This Week in Petroleum History, December 19 to December 25

December 19, 1924 – Government debates Oil Conservation – 

Declaring “the supremacy of nations may be determined by the possession of available petroleum and its products,” President Calvin Coolidge appointed a Federal Oil Conservation Board to appraise oil policies and promote conservation of the strategic resource.

With Navy ships converting to oil from coal (see Petroleum and Sea Power), the resulting crude oil shortages in 1919 and 1920 gave credibility to predictions of domestic supplies running out within a decade, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The debate about oil conservation continued through the establishment of President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 — and its rejection as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935.

December 20, 1951 – Oil discovered in Washington State

A short-lived oil discovery in Washington foretold the state’s production future. The Hawksworth Gas and Oil Development Company Tom Hawksworth-State No. 4 well was completed near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County. It produced 35 barrels of oil a day.

The discovery well, which produced 300,000 cubic feet of natural gas from a depth of 3,700 feet, was abandoned as non-commercial. Sunshine Mining Company in 1967 deepened the Hawksworth well to more than 4,500 feet, but with only minor shows of oil, the well was shut in again.

Map of Washington state's only oil well, drilled in 1951.

Washington’s 1951 lone oil well yielded a total of 12,500 barrels of oil.

Of the 600 exploratory wells drilled in 24 Washington counties by 2010, only one produced commercial quantities of oil — a 1959 well completed by Sunshine Mining 600 yards north of the failed Hawksworth site. That well, Washington’s only commercial producer, was closed in 1961.

“The geology is too broken up and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California,” explained a Washington Natural Resources Department geologist in 1997 (also see California Oil Seeps).

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December 21, 1842 – Birth of an Oil Town “Bird’s-Eye View” Artist

Panoramic map artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler was born  in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1842. Following the fortunes of America’s early petroleum industry, he would produce hundreds of unique maps of the earliest oilfield towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.

T.M. Fowler's 1896 "bird's-eye view" of Oil City, Pennsylvania.

Oil City, Pennsylvania, prospered soon after America’s first commercial oil discovery in 1859 at nearby Titusville. T.M. Fowler 1896 map courtesy Library of Congress.

Fowler was one of the most prolific of the bird’s-eye view artists who crisscrossed the country during the latter three decades of the 19th century and early 20th century, according to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. Seemingly drawn from great heights, the views were made with skillful cartographic techniques.

 petroleum history december

More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified by the Library of Congress, including this detail of the booming oil town of Sistersville, West Virginia, published in 1896.

Fowler featured many of Pennsylvania’s earliest oilfield towns, including Titusville and Oil City – along with the booming community of Sistersville in the new state of West Virginia. He traveled through Oklahoma and Texas in 1890 and 1891 similarly documenting such cities as Bartlesville, Tulsa and Wichita Falls.

Learn more in Oil Town “Aero Views.”

December 22, 1875 – Grant seeks Asphalt for Pennsylvania Avenue

President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 convinced Congress to repave Pennsylvania Avenue’s badly deteriorated plank boards with asphalt. Grant delivered to Congress a “Report of the Commissioners Created by the Act Authorizing the Repavement of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Pennsylvania Avenue being paved with asphalt in 1907.

President Grant first directed that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad bitumen in 1876. In 1907, asphalt distilled from petroleum repaved the pathway to the Capitol, above.

The project would cover 54,000 square yards. “Brooms, lutes, squeegees and tampers were used in what was a highly labor-intensive process.” With work completed in the spring of 1877, the asphalt – obtained from a naturally occurring bitumen lake found on the island of Trinidad – would last more than 10 years.

In 1907, the road to the Capitol was repaved again with a superior asphalt made with petroleum from U.S. oilfields. By 2005, the Federal Highway Administration reported that more than 2.6 million miles of America’s roads are paved.

Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way.

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December 22, 1903 – Carl Baker patents Cable-Tool Bit

Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker of Coalinga, California, patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.

“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” noted a Baker-Hughes historian in 2007. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”

december petroleum history

Baker Tools Company founder R.C. “Carl” Baker in 1919.

Coalinga would become a petroleum boom town thanks to Baker’s leadership, according to the town’s museum. He helped establish several oil companies, a bank, and the local power company. After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, he added another technological innovation in 1907 by patenting the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through the well.

 

By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga in a building that today houses the R.C. Baker Museum. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, but “he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems.”

Learn more in Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.

December 22, 1975 – Strategic Petroleum Reserve established

President Gerald R. Ford established the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve by signing the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. With a capacity of 713.5 million barrels of oil in 2018, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world. SPR storage sites include five salt domes on the Gulf Coast.

In addition to SPR, the Energy Department has maintained a northeast home heating oil reserve of one million barrels for homes and businesses and a one million barrel supply of gasoline.

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December 23, 1943 – Oilfield found in Mississippi

Gulf Oil Company discovered a new Mississippi oilfield at Heidelberg in Jasper County. The company’s surveyors had recognized the geological potential of the area southeast of Jackson as early as 1929, and Gulf Oil used newly developed seismography methods and core drilling technologies to look for oil-bearing formations. The 1943 discovery well revealed one of the state’s largest oilfields since the first Mississippi oil well of 1939.

December 24, 1997 – Top Holiday Film includes Novelty Oil Product

The TNT network began airing “24 Hours of A Christmas Story,” an annual marathon of the small independent film made in 1983. The circa 1940 movie’s popularity — and merchandise sales — led to more marathons on TBS. In addition to the plastic leg-lamp with black nylon polymer stocking, another petroleum product  is featured — a waxy novelty candy.

Ralphie's fangs are a petroleum product in A Christmas Story.

Set in 1940, “A Christmas Story” featured Ralphie, his 4th-grade classmates – and an unusual petroleum product. Photos courtesy MGM Home Entertainment.

Paraffin makes its appearance when Ralphie Parker and his fourth-grade classmates smuggle Wax Fangs into class. An older generation may recall the peculiar disintegrating flavor of Wax Lips, Wax Moustaches, and Wax Bottles. Few realize the candy started in the oilfield — as did another oilfield paraffin product, Crayola Crayons.

Learn more in the Oleaginous History of Wax Lips.

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Recommended Reading:  Bird’s Eye Views: Historic Lithographs of North American Cities (1998); Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (1994); History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); How Sweet It Is (and Was): The History of Candy (2003); Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist (1994). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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This Week in Petroleum History, December 12 to December 18

December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears – 

“The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” proclaimed the monthly journal Horseless Age.

1902 Porsche used a gas engine to generate electricity

An early hybrid, this 1902 Porsche used a gas engine to generate electricity to power motors mounted on the front wheel hubs.

The magazine, first published in 1895, described early motor technologies, including the use of compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam, and diesel power — as well as hybrids. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, December 5 to December 11

December 7, 1905 – Helium discovered in Natural Gas – 

University of Kansas professors Hamilton Cady and David McFarland revealed the importance of natural gas for producing helium when they discovered significant amounts of helium in a well drilled near Dexter, Kansas. Helium was considered a key strategic resource at the time.

Professor Hamilton Cady with instruments at his desk at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Professor Hamilton Cady in 1905 discovered helium could be extracted from natural gas from a well in Dexter, Kansas. Photo courtesy American Chemical Society.

Two years earlier, the Gas, Oil and Developing Company had drilled a well at Dexter (45 miles southeast of Wichita) that produced “a howling gasser” from a depth of just 560 feet deep. The town envisioned a prosperous future attracting new industries — until it was learned the gas would not burn.

After experiments found helium’s association with natural gas, the scientists predicted the element would no longer be rare, “but a common element, existing in goodly quantity for uses that are yet to be found for it.”

The Dexter well produced “The Gas That Wouldn’t Burn,” but it led to scientific advances and a multi-million dollar industry, according to the American Chemical Society, which in 2000 designated the “Discovery of Helium in Natural Gas at the University of Kansas” a national historic chemical landmark.

Learn more in Kansas “Wind Gas” Well.

December 8, 1931 – Advanced Blowout Preventer patented

Improving upon the success of Cameron Iron Works’ mechanically operated ram-type blowout preventer, James S. Abercrombie patented a “Fluid Pressure Operated Blow Out Preventer” designed to be operate “instantaneously to prevent a blowout when an emergency arises.” 

Following the success of the first ram-type blowout preventer (BOP) in 1922, the company’s machine shop in Humble, Texas, manufactured the latest rapidly reacting device in time for discoveries in the Oklahoma City oilfield.

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December 9, 1921 – Scientists discover Anti-Knock Properties of Leaded Gas

Working for General Motors, scientists Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discovered the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead. They had spent years examining properties of knock suppressors such as bromine and iodine, but when tetraethyl lead (diluted to a ratio of one part per thousand) was added to gasoline of a one-cylinder engine, the knocking abruptly disappeared.

Public health concerns would lead to phase-out of tetraethyl lead in gasoline.

GM’s leaded compound went on sale for the first time on February 2, 1923, at a service station in Dayton, Ohio. High-octane leaded gas would prove vital during World War II — even as concerns about tetraethyl lead’s serious health dangers continued to grow. These concerns resulted in its phase-out for use in cars beginning in 1976. Tetraethyl lead has continued to be used in aviation fuel.

Learn more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas.

December 9, 1924 – Oklahoma Oil Boom at Seminole 

A new Oklahoma drilling boom began in the Seminole area following discovery of a giant oilfield. The Amerada Petroleum Company well uncovered the Bethel field and a prolific (and highly pressurized) oil-producing zone, the Wilcox sand. In 1923, independent producer Joe Cromwell had discovered a Seminole oilfield with a well producing from a depth of about 3,500 feet. In 1926, yet another discovery well opened the Earlsboro field, which was followed a few days days later by a well producing 1,100 barrels of oil a day from the Seminole City field (see Seminole Oil Boom).

December 10, 1844 – Pennsylvania couple adopt future “Coal Oil Johnny”

A baby who would grow up to become famously known as “Coal Oil Johnny” was adopted by Culbertson and Sarah McClintock. John Steele was brought home to the McClintock farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.

petroleum history december

John Washington Steele

The petroleum drilling boom prompted by Edwin L. Drake’s discovery 15 years later — America’s first commercial oil well — would lead to the widow McClintock making a fortune in oil royalties. She left the money to Johnny when she died in 1864. At age 20, he inherited $24,500 and $2,800 a day in royalties.

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele earned his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that the New York Times later reported: “In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known…he threw away $3 million ($50 million in 2021 dollars) in less than a year.”

Learn more in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.

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January 10, 1870 – Rockefeller incorporates Standard Oil Company

John D. Rockefeller and five partners formed the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio. The new oil and refining company immediately focused on efficiency and growth. Instead of buying oil barrels, it bought tracts of oak timber, hauled the dried timber to Cleveland on its own wagons, and built the barrels in its own cooperage.

By purchasing properties through subsidiaries and using local price-cutting, Standard Oil captured 90 percent of America’s refining capacity. Standard’s cost per wooden barrel dropped from $3 to less than $1.50. The company’s improved refineries extracted more kerosene per barrel of oil (there was no market for gasoline). Also see History of the 42-Gallon Oil Barrel.

December 10, 1955 – LIFE magazine features Stella Dysart’s Uranium Well

Mrs. Stella Dysart spent decades fruitlessly searching for oil in New Mexico. Some questionable business dealings led to bankruptcy in the late 1930s, but in 1955, a radioactive uranium sample from one of her failed oil wells made her a very wealthy woman.

LIFE magazine featured Stella Dysart in December 1955.

LIFE magazine featured Stella Dysart in December 1955.

Dysart was 78 years old when LIFE magazine featured her picture with the caption: “Wealthy landowner, Mrs. Stella Dysart, stands before an abandoned oil rig which she set up on her property in a long vain search for oil. Now uranium is being mined there and Mrs. Dysart, swathed in mink, gets a plump royalty.”

Just three years before the article, Dysart had been $25,000 in debt when cuttings from one of her “dusters” in McKinley County registered strong Geiger counter readings. Test wells confirmed that she owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore.

Learn more in Mrs. Dysart’s Uranium Well.

December 10, 1967 – Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear Fracturing

Government scientists detonated a 29-kiloton nuclear warhead in a natural gas well about 60 miles east of Farmington, New Mexico. It was “fracking” late 1960s style, designed to test the feasibility of using nuclear explosions to stimulate release of gas trapped in shale deposits.

Scientists in December 1967 lowered a 29-kiloton nuclear device into a New Mexico gas well.

Scientists in December 1967 lowered a 29-kiloton nuclear device into a New Mexico gas well. Phot courtesy Department of Energy.

Project Gasbuggy included experts from the Atomic Energy Commission, the Bureau of Mines, and El Paso Natural Gas Company. Near three low-production natural gas wells, the team drilled to a depth of 4,240 feet and lowered a 13-foot by 18-inch diameter nuclear device into the borehole.

The experimental explosion was part a series of federal projects known as “Plowshare,” created in the late 1950s to explore peaceful uses of nuclear devices.

Gasbuggy’s downhole detonation created a molten glass-lined cavern 160 feet wide and 333 feet tall that collapsed within seconds. The well produced 295 million cubic feet of natural gas, but the gas was radioactive and useless.

Learn more in Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear “Fracking.”

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December 11, 1950 – Federal Offshore grows beyond Cannon Shot

After decades of controversy and a 1947 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the federal government’s “paramount rights” offshore were established beyond a three nautical mile limit – the 18th century precedent based on the theoretical maximum range of smooth-bore cannon. The court issued a supplemental decree that prohibited any further offshore development without federal approval. 

The first Outer Continental Shelf lease sale held by the Bureau of Land Management in 1954 earned the government almost $130 million.

Learn more in Offshore Petroleum History.

December 11, 1972 – Geologist walks on Moon

Astronaut and geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt stepped on the moon, joining  Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene Cernan. Lunar experiments included a surface gravimeter to measure buried geological structures near the landing site. Schmitt also returned with the largest lunar sample ever collected.

Geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt examines a boulder on moon.

Geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt examined a boulder at the Apollo 17 Taurus-Littrow Valley lunar landing site in December 1972. Photo courtesy NASA.

Schmitt, who had received a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard in 1964, was the first and last scientist on the moon, Cernan explained in a 2007 NASA oral history project. When Cernan followed Schmitt back into the Lunar Module on December 14, 1972, he and the lunar geologist were the last of 12 men who ever walked on the moon.

All of the Apollo moon launches (and modern SpaceX rockets) have been fueled by the 19th century petroleum product kerosene.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society promotional ad.

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Recommended Reading: Helium: Its Creation, Discovery, History, Production, Properties and Uses (2022); The Legend of Coal Oil Johnny (2007); Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America (2012); Stella Dysart of Ambrosia Lake: Courage, Fortitude and Uranium in New Mexico (1959); Apollo and America’s Moon Landing Program: Apollo 17 Technical Crew Debriefing (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 annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, November 28 to December 4

November 28, 1895 – Inventor Duryea wins First U.S. Auto Race – 

Six of America’s first “motor cars” left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back through the snow. Inventor J. Frank Duryea received $2,000 for winning the first U.S. auto race. His No. 5 automobile took just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 mph.

J. Frank Duryea in his gas-powered automobile.

J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles invented America’s first gas-powered automobile. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, also awarded $500 for a racing enthusiast’s “motocycle.” The newspaper added: “Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.” Within five years, New York City would host the first U.S. auto show.

November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well

While drilling for natural gas, William Mills discovered small amounts of oil in eastern Kansas. He took a sample from his Norman No. 1 well and visited experienced oil drillers in Pennsylvania. Impressed, they convinced him to “shoot” the well at Neodesha with 30 quarts of nitroglycerine.

Rare photo of 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas.

A rare photograph of the 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

The Kansas discovery well would later be called the first oil commercial discovery west of the Mississippi River. “It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard,” according to Neodesha’s Norman No. 1 Historic Oil Well and Museum.

Just 832 feet deep, the discovery well uncovered the vast Mid-Continent producing region, eventually including five states. Abandoned in 1919, the discovery well was neglected until 1961, when a replica 67-foot wooden derrick was erected on the site as a memorial.

Learn more in First Kansas Oil Well.

November 29, 1927 – Patent awarded for Coin-Operated Gas Pump – 

Lewis P. Starkey, of Fort Collins, Colorado, received a U.S. patent for his “Self Operating Filling Station,” an electrically powered coin-operated device for dispensing gasoline. The L.P. Starkey Pump Company competed with other manufacturers of automatic pumps that did not need an attendant.

Earlier self-service “gasoline slot machines” had required motorists to insert a coin into a slot and turn a crank.

Detail from the improved coin-operated gasoline pump patented in November 1927 by Lewis P Starkey of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Detail from the “Self-Operating Filling Station,” patented by Lewis Starkey of Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1927.

The L.P. Starkey Pump Company would be acquired by Gas-O-Mat Inc. of Denver, which produced two models of Starkey’s coin-operated pumps.

Learn more in Coin-Operated Gas Pumps.

December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth arrives at Famous Boom Town  

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania, America’s first famously notorious oil boom town. A January 1865 oilfield discovery had launched the drilling frenzy that created Pithole, which within a year had 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania.

Portrait of actress Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Star of the stage in boom town Pithole, Pennsylvania, Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Bridges appeared at Murphy’s Theater, the biggest building in a town of more than 30,000 teamsters, coopers, lease-traders, roughnecks, and merchants. Three-stories high, the building included 1,100 seats, a 40-foot stage, an orchestra, and chandelier lighting by Tiffany.

Bridges was the acclaimed darling of the Pithole stage. Eight months after she departed for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil ran out; the most famous U.S. boom town collapsed into empty streets and abandoned buildings. Today, visitors can walk the grass streets of the historic ghost town.

Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized

With almost 1.5 million acres of Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry Foster organized the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company by combining the Phoenix Oil Company and Osage Oil Company. The lease provided the Osage with a 10 percent royalty on oil produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleased drilling to 75 different companies, but only 30 wells were drilled in 1903.

Although debt would drive the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership, the company emerged thanks to partnering with Theodore Barnsdall, who helped Foster complete 361 oil and gas wells by the end of 1904. Foster became known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi” and Barnsdall’s interests were sold to a Cities Service Company subsidiary for $40 million in 1912.

Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well

December 1, 1913 – First U.S. Drive-In Service Station opens in Pittsburgh

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold when Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, the purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stood nearby. The service station’s lighted marquee provided shelter from bad weather.

Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh photo of Gulf Refining Company first gas service station in 1913.

Gulf Refining Company opened the first service station (above) in 1913 on “automobile row,” Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy Gulf Oil Historical Society.

“On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. On its first Saturday, Gulf’s new service station pumped 350 gallons of gasoline,” according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. “Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.”

When the station was opened in 1913, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the many dealerships located along the thoroughfare. In addition to gas, the Gulf station provided free air and water — and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States.

Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

December 1, 1960 – Lucy’s Broadway Oil Musical

Lucille Ball debuted in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics loved Lucy — but hated the show. She played the penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find an oil gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912.

Stereo album cover of Lucille Ball in 1960 Broadway play "Wildcat."

Oil gushers featured on album cover of 1960 Broadway musical “Wildcat.”

“Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” proclaimed a New York Times critic. Although some audiences appreciated a rare oil patch musical, after 171 performances, the show closed.

December 2, 1942 – Roosevelt centralizes Petroleum Management for War Effort

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established by executive order the Petroleum Administration for War, “for the successful prosecution of the war and other essential purposes.” The program had begun in June 1941, when petroleum industry leaders were invited to Washington to meet with Secretary of Interior Harold L. Ickes, head of the newly created Office of Petroleum Coordinator for National Defense.

“The oilmen, most of whom later acknowledged that they had been fearful of some new and far-reaching measures of Federal control, were told by the Coordinator and the Deputy Coordinator that all that was wanted of them was cooperation in what was then a vast and growing national defense effort, later to become a prodigious war job,” noted editors of the 2005 book, History of the Petroleum Administration for War, 1941-1945. Roosevelt ended the Petroleum Administration for War in May 1946.

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December 2, 2001 – Enron Corporation files for Bankruptcy

Enron, once the world’s largest energy-trading company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, beginning one of the largest corporate scandals in U.S. history. The Houston-based company had reached a market value of almost $70 billion before it collapsed, causing thousands of employees to lose their jobs and more than $2 billion in pensions.

In 2006, former Enron Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay and former Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Skilling were tried in federal district court. The jury convicted both executives of multiple counts of securities and wire fraud. New state and federal accounting regulations resulted from the scandal.

December 2, 1970 – Nixon establishes Environmental Protection Agency

Eleven months after the 1969 offshore platform oil spill at Santa Barbara, California, President Richard M. Nixon established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Logo of EPA, founded in 1970.

The new agency consolidated “a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.” Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus was named the agency’s first administrator.

According to an EPA history, newly proposed environmental initiatives included improvement of water treatment facilities; creation of national air quality standards; stringent guidelines to lower motor vehicle emissions; a clean-up of federal facilities; tightening of safeguards on the seaborne transportation of oil; and a proposed tax on lead additives in gasoline.

December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography

Following successful tests in the early 1920s, reflection seismic technology was first used to find oil. The Amerada Petroleum Corporation drilled a well into the Viola limestone formation near Seminole, Oklahoma.

Illustration of oil search using seismic reflection method.

Seismic reflections help identify geologic formations.

The exploratory well resulted in the world’s first oil discovery in a geological structure that had been identified by reflection survey. Others soon followed as the technology revealed dozens of mid-continent oilfields.

Conducted by Amerada Petroleum subsidiary Geophysical Research, the new exploration method resulted from experiments by an academic team led by Professor John C. Karcher of the University of Oklahoma. Reflection seismography — seismic surveying — applied techniques from weapons research. During World War I, Allied scientists developed portable equipment that used seismic reflections to locate sources of enemy artillery fire.

Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

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December 4, 1928 – Oklahoma City Oilfield discovered

Henry Foster’s Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company and Foster Petroleum Corporation completed the Oklahoma City No. 1 well, discovery well for the Oklahoma City oilfield. Oil exploration companies had searched for decades before this successful well just south of the city limits.

Derricks at the capitol building in the Oklahoma City oilfield in the 1930s.

The Oklahoma City oilfield would bring stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The 6,335-foot-deep wildcat well produced 110,000 barrels of oil in its first 27 days, causing a rush of development that extended the field northward toward the capitol building. Drilling reached the city limits in May 1930, prompting the city council to pass ordinances limiting drilling to the southeast part of the city and allowing only one well per city block.

By 1932, with about 870 producing wells completed, the Oklahoma City oilfield’s production peaked at 67 million barrels. “From such a beginning the sprawling Oklahoma City oil and natural gas field will become one of world’s major oil-producing areas,” noted a state historical marker erected in 1980. Already known as Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, Thomas B. Slick found more oil in the field.

However, when the prolific Wilcox sands produced another geyser in 1930, the column of oil could not be contained. Oklahoma City’s oilfield made headlines as the World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.”

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Recommended Reading: America’s First Automobile: The First Complete Account By Mr. J. Frank Duryea Of How He Developed The First American Automobile, 1892-1893 (2012); The fire in the rock: A history of the oil and gas industry in Kansas, 1855-1976 (1976); Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2000); Fill’er Up!: The Great American Gas Station (2013); History of the Petroleum Administration for War, 1941-1945 (2005); The Oklahoma City Oil Field in Pictures (2005). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, November 21 to November 27

November 21, 1925 – Magnolia Petroleum incorporates – 

Formerly an unincorporated joint-stock association with roots dating to an 1889 refinery in Corsicana, Texas, Magnolia Petroleum Company incorporated. The original association had sold many grades of refined petroleum products through more than 500 service stations in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Magnolene Motor Oils logo for Magnolia Petroleum Company gas stations

Magnolia Petroleum operated gas stations throughout the Southeast.

Within a month of the new company’s founding, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil of New York (Socony) purchased most of Magnolia Petroleum’s assets and operated it as a subsidiary. Magnolia Oil Company merged with the Socony Mobile Oil Company in 1959 and adopted the red Pegasus logo, which replaced the magnolia logo at gas stations (see Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark). Magnolia Petroleum assets were part of 1999 merger that created today’s ExxonMobil.

November 21, 1980 – Millions watch “Dallas” Episode Who shot J.R

The cliffhanger episode “Who shot J.R.?” on the prime-time soap opera “Dallas” was watched by 83 million people in the United States and 350 million worldwide, according to History.com. The CBS show, which debuted in 1978, revolved around two Texas oil families and featured Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, “the character fans loved to hate.” His portrayal of a “greedy, conniving, womanizing scoundrel” and the business dealings of Ewing Oil Company would stereotype the Texas petroleum industry for 14 seasons.

November 22, 1878 –  Tidewater Pipe Company established

Byron Benson organized the Tidewater Pipe Company in Pennsylvania. In 1879 his company would build the first oil pipeline to cross the Alleghenies from Coryville to the Philadelphia Reading Railroad 109 miles away in Williamsport. This technological achievement was considered by many as the first true oil pipeline in America, if not the world.

Illustration of workers and pipes for the 109-mile Tidewater oil pipeline in 1898.

Despite protests from teamsters, a 109-mile oil pipeline revolutionized oil transportation. Photo courtesy explorepahistory.com.

The difficult work — much of it done in winter using sleds to move pipe sections — bypassed Standard Oil Company’s dominance in transporting petroleum. Tidewater made an arrangement with Reading Railroad to haul the oil in tank cars to Philadelphia and New York. In 1879, about 250 barrels of oil from the Bradford field was pumped across the mountains and into Williamsport.

More than 80 percent of America’s oil soon would come from Pennsylvania oilfields, according to Floyd Hartman Jr. in a 2009 article, “Birth of Coryville’s Tidewater Pipe Line.”

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November 22, 1905 – Glenn Pool Field discovered in Indian Territory

Two years before Oklahoma statehood, the Glenn Pool (or Glenpool) oilfield was discovered in the Creek Indian Reservation south of Tulsa. The greatest oilfield in America at the time, it would help make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.” Many prominent oil producers, including Harry Sinclair and J. Paul Getty, got their start during the Glenn Pool boom.

Oil derrick monument in Glenpool, Oklahoma.

An oilfield pioneers monument was dedicated in April 2008 at Glenpool, Oklahoma. Photo by Bruce Wells.

With production exceeding 120,000 barrels of oil a day, Glenn Pool exceeded Tulsa County’s earlier Red Fork GusherThe giant oilfield even exceeded production from Spindletop Hill in Texas four years earlier. The Ida Glenn No. 1 well, drilled to about 1,500 feet deep, led to more prolific wells in the 12-square-mile Glenn Pool.

By the time of statehood in 1907, Tulsa area oilfields made Oklahoma the biggest U.S. oil producing state. Advances in enhanced recovery technologies later added to the region’s productivity. Glenpool residents proudly celebrate their petroleum heritage with “Black Gold Days;” the 44th annual festival took place October 20-23, 2022, in Black Gold Park.

November 22, 2003 – Smithsonian Museum opens Transportation Hall

A permanent exhibit about U.S. transportation history opened at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. “Get your kicks on 40 feet of Route 66,” the Smithsonian exhibit noted on opening day of the $22 million renovation of the museum’s Hall of Transportation.

Route 66 exhibit in Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Opened in 2003 after a $22 million renovation, the Transportation Hall of the National Museum of American History exhibits 340 historic objects in 26,000 square feet. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The hall was designed to let visitors “travel back in time and experience transportation as it changed America.” Opening day exhibits included 340 objects and 19 historic settings in chronological order. At the same museum in 1967, the Smithsonian’s “Hall of Petroleum” devoted an entire wing to drilling rigs, pipelines, and pump jacks.

Learn more in America on the Move.

November 23, 1951 – Superman and the World’s Deepest Oil Well 

Public fear of the risk of drilling wells too deep highlighted the theatrical release of Superman’s first feature length movie, “Superman and the Mole Men.” The 1951 plot unfolded in the fictional town of Silsbey, “Home of the World’s Deepest Oil Well,” after an experimental well’s drill bit had “broken into clear air” at a depth of 32,742 feet.

Superman and the Mole Men poster with oil well.

Mole men emerge from an experimental oil well drilled more than six miles deep.

“Good heavens, that’s practically to the center of the earth!” exclaimed Lois Lane (in fact, the deepest U.S. well in 1951 reached 20,521 feet). When mole-men emerged from the well, townspeople feared an invasion. Superman would calm an angry mob.  At the end of the movie, the well ignited in flames, forever closing the connection between the two worlds.

Learn about a real six-mile-deep well in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

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November 23, 1947 – World’s First LPG Ship

The first U.S. seagoing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) ship went into service as Warren Petroleum Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, sent the Natalie O. Warren from the Houston Ship Channel to Newark, New Jersey. The vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks.

first U.S. seagoing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) ship.

The first vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks.

The one-of-a-kind ship was the former Cape Diamond dry-cargo freighter, converted by the Bethlehem Steelyard in Beaumont, Texas. The experimental design would lead to new maritime construction standards for such vessels. Warren Petroleum was the largest producer and marketer of natural gasoline and propane in the world by the early 1950s, according to an exhibit at the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. LPG tankers today carry 20 times the capacity of the early vessels.

November 25, 1875 – Continental Oil brings Kerosene to the West

Convinced that he could profit by purchasing bulk kerosene in cheaper eastern markets, Isaac Blake formed the Continental Oil and Transportation Company. He soon transported Ohio kerosene to Ogden, Utah, for distribution.

petroleum history november

Conoco began in 1875 as Continental Oil, delivering kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah.

Continental purchased two railroad tank cars — the first to be used west of the Mississippi River — and began shipping kerosene from a Cleveland refinery. The company grew, expanding into Colorado in 1876 and California in 1877. Standard Oil Company absorbed Continental Oil in 1885.

Following the 1911 breakup of Standard, Continental Oil reemerged as Conoco; it became ConocoPhillips in 2002. Learn more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

November 27, 1940 – Art Museum features Painting of Mobilgas Station

With petroleum company service stations already part of America’s popular culture, Edward Hopper’s painting “Gas” was first exhibited by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Art critics praised the work, suggesting the painting with the Pegasus sign anticipated the modern Pop Art movement by more than a decade.

Edward Hopper oil on canvas painting "Gas."

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) oil on canvas painting “Gas” of 1940. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

According to Hopper’s wife, the image of a Mobilgas station at the end of a highway was an amalgamation of several gas stations near their home in Truro, Massachusetts. The painting is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

See other examples of petroleum’s artistic influence in Oil In Art.

November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies

Mrs. Emma Summers, once known as the “Oil Queen of California” died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles. Forty years earlier, the San Francisco Call newspaper described Mrs. Summers as “A woman with a genius for affairs — it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. if Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”

California Oil Queens featured in newspaper in early 1900s.

Newspapers featured Emma Summers as she succeeded in the fiercely competitive Los Angeles oilfields of the early 1900s.

Summers graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano — but soon caught oil fever. With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field just a year before, Summers invested $700 for half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s. Summers’ first 14 wells produced oil, helping launch her dominance in the Los Angeles City oilfield.

Learn more about this remarkable woman in Oil Queen of California.

November 27, 1923 – Standard Oil registers “Esso” Trademark

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey registered the “Esso” trademark, which had been in use since May 1923 for refined, semi-refined, and unrefined petroleum products. The name was a phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” for Standard Oil.

A young Theodore Geisell created many Essolube ads beginning in the 1930s (see Seuss I am, an Oilman). When Standard Oil renamed itself Exxon in 1973, the company adopted the Exxon trademark nationwide. The Esso name, acquired by BP through various mergers, has remained in use in other countries.

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Recommended Reading: Magnolia Oil News Magazine (January 1930); Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); Glenn Pool…and a little oil town of yesteryear (1978); The American Highway: The History and Culture of Roads in the United States (2000); Los Angeles, California, Images of America (2001);Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, November 14 to November 20

November 14, 1947 – First Oil Well drilled Out of Sight of Land – 

The modern offshore oil and natural gas industry began in the Gulf of Mexico with the first oil well successfully completed out of sight of land. Brown & Root Company built the experimental freestanding platform 10 miles offshore for Kerr-McGee and partners Phillips Petroleum and Stanolind. The platform, Kermac 16, was designed to withstand winds as high as 125 miles per hour.

With $450,000 invested, Kerr-McGee completed the offshore well, which produced 960 barrels of oil a day in about 20 feet of water off Louisiana’s gradually sloping Gulf of Mexico coast.

Kermac 16 platform featured in a 1954 Bell Helicopter ad.

The Kermac 16 platform was featured in a 1954 Bell Helicopter advertisement encouraging use of helicopters for offshore transportation.

Kerr-McGee had purchased World War II surplus utility freighters and materials to provide supplies, equipment, and crew quarters for the drilling site at Ship Shoal Block 32. Sixteen 24-inch pilings were sunk 104 feet into the ocean floor to secure the 2,700 square foot wooden deck. The platform successfully withstood several 1947 hurricanes and intense tropical storms.

Learn more about offshore pioneers and technology in Offshore Drilling History.

November 14, 1947 – WW II “Big Inch” Pipelines sold for $143 Million

Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, a company established 11 months earlier to acquire the World War II surplus 24-inch “Big Inch” and 20-inch “Little Big Inch” pipelines, won them with a winning bid of $143,127,000. It was the largest sale of the war’s surplus material to the private sector.

By the 1950s, Texas Eastern Transmission had converted both oil products pipelines to natural gas, which was needed for the Appalachian region. By the 2000s, transmission would become bi-directional for carrying natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale to mid-west markets. The Big Inch and Little Big Inch pipelines today are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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November 15, 1906 – Justice Department seeks Breakup of Standard Oil

U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte filed suit to compel dissolution of the Standard Oil of New Jersey. Despite an 1892 court decision ordering the Standard Oil Trust to be dissolved, John D. Rockefeller had reorganized it and continued to operate from New York. The Justice Department would win this latest suit, but Standard Oil appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s decision on May 15, 1911, and mandated dissolution of Standard Oil into 34 separate companies.

November 15, 1952 – Williston Basin produces Millionth Barrel of Oil 

The Williston Basin produced its millionth barrel of oil, which came from five fields in three counties in North Dakota. By the end of 1952, monthly production would reach 356,000 barrels of oil. “Oil was first found in the Williston Basin along the Cedar Creek Anticline in southeastern Montana, in the 1920s,” noted the North Dakota Geological Survey in 1988.

The North Dakota basin did not become a major producing region until Amerada Petroleum began searching there in 1946 — found an oilfield beneath Clarence Iverson’s wheat field northeast of Williston five years later (see First North Dakota Oil Well).

November 19, 1861 – America exports Oil for First Time 

America exported petroleum for the first time when the merchant brig Elizabeth Watts departed the Port of Philadelphia for Great Britain. The Union vessel arrived in London 45 days later carrying a cargo of 901 barrels of Pennsylvania oil and 428 barrels of refined kerosene.

A merchant brig with barrels at Port of Philadelphia circa 1870.

A merchant brig set sail from Philadelphia in 1861 with a cargo of Pennsylvania oil and refined kerosene. Photo of vinegar barrels at Massachusetts port in 1870, courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The shippers were the successful Philadelphia import-export firm of Peter Wright & Sons, which since its founding in 1818 had prospered transporting glass, porcelain and queensware china. The company hired the Elizabeth Watts to ship the petroleum to three British companies. On January 9, 1862, the brig  sailed down the Thames River to arrive at London, where it took 12 days to unload the 1,329 barrels of oil and kerosene.

Learn more in America exports Oil.

November 19, 1927 – Phillips Petroleum introduces “Phillips 66” Gasoline

After a decade as an exploration and production company, Phillips Petroleum entered the business of refining and retail gasoline distribution. The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, company introduced a new line of gasoline – “Phillips 66” — at its first service station, which opened in Wichita, Kansas.

Early gasoline retail logos of the Phillips Petroleum Company.

Originally promoted as a dependable “winter gasoline,” by 1930 “Phillips 66” gasoline was marketed in 12 states.

The gasoline was named “Phillips 66” because it had propelled company officials down U.S. Highway 66 at 66 mph on the way to a meeting at their Bartlesville headquarters. The popular roadway soon became the backbone of Phillips Petroleum marketing plans for the new product, which boasted “controlled volatility,” the result of a higher-gravity mix of naphtha and gasoline.

Acquisition of service stations added 50 new retail outlets each month to the company. By 1930, Phillips 66 gasoline was sold at 6,750 outlets in 12 states. Because the composition made Phillips 66 gas easier to start in cold weather, advertisements enticed motorists to try the “New Winter Gasoline.” 

Learn more by visiting the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum, which opened in 2007 in Bartlesville.

November 20, 1866 – Improved Well Torpedo patented

Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City patented improvements to his Roberts Torpedo, a revolutionary oilfield production technology. “Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo,” noted the Titusville Morning Herald newspaper a year earlier. “The results have in many cases been astonishing.”

The Civil War Union Army veteran would receive many patents for his “Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells” method of fracturing oil-bearing formations to increase production (see  Shooters – A “Fracking” History).

November 20, 1930 – Oil Booms help Hilton expand in Texas

After buying his first hotel in the booming oil town of Cisco, Texas, Conrad Hilton opened a high-rise hotel in El Paso. While visiting Cisco in 1919, Hilton had witnessed roughnecks from the Ranger oilfield waiting for rooms. Hilton’s first hotel, the Mobley, had 40 rooms he rented for eight-hour periods to coincide with workers’ shifts.

Thanks to a series of oilfield discoveries, Hilton was firmly established in the Texas hotel business. His El Paso Hilton (now the Plaza Hotel) was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

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November 20, 1980 – Texaco Well drains Louisiana Lake

Minutes after its drilling crew evacuated, a Texaco drilling platform overturned and disappeared into a whirlpool that drained Lake Peigneur, Louisiana, in three hours. The crew had accidently penetrated a salt dome containing the mining operation of Diamond Crystal Salt Company. All 50 miners working as deep as 1,500 feet below the surface escaped with no serious injuries as the maelstrom swallowed the $5 million Texaco platform — and 11 barges holding drilling supplies.

“Texaco, who had ordered the oil probe, was aware of the salt mine’s presence and had planned accordingly; but somewhere a miscalculation had been made, which placed the drill site directly above one of the salt mine’s 80-foot-high, 50-foot-wide upper shafts,” noted a 2005 article, Lake Peigneur: The Swirling Vortex of Doom.”

Jefferson Island Mine Inundation report photo of rig sinking in lake.

Photo from a 1981 government report on Texaco’s accidental “Jefferson Island Mine Inundation” of one year earlier.

According to a 152-page government report in 1981, “Jefferson Island Mine Inundation, evidence for identifying the cause was washed away, but Texaco and drilling contractor Wilson Drilling paid $32 million to Diamond Crystal Salt Company and $12.8 million to a nearby botanical garden and plant nursery. Changed from freshwater to saltwater with a maximum depth of 200 feet, Lake Peigneur would become the deepest lake in Louisiana.

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Recommended Reading: Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (1997); Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (1993); The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016); Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum (2016); History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Be My Guest (1957); Magnolia Oil News Magazine (January 1930). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

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