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.


First Dry Hole

America’s first unsuccessful well drilled for oil achieved many petroleum industry “firsts” in 1859.


Oil and natural gas exploration and production technologies began with the earliest wells of the mid-19th century in northwestern Pennsylvania. Just four days after America’s first commercial oil well of August 27, 1859, 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 at a creek near 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.


Oilfield Firefighting Technologies

In such a flammable workplace, danger can come from anywhere, including the sky.


Whether ignited by accident, natural phenomena, or acts of war, oilfield fires have challenged America’s petroleum industry since the earliest wells in northwestern Pennsylvania. Fire has threatened the search for oil and natural gas, beginning when Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercial U.S. oil well on August 27, 1859.

Just six weeks after his discovery, Drake’s historic well caught fire when his driller, William “Uncle Billy” Smith, inspected it with an open lamp, igniting seeping natural gas. Flames quickly consumed the cable-tool derrick, engine-pump house, stored oil — and Smith’s nearby shack.

Drake oil well drilling rig at museum.

Drake Well Museum exhibits in Titusville, Pennsylvania, include a replica of the cable-tool derrick and engine house that drilled the first U.S. well in 1859.

Visitors to the Drake Well Museum today can tour a reconstructed cable-tool derrick and equipment at the original site along Oil Creek where the former railroad conductor found oil at a depth of 69.5 feet. Another museum exhibit preserves the Titusville Fire Department’s coal-fired steam pumper.

As the young American petroleum industry learned from hard experience, more oilfield fires would follow in the Pennsylvania oil region later called “the valley that changed the world.”  

Early Firefighting Lessons

In 1861, an explosion and fire at Henry Rouse’s gushing oil well made national news when he was killed along with 18 workers and onlookers (see Rouseville 1861 Oil Well Fire).  In 1977, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired landscape artist James Hamilton’s “Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” painted soon after the fire.

The dangerous operating environment of a cable-tool rig included a spinning bull wheel, a rising and falling heavy wooden beam, a steam boiler, and crowded spaces.

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The pounding iron drill bit frequently needed to be withdrawn and hammered sharp using a small, but red-hot forge — often set up just feet from the wellbore.

Lighting striking derricks and oilfield tank farms also would prove challenging.

Painting of Rouseville fire of 1861. James Hamilton's Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Preserved by the Smithsonian, “Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” circa 1861, a paining by James Hamilton, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

Late 19th century oilfield fire prevention remained rudimentary as exploration moved westward. Safety lamps like one with two spouts popularly known as the “Yellow Dog” lantern, were not particularly safe. The rapidly growing petroleum industry needed new technologies for preventing fires or putting them out.

As drilling experience grew, refineries responded to skyrocketing public demand for the lamp fuel kerosene. Production from new oilfields in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma led to construction of safer storage facilities, but advances in drilling deeper wells brought fresh challenges (see Ending Oil Gushers – BOP).

Firefighting with Cannons

Especially in early oilfields, working in such a flammable workplace could bring danger from everywhere — including the sky. Lightning strikes to wooden storage tanks created flaming cauldrons.

Cannon shoots burning oil tank, circa 1915.

A circa 1915 photo of a cannon — possibly a “Model 1819,” according to The Artilleryman Magazine (Fall 2019, vol. 40, no. 4) — firing solid shot in an attempt to create a hole to drain the burning oil tank. “No one appears to be near the gun, so it may have been fired using fuse or electrically.” Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

In the rush to exploit early oilfields, wooden derricks often crowded an oil-soaked landscape, leaving workers — and nearby towns — dangerously exposed to an accidental conflagration. Many oil patch community oil museums have retained examples of early smooth-bore cannon used to fight fires.

A civil-war era field cannon exhibit in Corsicana, Texas, tells the story of a cannon from the Magnolia Petroleum Company tank farm. “It was used to shoot a hole in the bottom of the cypress tanks if lightning struck,” a plaque notes. “The oil would drain into a pit around the tanks and be pumped away.”

Learn more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.

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Oilfield firefighting using cannons has continued into the 21st century. In May 2020, a well operated by the Irkutsk Oil Company in Russia’s Siberian region ignited a geyser of flaming oil and natural gas. When efforts to control the blowout failed, the Russian Defense Ministry flew in a 1970s era anti-tank gun and its Hungarian crew.

From about 200 yards away, the Hungarian artillerymen (Covid-19 masked) repeatedly fired their 100-millimeter, smooth-bore Rapira MT-12 gun at blazing oilfield equipment, “breaking it from the well and allowing crews to seal the well,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

In addition to using cannons to fire well fires, other techniques have included smothering them using cranes to lower iron metal caps (see Kansas Gas Well Fire) or detonating an explosive from above  to rob the flames of air. Using a wind machine must count among the more unusual methods.

Firefighting with Wind

In 1929, about 400 volunteers took on a raging oilfield fire that had destroyed seven derricks and two oil well “heavy producers” at Santa Fe Springs, California. “Roaring Flames Turn Black Gold To Smoke,” proclaimed a Los Angeles Times headline on June 12.

The Santa Fe Springs Hathaway Ranch and Oil Museum, “a museum of five generations of Hathaway family and Southern California history,” has preserved rare motion picture clips of a propeller-driven “Wind-making Machine” in action — although the wind proved no match for the flames.

WInd machine for fighting oilfield fires at Hathaway Ranch and Oil Museum.

“The machine that made the wind that conquered a fire in a Santa Fe Springs oilfield on June 15, 1929. It consists of a three-bladed airplane propeller driven by a powerful motor, and it was used to blow the heat from the men at work fighting the fire. A track of boards was built for the machine over a lake of oil, mud and water in the ‘hot zone’ of the big fire.” — Hathaway Ranch and Oil Museum, Santa Fe Springs, California.

The fire depicted in the silent film is intense, “so firefighting equipment is appropriately distant from the well head, including the wind machine,” explained museum Curator of Media Archives Terry Hathaway.

“It looks like its use is more or less limited to blowing hot air, smoke and steam (from firefighting water hoses) away from the workers and toward the fire,” he added.

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Hathaway explained that the wind machine on the back of a truck probably had no direct influence on the fire itself, due to distance and the ferocity of the high-pressure well blowout, “but it apparently may have made things more tenable for the firefighters by keeping them relatively cool and smoke free.”

A modern version of the 1929 wind-making machine returned in 1991, after Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army set hundreds of wells ablaze in Kuwait oilfields. Firefighting technologies by then had evolved into using jet engines. MB Drilling Company of Szolnok, Hungary, sent a three-man team with “Big Wind,” a modern version of the 1929 wind-making machine.

Instead of a piston-driven propeller on a vintage truck bed, twin MIG-21 turbojets were mounted in place of the turret on a World War II era Soviet T-34 tank. The jet engines generated 700 mph of thrust, which blasted hundreds of gallons of water per second into the flames.

Russian "Big Windy" dual jet engine wind machine.

Image from Romanian video of 1991 Kuwaiti oilfields: “Twin MIG-21 turbojets mounted on a World War II era Soviet T-34 tank dubbed “Big Wind” generated 700 mph thrust blasting hundreds of gallons of water per second into the fire.”

The Hungarian  team members put out their assigned fires and recapped nine wells in 43 days, according to a 2001 Car and Driver article, “Stilling the Fires of War.”

Firefighting with Explosives

Many firefighting teams went to Kuwait following the Persian Gulf War, including Paul “Red” Adair, whose dramatic oilfield feats had been popularized in the 1968 movie “Hellfighters.” Adair and his team extinguished 117 Kuwaiti oil well fires by robbing the flames of oxygen using explosives.

As the Hungarian crew chief of “Big Wind” observed at the time, “Would you really want to walk up to a 2,000-degree flame through burning heat and oil rain carrying explosives?”

A century earlier, Karl T. Kinley did just that. Kinley, a California oil well “shooter” (see Shooters — A History of Fracking) during the early 1900s, learned from first-hand experience that a dynamite explosion could “blow out” a wellhead fire. Kinley’s son Myron Macy Kinley established the pioneering oilfield service business M.M. Kinley Company after learning from his father’s highly dangerous experiments.

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Readers Digest in 1953 declared Myron M. Kinley “the unrivaled world-champion fighter of oil fires.” A TIME article described him as “the indispensable man of the oil industry.”

But with chance of terrible injuries or death ever present, firefighting success was not without cost. Kinley’s brother Floyd was killed by falling rig debris in 1938 as they fought a runaway well fire near Goliad, Texas. 

Myron M. Kinley, Paul "Red Adair and a welder examine a nitroglycerin bomb barrel.

Myron M. Kinley (at left), Paul “Red Adair (center), and a welder examine a nitroglycerin bomb barrel. Myron Kinley has been called the grandfather of modern oil well fire fighting, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Photo by A.Y. Owen courtesy OHS Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection.

Kinley, who mentored “Red” Adair, developed technologies at M.M. Kinley Company that inspired other firefighting experts, including Joe R. Bowden Sr., founder of Wild Well Control in 1975 to provide emergency response, safety training, and relief well engineering. Bobby Joe Cudd established Woodward, Oklahoma-based Cudd Well Control Company in 1977 with eight employees and a “hydraulic snubbing unit.”

After they had worked for the Red Adair Service and Marine Company, Asger “Boots” Hansen and “Coots” Mathews in 1978 opened an office in Houston for what could become Boots & Coots International Well Control (today a Halliburton Company).

Adair had joined Myron Kinley’s California oilfield service company after serving with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II. After starting his own company by 1959, “Red” improved firefighting technologies, developing new tools, equipment, and techniques for “wild well” control.

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Adair was 75 years old when he successfully tamed roaring fires in Kuwait’s scorched oilfields. As early as 1962, his Red Adair Company had “put out a Libyan oil well fire that had burned so brightly that astronaut John Glenn could see it from space,” the Los Angeles Times reported. 

Firefighting with Nukes

Between 1966 and 1981, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics snuffed out runaway fires at natural gas wells using subsurface nuclear detonations. The experiments, part of the broader “Program No. 7 – Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy,” imitated a U.S. initiative, “Plowshare,” seeking peaceful uses of nuclear bombs.

According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USSR scientists code-named five secret attempts Urta-Bulak, Pamuk, Crater, Fakel, and Pyrite.

The first experimental detonation, Urta-Bulak in 1966, came after three-years and failed conventional attempts to extinguish a blazing natural gas well in Southern Uzbekistan. Scientists positioned a special 30-kiloton package within 300 feet of the borehole by slant drilling.

Detonated in clay strata at a depth of 4,921 feet, the nuclear explosion’s shock wave sealed the well within 23 seconds, staunching the daily waste of 423 million cubic feet of natural gas, reported Russian television.

Workers lower nuke into USSR well in 1966.

Video image showing USSR nuclear device being lowered into well for detonation shockwave to extinguish runaway oilfield fire. A Russian newspaper reported nuclear blasts first used in 1966 to put out a natural gas well fire in Uzbekistan.

In 1968, the Pamuk well explosion used a larger, 47-kiloton nuclear device that measured 9.5 inches by 10 feet. Two years of uncontrolled natural gas and saturated surrounding landscape yielded to the nuclear detonation at a depth of 8,000 feet. The runaway gas well died out seven days later.

Twice in 1972, USSR scientists used lower-yield detonations to extinguish massive fires. The smallest of the nuclear firefighting devices (3.8 kiloton) in July 7 squelched a runaway gas well fire in the Ukraine, about 12 miles north of Krasnograd.

The USSR program’s only recorded failure came in 1981 with the last Soviet use of firefighting nukes. On May 5, a nuclear device failed to shut down a 56 million cubic feet per day out of control natural gas well. The code-named Pyrite device had been positioned proximate to the well at a depth of 4,957 feet.

The 37.6-kiloton detonation in a sandstone-clay formation failed to seal the gas well, according to the USSR Ministry of Defense, which provided little more information.

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By the 1950s, America was considering how to use nuclear weapons for constructive purposes — “Atoms for Peace.” In December 1961, Project Plowshare began examining the feasibility of various projects, including ways to improve natural gas production (see Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear “Fracking”).

 Neither the Project Plowshare nor the Soviets Union’s Program No. 7 produced desirable results. With or without nukes, oilfield work then and now remains among the most dangerous jobs in the world. Fortunately, safety and prevention methods have improved along with the technologies for “making hole” and producing oil since the industry’s earliest wells in northwestern Pennsylvania.


Recommended Reading: The Birth of the Oil Industry (1936); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975); The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009). 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. Join today as an annual AOGHS supporting member. 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: “Exploring Oilfield Firefighting Technologies.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: August 2, 2023. Original Published Date: January 31, 2022.



Pump Jack at Powder Mill Creek

Exploring circa 1914 oilfield production technology found hidden in Pennsylvania woods.


The search for new technologies for pumping oil from wells — pump jacks — began soon after America’s first commercial discovery in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania. For that well, driller Edwin L. Drake used a common water-well hand pump from a nearby kitchen. (more…)

Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump

Armais Arutunoff designed an efficient down-hole centrifugal pump and founded oilfield service company.


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

With the help of a prominent Oklahoma oil company president, Arutunoff designed and built the first practical electric submersible pump (ESP). His revolutionary concept would enhanced oilfield production in wells worldwide.

A 1936 Tulsa World article described the Arutunoff downhole pump 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.”

A 1951 "submergible" Reda Pump advertisement.

Armais Arutunoff will obtain 90 patents. Above, a 1934, patent for an improved well pump and electric cable. At right, a 1951 “submergible” Reda Pump advertisement.

By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artificial lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump.

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According to an October 2014 article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology, the first patent for an oil-related electric pump was issued in 1894 to Harry Pickett. His invention used a downhole rotary electric motor with “a Yankee screwdriver device to drive a plunger pump.”

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

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

More than two decades later, Robert Newcomb received a 1918 patent for his “electro-magnetic engine” driving a reciprocating plunger pump.

“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.

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.”

Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff (Reda)

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.

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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.

Son of a Soap Maker

Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff was born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, part of the Russian Empire, on June 21, 1893. His home town, in the Caucasus Mountains between the Caspian and Black Sea, dated back to the 5th Century.

According to an online electrical submersible pump history at ESP Pump, his father was a soap manufacturer and his grandfather a fur trader. In his youth, Arutunoff lived in Erivan (now Yerevan) the capital of Armenia.

The ESP Pump website, which includes a profile of his extensive scientific career, described how 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.

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“To do this, a small, yet high horsepower electric motor was needed,” ESP Pump explained. “The limitation imposed by available casing sizes made it necessary that the motor be relatively small.”

However, a motor of small diameter would necessarily be too low in horsepower. “Such a motor would be inadequate for the job he had in mind so he studied the fundamental laws of electricity to find the basis for the answer to the question of how to build a higher horsepower motor exceedingly small in diameter,” according to ESP Power.

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

“In his design, the motor was 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,” ESP Pump noted. “The motor, sealed from the well fluid, operated at high speed in an oil bath.”

An Upside Down Well Motor

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 Los Angeles.

“Before coming to the U.S. he had formed a small company of his own, called Reda, to manufacture his idea for electric submersible motors,” noted ESP Pump. “He later settled in Germany and then came with his wife and one-year-old daughter to the United States to settle in Michigan, then Los Angeles.”

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

No one would consider his inventions until a friend at Phillips Petroleum Company — Frank Phillips — encouraged him to form his own company in in Bartlesville. He moved into a house down the street of the 

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 formed Bart Manufacturing Company, which changed its same to the 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 kinds to be used in a well. One reporter telegraphed his editor, “Please rush good pictures showing oil well motors that are upside down.”

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By 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’s ESP oilfield technology quickly had a significant impact on the oil business,” concluded the ESP Pump article. “His pump was crucial to the successful production over the years of hundreds of thousands of oil wells.”

Also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology and 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. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2023 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 16, 2023. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.


Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation

Established in 1932, the Lane-Wells oilfield service company created 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.

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.”

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.

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, came up with 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.

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By late 1935, Lane-Wells had established a fleet of trucks as the company grew into a provider of well-perforations — a key oilfield service for enhancing production (see Downhole Bazooka).

“Bill Lane and Walt Wells worked long hours at a time, establishing their perforating gun business,” explained Susan Wells in a 2007 book. The men designed tools that would better help the oil industry during the Great Depression, she noted. “It was a period of high drilling costs, and the demand for oil was on the rise. Making this scenario worse was the fact that the cost of oil was relatively low.”

What was needed was a high-powered gun for breaking through casing, cement and into formations. An oilfield worker, Sidney Mims, had patented a similar technical tool for this purpose, but could not get it to work as well as it could. Lane and Wells purchased the patent and refined the gun.

Book cover featuring 75th anniversary of Baker Atlas oil well service company.

Lane-Wells became Baker Atlas, which celebrated its 75 anniversary in 2007, and today is a division of Baker-Hughes

Established in Los Angeles in 1932, the oilfield service company developed a remotely controlled 128-shot gun perforator. “Lane and Wells publicly used the reengineered shotgun perforator they bought from Mims on Union Oil’s oil well La Merced No. 17,” Susan Wells noted in her 2007 book celebrating the 75th anniversary of Baker-Atlas.

“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,” she explained.

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, which decided to conduct its 100,000th perforation almost 16 years later at the very same California oil well. The continued success 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 in 1998.

Preserving Petroleum 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 their original commemorative album, press-clippings and guest book from the June 18, 1948, “Lane-Wells 100,000th Gun Perforating Job” event of at Montebello, California, site of  a 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 accomplished her quest to preserve the petroleum history album of Walter T. Wells. Later, she emailed AOGHS that the material became “safely archived at the USC Libraries Special Collections. Sue Luftschein is the Librarian. It’s on Online Archive of California (OAC).”

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

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“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.

The 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. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2023 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 8, 2023. Original Published Date: June 30, 2017.


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