Illuminating Gaslight

First U.S. gas street lamps illuminated Baltimore in 1817, after a dazzling demonstration at an art museum.


America’s first public street lamp (fueled by manufactured gas) illuminated Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 7, 1817, making the Gas Light Company of Baltimore the first U.S. commercial gas lighting company. A replica of the original lamp, which burned gas distilled from tar and wood, would be erected there a century later.

Gas light plaque at original 1821 Baltimore street lamp replica.

A replica of the first Baltimore gas street light. Photo courtesy BG&E.

A small, brass monument to the company and its street lamp stands at the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street (once Market and Lemon streets). Dedicated by the city’s utility company in 1991 and fueled by natural gas, the elegant lamp is a 175th anniversary replica of the original 1817 design.

In 1816, well-known artist, inventor, and museum founder Rembrandt Peale made headlines by illuminating a large room in his Holliday Street art and natural history museum with artificial gas. This first demonstration dazzled civic leaders, leading businessmen, and socialites gathered there.

1921 painting of Rembrandt Peale as he lighted gas light in his museum.

A 1921 painting dramatized the moment when Rembrandt Peale demonstrated his Baltimore museum’s manufactured gas-fueled “gems of light.” Photo courtesy BG&E.

“Taking after a natural history museum that his father, Charles Wilson Peale, started in Philadelphia in 1786, Rembrandt Peale displayed collections of fossils and other specimens, as well as portraits of many of the country’s founding fathers that his family had painted,” noted a historian for Explore Baltimore Heritage.

Peale hoped his demonstration would attract investors like moths to a flame.

Ad for Peale Museum illumination by gas demonstration.

An 1816 advertisement for the Peale Museum illumination. Photo courtesy BG&E.

“During a candlelit period in American history the forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors,” added another historian at the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric.

A Museum’s “Gems of Light”

Peale’s manufactured gas gamble in 1816 worked. Onlookers were awed with his museum display of “a ring beset with gems of light.”

Several of the city’s financiers approached Peale to form the Gas Light Company of Baltimore, BG&E’s precursor. Less than a year later, on February 7, 1817, America’s first public gas street lamp was lit in a ceremony one block south of City Hall.

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An impressed city council approved Peale’s plan to light more of the city’s streets. BG&E also credits Baltimore inventor Samuel Hill for establishing America’s first gas meter manufacturing company in 1832.

Two years later the first meters were installed. The repidly growing company petitioned the city to begin laying underground pipelines in 1851.

Exterior of the Peale museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Peale’s Baltimore Museum and Gallery of Paintings” opened in 1814 in a building designed by architect Robert Carey Long. Photo courtesy Baltimore Heritage.

Over coming decades, two miles of gas main would be completed under Baltimore streets and the company showed its first profit. Metering replaced flat-rate billing, helping residents afford lighting their homes using pipelines from gasworks.

By 1855, a new gas manufacturing plant was constructed to distill gas from coal — a great improvement over the former “gasification” of tar or wood.  Manufacturing gas from coal had earlier proved successful in Philadelphia.

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Following the illumination of Baltimore, public use of manufactured coal gas began brightening New York City streets in 1823, after the New York Gas Company received a charter from the state legislature to light to parts of Manhattan.

Consolidated Edison Inc. was established in November 1884 by the merging of six gaslight competitors: New York, Manhattan, Metropolitan, Municipal, Knickerbocker and Harlem gas companies; learn more in History of Con Edison

Coal Gas lights Philadelphia

Forty-six lights burning manufactured “coal gas” were lit on February 8, 1836, along Philadelphia’s Second Street by employees of the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works. As Philadelphia became the nation’s center for finance and industry, the municipally owned gas distribution company began a series of  gas-manufacturing innovations.

By 1856, Philadelphia Gas completed construction of a gas tank at the company’s Point Breeze Plant in South Philadelphia. At the time it was the largest in the nation with a total holding capacity of 1.8 million cubic feet.

Tank and buildings of illuminating gas light manufacturing plant 1856

A manufactured gas storage facility at Point Breeze in South Philadelphia, circa 1856. Photograph courtesy Philadelphia Gas Works.

When the American Centennial Exposition of 1876 displayed the wonders of the age in agriculture, horticulture and machinery, gas cooking was showcased as a novelty. Sixty miles of pipe brought manufactured gas to the exhibition’s lamps.

 California’s San Francisco Gas Company was incorporated on August 31, 1850, by Irish immigrants Peter and James Donahue and engineer Joseph Eastland. After erecting a coal gasification plant, their company illuminated the first San Francisco “town gas” street lamps in 1852.

After decades of mergers, the company became Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in 1905. 

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In Illinois, the Chicago Gas Light & Coke Company delivered its first gasified coal on September 4, 1850. “The gas pipes were filled, and the humming noise made by the escaping gas at the tops of the lamp-posts indicated that everything was all right,” according to The Gem of the Prairie.

“Shortly afterward the fire was applied and brilliant torches flamed on both sides of Lake Street as far as the eye could see and wherever the posts were set,” the publication added.

Coal Gas Museum

Gas manufactured from coal helped illuminate the United Kingdom’s industrial revolution. A British museum today preserves perhaps the world’s largest collection of artifacts relating to the manufactured gas industry, and how coal gas light and heat changed society.

According to the National Gas Museum, which opened in 1977 in Leicester, England, many people discovered that heated coal produced a brightly burning gas, but it was Scottish engineer William Murdoch, “who first put this to practical use, lighting his house in Cornwall with it in 1792.”

Birmingham steam-engine manufacturers Boulton and Watt, Murdoch’s employers, began constructing gas works for factories.

The National Gas Museum’s exhibits, housed in the former gatehouse of a gasworks plant, include washing machines, gas irons, and a gas-powered radio. Many rare items are from the London Gas Museum, which closed in 1998. Coal gas supplies and pipelines in the U.K converted to natural gas by the 1970s.

Manufactured gas energy history is also preserved in New Zealand’s Dunedin Gasworks Museum and the Warsaw Gas Museum in Poland.

Natural Gas Street Light

According to most historians, the earliest commercial use of natural gas (not manufactured gas) took place in Fredonia, New York, decades before the 1859 first U.S. oil well in Pennsylvania. Natural gas was piped to downtown Fredonia stores, shops, and a mill from a natural gas well drilled in 1825 by William Hart.

Hart drilled several wells before producing commercial amounts of natural gas. “He left a broken drill in one shallow hole and abandoned a second site at a depth of forty feet because of the small volume of gas found,” noted historian Lois Barris in her history of the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company.

“In his third attempt, Mr. Hart found a good flow of gas at seventy feet,” she explained. “He then constructed a crude gasometer, covering it with a rough shed and proceeded to pipe and market the first natural gas sold in this country.”

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Hart’s early customers annually paid $1.50 for each light, and one natural gas light, “was claimed to yield the light of two good candles. The owner of a mill, on whose land the well was drilled, received two free gas lights for his office as royalty,” noted Barris, citing the 1949 book Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State.

Located between Buffalo and Erie, New York’s Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works, incorporated as America’s first natural gas company, on April 14, 1857. Hart would later be called the father of the U.S. natural gas Industry.

Learn more about the early natural gas industry in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh and Indiana Natural Gas Boom. 

A 1903 well drilled in Dexter, Kansas, led to scientists discovering natural gas could produce commercial amounts of the noble gas Helium (see the Kansas “Wind Gas” Well).

Electric Arc Street Light

America’s transition to electric street lighting began on April 19, 1879, when Charles Brush of Cleveland, Ohio, demonstrated his “dynamo arc light” using 12 electric arc lamps to illuminate Monument Park for thousands of spectators, many wearing smoked glasses.

Brush  knew he was demonstrating  “a product that could potentially replace gas lamps as street illumination by arcing carbon electrodes that would produce a glow equal to 4,000 candles in a single lamp,” noted a 2017 article in Cleveland Magazine.

“A decade after lighting Public Square and transforming cities throughout the world, Brush sold his company in 1889 to the Thomson Houston Co., which in 1892 merged with Edison General Electric to form General Electric,” reported the article, Cleveland was the First City of Light.


Recommended Reading:  In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860 (1993); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); Helium, Its Creation, History, Production, Properties and Uses (2022); Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State (1949). 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 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Illuminating Gaslight.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: February 3, 2023. Original Published Date: January 30, 2016.


Ending Oil Gushers – BOP

It took the ingenuity of a skilled machinist and a Texas wildcatter to invent a device to stop gushers.



Petroleum drilling and production technologies, among the most advanced of any industry, evolved as exploratory wells drilled deeper into highly pressurized geologic formations. One idea began with a sketch on the sawdust floor of a Texas machine shop.

In January 1922, James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron sought their first U.S. patent for the hydraulic ram-type blowout preventer (BOP). The invention would become a vital technology for ending dangerous oil and natural gas gushers. (more…)

Sweeny’s 1866 Rotary Rig

Hollow “drill-rod” and roller bit for “making holes in hard rock.”


An “Improvement in Rock Drills” patent issued after the Civil War included the basic elements of the modern petroleum industry’s rotary rig. 

On January 2, 1866, Peter Sweeney of New York City was granted U.S. patent No. 51,902 for a drilling system with many innovative technologies. His rotary rig design, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart, applied the rotary drilling method’s “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.”

More efficient than traditional cable-tool percussion bits, the patent provided for a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

Peter Sweeny 1866 rotary rig patent drawing.

Peter Sweeney’s innovative 1866 “Stone Drill” patent included a roller bit using “rapid rotary motion” similar to modern rotary drilling technologies.

Deeper Drilling

Sweeney’s design utilized a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

In another innovation, the “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.”

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Better than commonly used steam-powered cable-tools, which used heavy rope to lift and drop iron chisel-like bits, Sweeney claimed his drilling apparatus could be used with great advantage for “making holes in hard rock in a horizontal, oblique, or vertical direction.”

Drilling operations could be continued without interruption, Sweeny explained in his patent application, “with the exception of the time required for adding new sections to the drill rod as the depth of the hole increases. The dirt is discharged during the operation of boring and a clean hole is obtained into which the tubing can be introduced without difficulty.”

A 1917 rotary rig in the Coalinga, California, oilfield.

A 1917 rotary rig in the Coalinga, California, oilfield. Courtesy of the Joaquin Valley Geology Organization.

Foreseeing the offshore exploration industry, Sweeney’s patent concluded with a note that “the apparatus can also be used with advantage for submarine operations.”

With the American oil industry booming, drilling contractors improved upon Sweeney’s idea. A new device was fitted to the rotary table that clamped around the drill pipe and turned. As this “kelly bushing” rotated, the pipe rotated – and with it the bit down hole. The torque of the rotary table was transmitted to the drill stem.

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Thirty-five years after Sweeney’s patent, rotary drilling revolutionized the petroleum industry after a 1901 oil discovery by Capt. Anthony Lucas launched a drilling boom at Spindletop Hill in Texas.

Learn more at Making Hole – Drilling Technology.


Recommended Reading:  History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021). 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 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Sweeny’s 1866 Rotary Rig.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: December 27, 2022. Original Published Date: January 2, 2013.


Fishing in Petroleum Wells

From the earliest days of the U.S. oil industry, drilling stopped when a tool got stuck. 


The challenge of retrieving broken (and often expensive) equipment obstructing a well — “fishing” — began tormenting oil and natural gas exploration companies since the first tool stuck irretrievably at 134 feet deep and ruined a Pennsylvania well.

Just four days after the August 27, 1859, first U.S. oil discovery by Edwin L. Drake in Pennsylvania’s “valley that changed the world,” a far less known oil industry pioneer began America’s second well to be drilled for petroleum. John Livingston Grandin dug his well nearby using a simple spring pole — but soon wedged his iron chisel downhole.

first dry hole

John L. Grandin attempted to recover a lost drill bit at his 1859 well near Tidioute, Pennsylvania. Warren County roadside marker photo.

The 22-year-old Grandin improvised his own well fishing tools, but not only lost his drill bit (an industry first), he ended up with America’s first dry hole among other petroleum industry milestones.

Searching for oil was less an earth science and more an art in the exploration and production industry’s earliest days. Geologists knew far more about finding coal seams than characteristics of oil-bearing formations.

Even as drilling technologies evolved from spring poles and cable tools to modern rotary rigs, downhole problems remained — especially as wells reached new depths (learn more about development of rotary rigs in Making Hole — Drilling Technology).

A 19th century cable-tool rig, like its ancient predecessor the spring pole, utilized percussion drilling — the repeated lifting and dropping of a heavy chisel using hemp ropes. Drilling time and depth improved with the addition of steam power and tall, wooden derricks.

As depths increased, frequent stops were needed to bail out water and cuttings — and sharpen the bit’s iron edge. Small forges were often just feet from the well bore.

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Despite drillers trying to avoid having expensive tools jammed deep in the well, accidents happened. The cable-tool rig’s manila rope or wire line would break. A pipe connection might bend. The downhole tool assemblies could no longer be lifted and dropped.

On the rig floor, fishing tools had to be lowered by a line into the well, armed at their end with spears, clamps and hooks. Sometimes a wood, wax and nails “impression block” was first lowered to get an idea of what lay downhole.

Hooks and Spears

In percussion drilling, the heavy cable-tool assembly could get jammed in the borehole and could no longer be repeatedly lifted and dropped. In the foreground of the photograph below, the large wheel at right (with small, square hub) received the uppermost part of a fishing pole. A rope was wound around this wheel’s rim and led to the “bull wheel” shaft.

Circa 1880s wooden cable-tool derrick, bull wheel and workers.

The term fishing came from early percussion drilling using cable-tools. When the derrick’s manila rope or wire line rope broke, a crewman lowered a hook and attempted to pull out the well’s heavy iron bit. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Among the fishing tools at the man’s feet are 3.5-inch iron poles, each 20 feet in length and weighing 500 pounds. To fish for stuck tools, these were lowered in well, armed at their end with a “die” with a left-hand thread cut in it. This die fit over the end of the stuck tool, tapered inward slightly, and when turned to the left, cut a thread on the cable tool.

The bull wheel, driven by the well’s steam-powered drilling engine, exerted a tremendous strain on the assembled poles. Since that strain was always to the left, the die gradually cut a thread in the stuck cable tool. One of the cable tool sections would eventually “yield, unscrew, and be removed.”

The operation repeated until the lowest piece was reached. A “spud” was then employed. Drilling usually would continue into the night, illuminated by two-wicked “yellow dog” lanterns.

Knives and Whipstocks

“Well fishing tools are constantly being improved and new ones introduced,” explained David T. Day in his A Handbook of the Petroleum Industry in 1922. Describing cable tool operations, he explained that the basic principle of well fishing tools often involved milled wedges — on a spear or in a cylinder — for recovering lost tubing or casing.

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As drillers gained experience with deeper wells, patent applications included hundreds of designs for catching some tool or part that had been broken or lost in the borehole. Many of these “fishing tools” could be created on site since most cable-tool rigs already had a forge for sharpening bits on the derrick floor. 

Day noted that the simpler types of fishing tools comprised “horn sockets, corrugated friction sockets, rope grabs, rope spears, bit hooks, spuds, whipstocks, fluted wedges, rasps, bell sockets, rope knives, boot jacks, casing knives and die nipples.”

Basic fishing tools image from A Handbook of the Petroleum Industry, 1922.

Basic fishing tools include the spear and socket, each with milled edges. Using nails and wax, an impression block helps determine what is stuck downhole. Image from A Handbook of the Petroleum Industry, 1922.

These and other devices, when used with an auger stem in various combinations called jars, can secure a powerful upward stroke or “jar” and thus dislodge and recover the tool being sought, Day explained in his 1922 book.

“The jars, essentially and universally used in fishing with cable tools, consist off two heavy forged-steel links, interlocking as the links of a cable chain, but fitting together more snugly,” he added.

“Many lost tools that cannot be recovered are drilled up or ‘side-tracked” (driven into or against the wall) and passed in drilling,” Day explained. Much depended upon “the skill and patience of the driller.”

Once all well fishing tools failed, a final resort was a whipstock, which allowed the bit to angle off and actually bypass the fish to leave the operator with a deviated hole. This was sometimes unpopular where wells were closely spaced.

Detail of patent drawing of early 1900s rotary drilling design for finding oil.

By the early 1900s, rotary drilling introduced the hollow drill stem that enabled broken rock debris to be washed out of the borehole. It led to far deeper wells.

As drilling with rotary rigs became more common in the early 1900s, fishing methods adapted. “In rotary drilling, the only tools ordinarily used in the well are the drill pipe and bits,” Day noted, adding that the rotary fishing tools, “were comparatively free from the complexities of cable-tool work.”

Most rotary fishing jobs were caused by “twist offs” (broken drill pipe), although the bit, drill coupling or tool joints may break or unscrew. As in cable-tool fishing, an impression block often was needed to determine the proper fishing tool.

But even back then — and especially now with wells miles deep and often turned horizontally — when a downhole problem occurred, the well could be lost for good.

Drilling Miles Deep

The Anadarko Basin extends across western Oklahoma into the Texas Panhandle and into southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado. It includes the Hugoton-Panhandle field, the Union City field and the Elk City field and is among the most prolific natural gas producing areas in North America.

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In 1980, the Oklahoma Historical Society and Oklahoma Petroleum Council dedicated a granite monument at Third and Pioneer streets in Elk City, Oklahoma. The Washita County marker notes:

The Deep Anadarko Basin of Western Oklahoma is one of the most prolific gas provinces of North America. Wells drilled here have been among the world’s deepest. The Bertha Rogers No. 1 in Washita County, drilled in 1971 to 31,441 feet, was then the world’s deepest well. In 1979 the No. 1 Sanders well near Sayre became Oklahoma’s deepest gas producer at 24,996 feet.

When controls on gas prices were lifted, Anadarko justified the faith and perseverance of The GHK Company and other operators who pioneered in deep drilling. The shallow horizons of Greater Anadarko account for much of this nation’s proved gas reserves. Deeper sediments below 15,000 feet remain virtually unexplored. Renewed assessment of some 22,000 cubic miles of deep sediments may carry over into the 21st Century.

Geologic map of Anadarko Basin in Oklahoma in 2014.

A 2014 geologic map of 50,000 square mile Anadarko Basin showing thickness of strata courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

For 20th Century’s final quarter the Basin remains the frontier of deep drilling technology centered on Elk City, “Deep Gas Capital of the World”. As gas prices equate more closely to value, the nation’s needs may be met increasingly from this massive sedimentary basin, a focal point in drilling innovation and geological interpretation.

In re-energizing America, Anadarko will not yield its gas easily or briefly. Promised rewards lying beyond the threshold of drilling techniques demand massive investment. In challenging the inventive enterprise of America’s energy industry, this Basin will remain the heartland of technology in penetrating the earth’s crust.

A 1974 souvenir of the Bertha Roger No. 1 well, which sought natural gas almost six miles deep in Oklahoma's Anadarko Basin.

A 1974 souvenir of the Bertha Roger No. 1 well, which sought natural gas almost six miles deep in Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin.

Until the 1960s, few companies could risk millions of dollars and push rotary rig drilling technology to reach beyond the 13,000-foot level in what geologists called “the deep gas play.”

The great expense and technological expertise necessary to complete ultra-deep natural gas wells at these depths made the Anadarko Basin “the domain of the major petroleum corporations,” explained Bobby Weaver, oil historian and frequent article contributor to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

GHK Company and partner Lone Star Producing Company believed ultra-deep wells in Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin could produce massive amounts of natural gas. They began drilling wells more than three miles deep in the late 1960s.

South of Burns Flat in Washita County, their Bertha Rogers No.1 would reach almost six miles deep in 1974 — after a deep fishing trip.

Deep Fishing in Oklahoma 

In March 1974 in far western Oklahoma, after 16-months of drilling and almost six miles deep, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 rotary rig drill stem sheared, leaving 4,111 feet of pipe and the drill bit stuck downhole. Spudded in November 1972 and averaging about 60 feet per day, the Bertha Rogers had been heading for the history books as the world’s deepest well at the time.

John West, who in 2006 preserved artifacts in the closed Anadarko Basin Museum of Natural History in Elk City, OK.

Independent producer John West in 2006 preserved artifacts in the closed Anadarko Basin Museum of Natural History in Elk City, Oklahoma. Photo by Bruce Wells.

It was March 1974 and the enormous investment of Lone Star Producing Company of Dallas, and partner GHK Company of Oklahoma City, was about to be lost. Desperate GHK executives called a Houston fishing company.

Millions of dollars hung in the balance when Houston-based Wilson Downhole Service Company, Houston, was called and tool-fishing expert Mack Ponder sent to the rescue.

Against all odds and employing the latest 1970s technology, Ponder was able to retrieve the pipe sections and drill bit from 30,019 feet down, bringing operations back on line and enabling drilling to continue even deeper into Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, at a site about 12 miles west of Cordell.

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Although the remarkable deep fishing achievement was celebrated, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 had to be completed at just 14,000 feet after striking molten sulfur at 31,441 feet. The equipment could not take the abuse at total depth. The well set a world record and remains one of the deepest ever drilled.

In 1979, the No. 1 Sanders well in Beckham County became Oklahoma’s deepest natural gas producing well at 24,996 feet. 

Also see Anadarko Basin in Depth.

Fishing Technician Job Description

The U.S. Labor Department describes an “Oil Well Fishing Tool Technician” (Occupational Title 930.261-010) as an occupation that “analyzes conditions of unserviceable oil or gas wells and directs use of special well-fishing tools and techniques to recover lost equipment and other obstacles from boreholes of wells,”

The government description adds that the technician plans fishing methods, selects tools, and “directs drilling crew in applying weights to drill pipes, in using special tools, in applying pressure to circulating fluid (mud), and in drilling around lodged obstacles or specified earth formations, using whipstocks and other special tools.”


Recommended Reading:  History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021). 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 preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Fishing in Petroleum Wells.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: December 26, 2022. Original Published Date: June 1, 2006.


Oilfield Artillery fights Fires

“Small cannons throwing a three-inch solid shot are kept at various stations throughout the region…”


Early petroleum technologies included cannons for fighting oil tank storage fires, especially in the Great Plains where lightning strikes ignited derricks, engine houses and tanks. Shooting a cannon ball into the base of a burning storage tank allowed oil to drain into a holding pit or ditch, putting out the fire.

“Oil Fires, like battles, are fought by artillery,” proclaimed a December 1884 article from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (more…)

Technology and the “Conroe Crater”

A 1933 Texas well disaster helped lead to advancements in directional drilling.


A Great Depression-era disaster in a giant oilfield near Conroe, Texas, brought together the inventor of portable drilling rigs and the father of directional drilling. George E. Failing and H. John Eastman employed new technologies that allowed “the bit burrowing into the ground at strange angles.”

Early Conroe oil wells revealed shallow but “gas charged” oil-producing sands in what would prove to be the third largest oilfield in the United States at the time. By the end of 1932, more than 65,000 of barrels of oil flowed daily from 60 wells in the region north of Houston.

Disaster came in January 1933 when one of the Conroe wells blew out and erupted into flames. The runaway well then cratered, completely swallowing nearby drilling rigs. (more…)

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