First Utah Oil Wells

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

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

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

 The Uinta Basin drilling courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

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

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First California Oil Wells

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

 

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

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

Humboldt County Oil

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

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

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

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

First Texas Oil Well

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

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

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

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

First Lone Star State Oil Discovery

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

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

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

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

Hogg family fortunate his will stipulated keeping mineral rights.

 

In 1917, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company’s No. 1 Hogg well discovered oil south of Houston and ended a streak of dry holes dating back to 1901 – when former Texas Governor James S. “Big Jim” Hogg first thought oil might be there and leased the land.

Gov. Hogg, the Lone Star State’s 20th governor, died in 1906, never seeing the Texas drilling boom he helped launch. His unwavering belief in finding oil in the Gulf Coast region’s highly prolific salt dome geology would benefit the Texas petroleum industry.

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First Mississippi Oil Wells

Seeking clay for making cereal bowls, Mississippi geologist discovered giant Yazoo County oilfield in 1939, launching state’s petroleum industry.

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

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.

Mississippi geologist Fred Mellen and Yazoo oilfield map
Frederic Mellen became president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946. Images courtesy Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey.

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. Natural gas had been produced in Mississippi in the mid-1920s, and the Jackson formation was persuasive evidence that oil could 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 oilfield 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 newspaper headline about 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 in 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.

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“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.

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Recommended Reading: Oil in the Deep South: A History of the Oil Business in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, 1859-1945 (1993). 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. Join today as an annual AOGHS supporting member. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Mississippi Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-mississippi-oil-well. Last Updated: August 30, 2021. Original Published Date: September 3, 2018.

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First American Oil Well

The U.S. petroleum industry began in 1859 to meet demand for “Coal Oil” — the popular lamp fuel, kerosene.

 

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” Sometimes the salt wells produced small amounts of oil, an unwanted byproduct. 

American oil history rock oil stock certificate

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.

The advent of cable-tool drilling introduced the wooden derrick into the changing American landscape. The technology applied same basic idea of chiseling a hole deeper into the earth. Using steam power, a variety of heavy bits, and clever mechanical engineering, cable-tool drillers continued to become more efficient. (Learn more Making Hole – Drilling Technology.) (more…)

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