This Week in Petroleum History: May 27 – June 2

May 27, 1893 – Oklahoma Historical Society founded

Fourteen years before Oklahoma became a state, the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) was founded during the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Territorial Press Association in Kingfisher. An early mission included collecting and distributing newspapers published in the territory. The society began preserving historic homes and military sites while administering community museums. OHS opened the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City in 2005. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History: May 20 – 26

May 20, 1930 – Geophysicists establish Professional Society –

Earth scientists in Houston established the Society of Economic Geophysicists to encourage the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources. The organization in 1937 adopted the name Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), which in 2024 reported 14,000 members in 114 countries.

Doodlebugger statue by sculptor Jay O'Melia at SEG headquarters in Tulsa.

The Doodlebugger by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia has welcomed visitors to SEG headquarters since 2002. Photo by Bruce Wells.

SEG’s journal Geophysics began publishing in 1936 with articles on exploration technologies, including seismic, gravity, and magnetic imaging. The journal warned of hucksters using vague or unproven properties of oil and geological formations. At its Tulsa headquarters in 2002, SEG unveiled The Doodlebugger, a 10-foot bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia, who also sculpted the Oil Patch Warrior, a World War II memorial.

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May 21, 1923 – “Esso” first used by Standard Oil Company

For the first time, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey used “Esso” to market the company’s “refined, semi-refined, and unrefined oils made from petroleum, both with and without admixture of animal, vegetable, or mineral oils, for illuminating, burning, power, fuel, and lubricating purposes, and greases.”

Esso gas station logo 1923 to 1926.

Standard Oil of New Jersey’s logo from 1923 to 1934, when the text became much plainer and inside an ellipse.

In 1923, Esso  — the phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” for Standard Oil — became a registered trademark. The future children’s book author, Theodore Geisell, began drawing Essolube product ads in the 1930s. Exxon (now ExxonMobil) removed its U.S. Esso brand in 1973.

May 23, 1905 – Patent issued for Improved Metal Barrel Lid

Henry Wehrhahn, superintendent for the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company of Brooklyn, New York, received the first of two 1905 patents that presaged the modern 55-gallon oil drum. The first design included “a means for readily detaching and securing the head of a metal barrel.”

Wehrhahn assigned his patent rights to the widow of Robert Seaman, founder of Iron Clad Manufacturing —  Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, journalist Nellie Bly. In December 1905, Wehrhahn also assigned her the rights to his improved metal barrel patent.

Learn more in Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum.

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May 23, 1937 – Death of World’s Richest Man

Almost 70 years after founding Standard Oil Company in Ohio and 40 years after retiring from the company in 1897, John D. Rockefeller died in Ormond Beach, Florida, at age 97. His petroleum empire had peaked in 1912.

Born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller attended high school in Cleveland, Ohio, from 1853 to 1855. He became an assistant bookkeeper with a produce shipping company before forming his own company in 1859 — the same year of the first U.S. oil well in Pennsylvania. Rockefeller was 24 in 1865 when he took control of his first refinery, which would be the largest in the world three years later.

John D. Rockefeller, circa 1935.

John Rockefeller, 1839-1937. Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University.

By the time his petroleum fortune peaked at $900 million in 1912 ($28.14 billion in 2023 dollars), Rockefeller’s philanthropy was well known. His unprecedented wealth funded the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, (now the Rockefeller Foundation), and Spelman College in Atlanta.

May 24, 1902 – Oil & Gas Journal published

Holland Reavis founded the Oil Investors’ Journal In Beaumont, Texas, to report on financial issues facing operators and investors in the giant oilfield discovered nearby one year earlier at Spindletop Hill. Reavis sold his semimonthly publication to Patrick Boyle of Oil City, Pennsylvania, in 1910.

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Norman Rockwell illustrated a 1962 ad promoting the Oil and Gas Journal.

Boyle, a former oilfield scout and publisher of the Oil City Derrick, increased publication frequency to weekly and renamed it the Oil & Gas Journal. Following his death in 1920, son-in-law Frank Lauinger moved operations to Tulsa and further expanded the company, which became PennWell Publishing in 1980. The Derrick newspaper in Oil City, which began in 1885, continues to be published by the Boyle family.

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May 24, 1920 – Huntington Beach Oilfield discovered in California

A Standard Oil Company well discovered the Huntington Beach oilfield. The beach town’s population grew from 1,500 to 5,000 within a month of the well drilled near Clay Avenue and Golden West Street. By November 1921 the field had 59 producing wells with daily production of 16,500 barrels of oil. Development activities and speculators drew national attention to this expansion of the Los Angeles oilfield.

Rows of oil derrick stretch into the distance on Huntington Beach, California, in 1926.

Pictured here in 1926, the Huntington Beach field will produce more than one billion barrels of oil by 2000. Discovery Well Park today includes six acres with playgrounds. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

Huntington Beach produced more than 16 million barrels of oil in 1964, according to a 1991 Orange County Register article, which added that as oil production peaked, “the pressure of explosive population growth began pushing the wells off land that had become more valuable as sites for housing.”

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons

Crayola crayons began when Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith received a patent for their “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.” Their refining process produced a fine, intensely black soot-like substance — a pigment far better than any other at the time.

Petroleum product STAONAL, black marker crayons.

Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin in 1903 led to Crayola crayons and its classic marking product, Staonal. Photo courtesy Crayola.

The company mixed carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker promoted as able to “stay on all” and accordingly named Staonal. In 1903, Binney & Smith Company began producing Crayola crayons in small batches of hand-mixed pigments and paraffin. The box included eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black.

Learn more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

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May 26, 1934 – Diesel-Electric Power sets Speed Record

A new diesel-electric “streamliner,” the Burlington Zephyr, pulled into Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition after a nonstop 13 hour “dawn to dusk” run from Denver. The trip cut traditional steam locomotive times by half.

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Chicago World’s Fair visitors admire the stainless steel Burlington Zephyr, which helped save America’s railroad passenger industry. Two-stroke diesel-electric engines provided a four-fold power to weight gain. Photo from a Burlington Route Railroad 1934 postcard.

Powered by a single, eight-cylinder diesel engine, the passenger train traveled 1,015 miles on its record-breaking run. The Zephyr burned just $16.72 worth of diesel fuel. The same distance for a coal-burning train would have cost $255. It had been just 60 years since steam locomotives and the transcontinental railroad linked America’s coasts.

Newspaper 1934 headline of record setting Zephyr train.

Zephyr’s engine used only $16.72 in diesel fuel.

The new diesel-electric engine technology had resulted from the U.S. Navy seeking a lighter weight, more powerful engine for its submarine fleet.

Learn more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.

Petroleum history is important. Support link for AOGHS.

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Recommended Reading: Careers in Geophysics (2017); A Geophysicist’s Memoir: Searching for Oil on Six Continents (2017); Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist (1994); Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (2004);  Huntington Beach, California, Postcard History Series (2009); Crayola Creators: Edward Binney and C. Harold Smith, Toy Trailblazers (2016); Burlington’s Zephyrs, Great Passenger Trains (2004). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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

This Week in Petroleum History: May 13 – 19

May 14, 1906 – Louisiana Law conserves Natural Gas –

Joining the growing number of states producing natural gas, Louisiana enacted conservation measures to prevent waste. Lawmakers passed “an Act to Protect the Natural Gas Fields of this State” empowering the governor “to close, cap, or plug offending wells” at the owner’s expense.

Expanded in 1910, the act marked the beginning of legislative control of the state’s petroleum industry, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Penalties were imposed for “failure to cap out of control wells, doing injury to pipe lines, or wastefully burning natural gas from any well into the air.” Louisiana sought to avoid the waste of natural gas that had depleted fields during the Indiana gas boom.

May 14, 1953 – Golden Driller debuts at Petroleum Exposition

A golden, 76-foot-tall statue of a roughneck appeared at the 30th annual International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sponsored by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, the oilfield worker would appear again for the 1959 expo.

Because of the roughneck’s popularity with the public, the company decided to refurbish and donate it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Completely rebuilt in 1966, the “golden driller” would be refurbished several more times by 1980.

The original Golden Driller of 1953 next to image of steel rod construction of statue made for 1966 Tulsa Petroleum Expo.

The original Golden Driller of 1953, left, proved so popular that a more permanent version (supported with steel rods) returned for the 1966 Petroleum Expo. Photos courtesy Tulsa Historical Society.

Now a Tulsa tourist attraction, the mustard-shaded driller, weighing 43,500 pounds, stands among the largest freestanding statues in the world, according to city officials. Promotional t-shirts, ties, and scarfs — and in 2020 a Covid-19 mask — have occasionally adorned the statue.

Learn more in Golden Driller of Tulsa.

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May 14, 2004 – Museum Opens in Oil City, Louisiana

Louisiana’s first publicly funded museum dedicated to the petroleum industry opened in Oil City, about 20 miles north of Shreveport. The Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum, originally called the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, opened at a former depot of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

Outside exhibits at the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City.

The museum in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, includes outdoor exhibits of modern oil production technology.

The museum has since preserved the Caddo Parish oilfield discoveries, which began in 1905 and brought sustained economic prosperity to North Louisiana. Museum exhibits reveal the technologies behind a 1911 well drilled by Gulf Refining Company that was among the earliest “offshore” oil wells. The Ferry Lake No. 1,  completed on Caddo Lake, produced 450 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 2,185 feet (see First Louisiana Oil Wells).

May 15, 1911 – Supreme Court mandates Break Up of Standard Oil

After reviewing 12,000 pages of court documents, the Supreme Court issued its majority opinion mandating dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey into 34 separate companies. The Justice Department had filed an antitrust lawsuit against Standard Oil in 1909. The Supreme Court’s ruling upheld a circuit court decision that Standard Oil’s practices violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. The company was given six months to spin off its subsidiaries.

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May 15, 1940 — Nylon Stockings Go on Sale

One year after being unveiled at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, nylon stockings went on sale for the first time at Gimbels Department Store in Manhattan. Promoted as “strong as steel, as fine as spiderweb,” first-year sales reached about 64 million pairs at $1.35 each for the DuPont Company petroleum product, according to ABC News.

“Women’s love affair with nylon stockings has had a long run,” the network proclaimed in 2010. Nylon had been used for toothbrush bristles for “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” as early as February 1938 (see Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer).

May 16, 1817 – U.S. Geology Described and Mapped

Scottish American geologist William Maclure presented his detailed study of U.S. geology to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He would be named president of the Academy, a post he would hold for 22 years, and become known as the “father of American Geology.”

An 1818 geological map  of the United States by William Maclure.

An 1818 map by William Maclure provided a more detailed version of a geological map he published in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton Library.

The American Philosophical Society published Maclure’s detailed study in 1818 as “Observations on the Geology of the United States of North America.”

May 16, 1934 – National Stripper Well Association established

The National Stripper Well Association (NSWA) organized in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to represent operators of stripper wells — marginal wells that produce less than 15 barrels of oil a day or less than 90 thousand cubic feet of natural gas a day. In 2023, about 400,000 oil stripper wells accounted for more than 7.4 percent of U.S. oil production, according to NSWA. About 360,000 natural gas stripper wells accounted for 8.2 percent of gas production.

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May 16, 1961 – Museum opens over Natural Gas Field

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened above a natural gas producing formation extending 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. The town’s museum has since educated visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America — the Hugoton field. A gas well drilled in 1945 still produces on the museum grounds.

Natural gas museum and exhibits in Hugoton, Kansas.

A small Stevens County natural gas museum in Hugoton, Kansas, preserves the history of a gas field that extends into two other states.

Although the Hugoton field’s once dominant natural gas production gave way to gas shale and coalbed methane regions, including production from Fayetteville, Arkansas, (2004) and Haynesville, Louisiana (2008), the Hugoton-Panhandle gas continues to be a leading source of helium.

Learn more in Hugoton Natural Gas Museum.

May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well Production revealed

The true oil production of a closely guarded discovery well in the Warren County, Pennsylvania, township was revealed to be 1,000 barrels of oil a day. News about Jamestown Oil Company’s “Mystery Well” sent shock waves through petroleum market centers.

“The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” noted Paul H. Giddens in his 1938 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”

Wooden derrick at the 646 Mystery Well at Cherry Grove, PA.

In 2007, Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania, oil patch volunteers rebuilt a derrick to celebrate their historic 1882 Mystery Well.

Although the Cherry Grove discovery demoralized the market and drove oil prices down to less than 50 cents per barrel, hundreds of derricks appeared around Cherry Grove and thousands of people moved there while the boom lasted. It was short lived, according to volunteers of Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which has kept the “Oil Excitement” alive with special events.

Learn more in Cherry Grove Mystery Well.

May 17, 1901 – Gulf Oil begins at Spindletop Hill

James M. Guffey organized Guffey Petroleum Company to buy the famous “Lucas Gusher” well drilled the previous January at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas. Guffey purchased about half of the well’s high-volume oil production (the Mellon family of Pittsburgh owned the remainder). Guffey created Gulf Refining Company to refine and market the oil produced by Guffey Petroleum. In 1907, Andrew Mellon acquired J.M. Guffey Petroleum and Gulf Refining companies of Texas and reorganized them as Gulf Oil.

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May 17, 1973 – Last Nuclear fracturing of Natural Gas Well

Atomic Energy Commission scientists conducted the last experiment of the Plowshare Program with a nearly simultaneous detonation of three 33-kiloton devices in a Colorado natural gas well. Project Rio Blanco was the third and final underground detonation to test nuclear fracturing of gas wells.

The first had been Project Gasbuggy in 1967, when a 29-kiloton nuclear device fractured a New Mexico well. A second experiment, Project Rulison, detonated a 40-kiloton device in a Colorado well in 1969. All three projects improved production, but the natural gas proved too radioactive.

May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield discovered in Ohio

Ohio’s petroleum industry began when Benjamin Faurot found oil at Lima in the northwestern part of the state. He had been searching for natural gas in the prolific Trenton Rock Limestone (see Indiana Natural Gas Boom).  “If the well turns out, as it looks now that it will, look out for the biggest boom Lima ever had,” proclaimed Lima’s Daily Republican newspaper.

Circa 1909 postcard promoting Lima, Ohio, Oilfields.

A postcard promotes the oil wealth of Lima, Ohio, and the giant oilfield discovered there in 1885. Circa 1909 postcard published by Robbins Bros., Boston.

Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company, and by 1886 the Lima oilfield was producing more than 20 million barrels of oil, the most in the nation. The Lima field’s heavy oil needed special refining, and Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in 1889 began construction on the Whiting refinery.

Learn more in Great Oil Boom of Lima, Ohio.

Petroleum history is important. Support link for AOGHS.

May 19, 1942 – Oklahoma Inventor patents Portable Drilling Rig

A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George E. Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, received a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed. “I designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing noted in his patent.

In 1931, he had mounted a rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, “adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Failing would receive more than 300 patents for oilfield tools, “from rock bit cores to an apparatus for seismic surveying.”

George Failing portable drilling rig patent drawing.

George Failing’s drilling rig — powered by its truck’s engine — will prove ideal for slanted wells.

Failing’s portable rig could drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional rotary rig took about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth. He demonstrated his portable drilling technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, working with H. John Eastman, today considered the father of directional drilling (see Technology and the “Conroe Crater”).

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Recommended Reading: Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012); Oil in Oklahoma (1976); Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (2004); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1938); Ohio Oil and Gas, Images of America (2008); History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (2012). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History: May 6 – 12

May 7, 1920 – Halliburton founds Well Cementing Company in Oklahoma –

As mid-continent oil and gas discoveries continued, Erle Palmer Halliburton founded the Halliburton Company as an oilfield well service and cementing company. The Wilson, Oklahoma, venture succeeded his New Method Oil Cementing Company, established a year earlier during the Burkburnett oil boom in North Texas.

Erle P. Halliburton statue in Duncan, Oklahoma.

An Erle P. Halliburton statue was dedicated in 1993 in Duncan, Oklahoma.

In 1922, Halliburton patented an innovative “jet-cement” mixer that increased the speed and quality of the mixing process. By the end of the year, 17 Halliburton trucks were cementing wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Cement injection protects the well casing, seals off water formations from the oil, and minimizes the danger of blowouts.

The company introduced cement pumps powered by truck motors (instead of steam from the rig boiler) and a device that allowed testing of a formation without setting casing. Halliburton was the first to offer self-contained cementing units operating under their own power. More advances in cementing technology followed.

Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

Petroleum history is important. Support link for AOGHS.

May 8, 1918 – Shreveport Gassers go Extra Innings

As baseball became America’s favorite pastime, the Texas League’s Shreveport Gassers played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was declared a tie. The Gassers were just one of many oilfield-related teams in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, today known as Minor League Baseball.

Baseball! poster for Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth1924 exhibition game.

Former Olinda Oil Wells pitcher Walter Johnson joined Babe Ruth for a 1924 exhibition game at Brea, California.

At the time, the leagues’ 96 teams included the Okmulgee Drillers, the Tulsa Oilers, the Independence Producers, the Beaumont Exporters, the Corsicana Oil Citys, the Wichita Falls Spudders, and the Iola Gasbags. In Oklahoma oilfields, the Okmulgee Drillers for the first time in baseball history had two players who combined to hit 100 home runs in a single season of 160 games.

Learn more in Oilfields of Dreams.

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May 8, 1920 – Burbank field discovered in Oklahoma

Drilling for natural gas 20 miles east of Ponca City, Oklahoma, the Kay County Gas Company’s Bertha Hickman No. 1 well revealed a giant oilfield. Marland Oil & Refining Company assumed control of the discovery well, which produced 150 barrels of oil a day from a depth of about 3,000 feet. The Burbank field would extend over 33 square miles, mostly in Osage County, and  produce between 20 million barrels and 31 million barrels annually for the next four years.

E.W. Marland in 1928 built his Ponca City mansion, now a museum. Fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers was a frequent guest.

E.W. Marland in 1928 built his Ponca City mansion, now a museum. Fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers was a frequent guest.

With Oklahoma production booming since the Red Fork Gusher of 1901, independent producers agreed to using 10-acre well spacing for oil conservation purposes. Ernest W. Marland’s company also applied new seismographic technologies to discover the Tonkawa oilfield. Learn more about the Oklahoma governor (1935 to 1939) by visiting the Marland Estate in Ponca City.

May 9, 1863 – Confederate Cavalry raids Oilfield

A brigade of Confederate cavalry attacked a thriving oil town near the Ohio River in what would soon become West Virginia. Confederate Gen. William “Grumble” Jones led the cavalry attack on Burning Springs oilfield storage facilities containing thousands of barrels of oil.

Map of West Virginia oil and gas Civil War Heritage District.

Rebels attacked the Burning Springs oilfield on the banks of the Little Kanawha River, just a few miles southeast of Parkersburg and the Ohio River. Heritage district map courtesy Oil & Gas Museum, Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The Confederate raid’s destruction and fire along the Kanawha River marked the first time an oilfield was targeted in war. About 1,300 Confederate troopers raided Burning Springs, destroying cable-tool drilling rigs and 150,000 barrels of oil.

Economic growth created by the early petroleum industry prior to the Civil War helped lead to statehood for West Virginia in June 1863. Almost a century earlier, George Washington had acquired 250 acres in the region because it contained natural oil seeps.

Learn more in Confederates attack Oilfield.

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May 11, 1880 – Dresser patents Oil Well Device

Solomon R. Dresser of Bradford, Pennsylvania, patented a rubber “packer” for sealing downhole pressure in wells. The technology behind the patent (no. 227419) helped confine gas, “which enters the well from the lower rocks and utilize its force or pressure to expel the oil from the well.”

S.R. Dresser 1880 patent drawing for well packer.

Detail from Solomon R. Dresser 1880 patent for a rubber “packer” to seal downhole pressure in wells.

With the success of his Dresser Cap Packer in the Bradford oilfield, the inventor founded the S.R. Dresser Manufacturing Company in 1885. Within one year he would patent a widely adopted pipeline coupling method using rubber for tight seals, which permitted long-range transmission of natural gas.

After expanding into manufacturing oilfield pumps, engines and compressors, Dresser’s company went public in 1928, moving its headquarters to Dallas in 1950. Dresser Industries merged with oilfield supply rival Halliburton for about $7.7 billion in stock in 1998.

May 12, 2007 – Two Oil Museums open in Oklahoma

ConocoPhillips opened petroleum museums in Ponca City and Bartlesville as part of the 2007 Oklahoma statehood centennial celebrations.

Exhibits at the Conoco Museum In Ponca City educate visitors about the company, which began in Utah as Continental Oil Company, a distributor of coal, grease, and kerosene. Continental Oil merged with Ponca City-based Marland Oil Company in 1929; Conoco merged with Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville in 2002.

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Conoco, founded in 1875 as the Continental Oil and Transportation Company, delivered kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah. A circa 1880s tank wagon now welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Frank and L.E. Phillips drilled 81 wells without a “dry hole” prior to establishing their company in 1917.  The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum preserves the their oil patch legacy, the history of high-octane gasoline, and the company’s thousands of U.S. patents — including for plastic products like Marlex. Frank Phillips served as president until 1938.

Learn more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

Recommended Reading: Erle P. Halliburton, Genius with Cement (1959); Oil in Oklahoma (1976); Textile League Baseball: South Carolina’s Mill Teams, 1880-1955 (2004); The Civil War and Northwestern Virginia (2004); Conoco: 125 Years of Energy (2000); Phillips, The First 66 Years (1983). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an AOGHS annual supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. Contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History: April 29 – May 5

April 30, 1929 – Marland Oil and Continental Oil become Conoco –

After discovering several Oklahoma oil and gas fields, Marland Oil Company acquired Continental Oil Company to create a network of service stations in 30 states. Future Oklahoma Governor Ernest W. Marland founded Marland Oil in 1921; Continental Oil Company was founded in 1875 in Utah, where it refined oil into kerosene.

Conco logo red triangle

After Continental Oil and Marland Oil combined in 1929, the new company used this logo until 1970.

Headquartered in Ponca City, the new company retained the name of Continental Oil, but adopted the well-known Marland red triangle trademark, replacing the “Marland Oils” text with “Conoco.” The company merged with Phillips Petroleum (first incorporated in 1917), to become ConocoPhillips in 2002.

Learn more by visiting the ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

April 30, 1955 – Landmen form Trade Association

The American Association of Professional Landmen (AAPL) organized as a petroleum landmen trade association in Fort Worth, Texas. AAPL members research records to determine well ownership, locate mineral and land owners, and negotiate oil and natural gas leases, trades and contracts. With 12,000 members, AAPL assists in compliance with state and federal regulations, according to the association, which will host its 70th annual meeting this June in Boston.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well

As the Civil War approached, Virginia’s petroleum industry began when John Castelli ”Cass” Rathbone completed an oil well near Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia. His well — drilled using a spring pole — reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day.

Rathbone drilled more wells in the valley of the Little Kanawha River southwest of Parkersburg. It was the first petroleum boom to take place outside the Pennsylvania oilfields, revealed by the first U.S. well at Titusville a year earlier.

Oil Country Scene, an 1869 post card of West Virginia oil derricks.

Following the 1860 oil discovery at Burning Springs, Appalachian drillers applied cable-tool technologies to drill deeper. Circa 1870 photo courtesy West Virginia Humanities Council.

By the end of 1860, the “Burning Springs Oil Rush” resulted in more than 600 oil leases registered in the Wirt County courthouse. Warehouses were built along the Little Kanawha River, which reached the Ohio River at Parkersburg.

“These events truly mark the beginnings of the oil and gas industry in the United States,” proclaimed West Virginia historian David McKain in 1994, adding that the region’s oil wealth helped bring about statehood in June 1863. Many of the new state’s politicians were “oil men — governor, senator and congressman — who had made their fortunes at Burning Springs.”

Visit West Virginia’s oil and gas museum in downtown Parkersburg.

May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair founds Sinclair Oil & Refining

Harry Ford Sinclair combined several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases — all acquired at bargain prices. He began with $50 million in assets and borrowed another $20 million to form Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation.

Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation founder Harry Sinclair on the U.S. Capitol steps in January 1923.

Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation founder Harry Sinclair on the U.S. Capitol steps in January 1923. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produced six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million ($258 million in 2024 dollars). The company’s petroleum refining capacity grew to 150,000 barrels of oil a day in 1932.

Sinclair was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal, which led to the 1929 conviction of Interior Secretary Albert Fall, but his company went on to become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry. The marketing icon Sinclair Oil dinosaur appeared as an exhibit at the 1933-1934 World’s Fair in Chicago. Sinclair died in 1956 at age 80.

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May 1, 1931 – Railroad Commission limits East Texas Oil Production

The first proration order from the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) for the giant East Texas oilfield took effect after excessive production following the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well one year earlier caused a massive collapse in oil prices. With hundreds of wells producing almost one million barrels per day, oil prices had fallen to as low as 10 cents a barrel. The commission’s order — unpopular with independent producers but enforced by Texas Rangers — limited production and stabilized prices.

May 1, 2001 – Oklahoma Plaza honors Oil Pioneers

The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza was dedicated at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. Thomas B. Slick, who discovered Oklahoma’s giant Cushing oilfield in 1912, is among those honored.

Thomas B. Slick is among those honored at the Conoco Oil Pioneers outdoor plaza at the Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Thomas B. Slick relief at Conoco Oil Pioneers outdoor plaza at the Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

“The history of the state of Oklahoma is inextricably linked with the remarkable history of the oil industry,” proclaimed Conoco Chairman Archie Dunham. “The individuals identified here are true Oklahoma oil pioneers in that their endeavors were most significant in the development of the oil and gas industry in this very young state.”

Learn more in Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters,

May 2, 1921 – Oil discovered in Texas Panhandle

Following a series of discoveries revealing the giant Hugoton natural gas field in the Texas Panhandle, a well drilled in Carson County found an oilfield instead. Gulf Oil Company completed its wildcat well on the 6666 (the “Four Sixes”) Ranch of S.B. Burnett several miles east of the natural gas wells. The discovery attracted major exploration and oilfield service companies to Amarillo. In 1926, a giant oilfield was discovered to the northeast by Asa Phillip “Ace” Borger, who founded the oil boom town of Borger. Learn more at the Hutchinson County Historical Museum.

May 3, 1870 – Lantern with Two Spouts patented

Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, received a patent for his “safety derrick lamp” — a two-wicked lantern that would become known as the “Yellow Dog” in America’s earliest oilfields. Dillen designed his device “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places.”

1870 patent drawing of two-wicked oil derrick safety lantern.

Patented in 1870, a popular two-wicked oilfield derrick lamp would become known as the “yellow dog.”

“My improved lamp is intended to burn crude petroleum as it comes from the wells fresh and gassy,” he added. How the once widely used lamp got its name has remained a mystery, but some say the two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night.

Learn more in Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

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May 4, 1869 – Offshore Drilling Platform Design patented

The first U.S. patent for an offshore drilling rig was issued to Thomas Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.” His remarkably advanced platform included a fixed, working platform for drilling in a water depth of up to 50 feet.

May 1869 offshore drilling rig patent drawing by Thomas Rowland.

Thomas Rowland’s design for an offshore drilling platform with telescoping legs was ahead of its time.

Rowland’s anchored, four-legged tower concept would be adapted for modern platforms. His Continental Iron Works also became a world leader in gas fittings, welding, and oil tank design and construction. The American Society of Civil Engineers in 1882 issued its first Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize. which is still annually awarded.

Learn more in Offshore Rig Patent.

May 5, 1889 – Construction begins on Largest U.S. Refinery

Near Chicago, on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Standard Oil Company began construction of a 235-acre refinery complex using advanced processes. A newly patented technology would allow the Whiting, Indiana, refinery to process sulfurous “sour crude” from Lima, Ohio, oilfields. The oil would be transported on company-controlled railroads. The giant refinery (now operated by BP) originally produced high-quality kerosene for lamps. BP completed a multi-year, multi-billion dollar modernization project at the refinery in 2013.

Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

May 5, 1907 – A Marker to North Texas Petroleum History

Outside Oil City (today Petrolia),Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company completed its Lochridge No.1 well, “site of the first gas well in Texas,” according to a granite marker that credits local rancher J.W. Lochridge for the discovery east of Wichita Falls.

“This discovery marked the beginning of intensive development of the gas industry in Texas,” the marker explains, adding that a 1901 oil well in what proved to be the Henrietta-Petrolia field had disappointed Lochridge.

Clayco Oil and Pipeline Company's stone marker on Texas Highway 148 just south of Petrolia.

Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company commemorated its 1907 discovery in North Texas with a marker that has endured near Highway 148 south of Petrolia.

As a 2016 article in North Texas Farm & Ranch explained, “Lochridge was disappointed because he needed water for his livestock. He found a use for the oil, using it in his dipping vats to rid his cattle of parasites.”

The Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company marker in the Henrietta-Petrolia field acknowledges Lone Star Gas Company for constructing the state’s first large-diameter natural gas pipeline in 1920 to Fort Worth and Dallas. Lone Star Gas became Enserch Corporation in 1975.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

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Recommended Reading: Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); “King of the Wildcatters:” The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930 (2004). The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); Erle P. Halliburton: Genius with Cement (1959); Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History: April 22 – 28

April 22, 1920 – Natural Gas Well leads Arkansas Discoveries –

Although natural gas was first discovered in 1887 at Fort Smith, the first commercial production began in southern Arkansas with a well completed southeast of El Dorado. Drilled to a depth of almost 2,250 feet, the well produced up to 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day and showed signs of oil from the Nacatoch formation sandstone. The first Arkansas oil wells arrived one year later at El Dorado and at Smackover in 1922.

April 22, 1926 – Osage Oil Lease Auctioneer Statue dedicated

A statue commemorating the friendship between oil and gas lease auctioneer Colonel E.E. Walters and Osage Indian Chief Baconrind (phonetically, Wah-she-hah) was dedicated in Walters’ hometown of Skedee, Oklahoma. Beginning in 1912, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Walters (his real name) and the popular Chief of the Osage Nation raised millions of dollars for the tribe from mineral lease sales.

Oil and gas history includes a Skedee, Oklahoma, 1926 statue of a famed auctioneer and Osage chief

The town of Skedee, Oklahoma, has declined in population, but its 1926 statue of a famed auctioneer and Osage chief remains. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The auctions took place beneath an elm tree at the Tribal Council House in Pawhuska, where crowds gathering to witness bidding from Frank Phillips, E.W. Marland and William Skelly. The Skedee unveiling revealed “painted bronze” statues of Walters and the Chief Baconrind shaking hands on a sandstone base.

Learn more in Million Dollar Auctioneer

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April 22, 1930 – Marland unveils Pioneer Woman

One block from his mansion in Ponca City, Ernest Whitworth “E.W.” Marland unveiled The Pioneer Woman statue, his gift to the state to honor the role of women who settled there. A Pioneer Woman Museum opened nearby in 1958.

Ponca City's Pioneer Woman statue was created thanks to E.W. Marland and his oil and gas company.

More than 40,000 gathered in Ponca City for the unveiling of The Pioneer Woman, a 17-foot bronze statue. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

“Marland invited sculptors to submit competitive designs in the form of small models,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). “The models were exhibited across the nation and 750,000 people cast their vote.” The 17-foot bronze cast was erected at a cost of $300,000.

Marland had lost a fortune in the Pennsylvania oilfields during the panic of 1907 before founding Marland Oil in Ponca City in 1917. An early advocate of using seismography and core drilling for finding oil, by 1920 Marland’s company controlled an estimated 10 percent of the world’s oil production.

April 22, 1964 – Sinclair Dinoland returns to New York World’s Fair

Continuing its successful marketing campaign begun in the 1930s, Sinclair Oil opened a Dinoland pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. The exhibition of giant, fiberglass dinosaurs proved a hit with the 50 million people attending the fair. The first Sinclair Oil Dinoland, which attracted crowds to the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936, had been expanded for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Following the latest New York exhibition, the 70-foot green “Dino” and eight other dinosaurs traveled to make stops at shopping centers, delighting children in 25 states.

April 23, 1878 – Oil Exchange Building opened in Pennsylvania

The Oil Exchange of Oil City, Pennsylvania, opened a new, $100,000 brick building on Seneca Street. Independent producers began meeting there to trade oil and pipeline certificates. They had earlier gathered at local hotels or along Oil City’s Centre Street, then known as the “Curbside Exchange.”

petroleum history april

By 1877, Pennsylvania oil companies had created the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind only New York and San Francisco.

Before the 1870s, most Pennsylvania oil buyers had taken on-site delivery of oil in wooden barrels they provided themselves. A rapidly growing oil pipeline infrastructure created the need for a place to trade certificates as oil commerce expanded. The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey would bring an end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative oil-trading markets.

Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges.

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April 24, 1911 – Magnolia Petroleum founded

The Magnolia Petroleum Company was founded as an unincorporated joint-stock association — a consolidation of several companies, the first of which began in 1898 as a small refinery in Corsicana during the first Texas oil boom.

Magnolia Petroleum would merge with Socony Mobil Oil in the 1930s and replace its flower with the “Flying Pegasus” logo.

As Magnolia Petroleum established service stations in southwestern states, Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) began acquiring the company in 1925 before merging with the Vacuum Oil Company in 1931. The new company, Socony-Vacuum Oil — the future Mobil Oil — included stations in 20 states operated by Magnolia Petroleum, headquartered in a Dallas skyscraper. Magnolia adopted the Socony-Vacuum Oil Pegasus logo, which began rotating atop the building in 1934.

Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.

April 24, 1917 – Petroleum Product for Eyelashes trademarked

Tom Lyle Williams, doing business in Chicago as Maybell Laboratories, trademarked the name Lash-Brow-Ine as a mascara and “preparation for stimulating the growth of eyebrows and eyelashes.” Two years earlier, Williams had watched his sister Mabel perform what she called “a secret of the harem,” mixing petroleum jelly with coal dust and applying it to her eyelashes.

A circa 1930 Maybelline mascara kit and small eyelash brush.

Women once used toothpicks to mix lamp black with Vaseline. By the 1930s, Maybelline mascara was available at local five-and-dime stores. Photo courtesy Sharrie Williams.

The mascara’s key ingredient, Vaseline, had been patented in 1872 by Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist in Brooklyn, New York. Williams began selling tins of Mabel’s mixture by mail-order catalog, calling it “lash-brow-ine.” With sales exceeding $100,000 by 1920, Williams renamed the mascara Maybelline in honor of his sister, who worked with him in his Chicago office.

Learn more in The Crude Story of Mabel’s Eyelashes.

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April 25, 1865 – Civil War Veteran patents Well Torpedo

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City received the first of his many patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.” The invention used controlled downhole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.”

A oil and gas history marker notes the 1865 first demonstration of the invention of Union Col. E.A.L. Roberts.

A Pennsylvania historical marker notes the 1865 first demonstration of the invention of Union Col. E.A.L. Roberts.

Roberts torpedoes were filled with gunpowder, lowered into wells, and ignited by a weight dropped along a suspension wire to percussion caps. In later models, nitroglycerin replaced gunpowder. Before the well torpedo’s invention, many early wells in the new oil regions of Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia often produced limited amounts of oil.

With its exclusive patent licenses, the Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company charged up to $200 per torpedo “shoot” and a one-fifteenth royalty. Seeking to avoid the expense, unlicensed practitioners operated at night with their own explosive devices, reportedly leading to the term “moonlighter.”

Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

April 26, 1947 – Oil Industry promoted on Radio

For the first time since its establishment in 1919, the American Petroleum Institute launched a national advertising campaign. “The theme of the drive is that the petroleum industry is a modern and progressive one, and is now turning out the best products in its history,” noted The Billboard

The Billboard magazine 1919 story about oil and gas industry radio advertising of API.

Founded in 1919 in New York City, API moved its headquarters to the nation’s capital in 1929.

“Radio this week struck real pay dirt as a ‘Gusher’ will come mainly from expansion of current air time on spot local or regional levels by the thousands of petroleum and related corporations,” proclaimed the weekly publication. API today is a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization representing major U.S. petroleum companies. It issues industrywide recommended practices, “to promote the use of safe equipment and proven engineering.”

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April 27, 1966 – Ariel Corporation founded

After receiving a degree in mechanical engineering in 1954, former eighth-grade teacher Jim Buchwald founded Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio. “With little money to pay for a facility to house the tools, a room in the basement of the Buchwald family home is cleaned up,” according to the Ariel website.

Buchwald bought a lathe, a small hand-cranked rotary table and a vertical drill for manufacturing valves. “This room becomes the first Ariel machine shop, with an adjoining room functioning as Ariel’s first official engineering department.”

Jim Buchwald with his Ariel Company prototype compressor.

Jim Buchwald with Ariel’s prototype compressor after it has completed a 10-hour run test. Photo courtesy Ariel.

By 1968, Buchwald had built a prototype gas compressor that ran at the unprecedented speed of 1,800 RPM. His Ohio machine shop soon transitioned into a manufacturing facility, and Buchwald named the company after his favorite 1948 Ariel motorcycle. His company has become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of reciprocating gas compressors.

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Recommended Reading: The Osage Oil Boom (1989); The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991); Historic Photos of Texas Oil (2012); The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010); The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World (2015); Michigan Yesterday & Today (2009); The Seven Sisters: The great oil companies & the world (1975). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (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 bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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