This Week in Petroleum History, April 17 to April 23

April 17, 1861 – Oil Well Fire Tragedy in Pennsylvania – 

The early lack of technology for controlling wells led to a fatal oil well fire at Rouseville, Pennsylvania. Among the 19 people killed was leading citizen Henry Rouse, who had subleased the land along Oil Creek. When his well erupted oil from a depth of just 320 feet, the good news attracted most Rouseville residents.

“Henry Rouse and the others stood by wondering how to control the phenomenon,” noted the local newspaper. Then the gusher erupted into flames, perhaps ignited by a steam-engine boiler.

Circa 1861 painting  “Burning Oil Well at Night” painting of Rouseville tragedy.

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

The oilfield tragedy near Titusville would be overshadowed by the Civil War, but it was immortalized in 1861 by Philadelphia artist James Hamilton’s “Burning Oil Well at Night, near Rouseville, Pennsylvania,” which was added to the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection in 2017.

Learn more in Fatal 1861 Rouseville Oil Well Fire.

April 17, 1919 – North Texas Burkburnett Boom grows

Another major drilling boom began in Wichita County, Texas, when the Bob Waggoner Well No. 1 well began producing 4,800 barrels of oil a day. One year earlier, a well on the Burkburnett farm of S.L. Fowler had brought hundreds of drillers to the Red River town. The county had been producing oil since 1912,  when a shallow well drilled for water found oil instead.

A Burkburnett historical marker today notes the 1919 oil discovery, “became known as the Northwest Extension Oilfield, comprised of approximately 27 square miles on the former S. Burk Burnett Wild Horse Ranch.” The marker adds that “the area was suddenly thick with oil derricks.” 

Learn more in Boom Town Burkburnett.

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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.

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 all 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.

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April 21, 1967 – GM celebrates its 100 Millionth Car

The world’s largest automaker, General Motors (GM), celebrated its 100 millionth American-made car. The company was established in 1908, in Flint, Michigan, by William Durant, a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages. Durant also founded Chevrolet Motor Company, which became part of GM in 1916, along with many other auto companies. After World War II, GM was the first American corporation to pay more than $1 billion in taxes, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

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 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. 

“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.

Ponca City's Pioneer Woman statue. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

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 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 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.


Recommended Reading: Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania (2000); 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). 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, April 10 to April 16

April 10, 1866 – Densmore Brothers patent Railroad Oil Tank Car – 

James and Amos Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania, received a patent for their “Improved Car for Transporting Petroleum,” developed a year earlier in the northwestern Pennsylvania oil regions. Their patent illustrated a simple but sturdy design for securing two re-enforced containers on a typical railroad car.

Patent drawing of Densmore Oil Tank Car that briefly revolutionized transportation of oil.

The Densmore oil tank car briefly revolutionized the bulk transportation of oil to market. Hundreds of the twin tank railroad cars were in use by 1866.

Although the Densmore cars were an improvement, they would be replaced by the more practical single, horizontal tank. After leaving the business, Amos Densmore in 1875 invented a new way for arranging “type writing machines” so commonly used letters would no longer collide — the “Q-W-E-R-T-Y” keyboard. James Densmore’s continued success in oilfields helped finance the start of the Densmore Typewriter Company.

Learn more in Densmore Brothers invent First Oil Tank Car.

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April 11, 1957 – Oklahoma Independent William Skelly dies

William Grove Skelly (1878 -1957) died in Tulsa after a long career as an independent producer that he began as a 15-year-old tool dresser in early Pennsylvania oilfields. Prior to World War I, he found success in the El Dorado field outside Wichita, Kansas. Skelly incorporated Skelly Oil Company in Tulsa in 1919. Four years later, he established the International Petroleum Exposition while serving as president of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. Skelly also helped establish the first FM radio station in Oklahoma, KWGS, in 1947.

April 13, 1974 – Depth Record set in Oklahoma Anadarko Basin

After drilling for 504 days and costing about $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reached a total depth of 31,441 feet (5.95 miles) before being stopped by liquid sulfur. Drilled in the heart of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, it was the deepest well in the world for more than a decade.

Robert Hefner III’s GHK Company and partner Lone Star Producing Company believed natural gas reserves resided deep in the basin, which extends across West-Central Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Their first attempt began in 1967 and took two years to reach what at the time was a record depth of 24,473 feet. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, April 3 to April 9

April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin – 

After eight months of drilling in weather that included severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered a North Dakota oilfield. The well revealed the Williston Basin two miles beneath Clarence Iverson’s farm near Tioga. Within two months, other exploration companies rushed to the region and leased almost 30 million acres. The petroleum-rich geologic basin proved to extend into Montana, South Dakota, and Canada. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, March 27 to April 2

March 27, 1855 – Canadian Chemist trademarks Kerosene

Canadian physician and chemist Abraham Gesner patented a process to distill coal into kerosene. “I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he proclaimed. Because his new illuminating fluid was extracted from coal, consumers called it “coal oil” as often as kerosene.

petroleum history march 21

A Canadian March 2000 stamp featured kerosene’s inventor.

Gesner, considered the father of Canada’s petroleum industry, in 1842 established the country’s first natural history museums, the New Brunswick Museum, which today houses one of Canada’s oldest geological collections.

The U.S. petroleum industry began when it was learned that oil could be distilled into a lamp fuel (and much later, a rocket fuel). With new oilfields discovered in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, inexpensive kerosene became America’s main source of light.

Learn more in Camphene to Kerosene Lamps.

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March 27, 1975 – First Pipe laid for Trans-Alaskan Pipeline

With the laying of the first section of pipe in Alaska, construction began on the largest private construction project in American history at the time. Recognized as a landmark of engineering, the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, including pumping stations and the Valdez Marine Terminal, would cost $8 billion by the time it was completed in 1977.

Learn more in Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.

March 27, 1999 – Offshore Platform Rocket Launch Test – 

The Ocean Odyssey, a converted semi-submersible drilling platform, launched a Russian rocket that placed a demonstration satellite into geostationary orbit.

The Zenit-3SL rocket, fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene rocket fuel, was part of Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Norway. The offshore platform had once been used by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for North Sea exploration. 

With an orbital test on March 27, 1999, the Ocean Odyssey, a converted semi-submersible drilling platform, became the world’s first floating equatorial launch pad. Photo courtesy Sea Launch.

“The Sea Launch rocket successfully completed its maiden flight today,” Boeing announced. “The event, which placed a demonstration payload into geostationary transfer orbit, marked the first commercial launch from a floating platform at sea.”

The Sea Launch consortium provided orbital launch services until 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. 

Learn more in Offshore Rocket launcher.

March 28, 1886 – Discovery launches Indiana Natural Gas Boom

A drilling boom began at Portland, Indiana, after the Eureka Gas and Oil Company found a natural gas field at a depth of only 700 feet. The discovery arrived just two months after a spectacular natural gas well about 100 miles to the northeast — the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio.

Composite image of Indiana and Trenton oilfield and gas well flame.

Andrew Carnegie said natural gas replaced 10,000 tons of coal a day for making steel.

Portland foundry owner Henry Sees had followed the news from Findlay. He persuaded local investors to drill for Indiana natural gas. In western Pennsylvania, reserves found near Pittsburg had encouraged industrialists there to replace their coal-fired steel and glass foundries with the first large-scale industrial use of natural gas. 

Indiana would become the world’s largest natural gas producer, thanks to its Trenton limestone stretching more than 5,100 square miles across 17 counties. Within three years, more than 200 companies were drilling, distributing, and selling natural gas.

Learn more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

March 28, 1905 – Oil brings Prosperity to North Louisiana

An oilfield discovery in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, created a classic boom town in Oil City and brought economic prosperity to northern Louisiana. The Offenhauser No. 1 well was completed at a depth of 1,556 feet, but the well yielded only five barrels a day and was abandoned. More productive wells soon followed, and the Caddo-Pine Island oilfield, about 20 miles northwest of Shreveport, expanded to include more than 80,000 acres.

The Shreveport Chamber of Commerce in 1955 dedicated a 40-foot monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of oil in Caddo Parish. Photo by Bruce Wells.

“This part of Louisiana, of course, was built on the oil and gas industry, and those visitors interested in the technical aspects of oilfield work will find the museum particularly appealing,” notes the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum (formerly the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum). More oilfield history can be found at Shreveport, where natural gas was discovered in 1870, thanks to an ice plant’s water well. To prevent the waste of natural gas through flaring, Louisiana passed its first conservation law in 1906.

Learn more in Louisiana Oil City Museum.

March 28, 1918 — Oil Research Center Opens in Oklahoma

In a sign the monopolistic era of Standard Oil was ending, the U.S. Bureau of Mines established the nation’s first oil and natural gas research center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Two years earlier, independent producers had pledged $50,000 to help build the bureau’s Bartlesville Experiment Station. Discoveries in the Osage Indian Nation,” catapulted Oklahoma to the forefront of the burgeoning mid-continent oil industry,” according to the U.S. Office of Fossil Energy.

The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville opened in 2007, the centennial of Oklahoma statehood.

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March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of the Petroleum Industry 

Edwin Laurentine Drake was born in Greenville, New York. Forty years later, he used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to drill the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania. The former railroad conductor overcame many financial and technical obstacles to make “Drake’s Folly” a milestone in energy history.

Portrait of Edwin L. Drake, who drilled first U.S. oil well in 1859.

Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880) invented a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of America’s first oil well. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

Drake pioneered using iron casing to isolate his well from nearby Oil Creek. “In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” noted historian Urja Davé in 2008. “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”

Determined to find oil for refining into the popular lamp fuel kerosene, Drake created the American petroleum industry on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet.

Visit the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas

A well drilled by Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) revealed the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield in Arkansas, adding to 1920s giant oilfield discoveries at El Dorado and Smackover. “Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country” proclaimed the local newspaper.

Drilling on the Barnett No. 1 well had been suspended by a lack of funds, but Kerlyn Oil Company Vice President Dean McGee persevered. An experienced geologist, McGee was rewarded with the giant oilfield discovery at a depth of 7,650 feet. He would later lead efforts in early offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. 

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March 30, 1980 – Deadly North Sea Gale

Massive waves during a North Sea gale capsized a floating apartment for Phillips Petroleum Company workers, killing 123 people. The Alexander Kielland platform, 235 miles east of Dundee, Scotland, housed 208 men who worked on a nearby rig in the Ekofisk field. Most of the Phillips workers were from Norway. The platform, converted from a semi-submersible drilling rig, served as overflow accommodation for the Phillips production platform 300 yards away.

April 1, 1911 – First Well of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas”

South of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launched an oil boom that would last decades. “As news of the gusher spread through town, people thought it was an April Fools joke and didn’t take it seriously until they saw for themselves the plume of black oil spewing high into the sky,” a local historian noted.

Electra, Texas, oil pump and welcome sign entering town.

Electra was named after the daughter of local rancher W.T. Waggoner, who had once complained about finding oil when drilling water wells for his cattle. Photo by Bruce Wells

The well on cattleman William Waggoner’s lease settled into production of 650 barrels per day from about 1,600 feet deep. Hundreds of producing wells followed, leading to the Electra oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913. Oil fever would return to North Texas in 1917 when “Roaring Ranger” erupted in neighboring Eastland County. Electra’s 2,800 residents annually host a festival celebrating their petroleum heritage.

Learn more in Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

April 1, 1986 – Oil Price Collapse

World oil prices briefly fell below $10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Causes included excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession, and a U.S. petroleum industry regulated by production and price controls. Saudi Arabia had slowed its policy of cutting output to support prices.

“The Saudis and other Persian Gulf producers are trying to push oil prices down as part of a long-term strategy to restore their political and economic leverage in the world oil trade,” according to an article in the Washington Post.

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April 2, 1980 – President Carter signs Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax

One year after lifting price controls on oil, President Jimmy Carter signed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax (WPT) into law. It would be repealed eight years later. The controversial WPT levied an excise tax on domestic oil production from 1980 to 1988, according to historian Joseph Thorndike.

The WPT, “imposed an excise levy on domestic oil production, taxing the difference between the market price of oil and a predetermined base price.”

President Jimmy Carter signing Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax in 1980.

President Jimmy Carter signed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax in 1980. It was repealed in eight years later.

The base price was derived from 1979 oil prices and required annual adjustments for inflation. A remnant of President Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls of 1971 and the OPEC oil embargo, WPT was meant to limit jumps in oil prices. Eight years of the tax resulted in U.S. oil production falling to its lowest point in two decades and increased dependence on imported oil. The depressed state of the U.S. petroleum industry after 1986 compelled Congress to repeal WPT in 1988.


Recommended Reading: Oil Lamps The Kerosene Era In North America (1978); Amazing Pipeline Stories: How Building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Transformed Life in America’s Last Frontier (1997); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Texas Oil and Gas, Postcard History (2013); Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982). 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. For more information, contact Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.


This Week in Petroleum History, March 20 to March 26

March 20, 1919 – American Petroleum Institute founded – 

Tracing its roots to World War I when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort, the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded in New York City. Within two years, the organization had improved an 1876 French scale to measure petroleum density relative to water — a standard later adopted and called API gravity. Based in Washington, D.C. since 1969, API has represented the interests of major oil and natural gas companies while maintaining standards and recommended industry practices. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, March 13 to March 19

March 13, 1974 – OPEC ends Oil Embargo – 

A five-month oil embargo against the United States was lifted by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel formed in 1960. The embargo, imposed in response to America supplying the Israeli military during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, created gasoline shortages, prompting President Richard M. Nixon to propose and Congress approve voluntary rationing and a ban of gas sales on Sundays. OPEC ended the embargo after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Sinai.

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March 14, 1910 – Lakeview No. 1 Well erupts in California 

The Union Oil Company Lakeview No. 1 well erupted a geyser of oil at dawn in Kern County, California (some sources give the date as March 15). With limited technologies for  managing the deep, highly pressured formation of the Midway-Sunset field, drillers had experienced several accidental oil spills, including the Shamrock gusher in 1896 and the 1909 Midway gusher.

Lakeview oil gusher monument near the West Kern Oil Museum in Taft, California,

A marker and remnants of a sand berm north of Maricopa, California, mark the site of a 1910 Union Oil gusher that flowed uncontrolled for 18 months. Photo courtesy San Joaquin Valley Geology.

“But none of these wells came close to rivaling the Lakeview No. 1 which flowed, uncapped and untamed, at 18,000 barrels a day for 18 months,” noted a San Joaquin Valley geologist. Surrounded by berms and sandbags to contain the oil, the well collapsed and died in September 1911, after producing 9.4 million barrels of oil (about half was contained and sold).

Lakeview oil gusher of March 15,1910, in n California's Midway oilfield.

Oil erupted in California’s Midway-Sunset oilfield on March 15, 1910. Contained by sandbags by October, the Lakeview No. 1 well produced 9.4 million barrels during the 544 days it flowed. Photo courtesy San Joaquin Valley Geology.

The environmental impact of the Lakeview well, still the largest oil spill in U.S. history, was less destructive due to evaporation and levees of sandbags that prevented contamination of Buena Vista Lake. A Kern County historic marker was erected in 1952 at the site, seven miles north of the West Kern Oil Museum.

The ram-type blowout preventer to seal well pressure was invented in 1922.

March 16, 1911 – Pegasus Trademark takes flight 

A Vacuum Oil Company subsidiary in Cape Town, South Africa, trademarked a flying horse logo inspired by Pegasus of Greek mythology. Based in Rochester, New York, Vacuum Oil had built a successful lubricants business long before gasoline was a branded product.

When Vacuum Oil and Standard Oil of New York (Socony) combined in 1931, the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company adopted the red-winged horse trademark and marketed Pegasus Spirits and Mobilegas products.

Original Mobil Pegasus logo trademark from 1911.

The original Mobil Pegasus logo was registered in 1911 by a South Africa subsidiary of New York-based Vacuum Oil Company. 

A stylized red gargoyle earlier had advertised the company, which produced petroleum-based lubricants for carriages and steam engines. Created by the Vacuum Oil Company of South Africa, the Pegasus trademark proved to be a far more enduring image.

Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.

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March 16, 1914 – “Main Street” Oil Well completed in Oklahoma

A well completed in 1914 produced oil from about 1,770 feet beneath Barnsdall, Oklahoma. The popular TV program Ripley’s Believe It or Not would proclaim the well the “World’s Only Main Street Oil Well.”

March oil history image of oil pump in main street of Barndsall, OK

An oil well pump in the middle of Main Street in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, was visited by American Oil & Gas Historical Society volunteer Tim Wells in 2016. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The town originally was called Bigheart, named for Osage Chief James Bigheart, who on behalf of the Osage people in 1875 signed the first lease for oil and gas exploration, according to Osage County. In 1922, Barnsdall was renamed for Theodore Barnsdall, owner of the Barnsdall Refining Company, which later became part of Baker Hughes Company.  The National Register of Historic Places added the Barnsdall Main Street oil well in 1997.

March 17, 1890 – Sun Oil Company founded 

The Peoples Natural Gas Company, founded four years earlier by Joseph Pew and Edward Emerson to provide natural gas to Pittsburgh, expanded to become the Sun Oil Company of Ohio.

Illustration of Sun Oil logo evolution to SUNOCO.

Sun Oil Company brands from 1894 to 1920 (top) to SONOCO from 1920 to 1954.

At the turn of the century, the company had acquired promising leases near Findlay and entered the business of “producing petroleum, rock and carbon oil, transporting and storing same, refining, purifying, manufacturing such oil and its various products.” In the 1920s, the company marketed Sunoco Motor Oil and opened service stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company became an oilfield equipment supplier in 1929, forming Sperry-Sun. Also see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.

March 17, 1923 – Oklahoma Discovery leads to Giant Oilfields

The Betsy Foster No. 1 well, a 2,800-barrel-a-day oil gusher near Wewoka, county seat of Seminole County, Oklahoma, launched the Seminole area boom. The discovery south of Oklahoma City was followed by others in Cromwell and Bethel (1924), and Earlsboro and Seminole (1926). Thirty-nine separate oilfields were ultimately found around Seminole and parts of Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Hughes, and Pontotoc counties. Once one of the poorest economic regions in Oklahoma, by 1935 the Seminole area became the largest supplier of oil in the world.

March 17, 1949 – First Commercial Application of Hydraulic Fracturing

A team from Halliburton and Stanolind companies converged on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma, and performed the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.

A 1947 experimental well had fractured a natural gas field in Hugoton, Kansas, and proven the possibility of increased productivity. The technique was developed and patented by Stanolind (later known as Pan American Oil Company) and an exclusive license was issued to Halliburton Company to perform the process. Four years later, the license was extended to all qualified oilfield service companies.

Derrick and truck at first hydraulic fracture of oil well in 1949.

The first commercial hydraulic fracturing job (above) took place in 1949 about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Halliburton.

“Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” proclaimed a Halliburton company spokesman in 2009, adding that more than two million fracturing treatments have been pumped without polluting an aquifer.

Erle P. Halliburton had patented an efficient well cementing technology in 1921 that improved oil production while protecting the environment. The earliest attempts to increase  petroleum production by fracturing geologic formations began in the 1860s.

Learn more in Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History

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March 17, 1949 – “Diamond Glenn” opens Shamrock Hotel

Texas independent producer “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy hosted the grand opening of his $21 million, 18-story, 1,100-room Shamrock Hotel on the outskirts of Houston. McCarthy reportedly spent another $1 million for the hotel’s St. Patrick’s Day opening day gala, including arranging for a 16-car Santa Fe Super Chief train to bring friends from Hollywood.

Color postcard of Shamrock Hotel, Houston, Texas, circa 1950.

After paying $21 million to construct the Shamrock Hotel, Glenn McCarthy spent another $1 million for its grand opening on St. Patrick’ Day 1949. The 1,100-room Houston hotel was demolished in 1987.

The Texas wildcatter, who had discovered 11 oilfields by 1945, also introduced his own label of bourbon at Shamrock, the largest hotel in the United States at the time. Dubbed Houston’s biggest party, the Shamrock’s debut “made the city of Houston a star overnight,” one newspaper reported.

Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.

March 18, 1937 – New London School Explosion Tragedy

With just minutes left in the school day, a natural gas explosion destroyed the New London High School in Rusk County, Texas. Odorless gas (a residual natural gas called casing-head gas) had leaked into the basement and ignited with an explosion heard four miles away. East Texas oilfield workers — many with children attending the school — rushed to the scene, as did a cub reporter from Dallas, Walter Cronkite.

Devastating March 1937 gas explosion at New London school in East Texas oilfield.

Roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield rushed to the devastated school and searched for survivors throughout the night. Photo courtesy New London Museum.

Despite desperate rescue efforts, 298 people were killed that day (dozens more later died of injuries). The explosion’s source was later found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked odorless gas that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. As a result of this disaster, Texas and other states passed laws requiring that natural gas be mixed with a malodorant to give early warning of a gas leak.

Learn more about the tragedy in New London School Explosion.

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March 18, 1938 — First Offshore Well drilled in Gulf of Mexico’s Creole field

Gulf of Mexico oil production from a well drilled by Pure Oil and Superior Oil companies helped launch the modern offshore industry. The Creole oilfield in Louisiana’s offshore Cameron Parish was the first discovered in the open waters of the Gulf, according to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR). More offshore wells followed after World War II, including the Kerr-McGee drilling platform, Kermac Rig No. 16, which in 1947 became the first offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico that was out of sight of land.

By the end of 1949, the offshore industry had discovered 11 oil and natural gas fields. The first mobile drilling platform, Mr. Charlie, began drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in 1954 (see articles in Offshore Oil History).


Recommended Reading: San Joaquin Valley, California, Images of America (1999); A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field(1981); The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy (2016); A Texas Tragedy: The New London School Explosion (2012). 


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 Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.


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