeles. But in northern California, an 1865 well near oil seeps in Humboldt County also could be considered the first California oil well.

Humboldt County Oil

Drilled by the Old Union Matolle Company soon after the end of the Civil War, the Humboldt County well produced oil near aptly named Petrolia and attracted early exploration companies to the oilfield.

A California historical marker (no. 543) dedicated on November 10, 1955 declared:

California’s First Drilled Oil Wells — California’s first drilled oil wells producing crude to be refined and sold commercially were located on the north fork of the River approximately three miles east of here. The Old Union Mattole Oil Company made its first shipment of oil from here in June 1865 to a San Francisco refinery. Many old well heads remain today.

Although the “Old Union well” initially yielded about 30 barrels of high quality oil, production declined to one barrel of oil day and the prospect was abandoned, according to K.R. Aalto, a geologist at Humboldt State University. (more…)

First Texas Oil Well

An 1866 well in Nacogdoches County, Texas, produced 10 barrels of oil.

Lyne Taliaferro Barret completed the first Texas oil well on September 12, 1866, west of the Sabine River. His Nacogdoches County discovery well did not produce commercial quantities of oil; it lay dormant for nearly two decades until others returned to Barret’s oilfield. 

In December 1859, less than four months after Edwin L. Drake’s first U.S. oil well drilled in Pennsylvania, a similarly determined petroleum explorer named Lyne (Lynis) Taliaferro Barret began searching in an East Texas area known as Oil Springs.

The 1848 invention of “coal oil” —  kerosene — had prompted demand for an illuminating lamp fuel made from oil, inspiring speculation and drilling. 

First Lone Star State Oil Discovery

Native Americans had long known of the eastern Texas natural seeps. Early settlers used oil for its purported medicinal benefit for both themselves and their livestock.

First Texas oil well rare map of east Texas oil well site

Lyne T. Barret leased land just east of Nacogdoches, an area known for its oil seeps. Detail from Texas & New Orleans Railroad map (1860) courtesy David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Lyne Barret’s interest in finding the newly prized resource was no doubt prompted by its lucrative $20 a barrel selling price.  He joined the chase for petroleum riches, but prudently continued to operate his successful mercantile partnership in Melrose.
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