First Florida Oil Well

Humble Oil and Refining Company discovered an oilfield in 1943 — earning a $50,000 bounty.


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

First New Mexico Oil Wells

Giant oilfield discovery at Hobbs in 1928 launched the New Mexico petroleum industry.

“It was desolate country – sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits. Hobbs was a store, a small school, a windmill, and a couple of trees.” — New Mexico roughneck.

Although the Hobbs discovery came six years after the first oil production (seven years after the first natural gas well), petroleum geologists soon called it the most important single oil find in New Mexico history. 

The Midwest State No. 1 well — spudded in late 1927 using a standard cable-tool rig — saw its first signs of oil from the giant oilfield at depth of 4,065 feet on June 13, 1928. It had been a long  journey. (more…)

First California Oil Wells

Pico Canyon oilfield brought pipelines, refineries and Chevron.

After the 1859 first commercial U.S. oil discovery in Pennsylvania, America’s earliest petroleum exploration companies were attracted to California’s natural oil seeps. Small but promising discoveries of “black gold” following the Civil War led to the state’s first gusher in 1876 — and the launching of the California petroleum industry.

Pico Canyon, less than 35 miles north of Los Angeles, produced limited amounts of crude oil as early as 1855, but there was no market for the oil, which was produced near natural oil seeps. The first California oil boom arrived a decade later in the northern part of the state — drilled near seeps.

Humboldt County Oil

Completed in 1865 by the Old Union Matolle Company, the Humboldt County oil well produced near the aptly named Petrolia. The oilfield discovery quickly attracted some of America’s earliest exploration companies.

Detail of a 1908 Humboldt County Oil Ma" that includes post-Civil War wells that attracted more drilling and commercial wells by 1892.

Detail of a 1908 “Map of Humboldt County Oil Lands” includes post-Civil War commercial oil wells that attracted more drilling to northern California. Map courtesy Humboldt County Map Collection, Cal Poly Humboldt Library Special Collection.

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.

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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.

The Humboldt County well in what became the oilfield, “attracted interest and investment among oilmen because of the abundance of oil and gas seeps throughout that region,” Aalto noted in his 2011 article in Oil-Industry History. But the California petroleum industry truly began to the south, at Pico Canyon Oilfield, a few miles west of Newhall.

Pico Canyon Well No. 4

In Pico Canyon of the Santa Susana Mountains, Charles Mentry of the California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells in 1875 and 1876 that showed promise. The first West Coast oil gusher arrived with his fourth well and helped established a major oil company.

Pico Well No. 4 in 1877, and early California oil well.

The steam boiler and cable-tools, including the “walking beam,” of Pico Well No. 4 in 1877. Photo by Carleton Watkins courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Drilling with a steam-powered cable-tool rig in an area known for its many oil seeps, Mentry discovered the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. California’s first truly commercial oil well, the Pico Well No. 4 gusher of September 26, 1876, prompted more development, including pipeline construction and an oil refinery for producing kerosene.

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According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the well initially produced 25 barrels a day from 370 feet. Mentry improvised many of his cable tools, including making a drill-stem out of old railroad-car axles he welded together.

“The railroad had not then been completed, there was no road into the canyon, water was almost unattainable, and there were no adequate tools or machinery to be had,” noted the Times article.

Newhall Refinery

California Star Oil Works deepened the well to 560 feet, increasing daily production by 125 barrels, and constructed its pipeline from Pico Canyon to the newly built refinery in Newhall, just south of Santa Clarita.

California commercial oil refinery, circa 1880s.

By 1880, California’s first commercial refinery processed oil from its first commercial oil well to make kerosene and other products. Photo courtesy the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

Newhall’s Pioneer Refinery on Pine Street would become the first successful commercial refinery in the West, producing kerosene and lubricants. Giant stills set on brick foundations included two capable of producing 150 barrels a day each. The city of Santa Clarita received California’s first successful refinery as a gift from Chevron in 1997.

The Santa Clarita refinery, today preserved as a tourist attraction, is among the oldest in the world. The major oil company can trace its beginnings to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil well, which has been designated a historic site by the California Office of Historic Preservation.

Birth of Chevron

Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, in 1900 acquired Pacific Coast Oil Company. Pacific Coast had become majority owner of California Star Oil Works in 1879.

California’s first refinery facility, donated to Santa Clara by Chevron in 1997.

Santa Clarita acquired California’s first refinery as a gift from Chevron in 1997. It is one of the oldest existing oil refinery sites in the world. Photo by Konrad Summers.

Charles Mentry is remembered by a small town a short distance from the 1876 Pico Canyon discovery well, Mentryville. Visit the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society website to learn more history about Pico Canyon oil production. About 35 miles south of Pico Canyon, a gold prospector discovered the massive Los Angeles field in 1892. 

Learn more in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

Refining Kerosene for Lamps

 California’s commercial refineries were among the first in America, where the industry began with small refineries in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, producing kerosene for lamps. The oil came from Titusville area oilfields — and a giant 1871 field discovered at Bradford, about 70 miles to the northeast. 

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The Bradford oilfield, which became known as America’s “first billion dollar oil field,” remains home to the American Refining Group. The historic field’s first well produced just 10 barrels a day from 1,110 feet.

By 1875. Bradford leases reached as high as $1,000 per acre. A decade later, a sudden decline in the oilfield’s production led to a technological breakthrough. Pioneers in the new science of petroleum geology suggested that water pressure on oil sands could be used to increase oil production — “waterflooding” the geologic formation.

Oldest operating U.S. oil refinery in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

The oldest operating U.S. oil refinery began in 1881 in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

In Neodesha, Kansas, the Norman No. 1 well of 1892 well revealed a petroleum-rich geologic region that would extend across Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. Standard Oil built a refinery in Neodesha in 1897 that refined 500 barrels of oil a day. Standard was the first to process oil from the giant Mid-Continent field (learn more in Kansas Well reveals Mid-Continent).

As of January 1, 2022, there were 130 operable petroleum refineries in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), down from 141 refineries in 2017.

An 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansa.

Built in 1897, a Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, refined 500 barrels of oil per day – the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. From “Kansas Memory” collection of the Kansas Historical Society.

For an investigation into which California oil well was the first, see this 2011 SearchReSearch blog of Dan Russell.

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Learn more California petroleum history in the Signal Hill Oil Boom.


Recommended Reading: California State University, Dominguez Hills (2010); Pico Canyon Chronicles: The Story of California’s Pioneer Oil Field (1985). 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 (AOGHS) 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information: Article Title: “First California Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: September 19, 2023. Original Published Date: September 9, 2015.

First Louisiana Oil Wells

Acadia Parish oil seeps inspired 1901 Jennings oilfield discovery.


The first Louisiana oil well in 1901 revealed the giant Jennings field and launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. By 1911, offshore exploration included barges, floating pile drivers, and drilling platforms on Caddo Lake. 

Nine months after the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, oil erupted 90 miles to the east in Louisiana. W. Scott Heywood — already a successful wildcatter at Spindletop — drilled the discovery well of the Jennings oilfield. His September 21, 1901, gusher initially produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day.

Louisiana’s first commercial oil well was completed on the Jules Clements farm, about seven miles northeast of the small town of Jennings.

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.

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.

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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 January 1901, oilfield discovery. Haywood eventually convinced the reluctant Clements to allow drilling in the farmer’s Acadia Parish rice field. The Clements farm was at the small, unincorporated community of Evangeline, northeast of Jennings.

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

W. Scott Heywood discovered Louisiana’s Jennings field.

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).

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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 geologist in Jennings Field – The Birthplace of Louisiana’s Oil Industry, September 2001.

Circa early 1900s photo of Jennings oilfield courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Rapid development of the Jennings oilfield in the the early 1900s led to new conservation laws. A lack of spacing regulations forced “each leaseholder to drill their own well to prevent the draining of oil from the lease by an adjacent well.” Circa early 1900s photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

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 the Sulphur Daily News.

“This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana,” Watson reported.

Offshore Caddo Lake

Gulf Refining Company in 1911 drilled Ferry Lake No. 1 on Caddo Lake, Louisiana, using a fleet of tugboats, barges, and floating pile drivers. When the first well produced 450 barrels of oil per day, Gulf constructed platforms every 600 feet on each 10-acre lakebed (see Offshore Drilling History).

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Along with wells on a lake in Ohio, the Caddo Lake wells have been called the birth of America’s offshore drilling industry. Oil was produced from platforms on Grand Lake St. Marys as early as early as 1887 (see Ohio Offshore Wells).


Recommended Reading: Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012); Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982). 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 (AOGHS) 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 Copyright © 2023 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: Last Updated: September 16, 2023. Original Published Date: September 1, 2005.

First Utah Oil Wells

Persistence and deeper wells launched Utah’s petroleum industry in 1948.


After decades of expensive failed exploration attempts (and a few small producers), 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.

 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.


Indiana Natural Gas Boom

Abundant late-19th century natural gas supplies attracted manufacturers away from coal.


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 near the Indiana towns of Eaton and Portland quickly ignited a drilling boom. Petroleum exploration and production would change the state’s economy as provided a new energy source for manufacturers. 

Coal Gas

By 1859, the same year that Edwin L. Drake drilled the country’s first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, almost 300 “coal gas” companies operated in the 33 United States.

Coal gas was produced in a distillation process that extracted it from wood or coal. After further purification, the gas was distributed via low-pressure street mains to consumers. America’s first public street lamp used this manufactured gas to illuminate Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1817. Coal gas eventually would illuminate the homes of almost five million U.S. customers. (more…)

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