This Week in Petroleum History, May 23 to May 29

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 metal barrel with “a means for readily detaching and securing the head of a metal barrel.” He assigned his patent (No. 790,861) 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 (No. 808,327).

Learn more in Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum).

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This Week in Petroleum History, May 16 to May 22

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

Geologist and cartographer William Maclure presented the first detailed study of U.S. geology after he and three other earth scientists completed a geological fieldtrip in 1817, the same year he was named president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, a post he would hold for more than two decades.

 

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This Week in Petroleum History, May 2 to May 8

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 oil discovery attracted major exploration companies to Amarillo. A nearby large oilfield would be discovered in 1926 by independent producer “Ace Borger,” who would found the boom town of Borger. Learn more by visiting the Hutchinson County Historical Museum.

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This Week in Petroleum History, April 25 to May 1

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 down-hole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.” It was a major technological achievement for the young U.S. petroleum industry.

April petroleum history

A 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 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,” explained the weekly publication. API today is a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization representing the largest 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.

April 29, 2004 – Last Oldsmobile rolls off Assembly Line

The last Oldsmobile ever built (Alero GLS model) left the company’s production line in Lansing, Michigan. Founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897 as “Olds Motor Vehicle Company,” Olds sold America’s first mass-produced car, the Model R “Curved Dash,” from 1902 to 1907, according to Robert Domm’s Michigan Yesterday & Today. In 1908, Oldsmobile joined Buick to become part of the newly established General Motors (GM).

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

After discovering several Oklahoma oilfields, Marland Oil Company acquired Continental Oil Company to create a network of service stations in 30 states. Future Oklahoma Governor Ernest W. Marland had 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.” In 2002, the company merged with Phillips Petroleum (incorporated in 1917), to become ConocoPhillips.

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. Landmen research records to determine ownership, locate mineral and land owners and negotiate oil and natural gas leases, trades and contracts. With about 15,000 members in 2020, the association also has helped ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, according to AAPL.

May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well

Virginia’s petroleum industry began about one year before the Civil War when John Castelli ”Cass” Rathbone found oil after drilling near Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia.

The Rathbone well reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day. Rathbone partnered with his brother to drill more wells in valley of the Little Kanawha River southwest of Parkersburg. It was the first petroleum boom to take place outside the Pennsylvania oil region.

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,” noted West Virginia historian David McKain in 1994, adding that the region’s sudden oil wealth helped bring about statehood in June 1863. Many of the new state’s early politicians were “oil men — governor, senator and congressman — who had made their fortunes at Burning Springs.”

Visit the West Virginia oil and gas museum in downtown Parkersburg.

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

Harry Ford Sinclair brought together a collection of 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 dinosaur

An updated 70-foot Sinclair “Dino” traveled more 10,000 miles through 25 states following the New York World’s Fair in 1964-1965.

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. The company’s petroleum refining capacity grew to 150,000 barrels of oil a day in 1932.

Destined to become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry, in 1930 the company began using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels. Visitors marveled at the green Jurassic giant at Sinclair Oil’s “Dinoland Pavilion” at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair– and again in 1964-65.

Learn more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

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 an oil price collapse. 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. 

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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 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.” Tom Slick is among those honored in the Conoco Plaza.

Learn more in Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters,

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Recommended Reading: The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World (2015); Life and Death of an Oilman: The Career of E. W. Marland (1974); Michigan Yesterday & Today (2009; 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). 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. 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 © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, April 18 to April 24

April 18, 1939 – Patent for perforating Well Casing – 

Ira McCullough of Los Angeles patented a multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system. He explained the object of his oilfield invention was “to provide a device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well in which projectiles or perforating elements are shot through the casing and into the formation.”

Ira McCullough's 1937 patent drawing for perforating wells.

Ira McCullough’s 1937 patent drawing for perforating wells.

The innovation of simultaneous firing from several levels in the borehole greatly enhanced the flow of oil. McCullough’s device included a “disconnectable means” that rendered percussion inoperative until the charges were lowered into the borehole, acting as “a safeguard against accidental or inadvertent operation.”

Another inventor, Henry Mohaupt, in 1951 would use World War II anti-tank technology to improve the concept by using a conically hollowed-out explosive for perforating wells.

Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

April 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Automobile

Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea test drove a gasoline powered automobile they had built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop. Considered the first model to be regularly manufactured for sale in the United States, 13 were produced by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers followed the brothers’ example.

The Duryea brothers in their pioneering auto.

The Duryea brothers (above) built their cars in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In March 1896, the Duryea brothers sold their first Duryea motor wagon. It was reported two months later that in New York City a motorist driving a Duryea hit a bicyclist – reportedly the nation’s first recorded automobile traffic accident. By the time of the first U.S. automobile show in November 1900 at Madison Square Garden, of the 4,200 automobiles sold in the United States, gasoline powers less than 1,000.

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April 20, 1875 – Improved Well Pumping Technology

Pumping multiple wells with a single steam engine boosted efficiency in early oilfields when Albert Nickerson and Levi Streeter of Venango County, Pennsylvania, patented their “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells.” The new technology used a system of linked and balanced walking beams to pump oil wells.

Patent drawing for 1875 “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells."

U.S. oilfield technologies advanced in 1875 with an “Improvement In Means For Pumping Wells.”

“By an examination of the drawing it will be seen that the walking-beam to well No. l is lifting or raising fluid from the well. Well No. 3 is also lifting, while at the same time wells 2 and 4 are moving in an opposite direction, or plunging, and vice versa,” the inventors explained. Their system was the forerunner of rod-line (or jerk line) eccentric wheel systems that operated into the 20th century using iron rods instead of rope and pulleys.

Learn more in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.

April 20, 1892 – Prospector discovers Los Angeles City Oilfield

The giant Los Angeles oilfield was discovered when a struggling prospector, Edward Doheny, and his mining partner Charles Canfield drilled into the tar seeps between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue. Their well produced about 45 barrels of oil a day.

Artfully camouflaged petroleum production continues today in downtown Los Angeles.

Artfully camouflaged petroleum production continues today in downtown Los Angeles. Edward Doheny discovered the oilfield in 1892. Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Culver City, California.

Although the first California oil well had been drilled after the Civil War, Doheny’s 1892 discovery (near present-day Dodger Stadium) launched California’s petroleum industry. In 1897, about 500 Los Angeles City wells pumped more than half of the state’s annual production of 1.2 million barrels of oil. By 1925, California supplied half of the world’s oil.

Learn more in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

April 20, 2010 – Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Disaster

At 10 a.m., while completing a well in the Macondo Prospect, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, killing 11 and injuring another 17 workers. An estimated 3.2 million barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico after the platform’s 400-ton blowout preventer failed, resulting in the largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history.

April 2010 image of burning offshore platform Deepwater Horizon.

The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire killed 11 and injured 17 workers. USGS Photo.

Six months earlier at another site, the advanced, semi-submersible drilling rig had set a world record for the deepest offshore well (35,050 feet vertical depth in 4,130 feet of water). When the Macondo Prospect well was capped in mid-July, a National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling launched an eight-month investigation. The commission released its final report on January 11, 2011.

April 22, 1926 – Osage Oil Lease Auctioneer Statue dedicated

A statue commemorating the friendship between 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.

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

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. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

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.

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 as a small refinery in Corsicana, Texas, in 1898.

petroleum history april 18

Magnolia adopted a “Pegasus” logo in the 1930s.

After 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.

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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.

April petroleum history

A 1937 Maybelline magazine ad.

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.”  In honor of his sister, who worked with him in his Chicago office, Williams renamed the mascara “Maybelline.”

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

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Recommended Reading: Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields (1990); The First Cars – Famous Firsts (2014); Dark Side of Fortune: Triumph and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny (2001);  The Osage Oil Boom (1989); The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010). 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. 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 © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

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