George Bissell’s Oil Seeps

New resource for making kerosene brought first U.S. oil exploration company — and launched the petroleum industry.

 

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

Oil seeps oil map of Vanago County, Pennsylvania, circa 1880.

Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercial U.S. oil  well along Oil Creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania. Arrow added to circa 1865 map. 

On November 10, 1854, the lumber firm Brewer, Watson & Company sold a parcel of land at the junction of the east and west branches of Oil Creek southeast of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The buyers were George Bissell and Jonathan Eveleth. Earlier, Joel Angier (a future mayor of Titusville) had collected and sold medicinal “Seneca Oil” from an oil seep on acreage near the company’s sawmill.

Kerosene Lamp Fuel

Bissell and his business partners believed crude oil produced from wells could be refined into a lamp fuel competitor for whale oil, inexpensive but volatile camphene, and “coal oil,” invented in 1853 by Canadian physician and geologist Abraham Gesner, who named it kerosene.

By 1860, dozens of U.S. refineries were producing kerosene using Gesner’s process for distilling cannel coal, a soft coal also called candle coal (and later, oil shale).

To find out whether Pennsylvania’s Seneca  Oil could be inexpensively refined into a quality kerosene for lamps, Bissell hired a scientist friend, Yale Professor Benjamin Silliman Jr., to conduct lab experiments. (more…)

First New Mexico Oil Wells

Giant Hobbs oilfield discovered in 1928, six years after first petroleum production.

 

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

Although the Hobbs discovery came six years after the first oil production (seven years after the first natural gas well), petroleum geologists soon called it the most important single oil find in New Mexico history. The Midwest State No. 1 well — spudded in late 1927 using a standard cable-tool rig — saw its first signs of oil from the giant oilfield at depth of 4,065 feet on June 13, 1928. It had been a long  journey. (more…)

Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh

Skies above “Smoky City” briefly cleared when natural gas replaced coal at factories.

 

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 independent operator Israel Painter, who had brought in wells a few miles north of Oil City in Venango County – not far from the 1859 first U.S. oil discovery less than 20 years earlier.

Natural gas historic marker on Route 22 at Murrysville, Pennsylvania.

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

In 1876, while drilling for Painter’s Ozark Oil Company in Clarion County, Michael approached his boss with a prospect near Murrysville, 18 miles east of Pittsburgh. Michael and Obediah “Obe” Haymaker knew their neighbors in Murrysville and had become acquainted with Josh Cooper — who used a natural gas seep to boil down maple sugar sap — alongside Turtle Creek. (more…)

“Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio

Oilfield service company founder and future mayor of Toledo patented a “Coupling for Pipes or Rods” in 1894.

 

Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio made a fortune in oilfields and supplying equipment and services, patented an improved sucker rod for pumping oil, and created a better workplace for his factory employees. In 1897, Jones ran on the progressive Republican ticket to be elected mayor of Toledo. He would be reelected three times.

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.” (more…)

First Wyoming Oil Wells

Pioneers overcame many challenges to develop remote natural resources. A report by Washington Irving inspired them.

 

Tales of a Wyoming “tar spring” convinced the experienced Pennsylvania oilfield explorer Mike Murphy to drill a shallow well in 1883. He sold his oil to Union Pacific to lubricate train axles. Others would soon follow in the search for Wyoming oilfields.

Civil War veteran Philip Shannon explored oil seeps at Salt Creek outside of Casper in 1890. His well revealed what proved to be a 22,000-acre oilfield. An oil gusher drilled by a Dutch company made headlines in 1908.

But the story of Wyoming’s petroleum really began with Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Circa 1890 Wyoming oil history image of a lone horse and wagon in vast plain.

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 the short story “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, who inspired another popular Irving book in 1937.

Using Bonneville’s notes and maps, Irving published The Adventures of Captain Bonneville: or, Scenes beyond the Rocky Mountains of the Far West. Readers were spellbound by the account of the four-year exploration and detailed accounts of life on the fur-trapping trail. (more…)

Roaring Ranger wins WWI

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

 

As war raged in Europe, the “Roaring Ranger” well of 1917 in Eastland County, Texas, revealed a giant oilfield that would help fuel the Allied victory.

Detail from an image of the "Roaring Ranger" oilfield discovery well of October 1917.

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. Photo courtesy Ranger Historical Preservation Society.

Residents of the town of Ranger — halfway between Dallas and Abilene — had been eager to find oil, especially after they had read newspaper accounts of an April Fool’s Day 1911 oilfield discovery at Electra in neighboring Wichita County. 

A decade earlier in southeastern Texas, the famous 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill had launched the modern U.S. petroleum industry.

A circa 1920 postcard shows Texas and Pacific Railroad depot, home of the Roaring Ranger Museum.

Following the October 1917 oilfield discovery, the Texas and 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 mid-continent farmers struggled with severe drought, Ranger town 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.

View of derricks in the Ranger oilfield in Ranger, Texas, circa 1920s.

“Almost over-night, you couldn’t even see the homes for the derricks,” says Ranger historian Jeane B. Pruett. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

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 on October 17, 1917, 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 oil 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.

 The 2016 Roaring Ranger Day Parade.

The 2016 Roaring Ranger Day Parade took place on the 99th birthday of the town’s famous oil gusher. Photo courtesy Ranger Historical Preservation Society.

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. Opportunities for illicit financial gain also attracted notorious oilfield hucksters like J.W. “Hog Creek” Carruth (see Exploiting North Texas Oil Fever). 

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Eastland County’s drilling and production boom grew rapidly as petroleum companies rushed to Ranger to develop the giant oilfield, according to historian Damon Sasser.

By 1919, the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company had 22 oil wells — and eight refineries open or under construction. 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.

 Downtown Ranger, Texas, during 1920s oil boom.

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

The flood of people also brought Texas Rangers to enforce laws. When jails in Ranger overflowed, the lawmen handcuffed prisoners to telephone poles. Texas Rangers earlier had led to the town’s establishment as a Ranger camp.

Independent and major oil companies soon 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.

Historic marker at "Roaring Ranger" oil well in Texas.

Photos courtesy Sarah Reveley and Barclay Gibson, who have photographed Texas Historical Commission markers and helped locate hundreds of historic sites from Louisiana to New Mexico.

Wave of Oil

“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.”

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

The McCleskey No. 1 oil well gusher of 1917.

Eastland County oil discoveries, which began with the “Roaring Ranger” well of 1917, brought economic booms to Ranger, Cisco, and Desdemona. Photo courtesy Jeane B. Pruett and the family of W.K Gordon Jr.

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).

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.

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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.”  The1936 Texas Centennial marker remains “a highly cherished monument that Ranger should be very proud of,” according to Eastland County resident Sarah Reveley, who has documented Texas Historical Commission sites.

Ranger residents annually celebrate their 1917 oilfield discovery with an festival and parade down Main Street. Dedicated advocates for preserving local petroleum history included Jeane B. Pruett (1935-2022), a longtime friend of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society.

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Recommended Reading: Ranger, Images of America (2010); The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (2008); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Roaring Ranger wins WWI.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/roaring-ranger-wins-wwi. Last Updated: October 12, 2022. Original Published Date: July 1, 2004.

 

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