First Dry Hole

America’s first unsuccessful well drilled for oil still achieved many petroleum industry “firsts.”


Today’s oil and natural gas exploration and production technologies began with mid-19th century wells drilled in northwestern Pennsylvania. Just four days after America’s first commercial oil well, a second attempt nearby resulted in the first “dry hole” for the new U.S. petroleum industry.

Edwin L. Drake drilled the first U.S. oil well specifically seeking oil on August 27, 1859, at Titusville, Pennsylvania. His historic feat included inventing the method of driving a pipe downhole to protect the integrity of the well bore. The former railroad conductor borrowed a kitchen water pump to produce the first barrel of oil.


Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump

Armais Arutunoff designed a downhole centrifugal pump and founded an oilfield service company.


The modern petroleum industry owes a lot to the son of an Armenian soap maker. 

With the help of a prominent Oklahoma oil company president in the 1930s, Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff designed and built the earliest practical, downhole electric submersible pump. His invention would enhance oilfield production in wells worldwide.

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

Armais Arutunoff (1893-1978), inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

A 1936 Tulsa World article described the Arutunoff electric submersible pump (ESP) as “an electric motor with the proportions of a slim fence post which stands on its head at the bottom of a well and kicks oil to the surface with its feet.”

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

By 1938, an estimated two percent of all oil produced in the United States with artificial lift was lifted by an Arutunoff pump (see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology).

Early Downhole Patents

The first patent for an oil-related electric pump was issued in the late 19th century during the growth of electrical power generation, according to a September 2014 article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology (JPT).

In 1894, a design by Harry Pickett (patent no. 529,804) used a downhole rotary electric motor with “a Yankee screwdriver device to drive a plunger pump.”

Expanding Picket’s concept, Robert Newcomb in 1918 received a patent for his “electro-magnetic engine” driving a reciprocating plunger.

“Heretofore, in very deep wells the rod that is connected to the piston, and generally known as the ‘sucker’ rod, very often breaks on account of its great length and strains imposed thereon in operating the piston,” noted Newcomb in his patent application.

A 1951 "submergible" Reda Pump advertisement for well pump.

Armais Arutunoff obtained 90 patents, including one in 1934 for an improved well pump and electric cable. At right is a 1951 “submergible” Reda advertisement.

Although several patents followed those of Picket and Newcomb, the Journal reports, “It was not until 1926 that the first patent for a commercial, operatable ESP was issued — to ESP pioneer Armais Arutunoff. The cable used to supply power to the bottomhole unit was also invented by Arutunoff.”

Reda: Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff

Arutunoff built his first ESP in 1916 in Germany, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Suspended by steel cables, it was dropped down the well casing into oil or water and turned on, creating a suction that would lift the liquid to the surface formation through pipes,” reported OHS historian Dianna Everett.

After immigrating to the United States in 1923, in California Arutunoff could not find financial support for manufacturing his pump design. He moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1928 at the urging of a new friend — Frank Phillips, head of Phillips Petroleum Company.

“With Phillips’s backing, he refined his pump for use in oil wells and first successfully demonstrated it in a well in Kansas,” noted Everett. The device was manufactured by a small company that soon became Reda Pump.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

The name Reda – Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff – was the cable address of the company that Arutunoff originally started in Germany. The inventor would move his family into a Bartlesville home just across the street from Frank Phillips’ mansion.

REDA Pump founder Armais Arutunoff lived in this house in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

The founder of Reda Pump once lived in this Bartlesville, Oklahoma, home across from Frank Phillips, whose home today is a museum. Photo courtesy Kathryn Mann, Only in Bartlesville.

A holder of more than 90 patents in the United States, Arutunoff was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1974. “Try as I may, I cannot perform services of such value to repay this wonderful country for granting me sanctuary and the blessings of freedom and citizenship,” Arutunoff said at the time.

A modern ESP artificial lift diagram courtesy Schlumberger.

A modern ESP applies artificial lift by spinning the impellers on the pump shaft, putting pressure on the surrounding fluids and forcing them to the surface. It can lift more than 25,000 barrels of fluids per day. Courtesy Schlumberger.

Arutunoff died in February 1978 in Bartlesville. At the end of the twentieth century, Reda was the world’s largest manufacturer of ESP systems. It is now part of Schlumberger.

Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff was born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, part of the Russian Empire, on June 21, 1893. His hometown in the Caucasus Mountains dated back to the 5th Century. His father was a soap manufacturer and his grandfather a fur trader.

Centrifugal Pumps

As a young scientist, Arutunoff’s research convinced him that electrical transmission of power could be efficiently applied to oil drilling and improve the antiquated methods he saw in use in the early 1900s in Russia.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

A small, yet high-horsepower electric motor was needed, but limitations imposed by the available casing sizes required a relatively small motor.

A motor of small diameter was too low in horsepower for the job, Arutunoff discovered. He studied the fundamental laws of electricity seeking answers to how to build a higher horsepower motor exceedingly small in diameter.

By 1916, Arutunoff was designing a centrifugal pump to be coupled to the motor for de-watering mines and ships. To develop enough power, the motor needed to run at very high speeds. He successfully designed a centrifugal pump, small in diameter and with stages to achieve high discharge pressure.

Arutunoff designed a motor ingeniously installed below the pump to cool the motor with flow moving up the oil well casing, and the entire unit was suspended in the well on the discharge pipe. The motor, sealed from the well fluid, operated at high speed in oil.

Although Arutunoff built the first centrifugal pump while living in Germany, he built the first submersible pump and motor in the United States while living in southern California.

Friend of Frank

Arutunoff already had formed Reda to manufacture his idea for electric submersible motors, and after living in Germany, Arutunoff came to the United States with his wife and one-year-old daughter to settle in Michigan, and then Los Angeles.

However, after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff could not find financial support for his downhole production technology. Everyone he approached turned him down, believing his downhole concept was impossible under the “laws of electronics.”

Petroleum history is important. Support link for AOGHS.

No one would consider his inventions until a friend at Phillips Petroleum Company — Frank Phillips — encouraged him to form his own company in Bartlesville. The Arutunoff family moved into a house on the same street as the Phillips home. 

The Reda Company manufacturing plant in Bartlesville , Okla.

Arutunoff’s manufacturing plant in Bartlesville spread over nine acres, employing hundreds during the Great Depression.

In 1928 Arutunoff moved to Bartlesville, where he formed Bart Manufacturing Company, which changed its name to Reda Pump Company in 1930. He soon demonstrated a working model of an oilfield electric submersible pump.

One of his pump-and-motor devices was installed in an oil well in the El Dorado field near Burns, Kansas — the first equipment of its kind to be used in a well. One reporter telegraphed his editor, “Please rush good pictures showing oil well motors that are upside down.”

By the end of the 1930s, Arutunoff’s company held dozens of patents for industrial equipment, leading to decades of success and even more patents. His “Electrodrill” aided scientists in penetrating the Antarctic ice cap for the first time in 1967.

Arutunoff oilfield technologies had a significant impact on the petroleum industry — quickly proving crucial to successful production for hundreds of thousands of U.S. oil wells.

Also see Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.


Recommended Reading: Artificial Lift-down Hole Pumping Systems (1984); Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2016). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an AOGHS annual supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump.” Author: Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: June 13, 2024. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.

Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation

Founded in 1932, the oilfield service company Lane-Wells developed powerful perforating guns. 


Fifteen years after its first oil well perforation job, Lane-Wells Company returned to the same well near Montebello, California, to perform its 100,000th perforation. The publicity event of June 18, 1948, was a return to Union Oil Company’s La Merced No. 17 well.

 The gathering of executives at the historic well celebrated a significant leap in petroleum production technology. The combined inventiveness of the two oilfield service companies had accomplished much in a short time, “so it was a colorful ceremony,” reported a trade magazine.

A 1948 magazine article about historic Lane-Wells 100,000the oil well perforation.

As production technologies evolved after World War II, Lane-Wells developed a downhole gun with the explosive energy to cut through casing. Above, one of the articles preserved in a family scrapbook, courtesy Connie Jones Pillsbury, Atascadero, California.

Officials from both companies and invited guests gathered to witness the repeat performance of the company’s early perforating technology, noted Petroleum Engineer in its July 1948 issue. Among them were “several well-known oilmen who had also been present on the first occasion.”

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Walter Wells, chairman of the board for Lane-Wells, was present for both events. The article reported he was more anxious at the first, which had been an experiment to test his company’s new perforating gun. In 1930, Wells and another enterprising oilfield tool salesman, Bill Lane, developed a practical way of using guns downhole. 

The two men envisioned a tool which would shoot steel bullets through casing and into the formation. They would create a multiple-shot perforator that fired bullets individually by electrical detonation. After many test firings, commercial success came at the Union Oil Company La Merced well.

Cover of a special publication featuring 75th anniversary of Baker Atlas oil well service company.

Cover of a special publication featuring 75th anniversary of Baker Atlas oil well service company. Lane-Wells became part of Baker Atlas, today a division of Baker-Hughes

Founded in Los Angeles in 1932, the oilfield service company Lane-Wells built a fleet of trucks as it became a specialized provider of well perforations — a key service for enhancing well production (see Downhole Bazooka).

The two men designed tools that would better help the oil industry during the Great Depression. “Bill Lane and Walt Wells worked long hours at a time, establishing their perforating gun business,” explained Susan Wells in a 2007 book celebrating the 75th anniversary of Baker-Atlas. 

“It was a period of high drilling costs, and the demand for oil was on the rise,” Wells added. “Making this scenario worse was the fact that the cost of oil was relatively low.”

Shotgun Perforator

By late 1935, Lane-Wells recognized high-powered guns were needed for breaking through casing, cement and into oil-bearing rock formations.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

An experienced oilfield worker, Sidney Mims, had patented a similar technical tool for this, but he could not get it working as well as it should. Lane and Wells purchased the patent and refined the downhole gun design. Lane-Wells developed a remotely controlled 128-shot perforator — a downhole shotgun.

“Lane and Wells publicly used the reengineered shotgun perforator they bought from Mims on Union Oil’s oil well La Merced No. 17,” Wells noted. “There wasn’t any production from this oil well until the shotgun perforator was used, but when used, the well produced more oil than ever before.”

Lane-Wells woould become a major oilfield provider of perforating services using downhole “bullet guns,” seen here in 1940.

Lane-Wells provided perforating services using downhole “bullet guns,” seen here in 1940.

The successful application attracted many other oil companies to Lane-Wells as the company modified the original 128-shot perforator to use 6-shot and 10-shot cylinders. For a public relations event, executives decided to conduct the company’s 100,000th perforation almost 16 years after the first at the La Merced No. 17 well.

Continued success in Oklahoma and Texas oilfields led to new partnerships beginning in the 1950s. A Lane-Wells merger with Dresser Industries was finalized in March 1956, and another corporate merger arrived in 1968 with Pan Geo Atlas Corporation, forming the service industry giant Dresser Atlas.

A 1987 joint venture with Litton Industries led to Western Atlas International, which became an independent company before becoming a division of Baker-Hughes in 1998 (Baker Atlas) providing well logging and perforating services. Dresser merged with Halliburton the same year.

Preserving Oil History

Connie Jones Pillsbury of Atascadero, California, and the family of Walter T. Wells wanted to preserve rare Lane-Wells artifacts. She contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society for help finding a home for an original commemorative album, press-clippings and guest book from June 18, 1948. 

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Seeking to preserve the “Lane-Wells 100,000th Gun Perforating Job” event at Montebello, California — site of the Union Oil Company La Merced No. 17 well — Pillsbury and the children of Dale G. Jones, the grandson of Walter T. Wells, contacted petroleum museums, libraries, and archives (also see Oil & Gas Families). 

Pillsbury’s quest to preserve the Walter T. Wells album and records proved successful, and she emailed AOGHS to report the family’s album was “safely archived at the USC Libraries Special Collections. Sue Luftschein is the Librarian. It’s on Online Archive of California (OAC).”

 View showing the Lane-Wells Building located at 5610 S. Soto Street in Huntington Park.  The building still stands.

The Lane-Wells West Coast headquarters designed by architect William E. Mayer and completed in 1937 in what today is Huntington Park in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Water and Power Associates.

The Lane-Wells collection — Gift of Connie Pillsbury, October 27, 2017 — can be accessed via the OAC website. 

Title: Lane-Wells Company records
Creators: Wells, Walter T. and Lane-Wells Company
Identifier/Call Number: 7055
Physical Description: 1.5 Linear Feet 1 box
Date (inclusive): 1939-1954

The archive abstract also notes:

“This small collection consists of a commemorative album celebrating the 100,000th Gun Perforating Job by the Lane-Wells Company of Los Angeles on June 18, 1948 and additional printed ephemera, 1939-1954, created and collected by Walter T. Wells, co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Lane-Wells Company.”

Pillsbury sought a museum or archive home for her rare oil patch artifact, which came from an event attended by many from the Los Angeles petroleum industry.

“The professionally-prepared book has all of the attendees signatures, photographs and articles on the event from TIME, The Oil and Gas Journal, Fortnight, Oil Reporter, Drilling, The Petroleum Engineer, Oil, Petroleum World, California Oil World, Lane-Wells Magazine, the L.A. Examiner, L.A. Daily News and L.A. Times, etc.,” Pillsbury noted in 2017.

Petroleum history is important. Support link for AOGHS.

The 1948 commemorative book, now preserved at USC, “was given to my first husband, Dale G. Jones, Ph.D., grandson of Walter T. Wells, one of the founders of Lane-Wells,” she added. “His children asked me to help find a suitable home for this book. I found you (the AOGHS website) through googling ‘History of Lane-Wells Company.’”


Recommended Reading:  75 Years Young…BAKER-ATLAS The Future has Never Looked Brighter (2007); Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields (1990). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an AOGHS annual supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: June 12, 2024. Original Published Date: June 30, 2017.

Shooters – A “Fracking” History

Evolution of technologies for fracturing geologic formations to increase oil and natural gas production.


Ever since the earliest U.S. oil discoveries, detonating dynamite or nitroglycerin downhole helped increase a well’s production. The geologic “fracking” technology commonly used in oilfields after the Civil War would be significantly enhanced when hydraulic fracturing arrived in 1949. 

Modern hydraulic fracturing — popularly known as petroleum well “fracking” — can trace its roots to April 1865, when Civil War Union veteran Lt. Col. Edward A. L. Roberts received the first of his many patents for an “exploding torpedo.” (more…)

Downhole Bazooka

World War II anti-tank weapon improved technologies for perforating well casing.


Swiss inventor Henry Mohaupt used his experience from creating a World War II anti-tank weapon to develop a new technology for improving production of oil and natural gas wells. To improve perforating well casing, he used conically hollowed-out explosive charges to focus each detonation’s energy.


All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology

From eccentric wheels to the counter-balanced “nodding donkey,” inventing ways to produce oil.


In a remote northwestern Pennsylvania valley on August 27, 1859, Edwin L. Drake completed America’s first commercial oil well — launching the U.S. petroleum industry. Drake borrowed a common kitchen hand-pump to retrieve the important new resource from a depth of 69.5 feet.

Seeking oil for the Seneca Oil Company for refining into a popular lamp fuel, kerosene, Drake’s shallow well created a new exploration and production industry, it wasn’t long before necessity and ingenuity combined to find something more efficient for producing oil from a well.


Pin It on Pinterest