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The astute Pennsylvania businesswoman’s manufacturing plant included a dozen cheaply built and unpainted wood buildings.

In 1899, Mary Byron Alford, the “Only Woman in the World who Owns and Operates a Dynamite Factory,” prospered in the midst of America’s first billion-dollar oilfield. Mrs. Alford’s nitroglycerin factory cooked 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerin every day.

Penn-Brad Museum Historical Oil Well Park and Museum Director Sherri Schulze in 2005 exhibited a laminated (though wrinkled) page from a newspaper published in 1899. “This was done by a student many years ago,” she said. “It was a school project done by one of Mrs. Alford’s descendants.”

Read the rest of this entry »

1928 Hobbs oilfield discovery arrives six years after state’s first well.

New Mexico Oil Discovery

Spectacular production from the New Mexico oilfield encouraged further exploration. The 1928 discovery well brought prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs, named for James Hobbs, who homesteaded there in 1907. Photo courtesy HobbsHistory.com

New Mexico Oil Discovery

The Midwest State No. 1 – discovery well for the Hobbs oilfield – is commemorated with a cable-tool rig placed there in 1952 by the American Petroleum Institute.

“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 it arrived six years after the state’s first oil well, many soon called it the most important single oil discovery 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 Hobbs oilfield at 4,065 feet on June 13, 1928. It had been a long  journey.

“Finding commercial amounts of oil in southeastern New Mexico presented geologists with a perplexing problem in 1928 because the land was too flat,” noted an article in the Midland Reporter-Telegram. Read the rest of this entry »

Businessman will launch U.S. oil industry to make kerosene for lamps.


oil seeps

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

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.

On November 10, 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Sky above “Smoky City” cleared as manufacturers switched from coal.


pennsylvania natural gas

A marker on Route 22 at Murrysville, Pennsylvania, commemorates the Haymaker brother’s historic natural gas well of 1878.

In 1878, the Haymaker brothers discovered a Pennsylvania natural gas field near Pittsburgh – and laid the foundation for many modern petroleum companies.

Like many young men of their time, Michael Haymaker and his younger brother Obediah had left their Westmoreland County farm to seek their fortunes in Pennsylvania’s booming petroleum industry.

The brothers first found work as drillers for oilman Israel Painter, who had brought in wells a few miles north of Oil City in Venango County – not far from Edwin L. Drake’s 1859 discovery less than 20 years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »

The future Toledo mayor patents “Coupling for Pipes or Rods” in 1893.

Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Samuel M. Jones photo circa 1904 by Ernest Crosby, courtesy Clarence Darrow Digital Collection, University of Minnesota Law Library.

Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio made a fortune in oilfields, patented a sucker rod design, created a better workplace for employees at his factory, and ran on the progressive Republican ticket in 1897 to be elected mayor of Toledo.

As the country weathered an 1890s financial crisis, Jones brought a new business philosophy to Toledo. Immensely popular, he was reelected again in 1899, 1901 and 1903 – and served until dying on the job in 1904.

“Golden Rule” Jones, according to one Toledo historian, was the “best known, best liked and best hated mayor of all time who tried to govern a city by the one and only rule by which he governed his factory.” His principle was simple: “Therefore Whatsoever Ye Would That Men Should Do Unto You, Do Ye Even So Unto Them.”

Long before his political career as a progressive reformer, Jones had worked in newly discovered Pennsylvania and Ohio oilfields. He had visited many boom towns, including the infamous Pithole (1865), before returning to Ohio to found the Acme Sucker Rod Company in 1892. Jones first earned his nickname when he posted the biblical admonition for his factory employees.

An advocate of eight-hour workdays to increase employment opportunities, Jones introduced higher wages, paid vacations, and five percent bonuses.

Lima Oilfield Discovery

Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of about 1,250 feet,” according to the Allen County Historical Society, in Lima, adding that Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company. “The ensuing rush brought speculators who drilled hundreds of wells in the Trenton Rock (Lima) oilfield that stretched from Mercer County north through the Wood County in Ohio and west to Indiana.”Southwest of Toledo, between Findlay and Lima, the “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio had begun on May 19, 1885. A cable-tool driller looking for natural gas found oil instead. Benjamin Faurot’s discovery revealed the Lima oilfield, soon to be the largest in the world.

By 1886, the Lima field was the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it became to most productive worldwide.

Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Following an 1885 discovery well, a circa 1909 post card promoted petroleum prosperity in Lima, Ohio.

“The great enterprise of piping oil from the Lima fields to Chicago manufacturing establishments is now, in this year of 1888, being undertaken by the Standard Oil Company, who practically control all the oil territory around Lima,” noted one reporter at the time.

“Production from the Ohio portion of the Lima-Indiana field reach its peak in 1896, when more than 20 million barrels were brought out of the ground,” continues the county historical society.

The new, innovative pipeline will be 210 miles long. Lima oil will light the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which attracts 27.5 million visitors.

Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Benjamin Faurot’s 1885 oil well at the Ottawa River discovered the Lima oilfield after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation. Photo courtesy the Ohio Historical Society.

“Though short-lived, the oil rush brought an influx of people, pipelines, refineries, and businesses, giving a powerful impetus to the growth of northwest Ohio,” concluded the Allen County Historical Society, which in 2006 placed a Faurot historical marker near the oil well in Lima. Among those attracted to Lima’s oil boom was the progressive employer and future mayor of Toledo.

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans were bewildered when the stock market suddenly plummeted, Wall Street brokerage houses collapsed, and more than 500 banks and mortgage companies failed. Jobs evaporated as 15,000 businesses went bankrupt, foreclosures rose and nationwide joblessness reached 10 percent. “Hundreds of thousands of men thrown out of employment,” reported New York’s Commercial and Financial Chronicle. It was 1893.

 Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

In 2006, the Ohio Historical Society dedicated a Faurot oil well marker at 835 East North Street in Lima.

According to historian Richard Timberlake Jr., the “Panic of 1893” was a serious economic depression in the United States. Like a similar nationwide financial collapse two decades earlier, it was marked by the overbuilding and shaky financing of railroads, resulting in a series of bank failures.

Against this dismal backdrop, the 47-year-old Jones returned from the Pennsylvania oil patch and opened his Toledo sucker rod business in an abandoned factory on Segur Avenue. Jones will be remembered as Toledo’s mayor who brought his town a renewed sense of community and reform as the late 19th century’s “Gilded Age” came to its abrupt end.

Jones catches Oil Fever in Pennsylvania

Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Among those who rushed to the Ohio oil boom, Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones founded the Acme Sucker Rod Company in 1892. Photo courtesy Bowling Green State University Archives.

Born in Wales in 1846, Samuel Jones was in Ohio by age 19 and had four years experience as a “greaser and wiper” on the stern-wheeler L.R. Lyon. He got oil fever in 1865 when he abandoned his ambition to become a Ohio steamboat engineer after his boss told him about neighboring Pennsylvania’s booming oilfields.

“Sammy, you are a fool to spend your time on these steamboats. You should go to the oil regions,” his boss told him, adding, “You can make $4 a day there.”

Jones followed the advice and his experience with steam boilers eventually landed him a job with the St. Louis & Pithole Petroleum Company – in the notorious town of Pithole. Discovered in January 1865, the Pithole Creek field created a massive oil boom town for the young petroleum industry, which began in nearby Titusville in 1859.

“Golden Rule” Jones

Jones’ progressive ideals remain popular. Photo courtesy of Jupmode, Toledo, Ohio.

Many Civil War veterans wanted jobs, others wanted to make a fortune quickly after having spent long months on army pay. Hundreds of newly organized companies were ready to lease or buy land wherever there was even a promise of oil.

Pithole was as legendary for its wickedness as it is for its rapid rise and fall. Jones’ Calvinist upbringing and 12 hour shifts in the oilfield left him little time for the boom town’s debauchery. Jones’ working experience with Pithole’s squalor and desperation left an indelible mark. His empathy for working men remained with him forever.

St. Louis & Pithole Petroleum failed within weeks of Jones being hired and he again found himself looking for work. He spent a year and a half working in northwestern Pennsylvania’s petroleum region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer.

But Jones – like countless others at the time – lost his meager savings when he bought a one-sixteenth interest in a wildcat well that came up dry. Staying in Pennsylvania, Jones eventually settled in Pleasantville, about a dozen miles from Titusville. He spent five years working alongside other oil patch laborers in Parker’s Landing oilfield.

Finally, a successful $700 investment in western Clarion County oil leases brought Jones a measure of success. By 1878, he was able to secure more good leases in the prolific Bradford field. Jones was 32 years old. Eight years later, he followed oil discoveries to Lima.

Jones find Good Fortune in Ohio Oilfields

Jones invested in a Lima oilfield well that produced with an initial flow of 700 barrels of oil a day. In the first three months, his well flowed over 14,000 barrels – with Standard Oil buying all production at 40 cents per barrel. Jones and other independents resisted Standard Oil’s growing monopoly by forming the Ohio Oil Company – today’s Marathon. He became very wealthy when he left the company when Standard took it over two years later. The Panic of 1893 began just before Jones claimed his first patent.

With his “Coupling for Pipes or Rods,” Jones applied his almost 40 years experience in oil industry mechanics to solve the frequent and time-consuming problem of broken sucker rods, which push and pull a down-hole pump to bring up the oil. The design was a great innovation. It soon would make Jones a millionaire, create jobs, and establish the Acme Sucker Rod Company factory in Toledo. But as the financial panic worsened, Jones was appalled by the long lines of unemployed and the threats of dismissal that punctuated many factories “string of rules a yard long.”

Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Prior to patenting his sucker rod design in 1894, Samuel Jones worked Pennsylvania’s oil region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer.

Alternately labelled as progressive, eccentric, socialist, independent, and anti-capitalist, Jones looked out for workers in an age of big business.

On his factory’s entrance he posted, “Every Man who is WILLING to work, Has a Right to Live. Divide the Day and Give Him a Chance.”

This and his shortening of the work day only added to his “Golden Rule” Jones reputation.

“Even more astounding, Mr. Jones developed a revenue-sharing program for his workers, provided health insurance, and subsidized hot meals in the Acme cafeteria,” explains George J. Tanber in a 1999 article for the Toledo Blade.

Unlike other companies, which had a long list of regulations and requirements for their employees, Jones posted only one rule on his company’s notice board, Tanber writes in the December 15 article, “City Flourished Under Golden Rule of Jones.”

Next to his sucker rod factory Jones built Golden Rule Park, “where his employees could exercise or relax – and where the employee ensemble, the Golden Rule Band, could entertain.”

 Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Jones is buried in Toledo’s Woodlawn Cemetery, founded in 1876.

Jones’ initiatives soon drew him into the contentious world of late 19th century politics where his belief in reform made him popular.

“In time it became clear that Mr. Jones was using Acme as a model for social change, and that he would soon apply his method to city politics,” Tanber explains.

In 1897, Jones received the Republican party’s nomination for Toledo mayor. Although the party refused to nominate Jones in 1899, he still ran and easily won reelection with 70 percent of the vote.

Jones remained a popular reformer until his last day on the job in 1904 when he died at age 58 . Five thousand people attended his funeral.

Jones’ biographers note his early years in tough oil patch towns like Pithole profoundly influenced both his business practices and his philosophy in politics. Jones himself wryly observed that most manufacturers kept about eight dollars out of every 10 their employees earned for them. “I keep only about seven and so they call me ‘Golden Rule’ Jones.”



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio. Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/golden-rule-jones-of-ohio. Last Updated: October 28, 2019.

Early exploration companies overcame many challenges to develop the state’s vast petroleum resources. 


Tales of a Wyoming “tar spring” would inspire experienced Pennsylvanian Mike Murphy to drill a shallow well in 1883. He sold his oil to Union Pacific to lubricate train axles. Then came Civil War veteran Philip Shannon, who in 1890 explored oil seeps at Salt Creek outside of Casper. His discovery well revealed a 22,000-acre oilfield and was followed in 1908 by the headline-making gusher drilled by a Dutch company. But the story of Wyoming’s oil patch really began with Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

first wyoming oil well

Discovered in 1908, Wyoming’s giant Salt Creek oilfield would produced more than 650 million barrels of oil over the next 100 years – and even more remains in the ground.

Irving, who also penned “Rip Van Winkle,” became fascinated with the American Northwest in 1834 while writing about John Jacob Astor’s fur trading empire. Irving met explorer Capt. Benjamin Bonneville and used Bonneville’s notes and maps to write “The Adventures of Captain Bonneville: or, Scenes beyond the Rocky Mountains of the Far West.” Eastern readers were spellbound by the account of the four-year exploration and detailed accounts of life on the fur-trapping trail. Read the rest of this entry »

Discoveries at El Dorado and Smackover bring 1920s drilling booms.

Wildcat wells created two Arkansas oil and natural gas boom towns, boosted the young career of H.L. Hunt, and launched the state’s petroleum industry.

Arkansas oil and gas

Surrounded by 20 acres of woodlands, the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, seven miles north of El Dorado – in equally historic Smackover – exhibits the state’s petroleum history.

The first Arkansas well that yielded “sufficient quantities of oil” was the Hunter No. 1 of April 16, 1920, in Ouachita County, according to the Arkansas Geological Survey. Natural gas was discovered a few days later by Constantine Oil and Refining Company north of the present-day El Dorado field in Union County. But it was January 1921 well in the same field that marked the true beginning of commercial oil production in Arkansas.

When the Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well struck oil in 1921, it catapulted the population of nearby El Dorado, Arkansas, from 4,000 to 25,000. The discovery, 15 miles north of the Louisiana border, was the state’s first commercial oil well.

“Twenty-two trains a day were soon running in and out of El Dorado,” noted the Arkansas Gazette. An excited state legislature announced plans for a special railway excursion for lawmakers to visit the oil well in Union County.

Meanwhile, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt arrived from Texas with $50. He joined the crowd of lease traders and speculators at the Garrett Hotel – where fortunes were being made and lost.

H.L. Hunt, who had borrowed the $50, got his start as an independent oil and natural gas producer in El Dorado. Many people said it was his expertise at the poker table that earned him enough to purchase a one-half acre parcel lease. He drilled his Hunt-Pickering No. 1 well, which at first produced some oil, but ultimately was not profitable.

Hunt persevered and in four years had acquired substantial El Dorado and Smackover oilfield holdings. By 1925, he  was a successful 36-year-old oilman with wife Lyda and three young children living comfortably in a fine three-story El Dorado home. He will add to his oil patch successes a decade later in East Texas. See East Texas Oilfield Discovery.

EL Dorado Oilfield revealed

Located on a hill a little over a mile southwest of El Dorado, the derrick was plainly visible from the town, according to historians A.R. and R.B. Buckalew. They write that three “gassers” had been completed in the general vicinity, but did not produce oil in commercial quantities. There was no market for natural gas at the time, the authors explain in their book, The Discovery of Oil in South Arkansas, 1920-1924.

Arkansas oil and gas

The Garrett Hotel, where H.L. Hunt checked in with 50 borrowed dollars – and launched his career as a successful independent producer.

Yet Dr. Samuel T. Busey was convinced “there was oil down there somewhere.”

The authors add, “among those who gambled their savings with Busey at this time were Wong Hing, also called Charles Louis, a Chinese laundry man, and Ike Felsenthal, whose family had created a community in southeast Union County in earlier years.”

With no oil production nearby, investing in the “wildcat” well was a leap of faith. Chal Daniels, who was overseeing drilling operations for Busey, contributed the hefty sum of $1,000.

On January 10, 1921, the well had been drilled to 2,233 feet and reached the Nacatoch Sand. A small crowd of onlookers and the drilling crew after moving a safe distance away watched and listened.

“The spectators, among them Dr. Busey, watched with an air of expectancy,” note the historians. “Drilling had ceased and bailing operations had begun to try to bring in the well. At about 4:30 p.m., as the bailer was being lifted from its sixth trip into the deep hole, a rumble from deep in the well was heard.”

The rumbling grew in intensity, “shaking the derrick and the very ground on which it stood as if an earthquake were passing,” the authors report.

“Suddenly, with a deafening roar, ‘a thick black column’ of gas and oil and water shot out of the well,” they add.

The gusher blows through the derrick and “bursts into a black mushroom” cloud against the January sky. The Busey No. 1 well produced 15,000,000 to 35,000,000 cubic feet of gas and from 3,000 to 10,000 barrels of oil and water a day.

Petroleum brings Prosperity to Arkansas

Thanks to the El Dorado discovery, the first Arkansas petroleum boom was on. By 1922, there were 900 producing wells in the state.

Arkansas oil and gas

Civic leaders raised funds to preserve El Dorado’s historic downtown – and add an Oil Heritage Park at 101 East Main Street.

“Three months after the Busey well came in, work was under way on an amusement park located three blocks from the town that would include a swimming pool, picnic grounds, rides and concessions,” notes the Union County Sheriff’s Office. “Culture was not forgotten as an old cotton shed in the center of town near the railroad tracks was converted to an auditorium.”

The 68-square-mile field will lead U.S. oil output in 1925 – with production reaching 70 million barrels. “It was a scene never again to be equaled in El Dorado’s history, nor would the town and its people ever be the same again,” the authors conclude. “Union County’s dream of oil had come true.”

In 2002, El Dorado gathered 40 local artists to paint 55 oil drums donated by the local Murphy Oil Company. Preserving the town’s historic assets, including boom-era buildings, remains a major goal of the local group, Main Street El Dorado, which was the “2009 Great American Main Street Award Winner” of the National Trust Main Street Center.

Second Oil Boom: The Smackover Discovery

Arkansas oil and gas

Incorporated in 1922, Smackover, Arkansas, had been a small agricultural and sawmill community. Today, the town celebrates its petroleum heritage with the annual “Oil Town Festival” in June.

Prior to the January 1921 El Dorado discovery, the region’s economy relied almost exclusively on the cotton and the timber industries “that thrived in the vast virgin forests of southern Arkansas.”

Six months after the Busey-Armgstrong No. 1, another giant oilfield discovery 12 miles north will bring national attention – and lead to the incorporation of Smackover.

A small agricultural and sawmill community with a population of 131, Smackover had been settled by French fur trappers in 1844. They called the area “Sumac-Couvert”, meaning covered with sumac or shumate bushes.

According to historian Don Lambert, by 1908 Sidney Umsted operated a large sawmill and logging venture two miles north of town. He believed that oil lay beneath the surface.

“On July 1, 1922, Umsted’s wildcat well (Richardson No. 1) produced a gusher from a depth of 2,066 feet,” Lambert reports. “Within six months, 1,000 wells had been drilled, with a success rate of ninety-two percent. The little town had increased from a mere ninety to 25,000 and its uncommon name would quickly attain national attention”

The oil-producing area of the Smackover field covered more than 25,000 acres. By 1925, it had become the largest-producing oil site in the world. The field will produce 583 million barrels of oil by 2001.

Arkansas oil and gas

Roughnecks photographed following the July 1, 1922, discovery of the Smackover (Richardson) field in Union County. Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives.

Visit the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum in Smackover – the heart of the Smackover field. The museum includes a five-acre Oilfield Park with operating examples of oil producing technologies used in south Arkansas oilfields from the 1920s to today.

Arkansas oil and gas

The Fayetteville Shale brought more drilling to Arkansas.

About one-third of Arkansas’ 75 counties produce oil natural gas. As of 2010, more than 40,800 wells have been drilled since 1921’s Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well in Union County.

According to geologists, the Fayetteville Shale, a 50-mile-wide formation across central Arkansas, promises large quantities of natural gas – and a new petroleum boom for the state. But the unconventional natural gas reservoir requires hydraulic fracturing.

Unlike traditional fields containing hydrocarbons in porous rock formations, shale holds natural gas in a fine-grained rock or “tight sands.” Until recently, most shale formations were not considered profitable areas for production.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “First Arkansas Oil Wells.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/arkansas-oil-and-gas-boom-towns. Last Updated: July 1, 2019.

After more than three months of cable-tool drilling, the J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well at Ranger, Texas, roared in on October 17, 1917.


roaring ranger

A detail from an image of the “Roaring Ranger” oilfield discovery well of October 1917. The gusher created an oil boom across Eastland County, Texas.

As war raged in Europe, a Texas oilfield was discovered halfway between Abilene and Dallas. The October 17, 1917, wildcat well in Eastland County made headlines worldwide. “Roaring Ranger” erupted in a geyser of oil – and revealed an oilfield that would help the Allies win World War I.

Ranger’s town leaders and citizens had been eager to find oil, especially after newspaper accounts of a 1911 oilfield discovery at Electra to the north. A decade earlier in southeastern Texas, the famous “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop had launched the modern U.S. petroleum industry.

roaring ranger

Following the October 1917 oilfield discovery, the Texas & Pacific Railroad played an important part in getting people, equipment and oil in and out of Ranger. A circa 1920 postcard shows the depot, today home of the Roaring Ranger Museum.

As the county’s farmers struggled with severe drought, Ranger officials hoped to strike “black gold” with the help of William K. Gordon, vice president of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company in nearby Thurber. After one failed attempt with a shallow well, Gordon agreed to drill a second well up to 3,500 feet deep.

Using a cable-tool rig, Gordon and contractor Warren Wagner spudded their well on July 2, 1917, on the McCleskey farm about two miles south of Ranger. After more than three months of drilling, the J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well roared in from a depth of 3,432 feet. When completed, “Roaring Ranger” initially produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day of high gravity oil. Later gushers yielded up to 10,000 barrels of oil daily. Within 20 months, Texas and Pacific Coal Company stock jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share. The company reorganized as the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.

Eastland County oil discoveries brought economic booms to Ranger, Cisco, Desdemona (today a ghost town) and Eastland. The Abilene Reporter-News reported Ranger’s population swelled from less than 1,000 to more than 30,000 – mostly men. The drilling boom “started the rush to Ranger that brought about the development of one of the greatest oilfields in the country,” proclaims historian Damon Sasser.

AOGHS events

“Almost over-night, you couldn’t even see the homes for the derricks,” says Ranger historian Jeane Pruett.

“By 1919, the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company had 22 oil wells being drilled and there were also eight refineries open or under construction,” Sasser adds. More freight was unloaded in Ranger by the railroad than at any other place upon its line, including stations in Fort Worth, Dallas and New Orleans.

The flood of people also brought Texas Rangers to enforce laws. When jails in Ranger overflowed, the lawmen handcuffed prisoners to telephone poles. “The Texas Rangers were no strangers to the town – years earlier, the city actually sprang up around an old Texas Ranger camp, hence the name Ranger,” Sasser notes. Independent operators opened other nearby oilfields, including the Parsons, Sinclair-Earnest and Lake Sand fields. Production from the Breckenridge oilfield in neighboring Stephens County was 10 million barrels of oil by 1919. It peaked at more than 31 million barrels of oil in 1921.

roaring ranger

The 2016 Roaring Ranger Day Parade took place on the 99th birthday of the gusher. Photo courtesy Metroplex.com.

“Roaring Ranger” and the region’s production had proved essential to the Allied victory in World War I. When the armistice was signed in 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.”

Among the veterans visiting booming Eastland County after the war was a young Conrad Hilton, who visited Cisco intending to buy a bank. When he witnessed the long line of roughnecks waiting for a room at the Mobley Hotel, he decided to buy the hotel (learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel).

roaring ranger

The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 discovery well of October 1917 created an mammoth oil boom at Ranger and across Eastland County, Texas.

Although Ranger’s boom ended in the early 1920s when excess oil production caused wells to fail, the discoveries confirmed existence of a large petroleum-producing region, the Mid-Continent, which includes hundreds of oilfields reaching from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Established by the Ranger chamber of commerce in 1982, the “Roaring Ranger” Museum – inside the original Texas and Pacific Railway’s depot – exhibits drilling equipment, historic photos and a vintage cable-tool rig.

Ranger residents annually celebrate their 1917 gusher with an oil festival and parade down Main Street. When the parade crosses the historic train depot’s tracks, participants pass a small, gray granite marker dedicated to the “First Oil Well Drilled in Eastland County.” It is a 1936 Texas Centennial marker, “a highly cherished monument that Ranger should be very proud of,” notes Eastland County resident Sarah Reveley, who has extensively documented Texas Historical Commission sites, preserving the images at PictureTrail.com.


Photographs courtesy Sarah Reveley and Barclay Gibson, who have photographed Texas Historical Commission markers and (along with a dedicated group of volunteers) helped locate hundreds of historic sites stretching from Louisiana to New Mexico.


AOGHS events

Ranger, Texas, photo courtesy Jeane Pruett and family of W.K Gordon Jr.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Roaring Ranger wins WWI.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/roaring-ranger-wins-wwi. Last Updated: October 14, 2019.

Visiting Cisco, Texas, to buy a bank, Conrad Hilton saw an opportunity in roughnecks standing in line for a motel room.


The first Hilton Hotel came in 1919 when Conrad Hilton, intending to buy a Texas bank, witnessed the booming Ranger oilfield. “He can keep his bank!” declared Hilton before buying a motel overflowing with roughnecks in nearby Cisco.

Conrad Hilton visited Cisco, Texas, intending to buy a bank. When the deal fell through, he went from the train station across the street to a two-story red brick building called the Mobley Hotel. He noticed roughnecks from the Ranger oilfield waiting in line for a room.

On October 17, 1917, the McClesky No. 1 well hit an oil-bearing sand at 3,432 feet deep and launched the world-famous Ranger oilfield boom. Thanks to this “Roaring Ranger,” in just 20 months the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company – whose stock had skyrocketed from $30 to $1,250 a share – was drilling 22 wells in the area. Eight refineries were soon open or under construction, and the city’s four banks had $5 million in deposits.

The Ranger oilfield and other nearby North Texas discoveries gained international fame by eliminating critical oil shortages during World War I – allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.” Read the rest of this entry »

Early tragedy leads to new technologies, a monument, and work of art.

first oil well fire

Edwin L. Drake, right, stands with friend Peter Wilson of Titusville, Pennsylvania, at the drilling site – but not the original derrick – of America’s first commercial oil well of 1859. From the Drake Well Museum collection.

Along Oil Creek, near Titusville, Pennsylvania, the wooden derrick and engine house of the first U.S. commercial oil well erupted in flames on October 7, 1859, perhaps America’s first oil well fire. The well had been completed the previous August by Edwin L Drake, how had been hired by the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut.

Today, residents of Titusville and nearby Oil City annually celebrate the 1859 oil well. Visitors to the Drake Well Museum in Titusville can tour a reconstructed cable-tool derrick at its original location along Oil Creek. Read the rest of this entry »

Decades of drilling bring natural gas, oil, and helium fields in 1950s.


first Arizona oil well

Cover from a 1961 report of Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; painting by E. M. Schiwetz, courtesy Humble Oil Co.

After reports of oil seeps in the late 1890s, the search for commercial quantities of oil in Arizona began in 1902, one decade before statehood.

Joseph Heslet, a part-time prospector from Pennsylvania, drilled a few unsuccessful wells that showed traces of oil. His effort caught the attention of exploration companies, including several arriving from the 1901 giant oilfield discovery at Spindletop Hill in Texas. In 1905, a wildcat well was drilled in the Chino Valley, 20 miles north of Prescott, that reached a depth of 2,000 feet before being abandoned.

A well drilled in 1906 in Graham County by A. C. Alexander was abandoned as a dry hole at 1,400 feet. Other exploration attempts followed, most lacking knowledge of the emerging science of petroleum geology. There would be 50 more years of Arizona dry holes.

“A series of speculative ventures and explorations in oil drilling occurred over the ensuing decades, followed by the discovery of helium, an industrial gas that has become a major industry in the state,” noted a March 2004 article at Tucson.com. Better known for abundant copper deposits, it was the search for petroleum that led to helium discoveries in Arizona (also see Gas, Oil and Development Company in Kansas).

Kipling Petroleum Company discovered helium 20 miles east of Holbrook in Navajo County in 1950, but “commercial production of helium in Arizona began in 1961 with the state’s first helium extraction plant producing 9 billion cubic feet of gas over 15 years,” the article explained.

first Arizona oil well

Arizona’s first natural gas well in 1954 and first significant oil well in 1959 (from “Oil, Gas and Helium in Arizona, Its Occurrence and Potential,” page 47).

Arizona became the 30th petroleum-producing state on October 13, 1954, with a natural gas well.

Shell Oil Company completed the East Boundary Butte No. 2 well south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation. Natural gas was discovered as the well reached a depth of 4,540 feet.

“The first producing well in Arizona was drilled by Shell Oil Company in 1954 on a surface structure known as the East Boundary Butte anticline,” proclaimed a 1961 report by the Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. That well found natural gas and a small amount of oil.

The Shell Oil well indicated gas production of 3,150 thousand cubic feet per day; daily oil production was 3.6 barrels of oil (plus 8.4 barrels of salt water per day) from part of the Pennsylvanian geologic formation, the Hermosa, according to the commission’s report, Oil, Gas and Helium in Arizona, Its Occurrence and Potential, which sought to encourage further exploration.

first Arizona oil well

A well site on the Navajo Reservation in Apache County, Arizona. The 16-million-acre reservation extends into New Mexico and Utah. Photo courtesy Shell Oil Co.

One candidate for the first Arizona oil well, according to the report, was Humble Oil Company’s No. 1 E Navajo well, drilled in 1958 near the Shell Oil natural gas well. Although initial oil production was from the same formation (Hermosa), “subsequent production showed increasing gas,” and by 1961 it was considered a natural gas well.

“Additional drilling on this structure resulted in completion of three more wells producing mostly gas with some distillate and oil,” noted Lee Feemster of the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company. “Oil and gas shows were encountered in the Hermosa, Mississippian, and Devonian but to date the production is confined to the Hermosa.”

In 1956, the Franco Western Oil Company drilled a well based on a seismic anomaly in the Mississippian formation and found more natural gas. A well completed a year later by Superior Oil Company also produced significant amounts of gas from the Hermosa producing zone.

first Arizona oil well

All of Arizona’s oil and natural gas fields are in the northeast corner of the state: (I) East Boundary Butte; (2) Bita Peak; (3) Toh-ah-tin; (4) Unnamed Paradox gas and distillate; (5) Dry Mesa; (6) Unnamed Devonian oil; (7) Pinta dome helium area.

“Encouraging shows of oil and gas were recorded in the Mississippian and Devonian in this test, Feemster noted in the commission report. It was his company, Texas Pacific Coal and Oil, that drilled a test well that finally found commercial quantities of oil in Arizona in 1959.

Founded in 1888, Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company had established the mining town of Thurber, Texas, and by the early 1900s provided almost half of the coal supply for Texas. The company’s Arizona oil discovery, the Navajo No. 1 well, was completed in the extreme northeastern part of the state.

The discovery well produced 240 barrels of oil per day from the Mississippian formation at a depth of 5,566 feet, according to Feemster, who added, “The nearest Mississippian production at that time was in the Big Flat field more than 100 miles north in Utah.”

In 1967, the Kerr-McGee Navajo No. 1 well revealed an oil-producing geologic anticline about 4,000 feet deep. That well joined the others producing on the Navajo Reservation in Apache County (reservation land includes 16 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah).

By 2012, the the Navajo Reservation’s Dineh-bi-Keyah – “The People’s Field” – would produce more than 18 million barrels of oil. Recognizing the importance of new horizontal drilling technologies, in 2013 the Arizona Geological Survey issued a report, Potential Targets for Shale-Oil and Shale-Gas Exploration in Arizona, as the state’s quest for more oil and natural gas deposits continued.

As of March 2016, Arizona had 32 oil and natural gas wells, according to the state commission. Of the 1,129 wells drilled in the state since 1954, almost 90 percent have been dry holes (2014 data). Apache County in the northeast corner of the state remains the only petroleum-producing county.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For sponsorship and membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “First Arizona Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-arizona-oil-well. Last Updated: October 7, 2019.

After two dry holes, third well reveals largest oilfield in lower-48 states.

Here is the story of Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt, and “Dad” Joiner, “Doc” Lloyd – and the Great Depression, and one of the U.S. petroleum industry’s greatest discoveries.

East Texas oilfield

“Thousands crowded their way to the site of Daisy Bradford No. 3, hoping to be there when and if oil gushed from the well to wash away the misery of the Great Depression,” notes one Kilgore, Texas, historian. Photo courtesy Jack Elder and Caleb Pirttelli, The Glory Days.

East Texas oilfield

J. Malcolm Crim of Kilgore names his wildcat well after his mother, Lou Della.

With a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders, stockholders, creditors and spectators watching – the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well erupts. It is on October 3, 1930, that a production test is done – resulting in a gushing column of oil.Incredible to most geologists, another wildcat well 10 miles to the north – the Lou Della Crim No. 1 well – will begin flowing on December 28, 1930.

A month later and 15 miles still farther north, a third wildcat well, the Lathrop No. 1 well, comes in with another gusher of “black gold.”

At first, the great distance between these discoveries convinced geologists, petroleum engineers – and virtually all of the major oil companies – that the wildcat wells had found separate oilfields.

However, and to the delight of many small, struggling farmers who owned the land, it finally became apparent the three wells were all part of one giant oilfield.


East Texas oilfield

H.L. Hunt’s oil career began in Arkansas and East Texas and spanned much of the industry’s history, notes Hunt Oil Company. Photo circa 1911.

In 1905, when Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt was just 16 years old, he left his Illinois farm family and headed  west. Along the way, he worked as a dishwasher, mule team driver, logger, farmhand, and even tried out for semi-pro baseball. In his travels, he learned to gamble and played cards in bunkhouses, hobo jungles and saloons.

The Busey-Armstrong No. 1 well came in  on January 10, 1921, and quickly catapulted the population of El Dorado from 4,000 to over 25,000. A young Hunt joined the drilling fenzy that followed. He began with $50 in his pocket (see First Arkansas Oil Wells).
Read the rest of this entry »

In 1923, the Long Beach field produced over 68 million barrels of oil.

In the summer of 1921, the Signal Hill oil discovery would help make California the source of one-quarter of the world’s entire oil output. Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s Long Beach oilfield south of Los Angeles was producing almost 260,000 barrels of oil every day by 1923.

signal hill oil

Signal Hill, a growing residential area prior to the 1921 discovery of the Long Beach oilfield, would have so many derricks people would call it Porcupine Hill. “Today you can see wonderful commemorative art displays of this era throughout the lush parks and walkways of Signal Hill,” notes a local newspaper.


signal hill oil

At 2300 Skyline Drive atop Signal Hill, California, two bronze roughnecks commemorate the men who brought petroleum wealth to the state following a 1921 oilfield discovery.


signal hill oil

“Tribute to the Roughnecks” by Cindy Jackson stands atop Signal Hill. Long Beach is in the distance.


signal hill oil

Signal Hill circa 1930 – at the corner of 1st Street and Belmont Street. Photo courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

The Alamitos No. 1 well erupted “black gold” in June 1921, announcing discovery of California’s prolific Long Beach field.

The natural gas pressure is so great the oil gusher climbed 114 feet into the air. The well produced almost 600 barrels a day when completed on June 25. It will eventually produce 700,000 barrels.

The giant oilfield Alamitos No. 1 still produces 1.5 million barrels of oil a year. Signal Hill incorporated three years after the Alamitos discovery well. Read the rest of this entry »

Post-Civil War oil discoveries create Allegheny River boom towns.


Soon after the Civil War, one of America’s earliest oil booms arrived at a small hill west of Tidioute, Pennsylvania. Wooden derricks replaced trees on Triumph Hill.

Formerly quiet Pennsylvania hillsides of hemlock woods vanished in the fall of 1866 when oil fever came to Triumph Hill. The oil industry was barely seven years old. Just 15 miles east of the 1859 first American oil well along Oil Creek well at Titusville, an 1866 oil discovery at Triumph Hill sparked a rush of uncontrolled development. They would not last long, but truly notorious boom towns sprang up at Gordon Run and Daniels Run west of Tidioute on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River. Like the earlier discoveries at Titusville, Rouseville, and Pithole Creek, wooden derricks replaced hillside trees.

triumph hill

An 1870s photograph of the east side of Triumph Hill, near Tidioute, Pennsylvania, by Frank Robbins of Oil City. Image is right half of a stereo card rendered black and white for clarity from original sepia tone. Photo courtesy Biblioteca Nacional Digital Brazil.

Tidioute (pronounced tiddy-oot) was joined by the roughneck-filled towns of Triumph and Babylon with “sports, strumpets and plug-uglies, who stole, gambled, caroused and did their best to break all the commandments at once.”

Fresh from the oilfields at boom town Pithole 25 miles southwest, the infamous Ben Hogan, self proclaimed “Wickedest Man in the World,” operated a bawdy house on the Triumph hillside.

Despite growing recognition that crowded drilling reduced reservoir pressures and production, the exploration and production bonanza, which began with the first well on October 4, 1866, prompted a frenzy of drilling as investors tried to cash in before the oil ran out.

By the summer of 1867, Triumph Hill was producing 2,000 barrels of oil a day. The flood of oil bought lower prices – an early example of the petroleum industry’s boom and bust cycles.

Photographer Frank Robbins of Oil City published stereographic images of Triumph Hill, declaring it to be “the most magnificent oil belt (as oil men call a strip of producing land) ever yet discovered. On this belt which is but two miles long, and less than one mile wide – were over 180 producing wells, nearly every one of which was in operation at once.”

Robbins, who moved his studio to Bradford 1879 when that region was on its way to becoming “America’s first billion dollar oilfield,” also printed postcards for sale to tourists.

triumph oil oil

An image from the 1903 edition of “Sketches in Crude-Oil; some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe” by James McLaurin.

“Triumph Hill turned out as much money to the acre as any spot in Oildom,” noted James McLaurin in his 1896 book Sketches in Crude-Oil; some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe.

Many of the hill’s wells averaged 25 barrels of oil a day, McLaurin reported, adding that “the sand was the thickest – often ninety to one hundred and ten feet – and the purest the oil region afforded.”

Eventually the tempo of oil exploration around Tidioute and boom town debauchery slowed as the region’s daily production fell.

Although drilling discipline and well spacing, reservoir engineering and other oilfield management skills would evolve, Triumph Hill’s glory dissipated within five years as overproduction drained the field.

Today, Triumph Hill remains as one of the many quietly beautiful and forest-covered sites along the Allegheny River Valley that has earned a special place in America’s petroleum history. Tidioute also is among the earliest panoramic maps of America’s earliest petroleum communities by Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler. Read more about his work in Oil Town “Aero Views.”

triumph hill oil

Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas at the turn of the century, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler created oil town “aero views” – panoramic maps of many of America’s earliest petroleum communities. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Frank Robbins – Oil Patch Photographer

Pioneer oil industry photographers like “Oil Creek Artist” John A. Mather documented Northwestern Pennsylvania boom towns.  He and other photographers like Frank Robbins captured many views of North American oil booms, according to geologist and oil patch historian Jeff Spencer. “Common scenes included oil gushers, oilfield fires, teamsters, and boom towns.”

“Frank Robbins documented the emerging Pennsylvania petroleum industry of the 1860s through 1880s,” Spencer noted in a 2011 article in the journal Oil-Industry History“He was one of the most prolific producers of stereoscopic views of oilfields in the Oil City and Bradford, Pennsylvania and Olean, New York area. His many oilfield views include scenes of Triumph Hill, Tidioute, Petrolia, and Pithole. Many of his photographs also were used in early twentieth century postcards.”

triumph hill oil

A stereoscopic view by Frank Robbins described simply as “Drake Well, the first oil well.” Courtesy the New York Public Library

Spencer in 2003 published a book featuring historic Texas postcards (see Postcards from the Texas Oil Patch). For more resources of oilfield imagery, visit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s Petroleum Photography Websites.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Derricks of Triumph Hill.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/triumph-hill-oil. Last Updated: September 30, 2019.

The newly emerging science of petroleum geology helped reveal the Mid-Continent Oilfield in 1915.


Community leaders in El Dorado, Kansas, were desperate for their town to live up to its name, especially after major natural gas discoveries in neighboring towns. It would be oil instead of gas that would do just that when an October 5, 1915, well east of Wichita launched a drilling boom. 

kansas oil boom

A marker at the Stapleton No. 1 well commemorates the October 1915 discovery of the El Dorado, Kansas, oilfield, at the time one of the largest in the world.

One-hundred years later, an October 2015 article in El Dorado’s newspaper celebrated the mid-continent oilfield by telling its story.

“In 1915, about 3,000 people called the rural agricultural community of El Dorado home.” noted Julie Clements in the Butler County Times-Gazette. “They had no idea events toward the end of that year would begin something that would forever change not just El Dorado, but the state and an entire industry.”

Scientific Discovery

The science of geology played a vital role in the 1915 discovery of a Mid-Continent oilfield. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the October 5 discovery well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.

The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produce 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands. Other wells soon followed east of Wichita.

Discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado city fathers to seek a geological study of the area, according to Larry Skelton of the Kansas Geological Survey.

By 1914 interest was growing in Butler county and south central Kansas. “A few positive finds had been made, but nothing exciting,” Skelton noted in “Striking It Big in Kansas” for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“Henry Doherty, founder of Cities Service in 1910, was seeking new gas reserves and opted for scientific exploration in lieu of wildcatting,” Skelton wrote in the November 2002 AAPG Explorer article.

oil history october

According to the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado, as Butler County wells multiplied, Oil Hill became the largest “company town” in the world, with some 8,500 residents. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.

Doherty hired geologists Charles Gould and Everett Carpenter in Oklahoma, sending them to Augusta, in Butler County. Gould had organized the Oklahoma Geological Survey in 1908 and served as its first director until 1911.

According to Skelton, the geologists mapped prominent anticlinal structures in Permian Age limestone. By late 1914, several Augusta exploratory wells found commercial volumes of natural gas. Several wells also found oil. These developments “chafed El Dorado city fathers.”

About 15 miles northeast of Augusta, El Dorado had unsuccessfully searched for hydrocarbons since the 1890s,” Skelton explained. The city now hired its own geologist, Erasmus Haworth, the state geologist and chairman of the University of Kansas geology department.

“He mapped a large anticline on the same formations used by Gould and Carpenter at Augusta and selected a site that proved to be a dry hole,” Skelton reported.

Undeterred, Cities Service subsidiary Wichita Natural Gas bought the town’s 790 leased acres for $800, verified Haworth’s work and began drilling in late September 1915. The Stapleton No. 1 well found oil within a week.

“Using scientific geological survey methodology for the first time, Cities Service had identified a promising anticline,” Skelton noted. “His field work outlined the El Dorado Anticline.”

Butler County’s geologic revelations encouraged Gulf Oil, Standard Oil, and other companies to secure leases around August and El Dorado. In addition to Henry Doherty, industry leaders like Archibald Derby, John Vickers and William Skelly established successful El Dorado oil-producing and refining companies.

According to the Kansas Oil Museum, as Butler County wells multiplied, Oil Hill became the largest “company town” in the world, with some 8,500 residents. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.

According to the Kansas Oil Museum, as Butler County wells multiplied, Oil Hill became the largest “company town” in the world, with some 8,500 residents. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.

“So the idea from that point forward, no oil company in the world would go and drill a well without seeking the advice of a geologist first,” proclaimed the executive director of the Kansas Oil Museum.

“Before 1915, geologists were seen in the same vein as witching and doodlebugs. They were just charlatans,” explained Warren Martin in a 2015 Butler County Times-Gazette article on the centennial of Stapleton No. 1. “It fundamentally transformed it from that point going forward. Geology was established as one of the great science industries.”

With the influx of thousands of workers, even Wichita accommodations were overwhelmed. Butler County’s population, about was 23,000 in 1910, nearly doubled in 1920. To house its workers, Empire Gas & Fuel Company (formerly Wichita Natural Gas) built a 64-acre town northwest of El Dorado.

kansas oil boom

The Kansas Oil Museum includes drilling and production equipment. The Kansas Oil Museum includes drilling and production equipment. The museum annually hosts a “Rockfest celebration of geology and oil and gas culture.”

Although Oil Hill and its more than 8,000 residents, swimming pool, tennis courts and small golf course would disappear by the late 1950s, at the time it was called the largest “company town” in the world.

When the United States entered World War I, development of Mid-Continent production escalated. In 1918 the El Dorado field produced almost 29 million barrels of oil, almost nine percent of the nation’s oil.

The Stapleton No. 1 well, which produced oil until 1967, today is visited by tourists – as is the Kansas Oil Museum, which includes 20 acres of rig displays, equipment exhibits and models of the region’s refinery history.

The museum, which annually hosts a “rockfest,” has added a 1970s Otek pump jack donated by Hawkins Oil Company. The unit, the largest one on the grounds, educates visitors about evolving production technologies. Visitors also stroll Main Street and explore buildings depicting a Kansas boom town like Oil Hill.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Kansas Oil Boom.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/kansas-oil-boom. Last Updated: September 30, 2019.

A plentiful alternative fuel for manufacturers at the turn of the century.

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

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. Read the rest of this entry »

A 1876 Pico Canyon oil well brought pipelines, refineries, and helped make Chevron an industry giant.


Following an 1859 oil discovery in Pennsylvania, young U.S. 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 an industry.

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. In northern California, an 1865 well near oil seeps in Humboldt County also could be considered the first California oil well.

This well, drilled by Old Union Matolle Company after the Civil War, produced oil near Petrolia and attracted early oil companies to the Petrolia oilfield. A state 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 berefined 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 soon slowed to one barrel per day and the prospect was abandoned,” explained 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 2013 Oil-Industry History article.

first 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.

Meanwhile in Pico Canyon, 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.

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, launched other industries, including constructing a pipeline and an oil refinery for producing kerosene. Read the rest of this entry »

Humble Oil drilled the first Florida oil well in 1943, after lawmakers offered a $50,000 bounty.

Among its records for dry holes, 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.

first florida oil well

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.

Two test wells were drilled, the first to 1,620 feet and the second a hundred feet deeper. Both were abandoned. Whether that wildcatter was following science or intuition, contemporary accounts of his efforts reveal only a small historical footnote: “Florida’s first dry holes.”

Twenty years later, as America’s oil demand continued to soar, oil still had not been found in Florida. The state’s panhandle still looked promising – despite a growing list of failed drilling ventures.

Indian legends and a wildcat stock promoter’s claim of oil inspired yet another attempt near today’s Falling Waters Park, about 100 miles east of Pensacola. A tall, wooden derrick and steam-driven rig were used to drill.

At a depth 3,900 feet, a brief showing of natural gas excited area residents with a false report of a possible gusher. Undeterred, the oilmen continued to drill to a depth of 4,912 feet before finally giving up. No oil of commercial quantity was found and the well was capped in 1921. Another dry hole. Read the rest of this entry »

Deeper drilling finally launched the state’s petroleum industry in 1948.

 The Uinta Basin witnessed its first drilling boom following a 1948 oil discovery oil at 4,152 feet deep. The boom continue today - thanks to giant reserves of coalbed methane gas. Photo courtesy of the 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.

After decades of expensive failed exploration attempts – dry holes – the first Utah oil well finally was competed on September 18, 1948, in the Uinta Basin.

“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,” notes Osmond Harline in a 1963 article in Utah Historical Quarterly. Read the rest of this entry »

Acadia Parish oil seeps helped discover the Jennings oilfield in 1901.

first louisiana oil well

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.

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. His September 21 Louisiana gusher initially produced 7,000-barrels of oil a day.

 first Louisiana oil well

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

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.

“At the age 29, W. Scott Haywood was already a seasoned, experienced and successful explorer,” notes the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS). “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.

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.

“After all, 1,000 feet had been deep enough to discover the tremendous oil gushers at Spindletop field,” explains Scott Smiley of the LGS. “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.

Heywood finally found oil at 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors had sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, stock in the Jennings Oil Company even sold for as little as 25 cents per share. Patient investors were rewarded with the gusher of 7,000 barrels of oil per day.

According to the Jennings Daily News, “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.”

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 City Museum.

first louisiana oil well

Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

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

Among all petroleum producing states in 2014, Louisiana ranked fourth in natural gas production and tenth in oil production.

first louisiana oil well

Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

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,” notes an article in the Sulphur Daily News. “This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana.”

In 2014, the cumulative number of wells drilled in Louisiana from the first year of production (1902 for oil, 1905 for natural gas) was 230,647, according to the IPAA Oil & Gas Producing Industry in Your State. Of those wells, 35 percent (80,907) were dry holes.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “First Louisiana Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-louisiana-oil-well. Last Updated: September 16, 2019.

The historic 1866 Texas well would produce just 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. 

first texas oil well

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.

In December 1859, less than four months after Edwin Drake’s first America’s first oil discovery in Pennsylvania, a similarly determined wildcatter named Lyne (Lynis) Taliaferro Barret began searching in an East Texas area known as “Oil Springs.”

Barret’s interest in finding the newly prized commodity was no doubt prompted by its lucrative $20 a barrel selling price – and his certainty that Texan oil was waiting for him.

Indians and early East Texas settlers had long known the Oil Springs area for its seepage and used the crude for its purported medicinal benefit for both themselves and their livestock.

The invention of kerosene in 1846 prompted demand for “illuminating oil” and inspired a boom in drilling and speculation soon after the first American oil well in August 1859. Barret was eager to profit from the new opportunity. He joined the chase for oil, but prudently continued to operate his successful mercantile partnership in Melrose, Texas.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Mississippi oil industry began in 1939 after decades of dry holes.

The first Mississippi oil well was drilled soon after a Yazoo County geological survey by a young geologist who had sought clay to mold cereal bowls for children. “It all began quite independently of any search for oil,” noted a southern history journal decades later.

first Mississippi oil well

Frederic Mellen became president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946. Images courtesy Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey.

In February 1939, Frederic F. Mellen worked for the Works Progress Administration in Yazoo County during the Great Depression. The 28-year-old geologist supervised a clay and minerals survey project, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.”

Instead, Mellen launched Mississippi’s oil industry.

At Perry Creek, about a mile southwest of Tinsley, Mellen’s survey found a strata of Mississippi’s known Jackson formation. But the seam was 250 feet above where it was supposed to be. It was a salt dome structure, well known since Texas’ spectacular Spindletop Hill discovery in January 1901.

Mellen urged more seismographic testing. The Jackson formation was persuasive evidence that there was oil to be found along Perry Creek. Indications in the Yazoo Clay suggested an anticlinal structure, according to Edgar Wesley Owen in Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975).

“Although the favorable area had been leased by an oil company about 10 years earlier and relinquished after a seismic examination, the Survey issued a press release in April 1939 describing its findings and recommending that the structure be drilled,” Owen explained.

When published in the State Geological Bulletin on April 12, 1939, Mellen’s startling survey results prompted renewed interest in finding Mississippi’s first commercial oil deposits after decades of searching and hundreds of dry holes.

The Tinsley formation included, “a northward contour closure of at least 135 feet – a structure so favorable for oil and gas accumulation as to warrant further geologic sturdy and seismographic exploration,” the Bulletin press release proclaimed, adding that it “especially should it be further explored for the reason that it lies less than 35 miles north-west of the Jackson Gas Field.”

first Mississippi oil well

“Mississippi’s prospects of finding oil in commercial quantities were heightened yesterday,” proclaimed the Vicksburg Evening Post in 1939.

Union Producing Company of Houston, Texas, leased much of the area. Company landmen quickly acquired mineral rights to about 2,500 acres around Tinsley. As others rushed to find their own leases, Union Producing Company began seismographic testing, 10 miles southwest of Yazoo City.

Seismic data prompted the company to choose a drill site on the Green Crowder Woodruff family farm on Perry Creek (S.W. Corner, N.W. Quarter, Section 13, Township 10 North, Range 3 West).

On September 5, 1939, after six weeks of drilling, Union Producing completed the G.C. Woodruff No. 1 well at a depth of 4,560 feet. The well, which had shown signs of oil at the end of August, flowed at 235 barrels of oil a day from a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Within 35 days, drilling companies, investors, and speculators recorded more than $5 million in lease and purchase transactions.

first Mississippi oil well

Union Producing Company discovered the Tinsley oilfiled at a depth of 4,560 feet.

“Almost eighty years to the day after the discovery of the famous Drake well on Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, the first commercially important oil pool in the southeastern states was discovered,” declared John S. Ezell in The Journal of Southern History, (Vol.18, No. 3, August 1952).

“Hotels are over-flowing, restaurants are overtaxed, map companies are dizzy from the rush of new business,” reported Oil Weekly, adding that “farmers are trying to obtain drilling clauses with leases, geophysical crews are slipping through the woods, and in every hotel lobby John Doe will tell you he has a sure-shot lease – for sale at the right price.”

Three weeks after the Woodruff No. 1 well was completed, Union Producing exported to Louisiana the first barrel of Mississippi crude oil, sending four tank cars carrying 8,000 gallons of oil from Tinsley Station to the Standard Oil Refinery at Baton Rouge.

first Mississippi oil well

Following the discovery, the Commercial Appeal of Memphis explained the well’s completion with “a drilling crew sets a ‘Christmas tree’ (drilling apparatus) in place.”

The Southland Company in 1940 constructed a small oil refinery at Crupp, seven miles southeast of Yazoo City, near the Illinois Central railroad freight line. By June 1944, Mississippi had 388 wells from eight producing oilfields. Texas oilman Sid W. Richardson discovered the prolific Gwinville oilfield in August 1944.

Cumulative production from the Tinsley field would reach more than 224 million barrels of oil and 14.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas by 1997, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“The discovery and development of the largest oil field in the southeastern States is an exciting part of Mississippi’s history,” proclaimed Mississippi State Geologist William H. Moore in 1974.

“The fact that this giant field was discovered through the application of basic geology, in an investigation not necessarily slated toward oil and gas exploration, is a tribute not only to the geologist making the discovery but to all geologists engaged in similar undertakings,” he added.

The Office of the Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey, in 1974 published Moore’s Tinsley Field 1939-1974, A Commemorative Bulletin. A Yazoo City newspaper editor was among his sources regarding the historic well.

“When the Tinsley oil field was discovered in August of 1939 Mississippians, and Yazooans in particular, thought at last Mississippi would mushroom in development as did Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Louisiana,” noted Norman Mott Jr., editor of the Yazoo City Herald in 1974.

“Yazoo City experienced a great deal of excitement and the chaos of the early days as the center of the beginning oil industry in the state,” Mott said. “Adding greatly to the dreams of an oil boom was the discovery in the spring of 1940 of the Pickens Field in eastern Yazoo County. However, Pickens was not another Tinsley.”

Frederic Mellen (1911-1989) was a founding member in 1939 of the Mississippi Geological Society. In 1985, the society sponsored a summer field trip led by Mellen, “to traverse the very hillsides of Yazoo County that he had mapped 47 years previously in his discovery of the large surface anticline that later became the giant Tinsley field,” reported Stanley King in A Brief History Of The Mississippi Geological Society.

As of 2017, with secondary recovery through carbon-dioxide injection, the Tensely oilfield was still producing more than 6,000 barrels of oil a day, about eight percent of Mississippi’s total oil production.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “First Mississippi Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-mississippi-oil-well. Last Updated: September 2, 2019.

The U.S. petroleum industry began in 1859 when a former railroad conductor drilled a well 69.5 feet deep in Northwestern Pennsylvania.


American oil history

Considered America’s first petroleum exploration company – the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York – incorporated in 1854. It reorganized as Seneca Oil Company of New Haven Connecticut in 1858.

American oil history began in a valley along a creek in remote northwestern Pennsylvania. Today’s exploration and production industry was born on August 27, 1859, near Titusville when a well specifically drilled for oil found it.

Although crude oil had been found and bottled for medicine as early as 1814 in Ohio and in Kentucky in 1818, these had been drilled seeking brine. Drillers often used an ancient technology, the “spring pole” (see Making Hole – Drilling Technology). Sometimes the salt wells produced small amounts of oil, an unwanted byproduct. Read the rest of this entry »

Five years before the famous 1901 Texas gusher, experts considered self-taught geologist Pattillo Higgins “something of a fool.”

Self-taught geologist Patillo Higgins became known as the “Prophet of Spindletop” a decade after founding his Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company in 1892. He was instrumental in discovering the world-famous Spindletop oilfield at Beaumont, Texas. 

Prophet of Spindletop

Pattillo Higgins formed the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company on August 24, 1892. He left the company prior to its famous gusher.

“Pattillo Higgins believed that oil lay beneath his feet at Spindletop,” reported the Gladys City Chronicles. “He had a feeling that drilling a well on top of this salt dome (and others like it) would produce oil, and lots of it.”

Higgins was convinced that an area known as “Big Hill” – Spindletop – four miles south of Beaumont, had oil, despite all conventional wisdom to the contrary.

As geologists would soon learn, salt domes are surrounded by oil, and one of the largest was Spindletop Hill, south of Beaumont, notes a local museum. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Great American Well

Preceding oil wildcatters, settlers seeking brine drilled with the “spring-pole,” a technology used by the Chinese as early as 450 A.D. Photo from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the Department of the Interior.

Although oil would not be drilled for – and found – in Pennsylvania until three decades later, launching America’s petroleum industry, Kentucky claims the first oil gusher.

Boring for salt brine with a simple spring-pole device (used in ancient China) on a farm near Burkesville, Kentucky, drillers found oil instead. They had been working for a local doctor when the March 11, 1829, gusher shot “to the top of the surrounding trees.” Read the rest of this entry »

By June 1919, there were more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield” of North Texas.

Although the 1918 oil discovery on a small farm along the Red River launched another Texas drilling boom, it also inspired a Hollywood movie starring Clark Gable, who was a teenager working in nearby Oklahoma oilfields. Read the rest of this entry »

1920s oilfield discoveries bring prosperity to Oklahoma small towns.


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.  Read the rest of this entry »

A 1902 discovery in rugged Katalla territory long known for oil seeps.


first Alasaka oil well

first Alaska oil well

Drilled using cable tools in 1902, the first Alaska oil well proved production was possible in the territory – but difficult and costly to transport. Photo courtesy University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives.

Alaska’s petroleum history began long before statehood in 1959 and a major oil discovery two years earlier. The truly first Alaska oil well with commercial production arrived in 1902 in rugged territory where oil seeps had been known for years. Despite limited cable-tool technologies of the day, the Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate produced oil near the remote settlement of Katalla on Alaska’s southern coastline. The oilfield there also led to construction of Alaska Territory’s first refinery.

The Katalla discovery well, drilled on private land owned by the Alaska Development Company, marked the first unsteady steps of Alaska’s petroleum industry. “Among Alaska’s vast resources, gold and oil were the rich twins that put the territory on the map near the turn of the last century,” noted Tricia Brown in a 2012 article, “Katalla: Alaska’s First Oil Well.”

“Gold discoveries had been made in the interior and at Nome when, in September 1902, the Alaska Development Company, known as the English Company, made the first commercial oil discovery at Katalla, 47 miles southeast of Cordova,” she explained.

Enthusiastic reporting about Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate’s success brought investors and competing exploration companies. Newspaper articles – often wildly exaggerating the Katalla discovery – encouraged a rush of entrepreneurs looking for opportunities similar to the famous gold rush. “A special dispatch from Valdez announces an immense oil gusher was struck at Cotella [Katalla], on the Southern Alaska Coast, at a depth of 200 feet, reported the New York Times in a vivid (but inaccurate) article. “The gusher took everything away with it, rising nearly 200 feet before it could be capped.”

Adding that the Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate had announced its intention of “refining the oil on the spot,” the Times article concluded that an important new industry had arrived in the territory. A January 1903 article in the St. Paul Globe gushed even more.

first Alaska oil well

Harsh winters at the Katalla oilfield frequently challenged men and equipment. Photo courtesy University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives.

“Oil experts who have just returned to Tacoma from the oilfields of southern Alaska declare that they will rival the fields in Pennsylvania in the matter of production within a short time,” exclaimed the Minnesota newspaper.

Such accounts of Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate’s success attracted new companies, including the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company (1903), Amalgamated Development Company, and the Alaska Oil & Refining Company.

The oil fever centered on Alaska Development Company’s 826-acre Katalla patent along Oil Creek and Arvesta Creek as cable-tool rigs multiplied there. “I expect to see, next year, a dozen big outfits actively at work developing the oil fields surrounding the city,” wrote John F.A. Strong, publisher of the Katalla Herald, in 1907.

“I gave it out that the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company stood ready to give every encouragement to oil men to come here, and we are ready to let oil developers have from 40 to 80 acres each to begin work upon, on the most liberal terms,” added the future governor of the Alaska Territory.

Where Rails meet Sails

Katalla was on Controller Bay and accessible by water if the weather was right. This was rough country, but planned railroad service from Alaska’s prolific interior copper mines promised new opportunities.

first Alaska oil well

Unloading supplies at the dock in Katalla, Alaska Territory. Photo courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.

As the Alaska Pacific Railway and Terminal Company started building its line, Katalla promoted the venture by declaring, “Katalla, Where the Rails Meet the Sails!” Drilling on the original patent continued and a number of successful wells continued to produce “Pennsylvania quality” crude oil.

And yet before the year ended, Katalla residents would be reduced to subsisting on salt pork and porcupine after storms cut off supplies from the outside. “Ship After Ship Undertakes to Land Relief but in Vain – Six Weeks of the Roughest of Weather,” reported the The Marshfield, Oregon, newspaper.

first Alaska oil well

A view of Katalla’s Front Street not long after the town’s historic 1902 oil discovery. The population would later peak at about 5,000 resident before a dramatic decline. Photo courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.

Violent storms in late 1907 isolated Katalla and destroyed the breakwater along with an 1,800-foot dock under construction by the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad. The village of Cordova about 50 rugged miles west of Katalla was was chosen to be the new terminus and thereby the Katalla oilfield’s nearest railhead.

Katalla was further isolated when the Army’s Washington to Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System also changed its destination to Cordova. Without a railroad or telegraph, Katalla’s population dropped from a peak of 5,000 residents to 770 residents. Then prospects for Alaska’s first oil boom town got even worse.

Concerned that over development of oil supplies on federal lands would diminish the United States’ petroleum reserves, President William Howard Taft intervened. On November 2, 1910, he issued an executive order preventing further exploration and drilling in the Alaska Territory. Only Katalla’s privately owned 826-acre patent remained open amidst all of Alaska’s vast petroleum potential of almost 425 million acres. Despite this setback, the Alaska Oil & Refining Company rebounded by building Alaska’s first refinery.

First Oil Refinery

The refinery on Katalla Slough serviced local needs for gasoline, kerosene and lubricants. Once a week, the company shipped 60 100-gallon drums to Cordova. Products traveled to markets by boat, barge – or towed in floating tanks. Alaska Oil & Refining operated the refinery until 1915, when the St. Elias Oil Company took over the company’s assets. Petroleum exploration was still limited to the original 826 acres permitted by Taft’s executive order.

St. Elias Oil advised investors of expansion plans to “increase the output of the refinery…pumping four wells, anticipating four more within the year. Will install tanks at Katalla to facilitate immediate shipment.” The company drilled three successful wells (and three dry holes) that helped keep the refinery running as the rest of Alaska imported in excess of 732,000 gallons of illuminating oil and 373,000 gallons of lubricants.

Nonetheless, Katalla’s population dropped to 87 hardy souls by 1920. Congress then passed the Mineral Leasing Act to finally open the rest of Alaska to petroleum exploration. “All the Alaska oil lands were withdrawn in 1910, and patent has been granted to only one claim, which is in the Katalla field,” noted a 1921 report of the U.S. Geological Survey. “This condition persisted until the passage of the recent oil and gas leasing act of February 25, 1920. The provisions of this law applying to Alaska appear to be liberal and will permit prospecting the fairly accessible localities near the Pacific where seepages have been found.”

first Alaska oil well

Oil from the Katalla field was processed at Alaska’s first refinery – until it burned down on Christmas eve in 1933. Photo courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.

The 1921 report, “Preliminary report on petroleum in Alaska,” also noted areas with oil seeps “now give promise of being of commercial importance. There are, however, some indications of oil in the extreme northern part of Alaska, a region at present almost inaccessible.”

That same year St. Elias Oil sold out to Chilkat Oil Company and the federal government issued about 400 new exploration permits. But few came to Alaska and none to the Katalla oilfield for the next 65 years. The Alaskan Crude Corporation drilled briefly there in 1985 but suspended operations.

While Alaska’s oil industry struggled, California’s had been booming; by 1921 annual oil production exceeded 77 million barrels with oil selling for just $1.73 per barrel (oil prices would stay below $2 a barrel until 1948). At those prices, transporting oil from Alaskan oilfields made no economic sense. Chilkat Oil’s refinery continued to deliver Katalla oilfield products to nearby customers.

Alaska’s first refinery burned on Christmas eve of 1933, taking with it the fortunes of Chilkat Oil Company and the town of Katalla. The refinery had produced a total of about 6.5 million gallons of distillates, but there would be no more. With no economic engine, Katalla was soon abandoned – with only 12 residents by the 1940s. When a 9.2 magnitude earthquake raised the land around Katalla by eight feet in 1964, the town’s old waterfront disappeared. “It put the last nail in the coffin,” according to the Anchorage Press. Katalla became a ghost town.

Although Katalla’s heritage as home of the first Alaska oil well and refinery was acknowledged in 1974 by the National Register of Historic Places, the town’s 30 years of oil production actually amounted to less than what Alaska’s North Slope would yield in a single day. Despite its fate, Katalla proved petroleum production was possible in Alaska Territory – but transporting oil to market was difficult and expensive.

In 1946, the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Navy began an eight-year exploration program, but found only two minor oil deposits after drilling 36 wells. Then, in July 1957, a well drilled by Richfield Oil Corporation, a predecessor of ARCO, tested at 900 barrels of oil a day, the first significant commercial discovery in Alaska…since 1902.

The July 19, 1957, discovery of oil north of Sterling at Swanson River provided, according to Alaska’s first governor William Egan, “the economic justification for statehood for Alaska,” notes a 2017 article Oil workers celebrate 60 years of Swanson river. Atlantic Richfield had sent geologists Bill Bishop and Ray Arnett to explore the 50,000 acres the company had leased. “Bishop and Arnett drilled a successful oil well at Swanson River, in the northwest Kenai Peninsula. Their announcement of the well on July 23 set off a flurry of economic activity that some compared to the gold rush.”

By 1959, Unocal discovered a major natural gas field near the Swanson River oilfield. When Atlantic Richfield and Humble Oil companies discovered the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay field in 1968, the largest oilfield in North America inspired the industry’s modern engineering marvel, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “First Alaska Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-alaska-oil-well. Last Updated: July 15, 2019.

A Texan who “rocketed into the national imagination in the late 1940s.”


petroleum historyJuly 21 - july 27

After discovering 11 Texas oil fields, Glenn McCarthy appeared on the February 13, 1950, cover of TIME.

In the late 1940s, as giant oilfield discoveries created Texas millionaires, people started calling “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy the reigning King of the Wildcatters.

Some historians say the $21 million hotel McCarthy opened in 1949 put Houston on the map – and that the character Jett Rink in the 1952 novel Giant was based on him.

Glenn H. McCarthy’s petroleum career began with a 1935 well 50 miles east of Houston. On July 21, he and partner R.A. Mason brought in the No. 1 White well with initial production of almost 600 barrels of oil a day. The well extended the already productive Anahuac field three miles to the north.

By 1945, McCarthy went on to discover 11 new oilfields and extend others. In Brazoria County a year later he drilled the highest-pressure gas well drilled to that time.

Described as a “bombastic, plucky Irishman best known for building the famous Shamrock Hotel,” the Texas independent oilman would be featured on the February 13, 1950, cover of TIME. Read the rest of this entry »

Pennsylvanians discover oilfield near Tulsa in Oklahoma Territory.


Six years before Oklahoma statehood, the 1901 Red Fork oilfield discovery south of Tulsa set the town on its journey to becoming “Oil Capital of the World.”

Read the rest of this entry »

A shallow Oklahoma field produced industry service company giant.


After World War I, a young oilfield worker in Oklahoma’s booming Healdton oilfield began experimenting with a new method for cementing oil wells. Years later he would lead a worldwide oilfield services companies.

The story began in 1919 when Erle Palmer Halliburton (1892-1957) arrived in Ardmore, Oklahoma, to take part in the frenzied drilling of the Healdton oilfield. He came to the small town 20 miles east of Healdton after experiencing another nearby headline-making boom town in Burkburnett, just across the Red River border in Texas.

The Healdton field had been revealed by the Wirt Franklin No. 1 well in August 1913 about northwest of Ardmore. The well, drilled by another future leader of the petroleum industry, revealed an easily reached oil-producing formation. The Healdton field would be known as the “poor man’s field,” thanks to its shallow depth and consequent low cost of drilling. The area attracted independent producers with limited financial backing – leaving out many major oil companies.


The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts annual oil history events.

“Within a 22-mile swath across Carter County, one of the nation’s greatest oil discoveries was made – the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Field,” notes historian Kenny Arthur Franks.

“Encompassing some of the richest oil-producing land in America, Healdton and Hewitt, discovered in 1913 and 1919 respectively, produced an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” he explains.

In addition to launching Halliburton’s petroleum career, it also helped independent producer Wirt Franklin became the first president of  the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 1929.

Among those who established themselves at Healdton were Lloyd Noble, Robert Hefner and former Governor Charles Haskell. The Healdton Oil Museum preserves their petroleum exploration and production heritage.

Thanks to the Healdton drilling boom and its many shallow wells, Halliburton established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan. He was soon experimenting with technologies to improve oil well production.

Water intrusion hampered many wells, requiring time and expense for pumping out. Water, he noted in a 1920 patent application, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

Awarded a U.S. patent the next year for his “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells,” the 28-year-old inventor was just beginning. The cementing innovation – at first resisted by some oilfield skeptics – isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Merger

The city of Duncan, Oklahoma, dedicated a Halliburton statue in 1993.

Halliburton’s well cementing process revolutionized how oil and natural gas wells were completed. He went on to patent much of today’s cementing technology – including the jet mixer, the remixer and the float collar, guide shoe and plug system, bulk cementing, multiple-stage cementing, advanced pump technology and offshore cementing technology.

In 1938, Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company moved offshore with a barge-mounted unit cementing a well off the Louisiana coast.

In 1949, Halliburton and Stanolind Oil Company completed a well near Duncan, Oklahoma – the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing (also see Shooters – A “Fracking” History).

“Halliburton was ever the tinkerer. He owned nearly 50 patents,” notes William Pike, former editor-in-chief of E&P magazine. “Most are oilfield, and specifically cementing related, but the number includes patents for an airplane control, an opposed piston pump, a respirator, an airplane tire and a metallic suitcase.”

Pike adds that Halliburton’s only real service company competitor for decades was Carl Baker of Baker Oil Tools. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

Another Oklahoma oilfield service company, the Reda Pump Company was founded by Armais Arutunoff, a close friend of Frank Phllips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artifical lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump. Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

1894 Corsicana water well launches Lone Star petroleum industry.

The first Texas oil boom arrived in the summer of 1894 when the Corsicana oilfield is discovered by a drilling contractor hired by the city to find water. Residents annually celebrate the 1894 discovery with a Derrick Day Chili & BBQ Cook-Off.

An oil well that produced less than three barrels a day transformed Corsicana, Texas, from a sleepy agricultural town into a petroleum and industrial center. It launched industries, including service companies and manufacturers of the newly invented rotary drilling rig. Locals consider the 1894 Corsicana oilfield discovery well, drilled on South 12th Street, the first significant commercial oil discovery west of the Mississippi (Kansans claim the 1892 Neodesha oil well).

Although it was not the first oil well in Texas, the discovery soon led to others that established the state’s exploration and production industry. Corsicana reportedly built the first refinery west of the Mississippi. It also was home to Wolf Brand Chili. Read the rest of this entry »

The 1920s West Texas petroleum discoveries that keep on giving.


West Texas petroleum history is made in 1923 when a well blessed by nuns reveals the size of the Permian Basin. A small Texas university owns the arid land deemed worthless by many experts.

west texas petroleum

In 1958, the University of Texas Board of Regents moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. After the dedication, the student newspaper described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.” Photo by Bruce Wells.

The Permian Basin, once known as a “petroleum graveyard,” began to make U. S. petroleum history in 1920 with a discovery by W. H. Abrams in Mitchell County in West Texas. But when completed, his well produced just 10 barrels a day. It would be another discovery well, the Santa Rita No. 1, that convinced wildcatters to explore the full 300-mile extent of the basin from most of West Texas into the southeastern corner of New Mexico.

Although many experts still considered West Texas barren of oil, the Santa Rita well will produce for seven decades after tapping into the vast commercial oil production of the Permian Basin. Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made its major oil strike May 28, 1923 – after 21 months of cable-tool drilling that averaged less than five feet a day. Read the rest of this entry »

Oilfield discovered in 1940 after 57 years of expensive “dry holes.”


Pawnee Royalty Company drilled the first Nebraska oil well on May 29, 1940, in Richardson County…after desperate state legislators offered a $15,000 bonus.

first nebraska oil well

Nebraska’s 2012 oil production was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil, about 6,900 barrels per day, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.


first nebraska oil well

A 1940s postcard image depicts “pool of first oil from first Nebraska well at Falls City, Nebraska.”

After more than a half century of dry holes, on May 29, 1940, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well was completed in the far southeastern corner of the state. The Pawnee Royalty Company made the discovery just west of Falls City in Richardson County.

“The first publicized report of oil in Nebraska had been an 1883 newspaper account of a ‘vein of petroleum’ discovered in the same county,” explains a Nebraska historical marker.

“Over the next 57 years the search for oil consumed thousands of dollars, and hundreds of wells were drilled throughout Nebraska,” adds the marker placed by the Nebraska Petroleum Council. “Traces of oil were reported at various locations across the state, but Nebraska did not have a producing well until 1940.”

Oil Bounty

Eager to become an oil-producing state, the Nebraska legislature had offered a $15,000 bonus for the first oil well in Nebraska to produce 50 barrels daily for 60 consecutive days.

In 1939 and 1940 the Pawnee Royalty Company had two encouraging but unsuccessful drillings near Falls City. A third well, Bucholz No. 1, was begun near the marker on April 22, 1940. On May 29 the well began producing and averaged 169-1/2 barrels daily for the first 60 days.

The discovery easily qualified for the Nebraska Legislature’s $15,000 bonus. Richardson County enjoyed an oil boom for three years. The Bucholz No. 1 was located just five miles east of the “vein of petroleum” reported in 1883.

Western Nebraska Oil

Modern Nebraska petroleum production comes from the southwestern panhandle – where a  1949 discovery well produced 225 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,429 feet.

This oil discovery ended 60 years of unsuccessful searching in western Nebraska, according to another roadside historical marker.

Marathon Oil completed the well, the Mary Egging No. 1, five miles southeast of Gurley in Cheyenne County.

The marker, on U.S. 385 between Sidney and Gurley, reports that interest in oil in western Nebraska first occurred in 1889, near Crawford, in the northwest corner of the Panhandle.

first nebraska oil well

Prior to 1950, Nebraska has no office to report production for record keeping. Oil production from 1939 to 1949 is estimated by the Geological Survey to have been almost six million barrels.

“The first recorded drilling operation there took place in 1903 near Chadron, also in the northern part of the Panhandle,” the marker explains.

“In 1917, the first exploratory well to drill in the southwest Panhandle, near Harrisburg, failed,” it adds. “Oil searchers sunk many other dry test wells in western Nebraska until success came in 1949.”

By 1966, wells in the western Nebraska oilfields produced more than 216 million barrels of oil.

“The pioneer efforts in this area have resulted in a major contribution to the economy of the state,” concludes the Nebraska State Historical Society.

New technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, today bring renewed activity to the state. Independent oil and natural gas companies are testing the potential of the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, Wyoming – and southwestern Nebraska.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Drillers kept oil production from 1882 well a closely guarded secret. 


Summer travelers interested in Pennsylvania petroleum history should not miss the annual celebration at Cherry Grove. Every June, this small community of oil historians has celebrated a dramatic 1882 oil discovery with the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.

A small Pennsylvania community annually celebrates “the great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove” every June.

Oil prices plunged in 1882 when oil production from a single Pennsylvania well was revealed.

The well’s true – and at that time massive – oil production had been a closely guarded secret in a small, Warren County township.

As the well’s owners quietly secured nearby leases, word finally spread about a secret May 17, 1882, discovery well that flowed with 1,000 barrels of oil per day.

“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explained historian Paul H. Giddens in his 1938 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry.

The sudden news about the mystery well, operated by the Jamestown Oil Company, sent shock waves through early oil market centers. The nation’s first commercial oil well in Titusville was just 25 years old.

“The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” notes the historical account by Giddens. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”

According to Giddens, the Cherry Grove discovery demoralized the market and drove the price down to less than 50 cents per barrel. It brought an early financial crisis for the young U.S. petroleum industry.

Visitors tour the actual “mystery well” site in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania.

Despite the collapse of oil prices, hundreds of derricks appeared around Cherry Grove – and thousands of people moved there while the boom lasted.

Celebrating Cherry Grove

It was short lived, according to the dedicated modern volunteers of Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which has hosted many special petroleum history events on the last Sunday of every June.

“Before the railroad could lay a new line to Cherry Grove, the boom went bust,” noted Walt Atwood, president of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day, in 2012.

“Thousands of people moved on,” he added. “Those who remained kept the memory of the Oil Excitement alive with reunions that became known as Old Home Day.”

In 1982 and again in 2007, a group of Cherry Grove Old Home Day regulars rebuilt a replica of the 646 Mystery Well. The volunteers worked with the township supervisors to secure grants and bring in a work crew from the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps.

The Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day annual oil patch event is open to the public with no admission fee. “Anyone who is interested in oil field history, or the history of Cherry Grove, is encouraged to participate to keep the history alive,” Atwood proclaimed.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

million dollar auctioneer

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters, “auctioneer of the Osage Nation.”

Osage Indians awarded Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters a medal in 1920 for auctioning mineral leases. He did it from beneath their “Million Dollar Elm.”

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth (his real name) Walters was the most famous auctioneer in all of Oklahoma history. In 1912, the Osage Indians hired him to auction mineral rights from their petroleum-rich reservation. Working for $10 a day, beneath a giant elm tree in Pawhuska, Ellsworth earned the tribe millions.

Born at Adrian, Illinois, in 1865, Walters was named in honor of Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers, the first Union officer killed during the Civil War (shot while removing the Confederate flag from the roof of a Virginia hotel). Walters moved with his parents to the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, in 1866.

Although Walters became a deputy U.S. marshal at 19, he began gaining distinction as an auctioneer. He sold live stock, real estate and mineral leases in 2,250-square-mile Osage County.

Osage auctioneer

Newspaper ad courtesy of Colonel Walters’ great-great-granddaughter Hope Litvinoff. Her grandmother in 1928 helped unveil a statue in Skedee, Oklahoma, honoring Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation.

Beginning in 1912 he sold Osage mineral leases in 160-acre blocks based on “headrights” from a 1906 tribal population count. In Pawhuska, between the Osage council house and the county courthouse, Walters called the auctions.

The bidders for the leases were a who’s who of leading Oklahoma independent producers. E.W. Marland biographer John J. Mathews quotes one impressed onlooker:

“You could stand on the edge of the crowd and see two or three of the biggest names in America squatting there on the grass, as common as an old shoe, and when they raised their hands it meant millions. That’s a fact!”

million dollar acutioneer

Born in 1865, Colonel  E.E. Walters wasn’t actually a Colonel. He was named in honor of the first Union officer killed in the Civil War, complete with rank. Currier and Ives engraving, 1861. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Another onlooker described hundreds of spectators and reporters who gathered to watch the bidding. Walters proved so effective at “extracting millions from the silk pockets of such newly minted oil barons as Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland, and William G. Skelly” that the Osages awarded him a medal.

“On February 3, 1920, before that day’s bidding began, the Osage tribe presented Walters with a medal to show their appreciation for all the wealth he’d drummed up for them in the shade of the Million Dollar Elm,” the witness reported.

By 1922, the National Petroleum News proclaimed that Walters had “Sold 10 Times As Much Property Under Hammer As Any Other Man” and his friends, the Osage, became “the richest people in the world.”

On March 18, 1924, during an auction held inside the popular Constantine Theatre in Pawhuska, Walters secured a bid of $1,995,000 for one 160-acre tract. It was the highest price paid at that time, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Walters reportedly received more Osage gifts, including a diamond-studded badge and a diamond ring.

million dollar auctioneer

By 1928, the famous “auctioneer of the Osage Nation,” Colonel E.E. Walters (above in striped shirt), had sold $157 million in Osage oil leases.

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in his nearby hometown of Skedee for the dedication of a 25-foot “Bond of Friendship” monument. The unveiling revealed “painted bronze” statues of Walters and the chief of the Osage Nation shaking hands on a two-tiered sandstone and concrete base. The close friendship between Osage Chief (phonetically) Wah-she-hah and Walters was rare enough at the time to warrant an Oklahoma monolith.

Wah-she-hah translates to Star-That-Travels in the Osage language – but history and visitors to the Skedee statue remember him as Chief Bacon Rind.

Still standing in Skedee, the sculpture depicts the Chief Bacon Rind wearing his traditional otter-skin cap and a cloak. Walters wears a suit with trousers tucked into his boots and holds his hat in left hand.

By 1928, the famous “auctioneer of the Osage Nation” had sold $157 million in lease sales for his friends. But it wasn’t all good news.

Dark Side of “Headrights”

million dollar auctioneer

Osage Chief Bacon Rind and Colonel E.E. Walters in an undated photo.

Sudden great wealth for the Osage people brought a bloody criminal conspiracy of unsolved murders that left dozens of Osage men, women, and children dead – killed for the “headrights” to their land.

“Osage mineral leases earned royalties that were paid to the tribe as a whole, with each allottee receiving one equal share, or headright, of the payments, notes Oklahoma Historical Society historian Jon D. May in Osage Murders.

“A headright was hereditary and passed to a deceased allottee’s immediate legal heir,” May adds. “One did not have to be an Osage to inherit an Osage headright.”

Estimates vary, but approximately 24 Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s, when con men, bootleggers and murderers began a “Reign of Terror.”

William K. Hale was one of the worst. He was accused of repeatedly orchestrating murders, tried four times, and finally convicted of a single killing. The 2017 book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by journalist DavidGrann, investigates the disturbing and tragic stories.

million dollar auctioneer

On April 22, 1926, hundreds gathered in Skedee, Oklahoma, for the unveiling of the 25-foot “Bond of Friendship” monument honoring the chief of the Osage Nation and the state’s greatest auctioneer of mineral rights.

million dollar auctioneer

Like the town, the “Bond of Friendship” of Skedee, Oklahoma, has deteriorated since 1926. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

Sadly, Oklahoma news media ignored the reservation’s murders – and the murderers. Newspapers there and around the country instead featured scandalous stories of incredible Osage wealth squandered on Pierce-Arrows and gaudy fashion. As Osage Indians died, reporters mocked the tribe with sarcasm and caricatures.

In his 1994 book, Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed and Murder on the Osage Reservation, Washington Post journalist Dennis McAuliffe notes little wonder that, “this period in our history hardly dances with awareness.”

Today, after almost a century, the Skedee “Bond of Friendship” monument is showing its age. The legacy of the once famous friendship offers some slight merriment for one contributor to Roadside America:

“The lesson imparted here is that white and red can be harmonious – if you just add a little green…Atop a blocky concrete pillar stands the Chief and the Colonel, facing each other, shaking hands. The work is primitive for such well-oiled honorees: the pillar is plastered cinder block around old oil pipes, while the Chief and the Colonel appear to be made of Play-Doh spray-painted silver. The distended lower half of the Chief, in particular, looks as if he’s carrying a space alien seed pod that is about to burst.”

million dollar auctioneer

Although a traditionalist in customs, Chief Bacon Rind’s leadership earned his people millions from oil and natural gas resources.

According to more dependable sources, Chief Bacon Rind, “a statuesque man at six feet four inches,” perhaps the most photographed of all Native Americans.

The Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration noted the chief was frequently asked to pose for the prominent artists of the day “and created an image of the romantic ideal of the American Indian.”

Skedee’s population peaked in 1910. Today only about 50 residents call Skedee home. The aging monument draws few crowds. Chief Bacon Rind died in 1932 and Colonel Ephriam Ellsworth Walters followed in 1946.

Nonetheless, for those who choose to look deeper, the heart of Skedee can be found in the center of town. Walters, an amateur poet, had his hopes for the future carved into the monument’s base:

…I will build for them a landmark,
That the coming race may see,
All the beauties of the friendship,
That exists ‘tween them and me…
And explain it to grandchildren,
as they sit upon their knee.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


“Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption.”

los angeles oil

A tower moves on tracks, servicing 19 wells drilled directionally under the adjacent neighborhood.

los angeles oil fields

Edward Doheny discovered the Los Angeles oilfield in 1892 when he drilled into tar seeps near present-day Dodger Stadium. Photos courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Culver City, California.

When struggling prospector Edward L. Doheny and his mining partner Charles A. Canfield decided to dig a well in 1892, they wisely chose a site with “tar seeps” – where natural asphalt bubbled to the surface.

Local lore says Doheny was downtown when he noticed a cart with a black substance on its wheels. He asked the driver where he had come from.

On April 20, 1892, they struck oil near present-day Dodger Stadium – and revealed the Los Angeles City oil field, which still produces tar seeps, notably at the La Brea “tar pits.” Actually comprised of asphalt, the animal-trapping pools were discovered in 1769 by a Spanish explorer, remain among the many onshore and offshore natural seeps of southern California. Read the rest of this entry »


A pink granite rock marks the spot where a large crowd gathered at Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well to witness history being made in 1897.

After the Civil War, America’s search for oil to refine into kerosene prompted entrepreneurs, speculators, and wildcatters to seek their fortunes on the great plains of the Indian Territory. This was land reserved for Native Americans by Congress and home to its indigenous people as well as the “Five Civilized Tribes” – Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, and Chickasaw, which had been relocated from the Southeast.

Each of the Five Civilized Tribes established national territorial boundaries, constitutional governments, and advanced judicial and public school systems. The Indian Territory included present-day Oklahoma north and east of the Red River, as well as Kansas and Nebraska. Read the rest of this entry »


A 1911 April Fool’s day oil gusher at the Clayco No. 1 well near Electra, Texas, will bring prosperity and later the title of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”

pump jack capital of texas

An April 1, 1911, oil discovery brought prosperity to Electra, Texas, helping to build the community’s theater in 1920 and high school in 1923. A commemorative afghan is proudly held in 2005 by chamber of commerce members Shirley Craighead, Georgia Eakin and Jeanette Miller.

pump jack capital of texas

April 1, 2011, marked the centennial of the Clayco No. 1 discovery well. Electra celebrated with a parade and rededication ceremony of the well’s historic marker.

Electra was a small farm town barely four years old when the black gold excitement began on April 1, 1911. It became oil fever when “Roaring Ranger” came in neighboring Eastland County in 1917. When a third drilling boom began at Burkburnett in 1918, even Hollywood noticed.

Among other things, these oilfield discoveries brought prosperity to North Texas, launched hundreds of petroleum companies, fueled America’s Model T Fords (and victory in World War I), convinced Conrad Hilton to buy his first hotel, and inspired the movie “Boomtown,” which would win an Academy Award.

As early as 1913, newly discovered Mid-Continent oilfields like Electra were producing almost half of all the oil in Texas. Refineries began to appear in Wichita Falls in 1915 when Wichita County alone reported 1,025 producing wells.

Nearby, the McClesky No. 1 well in Eastland County struck oil in October 1917. The “Roaring Ranger” in Ranger reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels. Within two years eight refineries were open or under construction and Ranger banks had $5 million in deposits.

“Roaring Ranger” gained international fame for Ranger as the town whose oil wiped out critical oil shortages during World War I, allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.” Read the rest of this entry »


first North Dakota oil wellAfter decades of dry holes drilled from one corner of the state to the other, in 1951 new technologies and determination – true grit – brought North Dakota’s first oil discovery. Photo courtesy BakenBlog.com.

 North Dakota Williston Basin

Cliff Iverson stands by a monument on the family farm in Tioga, North Dakota, in August 2008. The monument marks the April 4, 1951, oil discovery on his late father’s farm.

The exploratory well on the farm of Clarence Iverson northeast of Williston endured blizzards and was “shot” with perforation tools several times before finally producing oil on April 4, 1951.

The discovery in Mr. Iverson’s wheat field launched the first drilling boom of the North Dakota Williston Basin.

At about one in the morning on April 4, after four months of hard drilling and with snow piled high from recent blizzards,  the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well produced oil.

Amerada Petroleum’s 1951 discovery – the first commercial oil well in North Dakota – will help reveal a prolific petroleum basin stretching from North and South Dakota, Montana, and into Canada.

Although this wildcat drilling attempt had been regarded with great skepticism, within two months of the strike 30 million acres were under lease. A 2008 article in the Bismarck Tribune, quotes Sid Anderson, the former state geologist, who was a college student at the University of North Dakota when oil was discovered.

“It was brand new, then, and pretty exciting times,” said Anderson. The amber-colored oil in the area was of such high quality, Anderson recalled, that “you could have run a diesel with it straight from the well.”


U.S. Bureau of Land Management map illustrates Bakken Shale Formation and the Williston Basin.

The Williston Basin will produce more than five billion barrels of oil by 2008.

“This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II,” James Key writes in Word & Picture Story of Williston & Area

By 1952, Standard Oil of Indiana was building a 30,000 barrel per day refinery, he notes. Forty-two oilfield service and supply companies had opened offices in Williston. In June, Service Pipeline Company announced it would build a pipeline to the Standard refinery.

Key adds that although the Williston Basin is named after the city of Williston, it was first exposed in 1912 by Dr. W. T. Thom, Jr. , “a sophomore studying geology when he happened into a creek bed in the area of the Cannonball River. It was his discovery of coral that led him to believe that the area was once inundated by an ancient sea.”

On June 17, 2014, North Dakota oil production surpassed one million barrels per day thanks to development of the Bakken shale formation in the western part of the state. State officials reported North Dakota produced 1,001,149 barrels of oil a day from a record 10,658 wells. Industry journalists, proclaiming the milestone a sign America was freeing itself from foreign oil, referred to the state as “Saudi Dakota.”

North Dakota Dry Holes

The earliest permit issued for oil exploration in North Dakota came from the state geologist in 1923. By the late 1930s, petroleum companies were working with a growing North Dakota Geological Survey to improve the science behind exploration, which often featured difficult formations, including granite, thwarting drilling technologies of the day.

 North Dakota Williston Basin

The 1951 well that launched North Dakota’s first oil boom was drilled by Amerada Petroleum, now Hess Petroleum, which today operates a gas processing plant not far from the discovery well northeast of Williston.

According to historian Clarence Herz, despite repeated failures, companies continued to come to North Dakota and spend large amounts of money on leases and drilling.

“There were no indications from any of the wells they drilled that they were even close to production, but that did not deter them,” says Herz, adding that the expensive lessons even resulted in positive developments.

“A more skilled labor force and continuous technological innovation that included the use of explosives, acid and newly invented scientific instruments meant an acceleration of the drilling process as wells were not only being drilled faster, but deeper and at a much higher cost,” Herz explains.

One such invention came from two Frenchman, Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger,” he adds. “Schlumberger was fast becoming a household name in the oil industry for the development of an electrical resistivity well log created by the French brothers in 1927.

Although it failed to find oil in the 1930s, the California Oil Company used technological and scientific breakthroughs like rotary drilling and seismometers to reach a depth previously unheard of in the state. A well spudded in October 1937 had to be abandoned in August 1938 when the drill pipe twisted off in the hole almost two miles deep. Attempts to “fish” the pipe out failed.

California Oil’s failure did not stop exploration in other areas of the state, Herz says, citing a report noting that most major oil companies sent men to North Dakota to investigate and in many instances to buy leases. It took the Carter Oil Company three months with modern equipment to drill nearly 5,000 feet – and end up with a dry hole in 1940. Two years later the company still had not found any oil.

Herz reports that after World War II, “From one corner of the state to the other companies leap-frogged one another in anticipation of being the first to identify an oil producing zone.” Continental Oil Company in cooperation with the Pure Oil Company moved into North Dakota in the spring of 1949 after having leased about 1.5 million acres.

In September 1950, Magnolia Petroleum Company became the latest company to drill a North Dakota dry hole. Drilled to a depth of 5,556 feet, it hit granite and was plugged and abandoned. Soon, however, men from all over the country will come to work on North Dakota drilling rigs.

The Discovery Well

Throughout the entire discovery period dry holes were not looked at as failures, but as learning experiences as valuable geologic and technical knowledge was gained from each attempt, Herz explains.

 North Dakota Williston Basin

In 1950, geologist Thomas W. Leach convinced Amerada Petroleum of Tulsa that oil could be found in North Dakota’s Nesson Anticline.

An independent oilman and investor, Thomas W. Leach was a former chief geologist for an Oklahoma oil company who was convinced oil could be found. In the late 1930s he had convinced Standard Oil Company of California to drill a 10,281-foot well there. It was a dry hole that cost the company almost a million dollars.

After World War II, where he served as a Captain of U.S. Army Artillery, Leach returned to North Dakota and continued leasing land. The geologist eventually convinced Amerada Petroleum of Tulsa that success could be found in the Nesson Anticline about 50 miles northeast of Williston.

A site was selected on Clarence Iverson’s family farm near Tioga and drilling began on September 3, 1950, Herz says. There was little to report until January 1951, “except the depth of the bit, the conditioning of the mud, and the occasional tripping pipe.”

Following a January 29 blizzard that shut down the well, drilling continued until total depth – 11,744 feet – was reached on February 4, 1951. No oil was found. It was decided to try “shooting” the well.

 North Dakota Williston Basin

A Pennsylvania historical marker commemorates the “Roberts Torpedo.”

“The practice of perforating a well, or using explosives to perforate the rock, is not new,” says Herz. Colonel Edward A. L. Roberts first used his “Roberts Torpedo” in 1865. The practice was successful and soon the dry holes of Pennsylvania were turned into producers by “shooting” the well with nitroglycerin torpedoes. Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

On March 1, the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well was “shot” from 11,706 feet to 11,729 feet using Lane-Wells Koneshot, Herz reports. Still no oil was found.

According to Herz, perforation became a standard practice whereby multiple charges attached to a gun were lowered into the wells casing. Once into place the charges were fired, perforating the well at small intervals, hopefully releasing the oil from the rock.

“The Koneshot was a type of perforating gun that used a shaped charge. It was another innovation,” he says, adding that it “contained shaped charges in a spiral placement in a steel housing at a three-inch centerline distance from each other.” The design was an improvement over some of the early perforators, notes Herz. Learn more history about perforating with shaped charges in Downhole Bazooka.

Work on the Iverson well was again halted the week of March 5 by another blizzard. The well would remain idle for several weeks until the snow choked roads could be cleared for passage. With the well plugged back to a depth of 11,669 feet, the work stopped to make repairs and prepare for another perforation.

 North Dakota Williston Basin

The State Historical Society of North Dakota preserves the Williston newspaper’s photo of the Clarence Iverson No. 1 drilling rig surrounded by snow.

The well was again perforated, this time from 11,630 feet to 11,640 feet with four holes per foot.

At 12:55 a.m. on the April 4, 1951, the Clarence Iverson No. 1 began producing about 240 barrels of oil a day. The state of North Dakota finally had its first discovery well.

According to a 2008 Associated Press article, at first Clarence Iverson wasn’t pleased when seismologists exploded dynamite in his wheat fields looking for oil. His son Cliff, who was 20 when oil was found on the family farm, remembers his father smiling when oil surfaced.

“He worried a lot about his water wells,” Cliff said of his father. The farm became one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Upper Midwest after oil was discovered there. “They came from as far as Minnesota and all over North Dakota and Montana,” he added. “People knew it was history in the making, and it changed a lot of people’s lives.”

The Clarence Iverson No. 1 well alone produced 585,000 barrels oil for 28 years. Clarence Iverson died in 1986, a wealthy man “who never got used to all that money.”

The Bakken Shale

The earliest producing wells of the Bakken shale formation were drilled in the early 1950s on Henry O. Bakken’s farm less than five miles from the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well.

Occupying about 200,000 square miles within the Williston Basin, the oil shale of the Bakken formation may be the largest domestic oil resource since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, according to many experts. But petroleum industry efforts to extract shale oil using conventional vertical wells historically have proven difficult.

“The Clarence Iverson well produced from the Silurian, Duperow and Madison formations, but not the Bakken, according to Kathy Neset, a geologist who moved to Tioga from New Jersey in 1979. “There are several oil-producing formations at different depths within the larger Williston Basin.”

The Bakken formation frustrated a lot of geologists for years, “because they knew the oil was there but they didn’t have the technology to extract the oil,” Neset adds in a 2012 article, Famous Bakken Formation Named For North Dakota Homesteaders. The Bakken formation first produced in 1953 from a well named after Henry Bakken, the landowner. Like the Williston discovery well, it was also drilled by Amerada Petroleum. This first shale well was on the Nesson Anticline, now known as a “sweet spot” of the Bakken, home to natural fractures in the rock, according to the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc.

Although North Dakota has been an oil producing state since 1951, only during the past decade has the Bakken oil boom made it the fourth largest oil producing state in the country and one of the largest onshore plays in the United States. “The Bakken is a shale oil play. It is conventional, light-sweet crude oil, trapped 10,000 feet below the surface within shale rock,” the foundation explains. The Bakken shale play consists of three layers – an upper layer of shale rock, a middle layer of sandstone/dolomite, and a lower layer of shale rock. The middle sandstone layer is what is commonly drilled and fracked.

“Production was mainly from a few vertical wells – until the 1980s when horizontal technology became available,” adds a 2008 article in the Oil Drum. “Only recently after the intensive application of horizontal wells combined with hydraulic fracturing technology did production really take off.”

 North Dakota Williston Basin

The Bakken shale play consists of three layers, according to the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc. The middle sandstone layer is what is commonly drilled and fractured.

U.S. Geological Survey has estimated 3.0 billion barrels to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in America’s portion of the Bakken formation, elevating it to a “world-class” accumulation. The Geological Survey’s 2008 assessment of the Bakken shale’s potential is a 25-fold increase in the amount of “technically recoverable” oil compared to the agency’s 1995 estimate of just 151 million barrels of oil.

According to state statistics, oil production from the Bakken in North Dakota has steadily increased from about 28 million barrels in 2008, to 50 million barrels in 2009 to approximately 86 million barrels in 2010.

“The Bakken formation is producing an ever-increasing amount of oil for domestic consumption while providing increasing royalty revenues to American Indian tribes and individual Indian mineral owners in North Dakota and Montana,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salaza concluded 2011.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


A series of major oil discoveries at Sour Lake, Texas, near the world-famous gusher of 1901 at Spindletop Hill, will help turn the Texas Company into Texaco.


A monument marks the site where in 1903 the Fee No. 3 well flowed at 5,000 barrels of oil a day, launching the Texas Company into becoming Texaco.

Originally known as Sour Lake Springs because of its sulfurous spring water popular for its healing properties, a series of oil discoveries brought wealth and new oil companies to Hardin County in southeastern Texas.

As the science of petroleum geology evolved, some experts predicted oil was trapped at Sour Lake similar to Beaumont’s Spindletop field, which produced from a salt dome.

According to Charles Warner in Texas Oil & Gas Since 1543, in November 1901 an exploratory well found “hot salt water impregnated with sulfur between 800 and 850 feet…and four oil sands about 10 feet thick at a depth of approximately 1,040 feet.”

Warner noted that the Sour Lake Springs field’s discovery well came four months later when a second attempt by the Great Western Company drilled “north of the old hotel building” in the vicinity of earlier shallow wells.

“This well secured gusher production at a depth of approximately 683 feet on March 7, 1902,” Warner reported. “The well penetrated 40 feet of oil sand. The flow of oil was accompanied by a considerable amount of loose sand, and it was necessary to close the well in from time to time and bail out the sand, after which the well would respond with excellent flows.”


Named after its original New York City telegraph office address, Texaco’s name became official in 1959.

As more discoveries followed, Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan and Arnold Schlaet were among those who rushed to the area from their offices in Beaumont.

The Texas Company

The most significant company started during the Spindletop oil boom was The Texas Company, according to one historian.

“Cullinan worked in the Pennsylvania oil industry and later went to Corsicana, Texas, about 1898 when oil was first discovered in that district where he became the most prosperous operator in the field,” reported Elton N. Gish in his “History of the Texas Company and Port Arthur Works Refinery.”

Cullinan formed the Petroleum Iron Works, building oil storage tanks in the Beaumont area – where he was introduced to Schlaet.

“When the Spindletop boom came in January 1901, Mr. Cullinan decided to visit Beaumont,” Gish noted. Schlaet managed the oil business of two brothers, New York leather merchants.

“Schlaet’s field superintendent, Charles Miller, traveled to Beaumont in 1901 to witness the Spindletop activity and met with Cullinan, whom he knew from the oil business in Pennsylvania. He liked Cullinan’s plans and asked Schlaet to join them in Beaumont.”

According to Texaco, Cullinan and Schlaet formed the Texas Company on April 7, 1902, by absorbing the Texas Fuel Company and inheriting its office in Beaumont.

Texas Fuel had organized just one year earlier to purchase Spindletop oil, develop storage and transportation networks, and sell the oil to northern refineries.

By November 1902, the new Texas Company was establishing a new refinery in Port Arthur as well as 20 storage tanks, building its first marine vessel, and equipment for an oil terminal to serve sugar plantations along the Mississippi River.

Fee No. 3 Discovery Well

The Texas Company struck oil at Sour Lake Springs in January 1903, “after gambling its future on the site’s drilling rights,” the company explained. “The discovery, during a heavy downpour near Sour Lake’s mineral springs, turns the company into a major oil producer overnight, validating the risk-taking insight of company co-founder J.S. Cullinan and the ability of driller Walter Sharp.”


A vintage Texaco station is among the indoor exhibits featured at the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma.

Their 1903 Hardin County discovery at Sour Lake Springs – the Fee No. 3 well – flowed at 5,000 barrels a day, securing the Texas Company’s success in petroleum exploration, production, transportation and refining.

High oil production levels from the Sour Lake field and other successful wells in the Humble oilfield (1905), secured the company’s financial base, according to L. W. Kemp and Cherie Voris in Handbook of Texas Online.

“In 1905 the Texas Company linked these two fields by pipelines to Port Arthur, ninety miles away, and built its first refinery there. That same year the company acquired an asphalt refinery at nearby Port Neches,” they noted.

“In 1908 the company completed the ambitious venture of a pipeline from the Glenn Pool, in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), to its Southeast Texas refineries,” added Kemp and Voris. “As early as 1905 the Texas Company had established marketing facilities not only throughout the United States, but also in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Panama.”

The Texas Company registered its Texaco trademark in 1909.

The Texas Company registered its “Texaco” trademark in 1909.

The telegraph address for the company’s New York office is “Texaco” – a name soon applied to its products.

The company registered its first trademark, the original red star with a green capital letter “T” superimposed on it in 1909. The letter remained an essential component of the logo for decades. By 1928 the company operated more than 4,000 gasoline stations in 48 states.

The Texas Company officially renamed itself Texaco in 1959. It purchased Getty Oil Company in 1984. On October 9, 2001, Chevron Corp. and Texaco agreed to form a merger that created ChevronTexaco, renamed simply Chevron in 2005.

Although the Sour Lake Springs oil boom soon was surpassed by other Texas discoveries, Sour Lake proudly promotes itself as the birthplace of the Texaco.

Learn more Spindletop history in Spindletop creates Modern Petroleum Industry. Also read Prophet of Spindletop.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


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

wild mary sudik

“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.

However, the prolific, 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.

wild mary sudik

The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City includes the Devon Energy Oil and Gas Park.

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. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


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

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 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.

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

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.”

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.”

pithole creek

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. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


Once known as “Dry Hole Slick,” wildcatter Tom Slick discovered Oklahoma’s giant Cushing oilfield in 1912 and became known as the “King of the Wildcatters.” Today Cushing is the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” the trading hub for oil in North America – and the daily settlement point for prices, including West Texas Intermediate.

wildcatter tom slick

Once known as “Dry Hole Slick” by many, on March 12, 1912, Thomas B. Slick discovered Oklahoma’s giant Cushing oilfield.

Looking for Leases

The owner of Spurlock Petroleum Company, enjoyed great success in the Kansas oilfields after finding oil or natural gas in 25 consecutive wells.

In 1904, Alexander Massey hired an inexperienced 21-year-old “lease man” named Thomas Baker Slick for a 25 percent share in all the leases the young man could secure. Massey and his new employee set out for Tryon, Oklahoma, to look for oil.

Massey later recalled that Slick, born in Shippenville, Pennsylvania, in 1883, showed a talent for securing petroleum leases.

“Tom would go out and lease most of a territory as yet unproved or doubtful as to oil prospects,” Massey noted. “But he’d spread as clean a bunch of leases before a capitalist as you’d wish to see…He certainly knew what a good oil lease was.”

Near Tryon, Oklahoma, Spurlock Petroleum Company spudded a wildcat well at M.C. Teegarden’s farm. Slick continued securing leases that eventually totaled more than 27,000 acres. Drilling generated excitement in the local newspaper and with other wildcatters.

However, at a depth of 2,800 feet, Spurlock Petroleum and owner Massey ran out of patience and money. Tom Slick’s first well was a dry hole – the first of many.

Dry Hole Slick

In 1907, after another dry hole near Kendrick, Slick left the employ of Massey and departed Oklahoma, headed for Illinois.

In Chicago, Charles B. Shaffer of the Shaffer & Smathers Company hired Slick for $100 per month (and expenses) to find and secure promising oil leases. Slick traveled to Illinois, Kentucky, western Canada, and eventually, back to Oklahoma.

While leasing for Shaffer & Smathers in Oklahoma, the young oilman drilled at least ten dry holes and earned the unenviable nickname, “Dry Hole Slick.”

An example of township leases similar to those negotiated by Tom Slick, from the Atlas of North Central Oklahoma 1917 Oil Fields and Landowners: Oklahoma, M. P. Burke, 1917.

The Bristow Record newspaper reported that Slick, “continues to gamble on wild cat stuff. Few men have stuck to the wildcatting longer and harder than Slick and associates. It is said he has spent $150,000 mostly on dry holes.” Now also known as “Mad Tom” Slick, he tried his luck again just 35 miles down the road, in Cushing.

As “Mad Tom” pursued new leases in 1912, newspapers like the Cushing Independent encouraged readers to take advantage of leasing opportunities.

“Land owners have everything to gain and no risk to themselves in making leases,” it reported on January 25. “It costs from $8,000 to $10,000 to put down a single hole. Unless the promoters can get the leases they want they will not chance their money here, while other localities are eager to give leases and even bonuses in money to get prospecting done.”

The Cushing Democrat added, “We would repeat that we believe it to the best interests of the individuals and all that these leases be granted…And just a word of warning. If you make a lease see that the lessees name is not left blank, but that the name of Thomas B. Slick is there.”

Slick and Charles Shaffer spudded a wildcat well on the farm of Frank M. Wheeler in January 1912.

Cushing Gusher and Crafty Moves

On March 12, 1912, the Wheeler No. 1 well struck oil, producing about 400 barrels a day from a depth between 2,319 and 2,347 feet. It marked Tom Slick’s first gusher – and a giant oilfield discovery. Slick was so secretive about his find that he even cut the phone line to the Wheeler house to prevent word from spreading, notes one historian. Knowing that oilmen and speculators would descend in droves on the town when the word got out, he protected his investment.

How Slick did it is described by a frustrated competing lease man to his boss:

You see, sir, Slick and Shaffer roped off their well on the Wheeler farm and posted guards and nobody can get near it…I got a call yesterday at the hotel in Cushing from a friend who said they had struck oil out there. A friend of his was listening in on the party line and heard the driller call Tom Slick at the farm where he’s been boarding and said they’d hit.

Well, I rushed down to the livery stable to get a rig to go out and do some leasing and damned if Slick hadn’t already been there and hired every rig. Not only there, but every other stable in town. They all had the barns locked and the horses out to pasture. There’s 25 rigs for hire in Cushing and he had them all for ten days at $4.50 a day apiece, so you know he really thinks he’s got something.

wildcatter tom slick

Pump stations in the Cushing oilfield, 1910-1918, from the Oklahoma Historical Society. More than 50 refineries once operated in the Cushing area about 50 miles west of Tulsa. Pipelines and storage facilities have since made it “the pipeline crossroads of the world.”

I went looking for a farm wagon to hire and had to walk three miles. Some other scouts had already gotten the wagons on the first farms I hit. Soon as I got one I beat it back to town to pick up a notary public to carry along with me to get leases – and damned if Slick hadn’t hired every notary in town, too.

Eleven days later the news had spread. As a leasing frenzy grew the Tryon Star reported, “Our old friend Tom Slick the oilman has struck it rich…Slick has been plugging away for several years and has put down several dry holes…He deserves this success and here’s hoping that it will make Tom his millions.”

King of the Wildcatters

Tom Slick’s No. 1 Wheeler was the discovery well for the prolific Drumright-Cushing oilfield, which produced for the next 35 years, reaching 330,000 barrels every day at its peak.

Slick was suddenly a very rich man. After his dramatic success in Cushing, he began an incredible 18-year streak of discoveries in some of the nation’s most prolific oilfields. His leases in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas produced millions of barrels of oil.

In the famed oilfields of Pioneer, Tonkawa, Papoose, and Seminole, Slick secured leases and drilled wells that consistently paid off, time after time.

His gushers were spectacular: No. 4 Eakin – 10,000 barrels per day; No. 1 Laura Endicott – 4,500 barrels per day; No. 1 Walker – 5,000 barrels per day; No. 1 Franks -5,000 barrels per day. See Greater Seminole Oil Boom.

Reflecting on his fortunes late in his career, Slick noted, “If I strike oil everyone calls it Tom Slick’s luck, (but) I call it largely judgment based upon experience. Some folks don’t recognize good luck when they meet it in the middle of the road. So I have been fortunate, or lucky, whichever you call it, but I’ve also done a lot of calling good luck to bring it my way.”

wildcatter tom slick

Newly discovered oilfields of the mid-1920s brought prosperity – and traffic jams – to Seminole, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy the Oklahoma Oil Museum.

By 1929, Tom Slick’s estimated crude oil production was up to 35,000 barrels daily. He was known as the largest independent oil operator in the United States with a net worth estimated between $35 million and $100 million.

By 1930, in the Oklahoma City field alone, Slick had 45 wells being drilled, more than 30 wells completed, and the capacity to produce 200,000 barrels of crude daily. Across the Mid-Continent, stories of Tom Slick’s business acumen and integrity grew with his fortune.

It was often told how Slick once closed a $100,000 deal for a prized Seminole lease on a street corner. He met the owner on the street and inquired, “What do you want for that lease’ ‘A hundred thousand dollars,’ replied the owner. ‘It’s a sale, bring in your deeds,’ said Slick.”

wildcatter tom slick

Thomas B. Slick is among those honored at an outdoor plaza at the Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma, in Norman.

Thomas B. Slick’s death from a stroke in August 1930 at the age of 46 abruptly ended a career that had helped supply an energy-hungry nation with the petroleum it needed to grow.

“Oil derricks in the Oklahoma City Field stood silent for one hour in tribute,” reports the Oklahoma Historical Society. Slick’s biggest strike came a week after he died. His Campbell No. 1 well in Oklahoma City came in at 43,200 barrels per day.

Today, such stories of Tom Slick’s life are told again and again. Across the Mid-Continent, he is no longer known as “Dry Hole Slick.” Instead, Thomas B. Slick is remembered as a “King of the Wildcatters.”

In Oklahoma alone, more than 470,400 oil and natural gas wells have been drilled since the first discovery well near Bartlesville on April 15, 1879, notes the Oklahoma Geological Survey (read First Oklahoma Oil Well). In 1933, Tom Slick’s friend and business partner, Charles Urschel, was kidnapped and held for ransom. Once released, Urschel assisted the FBI in catching his abductors, including George “Machine Gun” Kelly, who was sentenced to life in Alcatraz.

The substance of this article comes from King of the Wildcatters, the Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883–1930 by Ray Miles, professor of history and dean of the college of liberal arts at McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

The Oklahoma oil industry began in 1897. By the 1920s, leases sold in the shade of a “Million Dollar Elm” brought prosperity to the Osage Nation. Production from Osage County alone launched the careers of Frank Phillips, J. Paul Getty, Bill Skelly, E.W. Marland, Harry Sinclair – and Clark Gable.

million dollar elm

A circa 1920s painting depicts one of the many lease auctions that took place under the “Million Dollar Elm” next to the Osage Nation tribal council house in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

million dollar elm

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters, official auctioneer of the Osage Nation (seen here on June 14, 1921), sold millions of dollars of oil leases in the shade of an elm tree. Image from “Oil! Titan of the Southwest” by Carl Coke Rister, 1949.

In the spring of 2003, the Osage nation opened a “Million Dollar Elm” casino a few miles from its council house at Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The name came straight from Osage reservation petroleum history. Multimillion dollar lease auctions once took place in the shade of a giant elm next to the council house.

Osage County, at more 2,250 square miles, is the largest county in Oklahoma – larger than Delaware or Rhode Island. On the grounds atop Agency Hill between the county courthouse and the Osage tribal council house, today stands a symbolic elm where auctions regularly took place on hot summer afternoons.

Soon after Oklahoma statehood, more Osage discoveries brought thousands to Bartlesville, Hominy, Fairfax, Grainola and Burbank. All the oilfields produced a high-quality, easily refined oil. First drilled in 1920, the Burbank field and several others soon became one of the richest in Oklahoma. At its peak, the Burbank oilfield produced more than 70,000 barrels a day from more than 1,800 wells. Phillips Petroleum made a fortune there.

Other petroleum companies got their start in Osage oilfields, including Conoco (originally Marland Oil), Skelly Oil, Carter Oil (later incorporated into Standard Oil), and Gypsy Oil Company (later Gulf).

Traces of oil had long been noted in the area, including slicks on creeks and oil seeps. The southern end of the Flint Hills, which ranges down from Kansas, has rocks 298 million years old, according to Jenk Jones Jr. of the Tallgrass National Preserve in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.

The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company made the first drilling deal with the Osage Tribe, Jones notes. The company received rights to all drilling in the Osage Nation for 10 years, beginning in 1896. The next year the territory’s first commercial producer was hit, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well, in what is now a park in Bartlesville. Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

Jones says that all of Osage County was open for bidding after 1916 – just in time for the greatest years of the Osage boom, triggered by demands of World War I and the postwar growth in automobiles. “To get a sense of how the oil business exploded in the Osage, there were about 6,000 barrels produced in 1900, more than 11 million in 1914. The Osage boom and a vast leap in the number of automobiles coincided remarkably well,” Jones explains.

During the height of the drilling boom from 1919 to 1928 northwest of Tulsa, more than $202 million was paid to the tribe in oil and natural gas royalties, bonuses, interest and land rentals. “The Osage fields were an oilman’s dream,” says Jones. “The oil was a high-grade, with a good conversion to gasoline ratio. It was easily refined, with a very high percentage of kerosene. It was free of sulfur and asphalt.”

million dollar elm

Colonel Walters in 1922 sold a million-dollar oil lease for the Osage Nation. Two years later, at an auction held inside Pawhuska’s Constantine Theatre, he accepted a $2 million bid for a single 160-acre lease.

Million Dollar Auctioneer

According to Corey Bone of the Oklahoma Historical Society, the profitable auctions of Osage mineral rights were based on “headrights” from a 1906 tribal Sadlympopulation count.

“Unlike other landholders, the Osage were able to retain collective ownership of subsurface mineral rights, rather than having to accept allotments to individual owners,” Bone explains. “Instead, tribal members received ‘headrights’ that assured them an equal share of mineral rights sales equivalent to income from 658 acres.”

She adds that a headright could not be sold, but an individual could sell his or her surface rights.”

An average Osage family of a husband, wife, and three children would receive more than $65,000 a year in 1926,” she notes. “By 1939 Osage individuals had received a total of more than $100 million in royalties and bonuses.” (Sadly, Osage oil wealth also brought criminal conspiracies and the murders of men, women, and children, killed for the headrights to their land.)

Among those who helped the Osage, beginning in 1912, was a skilled auctioneer of the tribe’s oil leases, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters. He worked for only about $10 a day but netted millions of dollars for the tribe. Walters had been named after the first Union martyr at the start of the Civil War, Col. Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers.

The “Million Dollar Auctioneer” would become famous from the Osage lease bids in Pawhuska. In 1926, a statue of Walters and Osage Chief Bacon Rind was dedicated in his nearby hometown of Skedee.

million dollar elm

Map of Osage County, Oklahoma, townships courtesy OKGenWeb.

“He knew the oilmen intimately and was an expert at getting them to raise bids,” Jones explains. “So subtle were their signals that L.E. Phillips reportedly ‘bid’ $100,000 for a lease by brushing a fly away from his nose.”

The elm’s name was not given by tribal leaders – but by reporters and magazine writers who were dramatizing the events when founders of the world’s greatest oil companies came in person to bid. It truly earned its name when 18 tracts brought bonuses of $1 million on a single day, November 11, 1912.

On March 18, 1924, during an auction held inside Pawhuska’s Constantine Theatre, Walters secured a bid of $1,995,000 from Josh Cosden; it was at that time the highest price ever paid for a 160-acre tract. By 1928 Walters had earned around $157 million for the Osage tribe. He presided over the lease auctions throughout the 1930s. Learn more in Million Dollar Auctioneer.

A large cast of national characters are linked to the Osage oil boom. Future president Herbert Hoover, an orphan, spent summer months in Pawhuska after his uncle Major Lahan J. Miles was appointed agent to the Osages in 1878.

million dollar elm

A registered historic site greets Main Street visitors in Barnsdall, Osage County, Oklahoma.

Southeast of Pawhuska the town Pershing was an oil boom town named for Gen. John J. Pershing, leader of U.S. forces in Europe during World War I.

Tom Mix, future silent film star, was a town marshal in Dewey just east of the Osage County border. The Wild West show of the 101 Ranch in Kay County west of the Osage gave him the boost that sent him to Hollywood. Clark Gable worked as a roustabout in the Osage oilfields, especially around Barnsdall and Pershing, before heading to Hollywood.

Memories of what took place beneath the Osage Nation elm did not fade after the original tree died in the 1980s. The latest elm, dedicated during a September 15, 2006, ceremony, grows new roots into the historic site. Thousands of visitors today gamble at six Osage Nation “Million Dollar Elm” casinos.

Special thanks to research found in “Osage County History” by Jenk Jones Jr., presented March 1, 2003, at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve docent reorientation in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. In 2011, Oklahoma City-based Chaparral Energy reportedly began working on methods to increase production from Osage oilfields that could bring $11 billion to Osage County and provide the Osage Nation with $1.2 billion in royalty payments over the next 30 years.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


first alabama oil well

The A.R. Jackson No. 1 well in 1944 revealed an Alabama oilfield near the Mississippi border. Photo courtesy Hunt Oil Co.

Although swallowing tar pills reportedly had been curing ills since the mid-1850s, Alabama’s petroleum industry officially began when its first oilfield was discovered in February 1944.

Famed Texas oilman Haroldson Lafayette Hunt drilled the No. 1 Jackson well in Choctaw County.

H.L. Hunt, who had found great success in the earliest Arkansas oilfields of the 1920s and even greater success in the East Texas oilfield of 1930, discovered the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to Hunt’s wildcat well, 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.

Although there had not been a major oil discovery in the state, natural petroleum seeps had attracted interest as early as the mid-19th century.

Geologist and historian Ray Sorenson has been investigating the earliest reports oil or natural gas in all of today’s producing states. He has documented many reports made before to the historic Drake well of 1859.

In Alabama’s case, Sorenson uncovered an account by the first state geologist, Michael Tuomey, who described reports of a “mineral tar.”  Tuomey cited an account from the 1840s of finding natural oil seeps six miles from Oakville in Lawrence County.

Noting oil and water emerging from a crevice in limestone, it was observed that “the tar, or bitumen, floats on the surface, a black film very cohesive and insoluble in water.”

Like “American oil” and “Kentucky oil,” Alabama’s Lawrence County oil became popular for its medicinal qualities. The oil was claimed to be “a known cure for Scrofula, Cancerous Sores, Rheumatism, Dyspepsia, and other diseases.”

“Patents visiting the Spring find the tar taken and swallowed as pills, the most efficient form of the remedy,” Tuomey quoted the observation from “Tar Spring of Lawrence” in the 1858  Second Biennial Report On the Geology of Alabama (published one year after his death).

Tuomey served as the state geologist of South Carolina from 1844 to 1847, and as the first state geologist of Alabama from 1848 until his death in 1857. His Geological Map of Alabama was printed in 1849.

In addition to oil, traces of natural gas were discovered in Alabama in the late 1880s, “and by 1902, natural gas was being supplied to the cities of Huntsville and Hazel Green,” notes Alabama historian Alan Cockrell.

“In 1909, a small discovery by Eureka Oil and Gas at Fayette fueled that city’s streetlights for a time, but no natural gas was recovered anywhere in the state for several decades afterward,” he adds.

However, according to Cockrell, Alabama’s oil and natural gas industry would not truly begin until H.L. Hunt of Dallas, Texas, drilled in Choctaw County near the Mississippi border and discovered the Gilbertown oilfield.

After five weeks of drilling, the well was completed on February 17, 1944, at 2,585 feet in the Selma chalk of the Upper Cretaceous. It had reached a total a depth of 5,380 feet before being plugged back. The first Alabama oil well produced 30 barrels of oil a day.

petroleum history february

Alabama’s petroleum producing regions.

Alabama’s first oilfield would produce 15 million barrels of oil, “not a lot by modern standards but enough to make ‘oil fever’ spread rapidly,” Cockrell notes in “Oil and Gas Industry in Alabama.”  Still, the search for another oilfield took another 11 years.

The 1955 oil discovery at Citronelle, a town above a geologic salt dome, finally launched a new drilling boom; five new Alabama oilfields were discovered by 1967. Mobil Oil Company drilled Alabama’s first successful offshore natural gas well in 1981.

With modern technologies, geologists now believe opportunities exist “in the hard shales of the deep Black Warrior Basin beneath Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the thick fractured shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties,” Cockrell concludes.

According to the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), at the end of 2014 more than 16,500 wells had been drilled in Alabama since the first Alabama oil well in 1944. Eleven percent produced oil, 59 percent found natural gas, and 30 percent (4,982 wells) were dry holes.

first alabama oil well

The 1849 Alabama map created by geologist Michael Tuomey, courtesy the University of Alabama.

First State Geologist of Alabama
Michael Tuomey (1805-1857)

From the journal Cartographic Perspectives of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS):

Settlement of the newly available land enabled Alabama to move rapidly from being a part of the Mississippi Territory, to its own Alabama Territory, and finally to statehood in 1819. The favorable climate and rich soil brought large plantations and slavery.

Michael Tuomey, professor of geology at the University of Alabama in the 1840s, had attempted to lead Alabama’s economy away from slavery-based agriculture. In 1849, he produced the first survey of the state’s mineral wealth. His map Geological map of Alabama showed exactly where the state’s natural riches were located. The efforts of Tuomey and others were rejected, as were similar efforts in other southern states.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


nevada oil

Half of the royalties from leasing and mineral development goes to the state of Nevada. Photo courtesy Nevada Bureau of Land Management.

First Nevada Oil Well

Since its first commercial well in 1954, Nevada has continued to be considered a frontier state for oil exploration of small oilfields, including, historic Railroad Valley in northeastern Nye County (bottom center). Map courtesy Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

An early attempt for drilling the first Nevada oil well was an 1,890-foot-deep dry hole drilled in Washoe County southwest of Reno in 1907. Another well was rumored to have been drilled northwest of town, but details about it and others are rare because drilling permits were not required until 1953. Read the rest of this entry »


Call them oilfield detectives, night riders of the hemlocks, or simply oil scouts. These early oil and gas well investigators separated fact from fiction.

Since the petroleum industry’s earliest days, “scout tickets” have been the written reports of the progress of oil or natural gas wells drilling in the producing area, according to the Handbook of Oil Industry Terms & Phrases by R. Dobie Langenkamp (sixth edition, 2014). Scouting “tight holes” have required more effort.

“The reports contain all pertinent information – all that can be found out by the enterprising oil scout; operator, location, lease, drilling contractor, depth of well, formations encountered, results of drill stem tests, logs, etc.,” Langenkamp noted. “On tight holes the scout is reduced to surreptitious means to get information. Talks to water hauler, to well-service people who may be talkative or landowner’s brother-in-law,” he added.

“The bird-dogging scout estimates the drill pipe set-backs for approximate depth; he notes the acid trucks or the shooting (perforating) crew; and through his binoculars, he judges the expressions on the operator’s face: happy or disgruntled,” Langenkamp opined, further illuminating how oilfield detectives have worked since the 19th century. Read the rest of this entry »


A Fort Worth wildcatter named W.A. “Monty” Moncrief drilled a well in East Texas in January 1931 that revealed the true size of what turned out to be the largest U.S. oilfield. Read the rest of this entry »


Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont, Texas, tells the story of a 1901 oil discovery that made America a world power.

The January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” in Texas revealed the Spindletop oilfield, which would produce more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s oilfields combined.

Although the great Galveston hurricane of 1899 (still the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history) brought misery to much of southeastern Texas, as the 20th century dawned, an oil discovery three miles south of Beaumont launched the modern oil and gas industry.

“Dubbed ‘The Lucas Gusher,’ the oil discovery on Spindletop Hill changed the economy of Texas and helped to usher in the petroleum age,” explains the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum. Drilled by Curt Hamill, Capt. Anthony Lucas, and two experienced Pennsylvania oilmen, the well erupted oil for nine days before it could be brought under control with the technology of the time. The museum at Lamar University today re-creates the historic gusher using water for about two minutes.

Th Beaumont museum tells the story of the oil-producing salt dome three miles south that created an oil boom greatly exceeding America’s first oil discovery in 1859 in Pennsylvania.

Just as consumer demand for kerosene for lamps was declining in favor of electricity, Americans would soon want far more of another refined petroleum product: gasoline. Within a few decades, new oil companies will pump gasoline into automobiles from “filling stations” across the country. Read the rest of this entry »


The only giant Michigan oil and natural gas field was discovered in January 1957 on the dairy farm of Ferne Houseknecht. Her first oil well revealed Michigan’s golden gulch of oil that proved to be 29-miles-long. Read the rest of this entry »


Three days after Christmas in 1930, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim revealed the extent of the mighty East Texas oilfield.

lou della crim

“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photograph about the wells that followed the historic 1930 discovery on her farm. Image courtesy Calib Pirtle/Neal Campbell.

lou della crim

Malcolm Crim stands at site of his famous 1930 East Texas oil well, the Lou Della Crim No. 1, named after his mother.

Some say a gypsy predicted the oil discovery for Malcolm Crim. Others say it was because his mother, Lou Della “Mama” Crim, was a pious woman.

On December 28, 1930, Mrs. Crim’s eldest son struck a gusher on her Rusk County, Texas, farm. The Lou Della Crim No. 1 well initially produced 20,000 barrels of oil every day.

“On Sunday morning, December 28, while Mrs. Crim was attending church, the Lou Della Crim well blew in,” says Joe White, director of the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore. The oil strike was about nine miles north of an earlier discovery on another widow’s farm. Read the rest of this entry »


Stella Dysart spent decades fruitlessly searching for oil in New Mexico. In 1955, a radioactive uranium sample from one of her dry holes made her a very wealthy woman.

Life magazine featured Stella Dysart in front of a drilling rig in 1955, soon after making a fortune from uranium after three decades as of failure in petroleum drilling ventures.

In the end, it was the uranium – not petroleum – that made Dysart a wealthy woman. The sometimes desperate promoter of New Mexico oil drilling ventures for more than 30 years, she once served time for fraud.

But in 1955, Mrs. Dysart  found that she owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore.

Born in 1878 in Slater, Missouri, Dysart moved to New Mexico, where she got into the petroleum and real estate business in 1923. She ultimately acquired a reported 150,000 acres in the remote Ambrosia Lake area 100 miles west of Albuquerque, on the southern edge of the oil-rich San Juan Basin.

Dysart established the New Mexico Oil Properties Association and the Dysart Oil Company. The ventures and other investment schemes would leave her broke, notes John Masters in his 2004 book, Secret Riches: Adventures of an Unreformed Oilman.

Masters describes her as “a woman who drilled dry holes, peddled worthless parcels of land to thousands of dirt-poor investors, and went to jail for one of her crooked deals.”

Dysart subdivided her properties and subdivided again, selling one-eighth acre leases and oil royalties as small as one-six thousandth to investors.She drilled nothing but dry holes for years and years. Then it got worse.

A 1937 Workmen’s Compensation Act judgment against Dysart’s New Mexico Oil Properties Association bankrupted the company, compelling sale of its equipment, “sold as it now lies on the ground near Ambrosia Lake.”

Two years later, it got worse again. Dysart and five Dysart Oil Company co-defendants were charged with 60 counts of conspiracy, grand theft and violation of the corporate securities (act) in 1939. All were convicted, and all did time. Dysart served 15 months in the county jail before being released on probation in March 1941.

New Mexico Uranium

By 1952, 74-year-old Dysart was broke and $25,000 in debt. Then she met uranium prospector Louis Lothman. When Lothman in 1955 examined cuttings from a Dysart dry hole in McKinley County – he got impressive Geiger counter readings. Drilling several more test wells confirmed the results.

Dysart owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore.

She was 78 years old when the December 10, 1955, Life magazine featured her picture captioned, “Wealthy landowner, Mrs. Stella Dysart, stands before abandoned oil rig which she set up on her property in a long vain search for oil. Now uranium is being mined there and Mrs. Dysart, swathed in mink, gets a plump royalty.”

Praised for her success, her fraudulent petroleum deals in the past, Dysart died in 1966 in Albuquerque at age 88. Secret Riches author John Masters explains that “there must be a little more to her story, but as someone said of Truth – ‘it lies hidden in a crooked well.'”

More New Mexico petroleum history can be found in Farmington, including the exhibit “From Dinosaurs to Drill Bits” at the Farmington Museum. Learn about the state’s massive Hobbs oil field of the late 1920s in New Mexico Oil Discovery.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

The lucky life of John Washington Steele started on December 10, 1844, when Culbertson and Sarah McClintock adopted him as an infant.

Coal Oil Johnny
John Washington Steele of Venango County, Pennsylvania, inherited his oil riches.

Johnny Steele – who one day will become famous as “Coal Oil Johnny” – was adopted along with his sister, Permelia. The McClintocks brought them home to their farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania

Fifteen years later, the petroleum boom prompted by Edwin Drake’s 1859 discovery at nearby Titusville – America’s first commercial oil well – made the widow McClintock a fortune in royalties.

When Mrs. McClintock died in a kitchen fire in 1864, she left the money to her only surviving child, Johnny. At age 20, he inherited $24,500.

Johnny also inherited his mother’s 200-acre farm along Oil Creek between what is now Rynd Farm and Rouseville. The farm already included 20 producing oil wells yielding $2,800 in royalties every day.

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele will earn his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that years later the New York Times reported.

“In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known,” the newspaper proclaimed. “He threw away $3,000,000 in less than a year.”

Philadelphia journalists coined the name “Coal Oil Johnny” for him, reportedly because of  his attachment to a custom carriage that had black oil derricks spouting dollar symbols painted on its red doors. He later confessed in his autobiography:

I spent my money foolishly, recklessly, wickedly, gave it away without excuse; threw dollars to street urchins to see them scramble; tipped waiters with five and ten dollar bills; was intoxicated most of the time, and kept the crowd surrounding me usually in the same condition.‎

Coal Oil Johnny
“Coal Oil Johnny” illustration from a 2010 Atlantic magazine article.

Of course, such wealth could not last forever. The rise and fall of Coal Oil Johnny, who died in modest circumstances in 1920 at age 76, will linger in petroleum history.

In 2010, the Atlantic magazine published “The Legend of Coal Oil Johnny, America’s Great Forgotten Parable,” an article surprisingly sympathetic to his riches to rags story. It describes the country’s fascination with the earliest economic booms brought by “black gold” discoveries in Pennsylvania.

“Before J.R. Ewing, or the Beverly Hillbillies, or even John D. Rockefeller, there was Coal Oil Johnny,” noted the October 8 feature story. “Johnny owned a carriage with black oil derricks spouting dollar symbols painted on its red doors.”

“He was the first great cautionary tale of the oil age – and his name would resound in popular culture for more than half a century after he made and lost his fortune in the 1860s.”

Coal Oil Johnny
Refurbished boyhood home of “Coal Oil Johnny”at Oil Creek State Park (and train station) north of Rouseville, Pennsylvania.

For generations after the peak of his career, Johnny was still so famous that any major oil strike – especially the January 1901 gusher at Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas, “brought his tales back to people’s lips,” noted magazine article, citing Brian Black, a historian at Pennsylvania State University.

It was wealth from nowhere,” Black explained. “Somebody like that was coming in without any opportunity or wealth and suddenly has a transforming moment. That’s the magic and it transfers right through to the Beverly Hillbillies and the rest of the mythology.”

“Coal Oil Johnny” was a legend and like all legends, “he became a stand-in for a constellation of people, things, ideas, feelings and morals – in this case, about oil wealth and how it works,” added the article.

Coal Oil Johnny
John Washington Steele died in Nebraska in 1920.

“He made and lost this huge fortune – and yet he didn’t go crazy or do anything terrible. Instead, he ended up living a regular, content life, mostly as a railroad agent in Nebraska,” the 2010 Atlantic article concluded. “Surely there’s a lesson in that for the millions who’ve lost everything in the housing boom and bust.”

John Washington Steele’s Venango County home, relocated and restored by Pennsylvania’s Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism, stands today in Oil Creek State Park, just off Route 8, north of Rouseville.

On Route 8 south of Rouseville is the still-producing  McClintock No. 1 oil well. “This is the oldest well in the world that is still producing oil at its original depth,” proclaims the Alliance. “Souvenir bottles of crude oil from McClintock Well Number One are available at the Drake Well Museum, outside Titusville.”

Published in 1902, Coal Oil Johnny: story of his career as told by himself (John Washington Steele) was digitized in 2007.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS), community museums, and professional associations have sought ways to preserve written histories of the men and women who have worked in the industry. Many museum have established oral (and video) history collections. In 2017, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) published Anomalies – Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917 to 2017.

This AOGHS website provides another resource for those wanting to share their career experiences in the petroleum industry.

A Woman Roustabout Crew Leader

AOGHS also features personal oilfield stories of women, including Oilfield Crew Leader Tamara L. George, posted in late 2018.

In early 1980s in Texas Panhandle oilfields, George led a skilled service company crew. Among the very first women to hold the dangerous, labor-intensive job, her oilfield journey began at D-J’s Roustabout and Well Services in Borger, Texas.

“At the time two brothers owned the company, Jerry Nolan, who handled the office work, and Harold Nolan, who did everything outside the office, George explained in a December 2018 email to AOGHS.

“It was Harold Nolan who wanted to hire me, but Don Nolan was not keen on this idea thinking I would be problems that I could not handle the work, get along with the men,” she added. “Don did not know I had been an Industrial, commercial and residential electrician, apprentice iron welder, and an auto body technician.”

The Nolans gave her a chance, and “within six months I moved to being a roustabout foreman running my own crew,” George explained in her note to the historical society. “I was the most requested crew in the Texas Panhandle oilfields.”

After leading her crews in the 1980s, George has proclaimed herself to be “only woman to ever hold such a position,” and even the “first woman to be a roustabout foreman in oilfield history!” Her personal oilfield record (which she is still researching) may extend to Canada, where she worked a few months as a roustabout foreman for Pangea Oil & Gas Company of Calgary, Alberta. And there’s still more to her career “firsts.”

“When the oilfield shut down, I went into medicine,” she noted, adding that she returned to school to work on advanced degrees in radiology and gastroenterology. Then came a personal health crisis.

The Hutchinson County Historical Museum in Borger exhibits the county’s heritage — with emphasis on the oilfield and boom town stories of the 1920-1930 era.

“I was around two years into obtaining my doctorates when a fatal tumor revealed itself,” George explained. “The tumor had caused a rather large aneurysm to which the doctors shook their heads in disbelief.” It was a mystery to her doctors how the roustabout foreman survived while doing such labor intensive work of the oil industry.

In the years since her service company work, George, who today lives in Elk City, Oklahoma, has “not come across any women doing what I did” earlier in the oilfields.

Oil History of Borger, Texas

Thousands of people rushed to the Texas Panhandle in early 1926 after Dixon Creek Oil and Refining Company completed the Smith No. 1 well, which flowed at 10,000 barrels of oil a day in southern Hutchinson County.

A.P. “Ace” Borger of Tulsa, Oklahoma, leased a 240-acre tract and by September his Borger oilfield had more than 800 producing wells, yielding 165,000 barrels a day. Borger himself would lay out streets for the town, which grew to a city of 15,000 in just 90 days.

Dedicated in 1977, the Hutchinson County Boom Town Museum in Borger today celebrates “Oil Boom Heritage” every March. Special exhibits, events and school tours occur throughout the Borger celebration, about 40 miles northeast of Amarillo.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

1892 discovery well at Neodesha reveals giant Mid-Continent field.


When America’s first commercial oil well was drilled in 1859 near oil seeps along a creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania, a new breed of entrepreneurs began searching for oil seeps in other states. Refineries wanted the “rock oil” to make a popular lamp fuel, kerosene.

Oil discovery in Neodesha

The Norman No. 1 Well Museum in Neodesha, Kansas, preserves the state’s extensive oil heritage.

In 1860, George Brown, a newspaperman in Kansas Territory, recalled stories about an oil spring in Lykins County. Brown, who had arrived a few years earlier from the Pennsylvania oil regions, gathered a few partners and drilled three shallow wells one mile east of Paola.

After two dry holes, the third well had reached about 100 feet deep on the Baptist Indian Mission grounds owned by David Lykins when it produced a few barrels of oil. But the Civil War ended his quest for oil riches.

Although other exploration companies returned to Lykins County (renamed Miami County in 1861) after the war, it would be almost two decades before Kansas became a producing state — thanks to a natural gas discovery.
Read the rest of this entry »


emma summers oil queen

Emma Summers’ business acumen put her in control of the Los Angeles City oil field’s production – and earned her oil queen title.

A woman with a genius for affairs – it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets. – July 21, 1901, San Francisco Call newspaper. Read the rest of this entry »

Harry F. Sinclair and J. Paul Getty were among those who got their start during the Glenn Pool boom, which began in 1905.

Greater than even the 1901 Spindletop discovery in Texas, Oklahoma Territory’s Glenn Pool field produced a “light and sweet” oil from the Creek Indian Reservation. It would help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”

tulsa oil capital

By 1920, Tulsa is home to 400 petroleum companies, two daily newspapers, seven banks, four telegraph companies – and 10,000 telephones.

On a chilly fall morning in 1905 – two years before Oklahoma became a state – oil was discovered on the Glenn family farm south of Tulsa. The well launched a drilling boom that greatly exceeded the first Oklahoma oil well of 1897 at Bartlesville; hundreds of wells were soon producing so much oil that the entire region was soon called the Glen Pool (or Glenn Pool), now the Tulsa suburb Glenpool. Read the rest of this entry »


chief roughneck award

Texas artist Torg Thompson originally created Joe for 1950s print advertisements.

Every year since 1955, the Chief Roughneck award has recognized one individual whose accomplishments and character represent the highest ideals of the oil and natural gas industry.
Read the rest of this entry »


Community activists in Connecticut want help from the U.S. petroleum industry in preserving a Standard Oil barn. At stake is a Standard Oil Company of New York storage and distribution facility built around 1910 and now part of a city park. Save Mead Park Brick Barn organizers have posted a petition for those interested in helping the preservation cause.

1901 standard oil barn

Horse-drawn wagons once distributed kerosene from this Standard Oil Company facility today in a park.

“We are trying to save – again – what is probably the last circa 1900 horse drawn oil delivery facility in Connecticut,” noted Andrea Sandor in a January 30, 2018, email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. Attached were documents about a Standard Oil Company facility in New Canaan at Mead Park, 64 Richmond Hill Road. Among the petitioners for preservation was Robin Beckett.

Beckett, who has lived in New Canaan for more than two decades, is committed to promoting the town’s “unique sense of place and character among the other towns in Fairfield County and the State of Connecticut.”

For years Beckett has advocated preserving the Standard Oil barn, a brick structure built by the company in circa 1910 — “a time when the company shipped kerosene from its refineries by rail car to bulk stations from where horse-drawn tank wagons distributed it to local hardware stores thence sold to the consumer,” she explains.

Beckett discovered many little-known details about the barn during her research to prevent its being demolished: The selection of New Canaan in 1901 as a site for Standard Oil’s kerosene and gasoline facilities made available to residents (about 2,000 at the time), “the opportunity to have a new fuel source and to have life-style altering modern age products.”

The 800-square-foot building is similar in design to a 19th century carriage house. Twenty-four acres of the Mead family land surrounding the Standard Oil property was sold to the town for one dollar in 1915 by the widow of Benjamin P. Mead, upon his death. It became a park in 1930.

During World War II, volunteer women sewed clothes for refugees and folded bandages there; the American Legion held meetings there after the war; the VFW Fife and Drum Corps and the Town Band practiced at the site; and the New Canaan Garden Center planted a Gold Star Walk memorializing war casualties.

“There is no other structure like The Barn in New Canaan,” Beckett maintains. It also could be the last remaining structure of its type and style in the state. She has located a 1927 Standard Oil Company of New York map of the barn’s site on Richmond Hill Road.

“The complex of six buildings that Standard Oil constructed in New Canaan in 1901 could be considered a precursor or early version of the now ubiquitous filling station thus yielding another piece of information about history,” she says.

The Barn is the last of the original six, “and now the structure, its cultural history — both local and in the context of the national history are understood,” proclaims Beckett. It was almost demolished in 2009 until a delay was granted by the Historic Review Committee. It has been used as a city garage most of the time since.

“I feel the town has a responsibility to listen to the nearly 500 petitioners who recognize The Barn’s historical significance and support it productive, adaptive reuse,” she concluded. Beckett also believes the building should be placed on State Register of Historic Places. The Friends of the Mead Park Carriage Barn launched their petition drive in 2010, according to the New Canaan Patch.

“We’re talking to different organizations and researching public and private funding for the renovation. Whatever its future use would be, if preserved and restored it would remain a piece of New Canaan’s history and past and that’s worth saving,” noted activist Mimi Findlay.  The small community has been home to severeal leading petroleum industry executives (learn more in Oil Executives in Connecticut).



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a donation today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.


Since its incorporation in 1901, New Canaan has attracted many corporate leaders from nearby New York City. Oil executives in Connecticut have include top industry leaders, according to Andrea Sandor, who is part of a local effort to preserve an early 1900s Standard Oil Company of New York carriage house (see Preserving a Standard Oil Barn).

Among leading oil and natural gas company executives who have lived in New Canaan, about 50 miles northeast of New York City, at least three played important roles at Standard Oil of New York’s successor, ExxonMobil.

Rawleigh Warner Jr. (1921-2013) spent most of his career helping transform Mobil Oil into one of the world’s largest corporations. Another New Canaan resident, Edwin C. Holmer (1921-2008) served as president of Exxon Chemical Company in the 1970s and later as a vice president of Exxon Corporation.

Arthur R. Mardoian (1927-2014) joined Socony Vacuum Oil in 1954, long before it became Mobil Oil. Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) Vacuum Oil Company was one of the 34 companies formed after the Supreme Court broke up the Standard Oil Trust in 1911.

Mardoian led a Mobil task force, which “designed, erected and successfully operated the world’s first commercial zeolitic catalyst plant,” noted the New Canaan Advertiser in his June 4, 2014, obituary. Known by chemists as molecular sieves, zeolites can be found in most of the major catalytic processes in modern petroleum refineries.

“Today, the worldwide petroleum industry is dependent on the use of zeolitic catalysts to produce vastly increased gasoline yields and other valuable products,” explained the New Canaan Advertiser. “In addition, Mr. Mardoian authored Mobil’s company-wide Transportation Emergency Response System to react, within minutes, to company hydrocarbon spills within the United States.”

Edwin Holmer received a chemical engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, in 1942. He worked at Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now ExxonMobil) and became president of the Exxon Chemical Corporation. In the 1980s he served as chairman of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, which became the American Chemistry Council in 2000.

oil executivesRawleigh Warner Jr. graduated from Princeton and followed his father into the oil business. By the 1980s he helped make Mobil Oil Corporation the second-largest American company after Exxon (the companies merged in 1999).

As Mobil chair and CEO from 1969 to 1986, Warner enhanced the company’s image by introducing “Masterpiece Theater” to public television in 1971. Sponsorship of the WGBH Boston program, encouraged by Mobil Vice President Herbert Schmertz, proved to be a major public relations success.

Warner’s father had been chairman of Pure Oil Company, which began by marketed illuminating oil by tank wagons in the late 1890s in Philadelphia and New York — successfully competing with the Standard Oil monopoly.

Warner Jr.’s oil career began in 1948 when he joined the financial department of Continental Oil Company in Houston, Texas. In 1953, Warner was recruited by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, where he eventually became a regional vice became president of the renamed Socony Mobil Oil Company in 1965. The company changed its name to Mobil a year later.

Warner replaced the corporate logo of Pegasus with simple block red and blue letters; however, many ExxonMobil company products still feature the winged red horse, a trademark since its affiliation with Magnolia Petroleum Company in the 1930s. The Vacuum Oil Company trademarked the Pegasus logo in 1911. Learn more about the logo’s petroleum heritage in Mobil’s High Flying Trademark.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a donation today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

Lloyd N. Unsell (1923-2007), a founding member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, was the long-time president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America in Washington, D.C. In 1986, he received the industry’s prestigious Chief Roughneck Award in 1986 — the only person not affiliated with an oil company to do so since the award began in 1955. He joined IPAA in 1948 and soon managed public and media relations; he was promoted to executive vice president in 1976 and president in 1985. In December 2004, Unsell gave AOGHS exclusive permission to publish the draft forward and early chapters of his then in-progress memoirs, Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell.

For those who never met Unsell or heard him speak at countless industry gatherings on testifying on Capitol Hill, read his memoir’s Forward and and Chapter One, “Oil on My Boots” describing his early exposure to the petroleum industry and oil patch summers in Oklahoma, and Chapter Three, “Lifting Some Spirits.” Visit AOGHS again to read more chapters, which will be posted throughout 2019.

Chapter Two: “A Different Seminole”

The interview with the publisher of The Seminole Producer took all of five minutes. I had bought a new blue topcoat, and James T. Jackson asked me to take it off, hang it in the corner of his office, and just leave it there. He was smiling, but years later, he told the editor of the Tulsa World, Norris Henthorne, at a meeting of the Oklahoma Press Association that he only hired me because I was wearing a topcoat that he thought he could trade away from me. He remembered my coat better than I did.

Lloyd Unsell reported for a Seminole, Oklahoma, newspaper founded in 1927.

James T. had spent the war as a public information officer at Kelly Field in San Antonio, with the rank of captain. The wartime duty had sharpened his appetite for the grape, and one of his drinking buddies was a columnist and the military editor of the San Antonio Express, an Oklahoman named Emery Winn, one of the most talented writers I have ever known. At the war’s end, James T. brought Emery Winn to Seminole as editor of The Producer. Emery usually was pickled by noon, but he could write a perfect headline and edit copy style-perfect without losing a beat. For editorial staff, Emery and I and a young lady who put together a society page were all of it, far different from the raucous boom days when James T. had at least eight reporters on the paper.

Everyone in their lives can name individuals who gave them meaningful help and support, and Emery Winn came into my life at precisely the right time. I didn’t know it right off, but later learned of his extensive admirers in the newspaper field, people who recognized his talents not just as an all-around newspaperman, but his knowledge and competence in use of the English language. As a wannabe newspaperman, the tutelage of Emery Winn was the best thing that ever happened to me.

The war had reduced the domestic oil industry, particularly the independents who had always found most of the oil, to a near standstill, and this showed nowhere more than in the Seminole field. Crude oil had been controlled at a dollar a barrel during the four wearisome war years, and nearly all the available steel had been allocated to the building of tanks, army vehicles, troop and liberty ships, and all the other hardware so essential in war. One American regret: We had sold Japan millions of tons of scrap steel in the 1930s, much of it turned on us as weapons of war beginning at Pearl Harbor.

Most domestic oilfields, Greater Seminole no exception, had been produced beyond their efficient rates, stripped of their natural reservoir pressure to squeeze out the vast quantities of fuel required by the far-flung allied armed forces on two sides of the planet. U. S. oil supplied 85 percent of the oil used by all the allies in pursuit of their victory. Large quantities of domestic oil could have been found and developed, except for pressing shortages of tubular goods needed to drill and equip wells. Used pipe was at a premium, and much of the pipe available could be had only at black or gray market prices. Drilling materials at unaffordable costs with oil fixed at a dollar a barrel had brought drilling to a virtual halt.

The independents and small drilling contractors in Seminole were a dispirited lot in January 1946 when I joined the staff of my hometown newspaper. They could drive by huge racks of fenced-in pipe stockpiled by the major companies operating in the field. The majors had pipe because they had the connections, and the purchasing power. A sign that Seminole had seen its glory years was the pulling of production strings from depleted wells sapped by over-production in the war years. Such pipe was scavenged, cleaned and sold to wildcatters who had prospects to drill that they had sat on for years. The frustrations that went with trying to revitalize a virtually deactivated industry were not much fun.

But on top of these frustrations came new headaches from a cadre of the AFL-CIO dispatched to Seminole to organize drillers and roughnecks. A dozen union representatives, including a goon squad of at least six shipped in from the Midland/Odessa area and opened an organizing office in February, 1946. They got no support from The Seminole Producer, which exposed their heavy-handed tactics after a union goon squad paid a midnight visit to a working rig operated by a local contractor, and proceeded to beat the drilling crew to force them in line, putting two in the local hospital. We wrote that story for several days. When it became apparent that drillers and roughnecks would not flock to the union to be “organized,” the agents gave up and left town.

Nobody was sorry to see them go.

End of Chapter Two, posted February 2019.

Chapter Three: “Lifting Some Spirits”

Wanting to be involved in civic affairs at the right levels, I joined and was active in the Seminole Junior Chamber of Commerce (now the Jaycees), and the local Lions club. At a meeting of the young businessmen in the Jaycee group in March 1946, a discussion was held about appropriate projects to serve the community. I told the group that Seminole had celebrated the tenth anniversary of the local oil discovery in 1936, and here it was ten years later so the Junior Chamber should sponsor a twentieth anniversary oil bash and schedule it for July 16, the day the Fixico No. l had come roaring in two decades earlier.

I argued that the oil industry was having a struggle, had managed to abort a union organizing drive that — if successful — would have killed off the local drilling contractors, was scrabbling for scarce pipe and materials to try to jump-start field activity again, and was in need of a boost and a shot in the arm in the form of community recognition. The room was quiet for a minute, than smiles spread over all the faces in the room. Coaxing the Seminole Junior Chamber of Commerce to sponsor a Discovery Day blowout recognizing the contributions to Seminole of the oil industry was the easiest sell I ever made.

James T. Jackson was looking for a change of scenery in 1946, and was quietly casting about for a buyer for the newspaper. He finally sold the paper to Tom and Milt Phillips, brothers who owned two other small but thriving daily newspapers in the state, and Milt had come to Seminole to be the on-site publisher of The Producer. The sale price was $100,000, a lot of money in 1946, and James T. Jackson, affectionately known as “Jack” to his staff, took the money to Pauls Valley, Okla., where he used a sliver of it to buy a radio station and the local newspaper, the Democrat. When I told Milt Phillips about the Jaycee project, he enthusiastically endorsed the idea as something the newspaper should support with all its resources.

Committees were appointed, and frequent meetings held by the Jaycees to discuss ideas for the big celebration. I suggested at one meeting that we order a few hundred inch-and-a-half buttons declaring that “Discovery Day is July 16,” and that the Main street merchants should ask their employees to wear these. The idea was that store customers would ask what this was all about, and the employees would tell them it would be a community celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Seminole oil discovery with entertainment for everybody. Seminole was the shopping center for a wide area of Seminole county, and on Saturdays the town overflowed with people and automobiles. The bright colored badges had the desired effect, and had the added value of involving store clerks throughout the city in promoting the big celebration.



When “Discovery Day,” July 16, 1946, arrived, it started with a parade that lasted three hours. The major oil companies and big supply houses had come in with colorful floats, high school bands were there from a number of schools, rodeo enthusiasts from riding clubs all over central Oklahoma, and huge trucks laden with the latest, heaviest and shiniest oilfield equipment, paraded for an audience estimated at 40,000 crowding the downtown streets. The equipment featured in the parade was displayed in a special area for viewing by the public and industry personnel. Adjoining this was a carnival with a half dozen makeshift cash gaming emporiums manned by Jaycee members. In the Civic Auditorium in the evening, Harold B. Fell, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, made a rousing industry appreciation speech to the city dads and town merchants, and in the Seminole American Legion’s spacious hall the younger set held a “Petroleum Ball,” elected a Miss Petroleum from a dozen candidates, and danced to a big band from the University of Oklahoma.

Harold B. Fell, the CEO of the IPAA, was one of the most effective public speakers the independent oil industry ever produced. A native of Wilkes Barre, Pa., and a Princeton graduate, he immigrated into Oklahoma in the 1920s and settled at Ardmore. As speaker at the Seminole celebration, he fascinated the audience with an accounting of the lore of the local oil boom, saluting the Greater Seminole field in 1927 as the “second largest oilfield in the world.” If he said which field was first, I have forgotten that. But at the time, little could I have suspected that I would spend most of my adult life in the service of IPAA, and precisely 30 years later would inherit Harold Fell’s position and title in the association.

The event rejuvenated the spirits of the Seminole oil community, and local industry leaders lavished praise on the Junior Chamber for its sponsorship of the anniversary celebration. The Jaycees, when the dust had settled, had profited from the Discovery Day activities, gaining about $1100, a lot of money for a young men’s civic organization in 1946. A week after the event, Homer Clauser, a young insurance man who was president of the Jaycees, wrote The Producer’s publisher, Milt Phillips, a letter of thanks for the newspaper’s support. The note began with this sentence: “It was a great day for the Seminole Junior Chamber of Commerce when Lloyd Unsell of your staff came to us with the suggestion that we sponsor the anniversary celebration of the Seminole oil discovery.” Phillips passed the letter to the editor, Floyd Gibson, who replaced Emery Winn (Emery left when James T. Jackson sold the newspaper) after penciling a note on it, “Gib, I didn’t know Lloyd was the daddy of this.”

Being “the reporter” on the local daily newspaper, known to everyone in political, business and social structures of the city, was a lot of fun. Like a lot of small cities, the power structure was sometimes blatantly serve-rewarding, and I tangled with the then mayor of Seminole, J. C. Cravens, who owned the local Ford dealership, over some of his self-dealing. He presided over a five-member elected City Council, and I attended these meetings. It was from Cravens that I first learned about “body language,” before I ever heard that term. He presided from a chair that tilted back, and if he tilted that chair, laced the fingers of both hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling; this communicated his disinterest in whatever was before the Council. It was a given that there would be a motion to kill or table whatever proposition was under discussion.

At one such meeting, the Council discussed and approved the purchase of two very expensive hydraulic garbage trucks from Cravens’ dealership. The mayor, of course, was careful not to participate in this discussion. The next morning, I wandered into City Clerk Herman Sullivan’s office and asked if there was not an ordnance prohibiting the Mayor and/or Council members from doing business with the city. Sullivan said there was, and recited from memory the book and page number where the ordnance was filed. He retrieved it, assured me it was still in force, and opened the book so I could copy the essential purpose of the ordnance. I subsequently wrote an article, which ran on page one, saying the Council’s purchase of garbage trucks from Seminole (Ford) Motor Sales was in apparent violation of an ordinance prohibiting the mayor and council members from doing business with the city.

It was just the first of many things I did which upset Mayor Cravens, the last being its action declining an offer by the state health department to spray the city for mosquitoes at no cost, then acting two weeks later to pay local grocer and feed store owner $2,100 to do the job. When I pointed this out in a story, Cravens made his customary call to complain, but refused to make a statement of his views.  I suggested that if he was unhappy about the way I did my job he should talk to the publisher. “I already have,” he said, “and he told me to take it up with you.”

That kind of support from my boss made life worthwhile, and the sheer fun of covering the small-time shenanigans of the local politicians made reporting for a small town newspaper a delightful pursuit. But Seminole was losing a lot of its old luster for me. Changes from the hurly-burly days were visible in many ways. The oilfield trucking business was on the wane. The Hazelrigg truck camp that had so fascinated me with its bustle in the 1930s was in decline and Sid Hazelrigg was holding on but clearly phasing down a business afflicted by eroded demand. The mobile rig builders were introducing new self-contained jack-up rotary rigs of all sizes, and oilfield trucking, which roared into existence in the ‘20s to replace the six-mule teams in the oilfields, was itself now becoming obsolete. The rise and fall of entrepreneurial oilfield trucking occurred over a span of only a little more than two decades.

Other changes had robbed Seminole of its old spark, so I was ready for a change when Lee C. Erhard, managing editor of The Tulsa Daily World, called me one day and invited me to consider a reporting job that he had open. He said that I needn’t come for an interview, that he was familiar with my work, and the job was mine if I wanted to make a move. I accepted he offer, and we agreed on a starting date in two weeks.

When I broke the news to Milt Phillips, I told him I was going to Tulsa in hope of doing something supportive of the oil industry, which – despite its incredible war record – was under political and press attacks in Washington, evidence of which I had read frequently in reports coming into the office on the UP teletype. The Producer’s op-ed page was dominated by the infamous muckraker, Drew Pearson, who liked nothing better than to belittle the oil industry and its imaginary “influence” in Washington.

Milt Phillips wished me well, and said I would always have supporters in the Phillips brothers. He remained a fast friend and frequent correspondent until his death many years later.

End of Chapters Two and Three. Continue reading Chapters Four and Five! Visit AOGHS for more chapters to be added in 2019.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Lloyd N. Unsell (1923-2007), a founding member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, was the long-time president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America in Washington, D.C. In 1986, he received the industry’s prestigious Chief Roughneck Award in 1986 — the only person not affiliated with an oil company to do so since the award began in 1955. In December 2004, Unsell gave AOGHS exclusive permission to publish the draft forward and early chapters of his then in-progress memoirs, Recollections of Lloyd N. Unsell. His writing in the forward alone reveals (and preserves) a skilled Oklahoma journalist’s inside view of the tumultuous politics of the industry for half a century. This opening chapter describes his youthful introduction to the industry, his early newspaper reporting, meeting and marrying the love of his life, Nettie, and his Army service during World War II.

Chapter One: “Oil on My Boots”


Lloyd N. Unsell in 1948 joined the staff of Independent Monthly magazine, official publication of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, established in 1929.

It is not true that I left journalism in 1948 to join the staff of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) because my wife wanted me to have a day job, which was one of her favorite stories. I took the job because I had done most of my growing up in Seminole, Oklahoma, one of the last and wildest of the oil boom towns in America, and this was where I acquired an appreciation of the oil industry and an affection for its people. Famed Oklahoman Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like. I never met an oilman I didn’t like, and oilmen and women that I knew came in many types and sizes, and found their niche in the business in a wide variety of roles. I also cultivated my interest in journalism, my first choice career, among the colorful characters who worked on The Seminole Producer, the local daily newspaper spudded by James T. Jackson not long after the Greater Seminole oil discovery.

Seminole roared to life on July 16, 1926, when a rank wildcatter named Robert F. (Bob) Garland drilled an exploratory well about six miles east of town that flowed 6,000 barrels a day from the Wilcox formation. He had a silent partner named Edward H. Moore, who would later become the first-ever Republican elected to the Senate from Oklahoma. Garland-Moore’s Fixico No. l ushered in the madcap development of the Greater Seminole Field that in the very next year, 1927, accounted for five of every seven barrels of the oil produced in the state of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma had seen oil booms before, at Cushing, Drumright, Glenn Pool in Tulsa County, Earlsoro, Healdton, and others, but none of these measured up to Seminole, not in the quantity of oil found, nor in the instant population growth from sleepy village to 40,000 strangers representing the best and the worst of humanity, all there to somehow get their slice of the pie. The con artists, gamblers, small time crooks, pimps and prostitutes soon established their own sub-culture in a strip of tents and lean-to emporiums called “Bishop’s Alley,” so-named for a local attorney who had owned the land. It was routine for drillers and roughnecks and some even in the oil management echelons, seeking their kicks in Bishop’s Alley, to wind up in a ditch somewhere, doped, and stripped of their possessions. Some of oil’s industrial leaders cut their first swath in Seminole, including two then-future Presidents of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, William M. Vaughey and Harold Decker.

The integrated oil companies, in order to keep competent help around, all established large company “camps” where they put up acceptable housing, built offices and maintenance shops for their trucks and equipment, installed multiple racks for their casing, tubing and drill pipe inventories, and sturdy warehouses where they could lock down all the fittings, valves and wellhead equipment that were frequent targets of oilfield thieves. Most of these compounds were encircled by high chain link fences These well-planned mini-communities were put in place with incredible swiftness by companies such as Gulf, Phillips, Amerada, Pure Oil, Cities Service, Sinclair, the old Standard Oil Co. (N. J.) production affiliate, Carter Oil Co., and others.

I discovered Seminole in the summer of 1933, when my parents moved there from Henryetta, my birthplace, a town unblessed by oil. Henryetta had a half dozen coal mines, a glass plant operated by Pittsburgh Plate, and an Eagle-Picher lead and zinc smelter. All of these enterprises had quickly closed down after the onset of the depression. Jobs were not to be had, and it was a given that in a state afflicted simultaneously by the Great Depression and the Great Dust Bowl, Henryetta had become one of the poorest of the poor towns. An older sister, Cleo, had married a Henryetta native named Herbert G. (Hub) Hazelrigg, who had joined his brother Sid in the oilfield trucking business in Seminole, and she persuaded my father to come there and open a small restaurant amidst the oil and truck camps east of the town.

From the beginning, Seminole was a captivating place to a not quite 12-year-old boy. Most of all, I was fascinated by the oilfield trucking business. Sidney Ross Hazelrigg, one of the most personable men I have ever known, the elder of the two Hazelrigg boys from Henryetta, had formed with O. L. Harvey the H & H Trucking Company, and together these two men literally invented the mechanical means of moving drilling rigs and equipment that elevated oilfield hauling out of the mule-team stage. After some four years together, Hazelrigg and Harvey parted amiably over differences never defined, and became competitors, but Sid Hazelrigg got the oil trucking camp that H & H had established on a 20-acre parcel between Highway 270 and the Frisco railroad, not quite a mile east of Seminole proper.

H & H had emulated the big oil companies. To keep competent drivers, welders and truck mechanics they built or moved in about 15 small “shotgun” houses which bordered the south and west perimeters of the truck camp, all occupied by the families of their best hands for very nominal rent. They bought trucks, mostly GM models, and Whites, that had nothing but the cabs, frames and the wheels underneath. The vehicles with short wheel bases were converted to haul pipe, and the long wheel-based Whites were equipped with heavy duty winches mounted just behind the cabs, under a welded steel structure called a “headache post,” then a long flat bed with a rolling tailgate. These trucks were used to move draw-works for drilling rigs, and the familiar heavy steel “dog houses” in which small tools and fittings were locked down at every drilling site.

In my first few years at Seminole, the Hazelrigg truck camp was my favorite place on this earth. It was a beehive of activity in which welders, mechanics, men adept at shaping thick oak timbers into fifth wheel and trailer bolsters for pipe hauling, and heavy duty oak flatbeds, all constantly innovating to do things better, make winches and draw lines safer, turning out an expanding fleet of trucks that looked good in addition to being equipped for the heaviest duty an often mud-covered oilfield could demand of any vehicle. While the truck yard remained my favorite place, at age 13 I was attracted to the idea of making a little pocket change, so became a carrier for the local newspaper.

After awhile, I began hanging around the newspaper more and more, and came to know all the teletype operators, the printers who ran the old flatbed presses, and the reporters and ad salesman for a small town daily newspaper that had prospered from its beginning. When James T. Jackson decided to start a newspaper in Seminole in 1927, he quickly decided that “good news” in the oilfield was a producing well, bad news a dry hole, so what better name for an oil town newspaper than The Seminole Producer. James T. hadn’t come to town to drill a dry hole, and he didn’t. He was an easy-going, likable man, and a natural promoter who was always thinking of ways to enhance the Producer’s fortunes. In 1936, my 14th year, he decided that Seminole should have a real “blowout” to commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of its discovery well. Among other things, the whole Producer staff set about the task of publishing an oil anniversary edition that had to be printed in eight-page sections, over time. When delivered to the community on July 16, the newspaper was more than 200 pages, comprised mostly of all the true and mythical tales of the Seminole oil patch, and perhaps 150 pages of advertising.

James T. Jackson had given me the “journalism bug” during my service as a carrier of the newspaper, but the Tenth Anniversary edition of his newspaper coincidentally provided me an opportunity to “get published.” I was hanging out at the Hazelrigg truck camp on a Saturday in June, after school was out, when one of Jackson’s ad salesmen came to sell Sid Hazelrigg an ad in the 10th anniversary edition. At that time, two of the dance crazes of the day were “The Big Apple,” and a zany thing called “Truckin’” in which one sort of shuffled along waving the index finger of the right hand in the air. When the Producer ad salesman braced Sid Hazelrigg, the truck operator was putting forth his best resistance. “I have more business than I can handle, I don’t have anything to advertise to your readers, and I don’t know what I’d say in a damned ad anyway,” was the sum of his argument.

Somehow inspired in my age 14 mind, I piped up and said, “I know what you could say.”

Sid looked at me and said, “You stay out of this kid.”

The ad salesman had argued that this was an industry “salute” edition of the newspaper in which all successful oil-connected businesses ought to be represented. Perhaps seeing a chance to press his case, he said “Let’s see what the kid has in mind. What are you talking about, boy?”

I looked sheepishly at Sid, and being a nice guy, he lifted both hands palms up, waved them up and down a time or two, and said, “Okay, what would you say?”

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, I’d say ‘We can’t do The Big Apple, but boy can we truck!’”

The owner of Hazelrigg trucks broke into a wide grin, and said, “Hell, that ain’t bad.” He bought a full-page ad with those eleven words in large type in the center of the page and the company name and phone number at the bottom of the page. I had the notion that somebody should give me a small commission, but that never happened.

Aside from publishing an immensely fat edition of his newspaper, the rest of James T. Jackson’s Tenth Anniversary “blowout” consisted of a 10-mile parade featuring oil company floats, public speeches by oil
industry leaders and politicians, and an “Oilman’s Blast,” in other words a stag affair on the local baseball field, Red Bird Park, south of the town. The park was encircled by an eight-foot wood fence, and by the time the big party got well under way, I (and a dozen other boys of like-age) had found a knothole through which to observe the goings on. Alcohol flowed freely in that part of dry Oklahoma, and after the crowd estimated at 12,000 had gotten itself “properly oiled,” the entertainment commenced, consisting of perhaps a dozen female wrestlers imported from Kansas City. The object of these women, paired off two at a time in the makeshift ring complete with referee, was to reduce each other to stark nakedness as quickly as possible.

One of the up-and-coming young lawyers in Seminole was Richard Bell. He had announced his candidacy for the state legislature, and was considered a shoo-in for the seat in the 1936 fall elections. But James T. Jackson persuaded Dick Bell to be one of the “referees,” and the naive young lawyer abandoned his judgment and took on the chore. In his particular “match,” the two women not only quickly disrobed each other, but then turned on Candidate Bell and removed everything he was wearing except his undershorts. By 1936, Seminole had gotten its raucous years behind it, most of the major church denominations had built places of worship, and the town had progressed from its “Bishop’s Alley” phase into a “Bible Belt” sort of mentality. It took no time for the whole town, and especially the church women, to become aware of the debauchery in which Dick Bell had participated in Red Bird Ball Park, and that was enough to end his political career. Years later, during my newspaper days, Bell and I became friends, but he never again ran for public office. And I don’t think I ever told him that I had watched his attempt at “refereeing” a female wrestling match through a knothole in the fence.

The Seminole Producer, for its first few years, had a very large cadre of reporters committed to putting as much “local color” as possible in each edition. All these reporters were needed because the newspaper had no wire service supplying statewide and national news, so a “stringer” was hired to cover the doings of Seminole county representatives in the state legislature in Oklahoma City, and a reporter was assigned to the Court House at Wewoka, the county seat eleven miles to the east.

The staff worked diligently on developing local “color,” and one example of this occurred during the Holiday Season each year when the paper would publish on page one a huge table of illegal liquor prices, along with the available brands and phone numbers of the bootleggers, most of whom ran taxicab companies for the primary purpose of delivering booze. This was an embarrassment to local police and the county sheriff, which pleaded that they had bigger fish to fry than chasing down every half-pint liquor sale. There were other reasons, of course: Seminole’s kingpin bootleggers were known for their generosity to the local constabulary. But the police chief and sheriff were elected every two years, and nobody knew better than they that if illegal liquor was denied to a town as thirsty as Seminole, they could forget about re-election.

As the decade of the 1930’s was coming to an end, times were improving nominally, and opportunity knocked for many of James T. Jackson’s well-trained reporters. The turnover was chronic by 1940, and though the newspaper had long since acquired the United Press’s wire service, vacancies were frequent. When Danny Harbour, a popular reporter whose beat included high school athletic contests, joined the Kiplinger organization and left for the Nation’s Capital, this left the paper without a sports reporter. My high school journalism teacher, Orville Dee, mentioned this out loud – so I made a deal to report high school football games, providing a box score along with the copy, until Harbour’s replacement could be found. I never got a “byline” for any of this, and felt cheated, but when I finished high school in the spring of 1941, James T. Jackson offered to take me on as a “trainee” reporter at the lofty pay of $12 a week.

I had plans to go to the University of Oklahoma, but knew I had to earn and save some money in order to accomplish this, and when I heard of an opening at the Hinderliter Tool Co., in Tulsa, paying 60 cents an hour, I couldn’t believe my good fortune when they hired me. Saying no to a reporting job, however low paying, was tough, but Hinderliter Tool, whose founder, the legendary Frank Hinderliter, had more than 80 patents for oil tools, offered the best financial opportunity – and put me in touch with another endeavor that was closely related to the oil business. I would hustle steel billets from a vast open air lot stocked with “stalks” of unfinished steel weighing from a few hundred pounds to as much as a ton. Through a system of overhead cranes, it was my job to deliver on order the billets needed by blacksmiths in Hinderliter’s huge forge shop.

This enormous shop, 200 feet long and 80 feet wide, had four blacksmith crews at work in 1941,primarily forging oil tools on order and passing them on to the machinists to be threaded and finished. The lead blacksmith was Walter Prater, a blocky little man with a muscular torso, who wore thick rimmed glasses, had an ever-present cigar in the corner of his mouth, and went about his work with the care and precision of an artist. His crew included Tom Miller, the “heater” who watched a steel billet in the mouth of a gas-fired blast furnace and could tell instinctively when it was ready to shape. Walt Prater would grasp the hot billet with a huge pair of tongs 12 feet long, suspended from an overhead crane at the clamp which held the billet. A steel handle with an oval center was driven by sledge onto the long handles of the tongs, and locked in place with a steel wedge. The blacksmith would then nod to his chain man who would lift the whole thing enough that Prater could swing it out of the furnace and onto the flat shaping surface under a 3600 pound air hammer. With a nod of the head, Prater orchestrated the shaping of the hot steel, letting the hammer driver know with the variation of his gestures, how hard – or how gently – he wanted the hot steel pounded. A ballerina on the fly at the Bolshoi was no more fascinating to watch than Walt Prater at work.

Outside the main gate at its huge plant on North Peoria in Tulsa, Hinderliter had a tool repair shop, equipped with a small (1200 pound) hammer and a coke fire for heating cable bits to be sharpened. An old blacksmith named Harris did this work, and during lunch breaks he would give me instruction on the operation of a blacksmithing hammer, which was operated by two long handles, one to control the air pressure, the other to control the downward stroke of the hammer. Harris had a dollar watch, and could remove the lens, lay it on the hammer block, and close the lens with the 1200 pound hammer. He would stand a Prince Albert tobacco can on the block, its lid open at a 30-degree angle, and close it with the hammer. “A good hammer driver can smash things to hell and gone, or hit whatever is there with a feather touch,” he would say. Simply for the asking, he gave me instruction on the hammer and taught me to finesse the controls to obtain the desired stroke, and on many days I would go to this little repair shop and practice on the air hammer after a very quick lunch from a brown paper bag.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, I was in peak physical condition, and knew I could kiss college goodbye until after the war. On Saturday, December 20, 1941, the blacksmith Walt Prater called me at the home of Tom Miller’s cousin where I rented a room. “I understand that you’ve been practicing on the
blackie’s hammer out in the repair shop and have gotten pretty good at it. I need you to run my hammer beginning Monday.”

Walt Prater played polo for relaxation. He boarded four polo ponies at the Tulsa fairgrounds, and several times I had gone with him in the evening to help feed them. I told him I was not good enough for his crew, so he said he would pick me up, we would go feed his horses, then stop for a beer and talk about it. When we finally entered the neighborhood bar not far from his home in East Tulsa, and climbed onto a bar stool, he said the magic words, “I’ll pay you 90 cents an hour.” Such an income was unheard of for a new high school graduate in 1941.

Then he told me why I had to help him. All the hammer drivers at Hinderliter Tool Co. had quit en masse on Friday evening and were headed for the Drop Forge Corp. in Chicago, a company that had a new contract to make cannon barrels for the army. Their Hinderliter pay would be at least doubled, and there were other benefits, including insurance and retirement benefits.

I told Walt Prater I planned to quit work and enlist in the army after the Christmas Holidays… He said, “Well, we have a rush order for a whipstock. A guy has some tools lost in a well in Pontotoc county and is shut down until we can deliver a whipstock.” I agreed to come in Monday and try to operate the hammer for him, but warned him that he would have to be extremely patient with me. The company had promised delivery on the whipstock the following Friday. With luck and the blacksmith’s forbearance, we delivered the whipstock on time. The 90 cents Walt Prater had promised was increased to $1.50, and when he handed me the check on Friday evening, he said, “Don Hinderliter wants you to come by the office. He wants to see you.” The son of the company founder, Donald R. Hinderliter was the general manager of the pioneer oil tool company. When I reported to him, he asked me to take a seat, then grinned across his desk, and said, “Walt Prater tells me you saved us this week, and I wanted to thank you for stepping into the breech. Now, I have some news for you.” He slid a sheaf of papers across the desk. “If you will sign these, we will have a long-term relationship in the making.”

I picked up the papers, and noticed right away that they had come from the Federal Government. “What are these?” I asked.

“Well,” Hinderliter said, “as of today we have a contract to make 75 millimeter gun barrels. This is critical work essential to the war effort. Your signature on these forms will get you a deferral from military service to help us do this essential work.”

“I can’t do it, Mr. Hinderliter,” I said.

“For Heaven’s sake, why not,” he gave me a puzzled look.

I told him the truth. Here I was six feet, one-inch tall, just 19, and the picture of health. Every time I walked down a street, women in their 40’s and 50’s who I felt had sons in the military, would eye me as if wondering why I was not in uniform. More than once, I had been bluntly asked why I was not in the armed services, and my limp explanation was that I had not received a draft notice, which was true. I told Hinderliter that I felt compelled to enlist, and would sign no deferral papers, but would stay until he found a hammer man, but no longer than three months. “I could get a draft notice next week,” I told him.

He argued that working on the fulfillment of the gun barrel contract would be more important to the war effort than military service, but even if true, that did nothing for my personal feelings in the matter. I repeated that I would stay until he could find a hammer driver, or until I was drafted, whichever came first, but I did remember to thank him for the pay increase.

On March 30, 1942, I gave up the job at Hinderliter to decide what service branch would be most to my liking, so I returned home to Seminole to spend some time with my parents before enlisting. But something happened on the way to the recruiting office, and her name was Nettie Marie Rogers. On Saturday, April 10, I walked into the NK Café, Seminole’s better appointed restaurant which was tastefully finished in all respects. The NK had about 30 comfortable stools, and on a single stool sat this beautiful young woman. She was reading the Sunday state edition of Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, which was printed first and delivered early state wide. It was summery for April, and she had dressed accordingly, and wore a broadbrimmed white hat, with a multi-colored band set off by a simulated bow at the back. She had cascades of auburn hair, shoulder length, and the most beautiful face I had ever seen, tastefully made up.

Though all the other stools were vacant, I summoned my courage and took one next to this lovely young woman. I ordered coffee, and asked her if I could borrow the comics section, then known as “funny papers.” She glanced at me, smiled, and asked if I was unable to afford a newspaper. I took a wad of bills from my pocket, laid them on the counter, and said, “If I’d have bought a newspaper I wouldn’t have had an excuse to start this conversation.” She looked at me and laughed, and I was hooked for life. It was a short walk to her home, and she agreed to permit me to walk her there. Nettie and I were instantly attracted to each other, and in the summer days to follow we were inseparable, spending as much time as possible together. I knew I would one day marry her, and we discussed this many times, our dilemma the same as that facing countless young people at the time – marry now, or after the war. We decided on the latter, an agreement that would later be abandoned.

The summer of ‘42 passed so quickly. What little money I had saved was going fast, and the inevitability of a draft notice was a constant reality. So in late August, I made a trip to Norman, Oklahoma, to explore whether there may be service-connected educational opportunities available. There were none, but I wandered into an army enlistment office and found a Captain Horn who was trying to put together an all-Oklahoma maintenance (ordnance) battalion for the 13th Armored Division. When he found I had just quit work forging gun barrels, he offered me a T-5 rating (corporal). This didn’t sound very exciting, and I explained that I was hoping to find some means of advancing my education. He asked if I had graduated from high school, and I confirmed that I had.

“Tell you what, I will put in your service record that you have an option to be tested for the Army Specialist Training Program (ASTP). If you pass the test, you’ll be sent to a major University and can choose from four courses.” As I recall, the remainder of the conversation went as follows:

“Does that include journalism?”

“Sure does.”

“Where do I sign?”

The maintenance battalion was the first unit formed in the 13th (Black Cat) Armored Division. I reported to Ft. Sill, where most of those recruited for the battalion were already on the ground. In early September 1942, the battalion was completed and comprised a full train load of troops headed for basic training
at Camp Perry, OH. After that, we took a six-day trip to Camp Beale, California, where we again found not a single new unit of the division had been formed, so we took basic training again. In early summer, I called on my company commander and told him I was ready to take the exam for the ASTP. He agreed, and I had enough right answers, so was shipped to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

About 600 ASTP applicants were on campus, and turned out to take further aptitude tests and apply for specific courses, my choice being journalism. Three days later I was called to the Armory office by a first lieutenant who informed me that the journalism course was closed to further applicants, and said the testing indicated that I was more suited to the engineering course anyway. The only other option being to return to Camp Beale, I quickly signed, and the next day began a course that the professor in charged call “mathematics renewal.” It was six hours a day, preceded by an hour of calisthenics, a schedule that lasted until September when 225 privates, of whom I was one, having given up my T-5 rating to enter the ASTP program, were assembled at Kalamazoo College, Michigan, to begin the regular engineering course. Ninety-five percent of the group consisted of raw recruits, 18 years of age. I was a “veteran,” 20 years old, so I was quickly nicknamed “pop.”

The program was not superficial. It consisted of 32 hours of academic class work, plus six hours of physical education including rigorous calisthenics. It was not easy for one whose last math course had been high school algebra, four years in the distant past, so “pop” found himself leaning heavily on the bright young recruits to whom advanced geometry, trigonometry and calculus presented no particular problem. We took mechanical drawing, and the required courses of English, world geography and American history. I would later decide that my continuous cramming experience at Kalamazoo College, added to my Army experience generally, equipped me far better to be a journalist than standard university journalism training; I already knew how to spell and how to write.

From the ASTP program, I transferred directly into the Army’s aviation cadet program, but as in much else that it did, the Army over-subscribed its training programs for pilots, bombardiers and navigators. After I had spent four months of comfort in Miami Beach where the Army Air Corp. had taken all the hotels, Air Corps Commander Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold shipped all aspiring pilots who were not in or beyond primary training back to the ground forces. More than 40,000 would-be pilots, bombardiers and navigators were moved from their posh hotels, loaded into box cars, and packed off to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, for reassignment, a letdown never to be forgotten.

By this time I was getting a large guilt complex because I had friends who had been in the thick of the fight for many months, a few paying the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the country. There were times when I wondered if I wouldn’t have contributed more to the war effort making gun barrels at Hinderliter Tool. But the greatest event of my life occurred when the love of my life, Nettie Marie Rogers, caught a train to Atlanta, GA., to become my wife in September 1944 – just 31 days before I was shipped off to Europe. My war experience consisted of delivering Sherman tanks to France, from our largest ordnance center,
designated U.S. Depot G-25, near Cheltenham, England. The monster rig for tank transportation, called a prime mover, was powered by five Chrysler engines, and had a cab encased with quarter-inch steel armor. The tank rode on a low-boy trailer sporting 32 wheels, 16 front and back. I would drive this rig to Plymouth or Weymouth, back it aboard a landing ship, and drive it off on a pier constructed by army engineers near LeHarve, on the Normandy coast.

Delivering fresh tanks to Patton’s armored force was not especially dangerous, but I was strafed by German fighter pilots on occasion, and I can still recall their bullets pinging off my hard-shelled rig. When the tank was unloaded, I would head back to G-25 to await another delivery, and as an assignee to the post’s motor pool, I was on call evenings to drive GI’s on pass to Cheltenham, Gloucester or Worcester, certainly not the most glamorous war-time job in the European theater. After Germany surrendered, my ordnance unit was sent to Southeast Asia, and I spent five months after the Japanese capitulation cooling my heels in Manila, the Philippines.

Happiness was getting off a train in Tulsa, at the end of December 1945, to be greeted by a wife who I was convinced was the most beautiful girl in Oklahoma. I was never very good Army material, but the experiences the Army gave me were of immense value. I had the feeling that I had matured, had acquired a broad base of knowledge that equipped me for life, and like most hopeful young men back from the war, I was ready and able to take on anything. After Nettie and I spent my mustering out pay for civilian clothing in downtown Tulsa, (I left my Army uniform with its seven service ribbons on a box at the haberdashery, S. G. Holmes & Sons) we “hid out” for a week before anyone in my family or hers knew I was once again a civilian. After all, we had never had a honeymoon.

When I finally called my parents home in Seminole, my sister was visiting there and answered the phone. After excitedly announcing to the household that her kid brother was home, her first statement to me was, “Hey, get yourself down here. James T. Jackson is advertising for a reporter.” I was about to begin my long-postponed journalism career.

End of Chapter One. Read Chapters Two and Three, and visit AOGHS again for more chapter postings in 2019.



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.


“I’ve been accused of having a fairly good sense of recall, but will leave that to the judgment of those who may be sufficiently interested in these recollections as to actually read them.” — Lloyd N. Unsell

“It has been suggested that I…,” or “I have been urged to…,” are typical of the predicates often used by some writers, platform speakers, analysts, even occasional historians, in reference to some project or undertaking. It is a relatively harmless device that transfers a little of the blame to others for the quality, or lack of quality, reflected in such work. Well, it happens that since I left the Washington scene some 15 years ago, I have been encouraged by certain oilmen and women, a few politicians, several family members, and some just plain friends to write a political memoir covering some of my personal recollections and experiences in the service of the Nation’s independent oil and gas producers. Though I’ve finally succumbed to these persuasions, I shall not burden a single one of these well-meaning souls with an identity, for I should not want one of them held accountable for the accuracy, pertinence, relevance, or entertainment value of these recollections.

My past resistance to attempting such a memoir has been well known to some of my friends, who understand that I believe such a book should be accurate with regard to dates, months, years, statistics, quotations, individual and collective actions, results, wins, losses, and the like. Such detail requires a great deal of personal research, or the employment of researchers who know or can guess what you want. I’m now too lethargic to do it myself, and too impatient to keep some perfect stranger in the right groove to get it done. Unlike some politicians whose names may come to mind, I kept no diary and made no tapes, so I make no pretense of striving for precise detail and factual fidelity. I do have my reasons for this: First, as just stated, I’ve become too lazy and undisciplined to do painstaking research, and more important, I believe that writing burdened with such minutia is a sure cure for insomnia, anyway.

So this so-called “memoir” will be purely anecdotal. It will deal with my earlier life, and with some amusing entanglements growing out of legislative and political actions, and the players including oil personalities, politicians, journalists, and others as I recall them. It also will include reference to some industry legends on which I have an acquired knowledge. I’ve been accused of having a fairly good sense of recall, but will leave that to the judgment of those who may be sufficiently interested in these recollections as to actually read them.

Since I’ve confessed my resistance to fine detail, some may be moved to question the value of assertions devoid of documentation. I wouldn’t argue the point, except to say there are distinctions between value and purpose, and my purpose is to save some reference to past events to which I’ve been witness, some of them important, many more or less trivial. In Washington, the facade of one of our federal buildings is adorned with the much quoted engraving, “The Past is Prologue.” I believe this is a literal truth. Human beings, industries, and nations are what they are because of the forces, within and outside of their control, favorable and unfavorable, pleasant and unpleasant, moral and immoral, with which they’ve been buffeted, shaped, influenced, and at times maybe even brutalized, over times past. The domestic oil industry historically has been the target of as much unfounded criticism and counterproductive intrusions by Government as any economic entity in America, and most assuredly has been shaped in part by misguided political actions and effluvium. I hasten to add, because I’m not just an apologist for oil and gas, that the industry at times clearly invited some lumps by its own mistakes. I should add too that it has been the beneficiary of positive policies put in place by legislative leaders concerned for the country’s energy future. From a history of negotiating uncertain political seas, alternating between calm and storm-tossed, has emerged “the oil industry” of today, which certainly is light years different than when I entered the scene more than half century ago, or even from the day I “hung ‘em up,” in 1987. Even if it had existed in a neutral political climate continuously since World War II, the oil and gas industry would have faced daunting challenges, both economic and technological. But in long stretches of time, it experienced harsh treatment by political critics — some who could justify industry-bashing as a strategy to advance their controlling philosophies, and some who were opportunists adept at recognizing any vulnerable target when it entered their field of vision.

Aiding and abetting such attackers was the industry’s vastness and complex nature, with its disparate segments often at loggerheads and never reticent about airing their differences in public. This made it tough for oil’s political sympathizers, who detested demagoguery in their ranks, to get handles on constructive strategies. Much of that has changed now. In fact, sheer anti-oil demagoguery once rampant in Washington has all but disappeared, but environmental purism has become so identified with the public weal, that political actions addressing the nation’s energy policy dilemmas seem less likely than ever.

Like most everything ongoing in the human experience, political attitudes on energy issues grow out of individual and collective experiences. The great leaders of World War II, including President Dwight Eisenhower, came out of that conflict as eyewitnesses to the indispensability of oil in the conduct of warfare. Even Life Magazine, at war’s end, issued a coffee-table pictorial book on the success and complexity of the massive effort to supply petroleum fuels to allied forces on far-flung battlefields on both sides of the planet. Eisenhower would contend even late in the l950’s that U. S. oil producing capacity was tremendously important because it “makes war (with the Soviet Union) less likely.” He saw sufficient oil as a strength that dissuaded potential aggressors. It was access to oil that U. S. forces sought to deny both the Germans and the Japanese; one of the largest bombing raids in history was the massive attack on Rumanian refineries at Ploesti, which were fueling the axis armed forces in Europe. Oil was an essential ingredient in the U. S. military arsenal, and Ike’s experiences had convinced him that the Nation should never lag in maintaining a war-ready oil producing capability. He was joined in that resolve by dozens of his contemporaries in military command, by the first secretary of defense, James Forestall, and by numerous political leaders of the l940’s and 50’s.

But those perspectives are now just part of history. The now prevailing attitude toward energy resource development and public energy policies prove once again that “change” is the most reliable constant in our lives. The environmental activists and their financial and political supporters have fought to see that oil resources in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge will never be disturbed. American technology has lifted both Great Britain and Norway from zero production to net oil exporters, from production in one of the roughest patches of water on the globe, the North Sea, but drilling in much of our relatively benign but potentially oil rich offshore is prohibited. We strike deals for General Electric and others to sell nuclear power generators to China, and even look the other way when Russian nuclear power technology is peddled to unstable regimes, but build another nuclear plant in America? Never!

What about “energy security,” a tenet to which the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations were committed? Well, we don’t have to worry any more because America is “the only remaining Super Power.” And we proved in “Desert Storm” that if any little despot interferes with oil supply lines we can send our missile-bearing strike forces to take the situation in hand. As one of the Washington pundits wrote, Desert Storm might more aptly have been called “Oil War I.” The New York Times quoted one unnamed Washington observer as saying, “That is our energy policy – Desert Storm.”

Can America maintain its status as the only surviving Super Power while becoming progressively more dependent for basic energy supplies on unstable regimes both remote and insecure? That may be the most important but least discussed geopolitical question facing our country, having far and away more serious implications than “global warming,” one of the consuming topics of the day. Does energy contingency planning rest on some strategic hypothesis about what circumstance may justify “Oil War II?” How did we reach this new stage where our smugness about our presumably everlasting invincibility has become the apparent guiding principle of national energy policy? Well, it was a long road. With our future security and domestic economy depending on forced access to somebody else’s oil, a strange new ball game indeed, some may contend that everything that has gone before is irrelevant.

But as one witness to much of what has gone before over more than a half century, I think that in the end, and as some few may still believe, history will be the judge.

Read about Unsell’s introduction to the Oklahoma petroleum industry in Chapter One, “Oil on my Boots.”


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.



A drilling boom resulted in the West Columbia oilfield reaching its annual peak production of 12.5 million barrels of oil a few years after its discovery in 1917.

When the No. 1 Hogg well found oil in 1917, the discovery south of Houston ended a streak of dry holes dating back to 1901 – when former Texas Governor J.S. “Big Jim” Hogg first thought oil might be there and leased the land.

Gov. Hogg, the Lone Star State’s 20th governor, would die in 1906 and not see the latest Texas drilling boom he helped launch.

However, the family of Gov. Hogg would benefit from his unwavering belief in finding oil in region with a geology similar to the already famous “Lucas Gusher.” Read the rest of this entry »