This Week in Petroleum History, May 29 to June 4

May 29, 1940 – Nebraska’s First Oil Well – 

After more than a half century of dry holes, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well was completed near Falls City in the southeastern corner of the state. Eager to join other states benefiting from tax revenue gained from petroleum, Nebraska lawmakers had offered a $15,000 bonus for the first well to produce 50 barrels of oil daily for two months.

A map showing that most Nebraska oil production comes from western and southwestern counties.

Although Nebraska oil production began in 1940 in Richardson County in the southeastern corner of the state, most production would come from western counties.

Pawnee Royalty Company completed the Bucholz No. 1 well with production of about 170 barrels of oil a day in its first 60 days. The well was about five miles east of a “vein of petroleum” first reported by geologists in 1883.

Learn more in First Nebraska Oil Well.

May 30, 1911 – First Indianapolis 500 takes Seven Hours

The first Indianapolis 500-mile race began with 40 cars; only 12 finished the 1911 test of endurance and automotive technology. The winner averaged almost 75 mph after about seven hours of racing.

Race cars in clouds of dust at first Indy 500 mile race in 1911.

All of the cars except the winner had a mechanic to manually pump oil. More than 60,000 watched the first race.

All cars except the winning No. 32 Marmon Wasp had two seats because drivers traveled with “riding mechanics,” who manually pumped oil. Ray Harroun, driver of the Marmon Wasp, would also develop a kerosene carburetor. “Let the fuel people fight it out amongst themselves, I’ll have a car soon that will burn anything they send,” he declared.

A decade before the first Indy 500, gasoline powered less than 1,000 of the 4,200 cars sold in America (see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show).

May 30, 1987 – Million Barrel Museum opens in Monahans, Texas

The Million Barrel Museum opened on a 14.5-acre site in Monahans, Texas. The museum’s main attraction is a large elliptical oil storage tank built in 1928 to store Permian Basin oil.

Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot concrete oil tank foundation in Monahans, Texas.

The Monahans Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot concrete foundation once included a wooden roof. The structure, built to store Permian Basin oil in 1928, became a Monahans water park for one day in 1958.

The experimental concrete tank — 525 feet by 422 feet — was designed to hold more than a million barrels of oil. The highly productive West Texas region lacked oil pipelines. The tank’s 30 foot earthen walls sloped at a 45-degree angle and were covered in concrete. It included a roof made of California redwood.

Repeated efforts could not stop oil from leaking at seams. Shell eventually abandoned the giant structure, which would be patched to briefly become a water park in the 1950s…until it leaked again.

Learn more in Million Barrel Museum.

June 1, 1860 – First Book about Oil published

Less than 10 months after Edwin L. Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania, Thomas A. Gale published an 80-page pamphlet many regard as the first book about America’s petroleum resources. The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere described the advantages of the new fuel source for kerosene lamps.

Cover of first U.S. book about petroleum, Rock Oil, published in 1860.

An 80-page pamphlet by Thomas Gale published in 1860 described the beginning of the petroleum age that began one year earlier at Titusville, Pennsylvania.

“Those who have not seen it burn, may rest assured its light is no moonshine; but something nearer the clear, strong, brilliant light of day,” Gale declared in his pamphlet, which sold for 25 cents. Only three original copies were known to exist in 1952, when Ethyl Corporation of New York republished The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century.

Learn more in First Oil Book of 1860.

June 1, 1899 – Giant California Oilfield discovered at Kern River

After others found signs of oil northeast of Bakersfield, California, Milton and Horace McWhorter drilled the region’s first commercial well. Their well revealed the 10,750-acre Kern River oilfield on the eastern edge of the southern San Joaquin Valley — the first of many  contiguous fields to be found in Kern County.

A field of wooden derricks in California's Kern River Oilfield, circa 1910.s i

Discovered in 1899, California’s prolific Kern River field was the first of many giant Kern County oilfield discoveries. Circa 1910 photo courtesy Kern County Oil Museum.

A drilling boom expanded the state’s petroleum industry by attracting major oil companies (and briefly, retired lawman Wyatt Earp). Kern County’s 8,000 square miles in 2020 accounted for 70 percent of California’s oil and more than 90 percent of its natural gas.

Learn more California oil history by visiting the the West Kern Oil Museum and the Kern County Museum.

June 1, 1909 – Secret Test of Revolutionary Drill Bit

A drilling crew secretly tested a dual-cone roller rock bit at Goose Creek near Galveston Bay, Texas. “In the early morning hours of June 1, 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. packed an experimental bit into the trunk of his car and drove off into the Texas plains,” noted Gwen Wright in a 2006 episode of History Detectives. The coned, roller bit would soon make traditional rotary fishtail bits obsolete.

“When the Hughes twin-cones hit hard rock, they kept turning, their dozens of sharp teeth (166 on each cone) grinding through the hard stone,” the PBS show explained. Hughes and partner R. Carlton “Carl” Baker formed Baker Hughes Tools Company (see Carl Baker and Howard Hughes).

June 1, 1940 – Dallas Artist depicts Life in Texas Oilfields

Artist Jerry Bywaters of Paris, Texas, exhibited his newly painted Oil Field Girls in the Fine Arts Palace of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. The 1940 painting of two young women in a West Texas oilfield and its companion piece, Oil Rig Workers (Roughnecks), would become among his best known works.

oil paintings of Texas oilfields by Jerry Bywaters

Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989) painted Oil Field Girls and the Oil Rig Workers in 1940. According to the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas, Bywaters’ Oil Field Girls, “is a work of incredible moral complexity.”

Bywaters was a member of the Dallas Nine, a group of young painters in the 1930s, “who helped establish a regional artistic identity for Texas art,” according to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, which acquired Oil Field Girls in 1984.

June 3, 1979 – Bay of Campeche Oil Spill

Drilling in about 150 feet of water, the semi-submersible rig Sedco 135 suffered a devastating blowout 50 miles off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. The state-owned company Pemex well spilled 3.4 million barrels of oil before being brought under control nine months later.

Considering the size of the spill, its environmental impact was limited, according to a 1981 report by the Coordinated Program of Ecological Studies in the Bay of Campeche.

“Nature played the biggest role in attacking the slicks as they floated across the Gulf. Ultraviolet light broke down the oil as it crept toward land, the reported noted. “So did oil-eating microorganisms. Hot temperatures spurred evaporation.”

June 4, 1872 – Pennsylvania Oilfields bring Petroleum Jelly

A young chemist living in New York City, Robert Chesebrough, patented “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he named “Vaseline.” His patent proclaimed the virtues of this purified extract of petroleum distillation residue as a lubricant, hair treatment, and balm for chapped hands.

Antique jar of Vaseline

Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96 years old. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

When the 22-year-old chemist visited the new Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865, he had noted that drilling was often confounded by a paraffin-like substance that clogged the wellhead. Drillers used the “rod wax” as a quick first aid for abrasions.

Chesebrough returned to New York City and worked in his laboratory to purify the oil well goop, which he first called “petroleum jelly.” Female customers would discover that mixing lamp black with Vaseline made an impromptu mascara. In 1913, Mabel Williams employed just such a concoction, and it would lead to the founding of a major cosmetic company.

Learn more in The Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

June 4, 1892 – Flood and Fire devastate Pennsylvania Oil Region

After weeks of thunderstorms in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek Valley, the Spartansburg dam on Oil Creek burst, sending torrents of water that killed more than 100 people and destroyed homes and businesses in Titusville and Oil City. The disaster was compounded when fires broke out.

Photo of great fire and flood of Titsville, PA

Titusville, Pennsylvania, residents used the “Colonel Drake Steam Pumper” during the great flood and fire of 1892. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

“This city during the past twenty-four hours has been visited by one of the most appalling fires and overwhelming floods in the history of this country,” reported the New York Times from Oil City. Oilfield photographer John Mather’s studio and 16,000 glass-plate negatives were destroyed.

Learn more in Oilfield photographer John Mather.

June 4, 1896 – Henry Ford test drives “Quadricycle”

Driving the first car he ever built, Henry Ford left a workshop behind his home on Bagley Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. He had designed his “Quadricycle” in his spare time while working as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company. Ford chose the name because his handmade, 500-pound “horseless carriage” ran on four bicycle tires. Inspired by advancements in gasoline-fueled engines, he founded Henry Ford Company in 1903.

June 4, 1921 – First Petroleum Seismograph tested

A team of earth scientists tested an experimental seismograph machine on a farm three miles north of Oklahoma City and determined it could accurately map subsurface structures. Led by Prof. John C. Karcher and W.P. Haseman, the team from the University of Oklahoma proved that reflection seismology could be a useful aid for oil and natural gas exploration and production.

Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.


Recommended Reading:  Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 (2012); Chronicles of an Oil Boom: Unlocking the Permian Basin (2014); The Maybelline Story: And the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It (2010); The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere (1952); I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford (2014). 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, May 22 to May 28

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.”

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 (see Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum).


This Week in Petroleum History, May 15 to May 21

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.

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 Midtown 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 work in 1818 as “Observations on the Geology of the United States of North America; With Remarks on the Probable Effects That May Be Produced by the Decomposition of the Different Classes of Rocks on the Nature and Fertility of Soils: Applied to the Different States of the Union, Agreeably to the Accompanying Geological Map,” which today can be found at the digital library JSTOR

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

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. NSWA estimated in 2022 that of 760,000 U.S. stripper wells, about 400,000 were oil wells and 360,000 natural gas wells. Low production wells made up about 7.8 percent of all oil and natural gas produced domestically, according to the association.

May 16, 1961 – Museum opens over Natural Gas Field 

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened above a giant natural gas producing area that extended 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. The small museum in Hugoton today educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America — the Hugoton field. A gas well drilled in 1945 still produces at the museum.

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 giant Hugoton field’s once dominant natural gas production gave way to new gas shale regions, including production from Fayetteville, Arkansas, (2004) and Haynesville, Louisiana (2008), the Hugoton-Panhandle gas continues to be the world’s largest 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 of Cherry Grove was revealed at 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 would acquire the J.M. Guffey Petroleum and Gulf Refining companies of Texas and reorganize the ventures as Gulf Oil.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

May 17, 1973 – Last Nuclear fracking 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 C. 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 oil gusher post card promoting Lima, Ohio, Oilfields.

A circa 1909 post card promoting the petroleum prosperity of Lima, Ohio.

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.

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 steam-powered 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.

Learn more in Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”

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. In 1937, the society adopted the name Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), which today reports 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 appeared in 1936 with articles featuring the latest petroleum prospecting methods — seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The journal also warned about fraudulent methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals, or geological formations.

The Doodlebugger, a 10-foot bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia, was unveiled in SEG’s Tulsa headquarters in 2002. O’Melia also sculpted the “Oil Patch Warrior,” a World War II memorial (see Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest).

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

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.


Recommended Reading: Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania (2000); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1938); Ohio Oil and Gas, Images of America (2008); Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America (2012); Standard Oil Company: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Famous Monopoly (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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, May 8 to May 14

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.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

May 8, 1920 – Burbank Oilfield discovered in Oklahoma

Drilling for natural gas on an lease 20 miles from Ponca City, Oklahoma, the Kay County Gas Company found an oilfield instead. Marland Oil & Refining Company assumed control of the Bertha Hickman No. 1 well, which opened the 20,000-acre Burbank oilfield. With the region already booming since the Red Fork Gusher of 1901, independent producers would agree to using 10-acre well spacing for oil conservation purposes. Ernest W. Marland would serve as Oklahoma governor from 1935 to 1939.

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.

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 – Oil and Gas Museums open in Oklahoma

ConocoPhillips opened two petroleum museums on the same day 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 a distributor of coal, grease, and kerosene. The Continental Oil Company merged with Ponca City-based Marland Oil Company in 1929. Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville merged with Conoco in 2002.

petroleum history May 9

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 heritage, 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.

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 donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Completely rebuilt in 1966, the “golden driller” would be refurbished several more times by 1980.

petroleum history May 9

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 Golden Driller, weighing 43,500 pounds, stands among the largest freestanding statues in the world, according to city officials. Promotional t-shirts, ties, and scarfs have occasionally adorned the driller, and a Covid-19 mask was added temporary in 2020.

Learn more in Golden Driller of Tulsa.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

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.

Drilling rig at the Louisiana State Oil Museum in Oil City.

Chevron drilling rig at Louisiana State Oil Museum in Oil City. Photo by Bruce Wells.

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.

Learn more in Louisiana Oil City Museum.


Recommended Reading: 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); Oil in Oklahoma (1976); Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. Contact Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, May 1 to May 7

May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well – 

Virginia’s oil industry began about one year before the Civil War when John Castelli ”Cass” Rathbone (1858-1948) completed an oil well 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 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. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, April 24 to April 30

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.

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.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

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

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,” 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.”

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 in his book 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.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

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.


Recommended Reading: 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); Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank (2008); . 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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Pin It on Pinterest