A Kansas professor in 1905 discovered helium could be extracted from natural gas.
Kansas University professor Hamilton P. Cady, above, discovered significant amounts of helium in a natural gas sample from a Dexter, Kansas, well. He and D.F. McFarland made the discovery in 1905. A stock certificate from The Gas, Oil and Developing Company is noteworthy to collectors – but not for producing great wealth for its investors. For this exploration company, which disappeared more than a century ago, more interesting is its connection to “The Gas That Wouldn’t Burn.”
A Dexter, Kansas, marker notes a nearby gas well led to a scientific discovery that “lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry.”
In May 1903, The Gas, Oil and Developing Company drilled an exploratory well on William Greenwell’s farm near Dexter, Kansas, about 45 miles southeast of Wichita.
At a depth of just 560 feet, the company’s drill bit struck a formation that produced “a howling gasser” that flowed an estimated nine million cubic feet of natural gas a day. (more…)
Welcome to to this updated collection of articles about obscure oil and natural gas company histories since the 1860s. Importantly, the historical society’s original research and accompanying forum maintenance need your financial support.
Please help this on-going effort to help you with even a small contribution.
Note to visitors to this energy education website: The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) is not affiliated with any petroleum company, advocacy groups, or industry lobbying organizations; it depends on individual financial support.
AOGHS serves as a resource for petroleum history for researchers, teachers, students, historians and the public.
Although often controversial, the history of U.S. petroleum exploration, production, and transportation should be preserved. From kerosene for lamps, gasoline for cars, and plastic polymers for everyday products, the industry’s social, economic and technological history offers a context for understanding the modern energy needs.
Maintaining this educational website depends on volunteers — and your financial support. Further, even contributions help the society expand its energy education mission and promote the good work of community oil and natural gas museums.
Help us share the many petroleum history links and articles featured on this website.
Can you tell me anything about this old petroleum company (for free)?I found its stock certificate in an attic. Am I rich? Probably not. As shown in the companies below, since the 1850s the U.S. petroleum industry’s boom and bust cycles have left many casualties. For an example of one that actually made it to courts, see Not a Millionaire from Old Oil Stock.
The New York, Manhattan, Metropolitan, Municipal, Knickerbocker and Harlem gas companies merged in 1884.
The history of Con Edison includes stories of work crews from New York City’s many competing gas companies digging up lines of rivals – and literally battling for customers, giving rise to the term “gas house gangs.”
New York gas-light companies provided lighting for streets, businesses and residences beginning in 1823. They later merged to become the nation’s largest utility – Con Edison. This 1873 “bird’s eye view” illustrates New York and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge, under construction from 1870 to 1883, is at right.
Today still among the nation’s largest gas utility companies, Consolidated Edison, Inc. – known as “Con Edison” or “Con Ed” – began on November 11, 1884, when six New York City gas-light companies merged. But Con Edison can trace its history more than six decades earlier to the New York Gas Light Company. All provided gas from their nearby plants distilling coal.
“Before the Brooklyn Bridge spanned the East River, before the Statue of Liberty first graced New York Harbor, and before skyscrapers rose above New York City’s streets, the utility companies that would eventually become Con Edison were already building the energy infrastructure needed to fuel and sustain the city’s growth,” notes one historian. (more…)
Salt wells, oil wells, and salted wells bring excitement & controversy to western New York in 1890s.
Oil ruined saltwater wells long before petroleum became a profitable commodity. Then in August 1859, “Colonel” Edwin Drake drilled specifically for oil, found it in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. petroleum industry was born.
Crude oil, whether retrieved by a spring-pole or cable-tool derrick, could be refined into the new wonder of illumination, kerosene. While drilling for salt brine remained a viable proposition, the new oil business brought spectacular tales of enormous wealth for a lucky few.
By 1878, Vacuum Oil Company (the future Mobil Oil) came looking for oil and natural gas in western New York’s oddly-named Wyoming County. Near the village of Bliss, drillers hit a 70-foot-thick bed of rock salt instead of petroleum. Vacuum Oil wasn’t in the brine business and promptly sold its interest to Wyoming Valley Salt Company. Other salt ventures followed, bringing Bliss new prosperity. Oil exploration companies moved on.
E.J. Wheeler and T.W. Lawrence – described as “two wide-awake business men of Bliss” – joined with prominent local insurance man, Norman R. Howes, to incorporate Bliss Salt & Oil Company in 1892. Stock sales would support drilling for salt, but striking oil or natural gas would be even better. In March 1892, capital stock was authorized at $4,000. “The company has over 3,000 acres of land leased and the shareholders expect to receive a good income from their investment,” reported the Wyoming County Times.
Bliss Salt & Oil Company’s first well was drilled on Stephen Bliss’ farm between Wiscoy Creek and the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh railroad tracks. The company hired F.J. “Fitch” Adams as driller. He was a 14-year veteran of Pennsylvania’s giant Bradford oilfield, 50 miles to the south. At depth of 635 feet, Adams drilled into natural gas, but continued deeper using the gas to fuel the rig’s 25-horsepower boiler.
The company reported to investors, “Salt will no doubt be reached at about 2,500 feet and as we have an abundance of water and a good supply of gas for fuel, this will be one of the best locations for salt plants in America.” Drilling went on to a total depth of 2,956 feet, passing through a second gas sand layer (100 feet thick) on the way to becoming the deepest salt well in Eagle Township.
The presence of natural gas excited shareholders, who held a vote in August to increase capital stock to $6,000. Bliss Salt & Oil announced it was “Going After Gas.”
In April 1893, the company’s second well discovered natural gas at less than 600 feet deep. The Wyoming County Times featured “Booming Bliss” and declared, “A natural gas expert from Buffalo has advanced the opinion that this well will furnish 170,000 cubic feet of gas every twenty-four hours, and that the supply will last for years.”
The news drew Standard Oil Company’s attention. Agents were rumored to be scouting the area. Driller “Fitch” Adams was cited in the Times as believing the wells were “in the gas belt” and that the supply would be permanent. “He backs his opinion by buying stock….A number of experts have given their opinion that the supply is inexhaustible,” the newspaper added.
Bliss Salt & Oil secured a boiler and steam-engine and prepared to drill a third well; but by August, U.S. financial markets were deep into the Panic of 1893 (a harbinger of the Great Depression). Oil Well Supply Company sued both Fitch Adams and Bliss Salt & Oil Company to recover unpaid debts and won.
But then an unexpected show of oil at Bliss Salt & Oil No. 2 well convinced Standard Oil Company agents to make their move. The Times reported, “That was enough for them. They immediately wanted all of the remaining unissued stock and would pay cash for it.” In a quickly engineered takeover, Standard Oil bought out Bliss Salt & Oil shareholders.
However, subsequent Standard Oil exploration efforts suggested the No. 2 oil well discovery was a scam. It was reported the oil was likely poured from a can into the well’s borehole to fool oil scouts. During the gold rush, when crooked miners planted nuggets in worthless mines to fool investors, it was called, “salting the mine.” The local newspaper defended its readership and excoriated the Standard Oil Company.
Amid the controversy, Bliss Salt & Oil Company elected a new board of directors in March 1894. Investors meanwhile read a litany of corporate skulduggery in competing newspapers, including one in nearby Arcade, where the Wyoming County Herald noted:
“Left His Creditors – Norman R. Howes, A Prominent Citizen of Bliss, Absconds. – Becoming Involved in Financial Matters He Leaves Everything behind. – His Defalcations Aggregate, a Large Amount – Attachments on His Goods.”
For the next few years, the absent Howes was repeatedly and unsuccessfully summoned by the court. On May 10, 1895, “in pursuance of a judgment and decree of foreclosure and sale,” the remaining assets of Bliss Salt & Oil Company were auctioned in a sheriff’s sale by direction of the court.
The Wyoming County Times opined, “The truth of the matter seems to be that Mr. Howes became involved in business enterprises which have proven unrenumerative to save himself from what he had already put in them, borrowed money in hopes that business would soon revive and that as a consequence he would be able to retrieve that which he had lost.”
Kansas and Oklahoma subsidiaries discover Mid-Continent oilfields.
Cities Service Company was formed in September 1910 by Henry Latham Doherty as a public utility holding company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
As astute businessman, Doherty bought natural gas producing properties in Kansas and Oklahoma. He acquired distributing companies and linked them to natural gas supplies. His company derived income from the subsidiary corporations’ stock dividends. (more…)
“Snake Hollow Gusher” brings drilling boom (and bust) to Pittsburgh.
“Rarely, a community sees its pulse quicken with a get-rich quick beat, feels the boom fever strike, suffers the chill of disillusion when the ‘El Dorado’ fades out and then recovers,” noted the Pittsburgh Press on July 15, 1934. “But this is what happened at the McKeesport gas field, scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash,” the newspaper added. McKeesport Gas Company was among the casualties.
Following America’s first commercial oil discovery in Northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, natural gas development began in Western Pennsylvania in the late 1870s.
Two brothers discovered a massive natural gas field and brought a new energy resource to Pittsburgh factories. Read more about the once famous Haymaker well in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.
For investors, history seemed to be repeating itself two decades later. McKeesport Gas Company was one of about 300 petroleum companies that sprang up within six months of an August 30, 1919, discover – a runaway natural gas well near McKeesport.
The “Snake Hollow Gusher” between the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, blew in at more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Drilled by S. J. Brendel and David Foster, the discovery well prompted a frenzy that saw $35 million dollars invested during the boom’s seven-month lifespan.
McKeesport Gas Company incorporated on December 5, 1919, and two-weeks later enticed investors with advertisements in the Pittsburgh Press and the Gazette Times newspapers. “Over 500 Acres of Leases in the Heart of the McKeesport Gas Fields,” proclaimed one ad, offering stock at $1.25 a share.
“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” notes a local reporter. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses in anticipation of fortunes to be made.”
However, of the estimated $35 million sunk into the nine square mile area of the boom, only about $3 million came out. By the beginning of 1921, natural gas production was falling in about 180 producing wells – and more than 440 wells were dry holes. A circa 1920 panoramic photograph at the Library of Congress captures the drilling boom at the McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt, by Hagerty & Griffey.
“McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt,” a circa 1920 panoramic photograph by Hagerty & Griffey. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2007661480/.
The McKeesport natural gas field was reported as, “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.”
The Library of Congress photography collection includes “McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” with several McKeesport Gas Company wells at the far left. The company likely drilled a few of the boom’s hundreds of dry holes and with funds exhausted, disappeared into petroleum history.
Fifteen years later, McKeesport Mayor George H. Lysle explained to a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter how the town survived the “seven-month wonder” natural gas boom:
“Other boom towns,” he said, “were built merely on the strength of the wealth that was to pour from their wells or mines. But McKeesport and vicinity was established before the boom came. When it was over, people still had their jobs in the mills and stores, the permanent population remained, and the natural resources of the district, except for gas, were still as great as ever. We were still a great industrial community.”
Today, greater knowledge of geology and advanced production technologies are promising far surer results than the Snake Hollow Gusher. The region’s latest gas boom – the Marcellus Shale – extends across western Pennsylvania into other Appalachian Basin states.
McKeesport Gas Company stock certificates have collectible value.
Citation Information: Article Title: “McKeesport Gas Company.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/mckeesport-gas-company. Last Updated: August 26, 2019.