This Week in Petroleum History, September 6 to September 12

September 7, 1917 – Oilfield Legacy of Texas Governor Hogg –

After drilling 20 dry holes, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company completed the No. 1 Hogg well  50 miles south of Houston. Four months later, a second well produced about 600 barrels a day. The discoveries ended a succession of dry holes dating back to 1901 — when former Texas Governor James “Big Jim” Hogg paid $30,000 for the lease (he also helped launch the Texas Company, predecessor to Texaco).

Although Gov. Hogg died 11 years before the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company wells found oil in the giant West Columbia oilfield, fortunately for his family, he stipulated in his will that the mineral rights should not be sold for at least 15 years after his death. Learn more in Governor Hogg’s Texas Oil Wells.
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This Week in Petroleum History, August 30 to September 5

August 30, 1919 – Natural Gas Boom (and Bust) in Pennsylvania  – 

The “Snake Hollow Gusher” of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, revealed a giant natural gas field and quickly attracted hundreds of petroleum companies. Drilled near the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh, the discovery well produced more than 60 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. It inspired a drilling frenzy that witnessed $35 million invested in a nine-square-mile area.

“McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” circa 1920 photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“McKeesport, Snake Hollow, Gas Belt” from a circa 1920 panoramic image by Hagerty & Griffey. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“Many residents signed leases for drilling on their land,” the local newspaper reported. “They bought and sold gas company stock on street corners and in barbershops transformed into brokerage houses.” But excitement in the natural gas field ended in just seven months.

At the beginning of 1921, natural gas production had declined in 180 wells; more than 440 exploratory wells were dry holes. Of the millions invested during the boom, only about $3 million came out. The gas field was later described as “the scene of the Pittsburgh district’s biggest boom and loudest crash.”

Learn more in McKeesport Gas Company.

August 30, 2002 – Conoco and Phillips Petroleum become ConocoPhillips

Almost 100 years after Frank and L.E. Phillips completed their first oil well and 128 years after Continental Oil delivered its first can of kerosene in a horse-drawn wagon, Phillips Petroleum Company and Conoco Inc. combined to form an energy industry giant. The two historic companies created ConocoPhillips. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, August 23 to August 29

August 24, 1892 –  Future “Prophet of Spindletop” founds Oil Company – 

Patillo Higgins, who would become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop,” founded the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company. With three partners, he leased 2,700 acres near Beaumont, Texas. Higgins believed oil-bearing sands could be found four miles south of town. Most earth science experts said he was wrong. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, August 16 to August 22

August 16, 1861 – Oldest Producing Oil Well drilled in Pennsylvania – 

What would become the world’s oldest continuously producing oil well was completed on Oil Creek near Oil City, Pennsylvania. The McClintock No. 1 well, reaching 620 feet deep into the Venango Third Sand, initially produced 50 barrels of oil a day. The well was drilled 14 miles from Titusville, home of America’s first commercial oil discovery two years earlier. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, August 9 to August 15

August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography reveals Geological Structure – 

A team led by University of Oklahoma geophysicist John C. Karcher conducted the world’s first reflection seismograph measurement of a geologic formation, pioneering the use of reflection seismic technology in petroleum exploration. Prof. Karcher’s seismography method would lead to discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields. His geological section measurement followed limited tests in June and July in Oklahoma City.

Roadside marker with geologic map of Arbuckle Anticline in Oklahoma.

A roadside sign on I-35 north of Oklahoma City includes a geologic illustration of the Arbuckle Anticline, A nearby marker describes how using reflection seismograph for oil exploration began here. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The new geophysical method recorded reflected seismic waves as they traveled through the earth, helping to define oil-bearing formations. “The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains a roadside marker at the site north of Oklahoma City on I-35.

Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves

August 9, 1922 – Major Oilfield found in Luling, Texas 

After drilling six dry holes near Luling, Texas, the United North & South Oil Company completed its Rafael Rios No. 1 well. Company President Edgar B. Davis had been determined to find oil in the Austin chalk formation. His discovery revealed an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. By 1924, the Luling field was annually producing 11 million barrels of oil. 

Luling Oil Museum in historic Texas building.

In central Texas, the Luling Oil Museum is a restored 1885 mercantile store near an oilfield a renowned psychic supposedly helped locate in 1922.

Davis later sold his Luling leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Success also produced tales of Davis finding the giant oilfield only after consulting a psychic. The bogus oil patch reading came from self-proclaimed clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.

The once famous psychic claimed to have helped Davis and other wildcatters, but abandoned searching for Texas oilfields after forming his own company…and drilling expensive dry holes.

Learn more by visiting the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum in Luling. 

August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Bit 

“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to faster and deeper rotary drilling. Historians note that several men were trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it was Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.

Patent drawing of Hughes 1909 drill bit.

Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1909 patent for “roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”

“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” reported the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which in 2009 designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

“By chipping, crushing, and powdering hard rock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME explained. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.” Hughes engineers would invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933.

Frank and George Christensen developed the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s.

Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology. 

August 11, 1891 – Oil Well brings prosperity to Sistersville, West Virginia 

The discovery well of the Sistersville oilfield was drilled at the small West Virginian town on the Ohio River just north of Parkersburg. “The bringing in of the ‘Pole Cat’ well, which pumped water for a year before it pumped oil, brought in a sudden influx of oil men, drillers, leasers, speculators, followers, floaters, wildcatters, and hangers-on,” a local historian noted.

Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler 1896 bird's-eye  lithograph map of f Sistersville, West Virginia,courtesy Library of Congress.

Bird’s-eye-view artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler of Massachusetts created maps of prospering towns and cities during the industrial revolution, including many petroleum boom towns like this 1896 lithograph of Sistersville, West Virginia. Map courtesy Library of Congress.

The late 19th century petroleum wealth,  changed Sistersville from a rural village of 300 people, “to a rip-roaring” metropolis of 15,000 people almost overnight. Sistersville was one of many oil towns featured in popular maps by artist Thaddeus Fowler of Massachusetts (see Oil Town “Aero Views”).

Today with a population of  about 1,300, the town annually celebrates its 1891 Pole Cat well (renamed the Sistersville well), and the 53rd annual Sistersville Oil and Gas Festival is planned for September 16-18, 2021. 

Learn more about petroleum exploration in West Virginia and Ohio in American Oil and Gas Families, Appalachian Basin Independents (2004).

August 12, 1888 – Bertha Benz makes World’s First Auto Road Trip

Thirty-nine-year-old Bertha Benz made history when she became the first person to make a long-distance trip by automobile. Her trip also included, “the first road repairs, the first automotive marketing stunt, the first case of a wife borrowing her husband’s car without asking, and the first violation of intercity highway laws in a motor vehicle,” noted a 2012 article in Wired

Bertha Benz, female automotive pioneer, driving in 1888.

Bertha Benz became the world’s first female automotive pioneer in 1888. Image courtesy Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Bertha drove away in the “Patent Motorwagen” (after leaving a note to her husband) and took their two young sons to visit her mother in Pforzheim. Their route from Mannheim was about 56 miles. The drive, which took about 15 hours, helped popularize Karl Benz’s latest invention.

By the end of the century, Mercedes-Benz was the largest car company in the world. The first road trip can today be retraced by following signs of the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 as the first female automotive pioneer. Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip

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August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oil and Gas Producers unite 

Eastern Kentucky independent producers joined the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association to create a state-wide organization in Frankfort — today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association. A 1919 oil discovery in Hancock County had launched the petroleum industry in western Kentucky, where commercial amounts of oil had been found as early as 1829 near Burkesville (while drilling for brine with a spring-pole). Learn more in Kentucky’s Great American Well 

August 13, 1962 – Norman Rockwell illustrates Oil and Gas Journal 

The Oil and Gas Journal promoted itself with an illustration from artist Norman Rockwell in an ad captioned, “Where Oil Men Invest Their Valuable Reading Time.” Rockwell’s renditions of American life brought him popularity through magazines like the Saturday Evening PostBoy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

Norman Rockwell illustration in Oil and Gas Journal.

A Norman Rockwell illustration advertised a leading industry trade magazine.

In addition to the illustrations for the Oil and Gas Journal, in 1959 Rockwell provided artwork to the American Petroleum Institute (API), which sponsored a U.S. Postal Service “first day of issue” commemorating the 1959 centennial of the birth of the U.S. oil industry (see Centennial Oil Stamp Issue). The illustration included the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.”

Norman Rockwell art on 1959 centennial of the birth of U.S. oil industry.

Norman Rockwell’s art commemorated the 1959 centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry.

Rockwell’s drawing depicted “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” according to a collector. Learn about another oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman

August 15, 1945 – Gas Rationing ends 

World War II gasoline rationing ended in the United States after beginning in December 1942. Coupon books had been issued by the Office of Price Administration to conserve oil for fighting the war. Most civilian cars carried “A” stickers, limiting them to four gallons of gas a week. A national speed limit of 35 mph also was imposed. In addition to gasoline and fuel oil, wartime rationing included tires, food, clothing, shoes, and coffee.

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Recommended Reading:  Oil And Gas In Oklahoma: Petroleum Geology In Oklahoma (2013); Texas Art and a Wildcatter’s Dream: Edgar B. Davis and the San Antonio Art League (1998); Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (2012); Bertha Takes a Drive: How the Benz Automobile Changed the World (2017). 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, August 2 to August 8

August 2, 1956 – Missouri builds First U.S. Interstate Highway – 

Missouri became the first state to award a contract with interstate construction funding authorized two months earlier by the Federal-Aid Highway Act. The Missouri highway commission agreed to begin work on part of Route 66 – now Interstate 44.

Missouri officials stand at the first interstate, I-44.

Missouri launched the U.S. interstate system after “inking a deal for work on U.S. Route 66.” Today, I-44 stretches across south central Missouri and is a major corridor linking the Midwest and the West Coast.

“There is no question that the creation of the interstate highway system has been the most significant development in the history of  transportation in the United States,” proclaimed the Missouri Department of Transportation. Learn more transportation and oil history in America on the Move.

August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt Pits discovered

The La Brea, “the tar,” pits were discovered during a 1769 Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted the expedition’s Franciscan friar in his diary.

Outside the Page Museum of Los Angeles

Outside the Page Museum of Los Angeles, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured at the Rancho La Brea in Hancock Park. Although called the “tar pits,” the pools are actually asphalt.

The friar, Juan Crespi, was the first person to use the term “bitumen” in describing these sticky pools in southern California — where crude oil has been seeping from the ground through fissures in the coastal plain sediments for more than 40,000 years. Native Americans used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes.

Illustration of crude oil seeps.

Pools form when crude oil seeps to the surface through fissures in the earth’s crust.

Although popularly called the tar pits, the pools at Rancho La Brea are actually asphalt — not tar, which is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as peat. Asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules — petroleum. Learn more about California seeps in Discovering the Le Brea Tar Pits.

For more anout the oil history of bitumen, see Asphalt Paves the Way.

August 3, 1942 – War brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines

War Emergency Pipelines Inc. began construction on the “Big Inch” line — the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken in the United States. Conceived to supply wartime fuel demands — and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” lines were extolled as “The most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.”

Map of Big and Little Big Inch 24-inch pipelines

The longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken led to construction of a 24-inch pipeline from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line as far as New York City.

With a goal of transporting 300,000 barrels of oil per day, the $95 million project called for construction of a 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from East Texas to Illinois, and a 20-inch line (Little Big Inch) as far as New York and Philadelphia — more than 1,200 miles (the Trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long).

Learn more in Big Inch Pipelines of WWII.

August 4, 1913 – Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”

The Crystal Oil Company completed its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The well revealed the giant Healdton field, which became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and low cost of drilling. The area attracted many independent producers with limited financial backing.

 Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin's Pierce-Arrow

The Healdton Oil Museum includes IPAA founder Wirt Franklin’s Pierce-Arrow. The museum hosts annual oil history events.

Another major discovery in 1919 revealed the Hewitt field, which extended oil production in a 22 mile swath across Carter County. The Greater Healdton-Hewitt oilfield produced “an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” noted historian Kenny Franks.

In 1929, Wirt Franklin became the first president of the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Erle Halliburton perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field (see Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield). Learn more of the “poor man’s field” oil history by visiting the Healdton Oil Museum.

August 4, 1977 – U.S. Department of Energy established

President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Energy Organization Act, which established the twelfth cabinet-level department by consolidating a dozen agencies and energy-related programs of the federal government. The new department combined the Federal Energy Administration and Energy Research and Development Administration; DOE also became responsible for nuclear weapon programs and national labs.  James Schlesinger was sworn in as first Secretary of Energy  the next day.

August 7, 1933 – Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip

Although the comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared in August 1933, the cartoon caveman began with a 1926 oilfield discovery in the Permian Basin. A small West Texas oil town would later proclaim itself as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin.

1995 stamp commemorating “Alley Oop” comics character.

A 1995 stamp commemorated “Alley Oop” by Victor Hamlin, who once worked in oilfields at Yates, Texas.

Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) first appeared as a company town following the October 1926 discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combined names of the town-site owners, Ira and Ann Yates. As drilling in the Permian Basin boomed, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company there. He developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology that soon led to his popular comic strip. Learn more in Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.

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August 7, 1953 – Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act generates Revenue

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act gave the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for the administration of mineral exploration and development of the outer continental shelf.  Forty-four Gulf of Mexico wells were operating in 11 oilfields in 1949, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. As the offshore industry evolved in the 1950s, oil production became the second-largest revenue generator for the country, after income taxes.

August 7, 2004 – Death of a Famed “Hellfighter”

Famed oilfield well control expert and firefighter Paul “Red” Adair died at age 89 in Houston. The son of a blacksmith, Adair was born in 1915 in Houston. He served with a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit during World War II.

Firefighter Paul “Red” Adair in 1964.

Famed oilfield firefighter Paul “Red” Adair of Houston, Texas, in 1964.

Firefighter Paul “Red” Adair in 1964. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.[/caption] Adair began his career working for Myron Macy Kinley, who patented a technology for using charges of high explosives to snuff out well fires. Kinley, whose father had been an oil well shooter in California in the early 1900s, mentored many successful firefighters, including Asger
“Boots” Hansen and Edward “Coots” Mathews (Boots & Coots International Well Control).

After founding the Red Adair Company in 1959, Adair developed many new techniques for “wild well” control as his company put out more than 2,000 well fires and blowouts worldwide — onshore and offshore. The oilfield firefighter’s skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film “Hellfighters,” were tested in 1991 when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army.

Learn more oil history and fighting tank fires in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.

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Recommended Reading:  The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways (2012); Monsters Of Old Los Angeles – The Prehistoric Animals Of The La Brea Tar Pits (2008); Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field (1989); Yates: A family, A Company, and Some Cornfield Geology (2000); An American Hero: The Red Adair Story (1990). Amazon purchases benefit 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 supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

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