This Week in Petroleum History, October 26 to November 1

October 26, 1970 – Joe Roughneck Statue dedicated in Texas – 

Texas Governor Preston Smith dedicated a “Joe Roughneck” memorial in Boonsville to mark the 20th anniversary of a giant natural gas field discovery there. In 1950, the Lone Star Gas Company Vaught No. 1 well had discovered the Boonsville field, which produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 20 years. By 2001 the Boonsville field in East Texas reached production of 3.1 trillion cubic feet of gas from 3,500 wells.

Joe Roughneck plaque and statue on oil pipe in Boonsville, Texas.

“Joe Roughneck” in Boonsville, Texas. Photo, courtesy Mike Price.

“Joe Roughneck” began as a character in Lone Star Steel Company advertising in the 1950s. A bronze bust has been awarded every year since 1955 at the annual Chief Roughneck Award ceremony of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). In addition to the Boonsville monument, Joe’s bust sits atop three different Texas oilfield monuments:  Joinerville (1957), Conroe (1957) and Kilgore (1986). Learn more in Meet Joe Roughneck.

October 27, 1763 – Birth of the “Father of American Geology”

William Maclure, who would become a renowned American geologist and “stratigrapher,” was born in Ayr, Scotland. He created the earliest geological maps of North America in 1809.

A rare 1818 geologic map of the United States by William Maclure.

“Map of the United States of America, Designed to Illustrate the Geological Memoir of Wm. Maclure, Esqr.” This 1818 version is more detailed than the first geological map he published in 1809. Image courtesy the Historic Maps Collection, Princeton Library.

After settling in the United States in 1797, Maclure explored the eastern part of North America to prepare the first geological map of the United States. His travels from Maine to Georgia in 1808 resulted in the first geological map of the new United States, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. “Here, in broad strokes, he identifies six different geological classes,” a Princeton historian reported later. “Note that the chain of the Appalachian Mountains is correctly labeled as containing the most primitive, or oldest, rock.”

When Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemist, organized the American Geological Society in 1819, Maclure was elected its first president. Most geologists consider Maclure (1763-1840) the “Father of American Geology.” In the 1850s, Silliman’s son, also a Yale chemist, analyzed samples of  Pennsylvania “rock oil” for refining into kerosene. His report led to drilling America’s first oil well in 1859.

October 27, 1923 – Lion Oil Refining Company founded in Arkansas

Lion Oil Company was founded as a refining Company in El Dorado, Arkansas, by Texan Thomas Harry Barton. He earlier had organized the El Dorado Natural Gas Company and acquired a 2,000-barrel-a-day refinery in 1922.

Lion Oil Company gas pump and truck, El Dorado, Arkansas.

Founded in 1923 in El Dorado, Arkansas, Lion Oil will operate about 2,000 service stations in the south in the 1950s. Photo courtesy Lion Oil.

Production from the nearby Smackover oilfield helped the Lion Oil Refining Company’s refining capacity grow to 10,000 barrels a day. By 1925, the company acquired oil wells producing 1.4 million barrels of oil. A merger with Monsanto Chemical in 1955 brought the gradual disappearance of the once familiar “Beauregard Lion” logo.

Lion Oil today markets petroleum products, including gasoline, low-sulfur diesel, solvents, propane and asphalt. Learn more Arkansas history in Arkansas Oil and Gas Boom Towns.

October 28, 1926 – Yates Field discovered West of the Pecos in Texas

The giant, 26,400-acre Yates oilfield was discovered in a remote area of Pecos County, Texas, in the increasingly prolific Permian Basin. Drilled in 1926 with a $15,000 cable-tool rig, the Ira Yates 1-A produced 450 barrels of oil a day from just under 1,000 feet. Prior to the discovery, Ira Yates had struggled to keep his ranch, located on the northern border of the Chihuahua Desert. “Drought and predators nearly did him in” noted one historian’s account, until Yates convinced a San Angelo company to explore for oil west of the Pecos River.

With the discovery well 30 miles from the nearest oil pipeline, a 55,000-barrel steel storage tank was under construction when four more Yates wells began yielding an additional 12,000 barrels of oil daily. Ira Yates would receive an $18 million oil royalty check on his 67th birthday. Also see Alley Oop’s Oil Roots and Santa Rita taps Permian Basin.

October 30, 1894 – “Golden Rule” Jones patents a Better Sucker Rod

Samuel Jones patented a sucker rod design for his Acme Sucker Rod Company, which he had founded in 1892 in Toledo, Ohio. With his “Coupling for Pipes or Rods,” Jones applied his oilfield experience in mechanics to solve the frequent and time-consuming problem of broken sucker rods. His sucker rod would soon make him a millionaire.

Samuel Jones oilfield sucker rod patent of 1894.

Samuel Jones had worked as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer.

Jones had worked in Pennsylvania’s oil region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer. He became known as “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio by creating a better workplace for employees at his factory, where he shortened the work day and started a revenue-sharing program for his workers. In 1887, Jones ran for Toledo mayor as a progressive Republican and was elected. He was reelected three times and served until dying on the job in 1904.

October 31, 1871 – Modern Refinery Method patented

Petroleum refining would become far more efficient thanks to an invention by Henry Rogers of Brooklyn, New York. In 1871 he patented an “apparatus for separating volatile hydrocarbons by repeated vaporization and condensation.”

Henry Rogers patent drawing for refinery process to produce kerosene.

Henry Rogers improved the refining of “lamp oil.”

Rogers introduced many elements of modern refineries, including “fractionating” towers that improved earlier processes of extracting kerosene by simple distillation in kettle stills. “The apparatus which I use is, in many respects, similar to what is known as the column-still for distilling alcoholic spirits, but modified in all the details, so as to make it available for distilling oils,” Rogers noted in his 1871 patent application.

Improved technologies would lead to massive refineries like the 1890s Standard Oil of Indiana Whiting Refinery.

October 31, 1903 – Salt-Dome Oilfield discovered in Texas

One mile north of Batson, Texas, a discovery well drilled by W.L. Douglas’ Paraffine Oil Company produced 600 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 790 feet. A second well drilled two months later produced 4,000 barrels of oil a day from 1,000 feet deep. Combined with three other recently discovered salt-dome fields, Spindletop (1901), Sour Lake (1901), and Humble (1905), “Batson helped to establish the basis of the Texas oil industry when these shallow fields gave up the first Texas Gulf Coast oil,” noted the Texas State Historical Association in 2010.

October 31, 1913 – First U.S. Highway dedicated

The Lincoln Highway, the first automobile road across America, was dedicated in 1913 with nationwide celebrations. The 3,389-mile-long roadway connected Times Square in New York City to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. Conceived in 1912 and dedicated the next year, the highway was the first national memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, predating the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial by nine years. Soon known as “The Main Street Across America,” the highway brought prosperity to the hundreds of cities and towns along the way.

October 31, 1924 – Former Olinda Oil Wells Pitcher plays Exhibition Game 

Former oilfield worker Walter “Big Train” Johnson returned to his California oil patch roots for an exhibition game with Babe Ruth in Brea, California. Ruth swatted two home runs off the future Hall of Fame pitcher. Three decades earlier, Johnson had started his baseball career as a 16-year-old pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells.

Poster for Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson 1924 baseball exhibition game.

The former star player for the Olinda Oil Wells pitched against Babe Ruth in a 1924 exhibition game in nearby Brea.

Playing for the Washington Senators, the former roustabout became major league baseball’s all-time career leader in shutouts with 110. Many oilfield towns once fielded teams with names proudly reflecting their communities’ livelihood. Learn more in Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers and Drillers Baseball Teams.

October 31, 1930 – Properties of Columbus “Dad” Joiner placed into Receivership

After it was learned 70-year-old wildcatter Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner had oversold his East Texas oilfield leases in Rusk County, District Judge R.T. Brown placed the properties into receivership.

Post card of  Baker Hotel in Dallas, circa 1930.

Columbus “Dad” Joiner, discoverer of the East Texas oilfield, met with H.L. Hunt at the Baker Hotel in Dallas and sold 5,580 acres for $1.34 million. Built in 1925, the hotel was torn down in 1980

With even the field’s discovery well, Daisy Bradford No. 3, also tied up in conflicting claims, Joiner took refuge from creditors in the Baker Hotel in Dallas, where Haroldson Lafayette (H.L.) Hunt Jr. negotiated a $1.34 million deal with him for the famous well and 5,580 acres of leases. In the 300 lawsuits and 10 years of litigation that followed, Hunt sustained every title.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

“Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio

Oilfield service company owner and future Toledo mayor in 1894 patented a “Coupling for Pipes or Rods.”

 

Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio made a fortune in oilfields, patented a sucker rod design, created a better workplace for employees at his factory, and ran on the progressive Republican ticket in 1897 to be elected mayor of Toledo.

As the country weathered an 1890s financial crisis, Jones brought a new business philosophy to Toledo. Immensely popular, he was reelected again in 1899, 1901 and 1903 – and served until dying on the job in 1904.

“Golden Rule” Jones, according to one Toledo historian, was the “best known, best liked and best hated mayor of all time who tried to govern a city by the one and only rule by which he governed his factory.” His principle was simple: “Therefore Whatsoever Ye Would That Men Should Do Unto You, Do Ye Even So Unto Them.”

portrait of Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Samuel M. Jones photo circa 1904 by Ernest Crosby, courtesy Clarence Darrow Digital Collection, University of Minnesota Law Library.

Long before his political career as a progressive reformer, Jones had worked in newly discovered Pennsylvania and Ohio oilfields. He had visited many boom towns, including the infamous Pithole (1865), before returning to Ohio to found the Acme Sucker Rod Company in 1892. Jones first earned his nickname when he posted the biblical admonition for his factory employees.

An advocate of eight-hour workdays to increase employment opportunities, Jones introduced higher wages, paid vacations, and five percent bonuses.

Lima Oilfield Discovery

Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of about 1,250 feet,” according to the Allen County Historical Society, in Lima, adding that Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company.

“The ensuing rush brought speculators who drilled hundreds of wells in the Trenton Rock (Lima) oilfield that stretched from Mercer County north through the Wood County in Ohio and west to Indiana.”Southwest of Toledo, between Findlay and Lima, the “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio had begun on May 19, 1885. A cable-tool driller looking for natural gas found oil instead. Benjamin Faurot’s discovery revealed the Lima oilfield, soon to be the largest in the world.

By 1886, the Lima field was the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it became to most productive worldwide.

Lima Ohio postcard with oil gusher

Following an 1885 discovery well, a circa 1909 post card promoted petroleum prosperity in Lima, Ohio.

“The great enterprise of piping oil from the Lima fields to Chicago manufacturing establishments is now, in this year of 1888, being undertaken by the Standard Oil Company, who practically control all the oil territory around Lima,” noted one reporter at the time.

“Production from the Ohio portion of the Lima-Indiana field reached its peak in 1896, when more than 20 million barrels were brought out of the ground,”  later noted the county historical society. An innovative pipeline would be stretch 210 miles as Lima oil illuminated the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which attracted 27.5 million visitors.

Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Benjamin Faurot’s 1885 oil well at the Ottawa River discovered the Lima oilfield after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation. Photo courtesy the Ohio Historical Society.

“Though short-lived, the oil rush brought an influx of people, pipelines, refineries, and businesses, giving a powerful impetus to the growth of northwest Ohio,” concluded the Allen County Historical Society, which in 2006 placed a Faurot historical marker near the oil well in Lima. Among those attracted to Lima’s oil boom was the progressive employer and future mayor of Toledo.

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans were bewildered when the stock market suddenly plummeted, Wall Street brokerage houses collapsed, and more than 500 banks and mortgage companies failed. Jobs evaporated as 15,000 businesses went bankrupt, foreclosures rose and nationwide joblessness reached 10 percent. “Hundreds of thousands of men thrown out of employment,” reported New York’s Commercial and Financial Chronicle. It was 1893.

 Faurot oil well historical marker in Lima, Ohio.

In 2006, the Ohio Historical Society dedicated a Faurot oil well marker at 835 East North Street in Lima.

According to historian Richard Timberlake Jr., the “Panic of 1893” was a serious economic depression in the United States. Like a similar nationwide financial collapse two decades earlier, it was marked by the overbuilding and shaky financing of railroads, resulting in a series of bank failures.

Against this dismal backdrop, the 47-year-old Jones returned from the Pennsylvania oil patch and opened his Toledo sucker rod business in an abandoned factory on Segur Avenue. Jones will be remembered as Toledo’s mayor who brought his town a renewed sense of community and reform as the late 19th century’s “Gilded Age” came to its abrupt end.

Jones catches Pennsylvania Oil Fever 

Workers pose at Acme Sucker Rod Company building.

Among those who rushed to the Ohio oil boom, Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones founded the Acme Sucker Rod Company in 1892. Photo courtesy Bowling Green State University Archives.

Born in Wales in 1846, Samuel Jones was in Ohio by age 19 and had four years experience as a “greaser and wiper” on the stern-wheeler L.R. Lyon. He got oil fever in 1865 when he abandoned his ambition to become a Ohio steamboat engineer after his boss told him about neighboring Pennsylvania’s booming oilfields. “Sammy, you are a fool to spend your time on these steamboats. You should go to the oil regions,” his boss told him, adding, “You can make $4 a day there.”

Jones followed the advice and his experience with steam boilers eventually landed him a job with the St. Louis & Pithole Petroleum Company – in the notorious Pithole boom town. Discovered in January 1865, the Pithole Creek field created a massive oil boom town for the young petroleum industry, which began in nearby Titusville in 1859.

“Golden Rule” Jones

Jones’ progressive ideals remain popular. Photo courtesy of Jupmode, Toledo, Ohio.

Many Civil War veterans wanted jobs, others wanted to make a fortune quickly after having spent long months on army pay. Hundreds of newly organized companies were ready to lease or buy land wherever there was even a promise of oil. Pithole was as legendary for its wickedness as it is for its rapid rise and fall. Jones’ Calvinist upbringing and 12 hour shifts in the oilfield left him little time for the boom town’s debauchery. Jones’ working experience with Pithole’s squalor and desperation left an indelible mark. His empathy for working men remained with him forever.

St. Louis & Pithole Petroleum failed within weeks of Jones being hired and he again found himself looking for work. He spent a year and a half working in northwestern Pennsylvania’s petroleum region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer. But Jones — like countless others at the time — lost his meager savings when he bought a one-sixteenth interest in a wildcat well that came up dry. Staying in Pennsylvania, Jones eventually settled in Pleasantville, about a dozen miles from Titusville. He spent five years working alongside other oil patch laborers in Parker’s Landing oilfield.

Finally, a successful $700 investment in western Clarion County oil leases brought Jones a measure of success. By 1878, he was able to secure more good leases in the prolific Bradford field. Jones was 32 years old. Eight years later, he followed oil discoveries to Lima.

Good Fortune in Ohio Oilfields

Jones invested in a Lima oilfield well that produced with an initial flow of 700 barrels of oil a day. In the first three months, his well flowed over 14,000 barrels – with Standard Oil buying all production at 40 cents per barrel. Jones and other independents resisted Standard Oil’s growing monopoly by forming the Ohio Oil Company – today’s Marathon. He became very wealthy when he left the company when Standard took it over two years later. The Panic of 1893 began just before Jones claimed his first patent.

With his “Coupling for Pipes or Rods,” Jones applied his almost 40 years experience in oil industry mechanics to solve the frequent and time-consuming problem of broken sucker rods, which push and pull a down-hole pump to bring up the oil. The design was a great innovation. It soon would make Jones a millionaire, create jobs, and establish the Acme Sucker Rod Company factory in Toledo. But as the financial panic worsened, Jones was appalled by the long lines of unemployed and the threats of dismissal that punctuated many factories “string of rules a yard long.”

Samuel M. Jones coupling patent drawing 1894

Prior to patenting his sucker rod design in 1894, Samuel Jones worked Pennsylvania’s oil region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer.


Alternately labelled as progressive, eccentric, socialist, independent, and anti-capitalist, Jones looked out for workers in an age of big business. On his factory’s entrance he posted, “Every Man who is WILLING to work, Has a Right to Live. Divide the Day and Give Him a Chance.” This and his shortening of the work day only added to his “Golden Rule” Jones reputation.

“Even more astounding, Mr. Jones developed a revenue-sharing program for his workers, provided health insurance, and subsidized hot meals in the Acme cafeteria,” explained George J. Tanber in a 1999 article for the Toledo Blade. Unlike other companies, which had a long list of regulations and requirements for their employees, Jones posted only one rule on his company’s notice board, Tanber reported in the article, “City Flourished Under Golden Rule of Jones.”

Next to his sucker rod factory Jones built Golden Rule Park, “where his employees could exercise or relax – and where the employee ensemble, the Golden Rule Band, could entertain.”

 headstone of Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones

Jones is buried in Toledo’s Woodlawn Cemetery, founded in 1876.

Jones’ initiatives soon drew him into the contentious world of late 19th century politics where his belief in reform made him popular. “In time it became clear that Mr. Jones was using Acme as a model for social change, and that he would soon apply his method to city politics,” Tanber explained in the newspaper article.

In 1897, Jones received the Republican party’s nomination for Toledo mayor. Although the party refused to nominate Jones in 1899, he still ran and easily won reelection with 70 percent of the vote. Jones remained a popular reformer until his last day on the job in 1904 when he died at age 58 . Five thousand people attended his funeral.

Jones’ biographers note his early years in tough oil patch towns like Pithole influenced both his business practices and his philosophy in politics. Jones himself wryly observed that most manufacturers kept about 8 dollars out of every 10 dollars their employees earned for them. “I keep only about seven and so they call me ‘Golden Rule’ Jones.”

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio. Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/golden-rule-jones-of-ohio. Last Updated: October 26, 2020. Original Published Date: May 24, 2014.

Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball

Company town players made it to the Big Leagues — and the Hall of Fame.

The first pitcher ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 worked in oilfields as a teenager and began his career on an oil town baseball team in California.

As baseball became America’s favorite pastime in the early 20th century, many new oil patch boom towns fielded their own teams – with names that reflected their communities’ enthusiasm and often, their livelihood.

Oilfields of Dreams

In Texas, the Corsicana Oil Citys made baseball history in 1902 with a 51 to 3 drubbing of the Texarkana Casketmakers. Oil Citys catcher Jay Justin Clarke hit eight home runs in eight at bats during the game – still an unbroken baseball record.

Baseball 1924 exhibition game poster featuring Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth

The once pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells – Walter “Big Train” Johnson – joined “Babe” Ruth in a 1924 exhibition game.

In 1922, the Wichita Falls minor league team lost its opportunity for a 25th consecutive victory when the league determined the team had “doctored the baseball.” The Wichita Falls ballpark caught fire in June — during a game — and burned to the ground. It was a memorable season.

In Oklahoma oilfields, the Okmulgee Drillers for the first time in baseball history had two players who combined to hit 100 home runs in a single season of 160 games. First baseman Wilbur “Country” Davis and center fielder Cecil “Stormy” Davis accomplished their home run record in 1924, although their team faded away by 1927.

Oil company town baseball Tulsa Drillers logo.

Today’s Tulsa Drillers play in the Texas League as a AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

The Tulsa Oilers were the strongest team in the Western League for a decade, winning the pennant in 1920, ‘22, ‘27, ‘28 and ‘29. The name continues in the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers. The Tulsa Drillers, a AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, a Major League club, play in downtown Tulsa.

In baseball’s first official night game, the Independence, Kansas, Producers lost to Muskogee Chiefs 13 to 3 on April 28, 1930. The game was played under portable lights supplied by the Negro National League’s famed Kansas City Monarchs.

Welcome to the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail in California.

“More than 250 producing wells once dotted these hill,” notes the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail near Brea, California.

The Independence Producers were one of the 96 teams in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, now known as Minor League Baseball.

Iola Gasbags and Borger Gassers

Thanks to mid-continent oil and natural gas discoveries, in just nine years beginning in 1895, Iola, Kansas, grew from a town of 1,567 to a city of more than 11,000. Gas wells lighted the way.

However, the Iola Gasbags reportedly adopted their team name not for the resource, but after becoming known as braggers in the Missouri State League. “They traveled to these other cities, and they’d be bragging that they were the champions, so people started giving them the nickname Gasbags,” reported baseball historian Tim Hagerty in a July 2012 National Public Radio interview.

National Baseball Hall of Fame Library images of Iola Gasbags players in 1904.

From a booming town in Kansas thanks to natural gas, the Iola Gasbags are pictured in 1904. Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

In 1903, the players renamed themselves the Iola Gaslighters — but had a change of heart and reverted to the original name the following season.

“They said, ‘You know what? Yeah, we are, We’re the Gasbags.'” added Hagerty, author of Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Names and the Stories Behind Them. “I think the state of Kansas may take the prize for the most terrific names – the Wichita Wingnuts, the Wichita Izzies, the Hutchinson Salt Packers…and the Iola Gasbags.”

In the Texas Panhandle, the Borger Gassers disappeared after the 1955 season, despite Gordon Nell hitting a record-setting 49 homers in 1947. Team owners blamed television and air-conditioning for reducing minor league baseball attendance and profitability.

Detail from 1909 baseball card featuring Pacific Coast League pitcher Jimmy Wiggs.

Detail from 1909 baseball card featuring Pacific Coast League pitcher Jimmy Wiggs. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

In Beaumont, Texas, site of the great Spindletop oil discovery of 1901, minor league baseball lasted for decades under several names. The first team, the Beaumont Oil Gushers of the South Texas League, was fielded in 1903. By the 1904 season the team was known as the Millionaires and then the Oilers before becoming the Beaumont Exporters in 1920.

 Van, Texas, baseball fielding practice at the oil town's high school.

East of Dallas, in Van, Texas, fielding practice at the oil town baseball high school includes a reminder of a prolific oilfield discovered in 1929. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Although many thought the name should be changed to the Refiners, reflecting the city’s industry, for the 1950 season the team was briefly known as the Roughnecks.

Beaumont’s last AA Texas League team was the Golden Gators, which folded in 1986. Another team in the Texas League, the Shreveport Gassers, on May 8, 1918, played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was finally declared a tie at one to one.

Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Olinda Oil Wells

In 1894, the Union Oil Company of Santa Paula purchased 1,200 acres in northern Orange County for oil development. Four years later the first oil well, Olinda No. 1, came in and created the oil boom town.

Perhaps baseball’s greatest product from the oilfield was a young man who was a roustabout in the small oil town of Olinda, California. Walter “Big Train” Johnson would earn national renown as the greatest pitcher of his time.

Around the turn of the century, Olinda Oil Wells baseball players began making a name for themselves among the semi-pro teams of the Los Angeles area.

Tabloid "Baseball Scoops" features Walter Johnson pitching 56 scoreless innings in 1913.

A 1961 baseball card notes headline of the former California oilfield roustabout’s amazing 1913 pitching record, which lasted until Don Drysdale pitched 58 scoreless innings in 1968.

By 1903 the Orange County team was sharing newly built Athletic Park in Anaheim, “two hours south of Olinda by horse and buggy,” notes one historian. Youngster Walter Johnson rooted for the local team, the Oil Wells.

Today, tourists visit the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail. This historic Orange County site includes Olinda Oil Well No. 1 of 1898, the oil company field office and a jack-line pump building.

Johnson, originally from Humboldt, Kansas, moved to the thriving oil town east of Brea with his family when he was 14. He attended Fullerton Union High School and played baseball there while working in the nearby oilfields. His high school pitching began making headlines, including a 1905 15-inning game against rival Santa Ana High School where he struck out 27.

A sign for California's Olinda Oil Museum and Trail.

An 1898 oil discovery made by the Olinda No. 1 well launched an oil boom town that ked to a local baseball team.

By 17, Johnson was playing for his oil town baseball team, the Olinda Oil Wells, as its ace pitcher. He shared in each game’s income of $25, according to Henry Thomas in Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train. “Not a bad split for nine players considering that a roustabout in the oilfields started at $1.50 a day,” Thomas noted in his book. Johnson finished with a winning season and soon moved on to the minor leagues.

Johnson’s major league career began in 1907 in Washington, D.C., where he played his entire 21-year baseball career for the Washington Senators. The former oil patch roustabout remains major league baseball’s all-time career leader in shutouts with 110, second in wins (417) and fourth in complete games (531).

In 1936, “Big Train” Johnson was inducted into baseball’s newly created Hall of Fame with four others: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson. In 1924, Johnson returned to his California oil patch roots. On October 31, he and his former baseball teammates played an exhibition game in Brea against Babe Ruth and the Ruth All-Stars.

The Brea Museum & Historical Society today includes exhibits, rare photographs, and research facilities. There’s also an on-going project recreating Brea in miniature.

Texon Oilers of the Permian Basin 

On May 28, 1923, a loud roar was heard when the Santa Rita No. 1 well erupted in West Texas. People as far away as Fort Worth traveled to see the well. Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made the discovery. The oilfield, about 4.5 square miles, revealed vast oil reserves in West Texas. Exploration spread into other areas of the Permian Basin, still one of the largest oil-producing regions in the United States.

First oil “company town” in the Permian Basin, Texon, baseball team and field.

The first oil “company town” in the Permian Basin, Texon, was founded in 1924 by Big Lake Oil Company. The Texon Oilers won Permian Basin League championships in 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1939. Texon remains a tourist attraction – as a ghost town.

Early Permian Basin discoveries created many boom towns, including Midland, which some would soon refer to as “Little Dallas.” By 1924, Michael L. Benedum, a successful independent oilman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other successful independent producers – wildcatters – formed the Big Lake Oil Company. The new company established Texon, the first oil company town in the Permian Basin.

Today a ghost town, Texon was considered a model oil community. It had a school, church, hospital, theater, golf course, swimming pool – and a semi-pro company baseball team. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Texon Oilers baseball team was the centerpiece of the employee recreation plan of Levi Smith, vice president and general manager of the Big Lake Oil Company. Smith, an avid baseball fan, organized the club soon after he founded the Reagan County town (a few miles west of today’s town of Big Lake).

 The Big Lake oilfield was featured during the beginning of a 2002 movie.

The Permian Basin oilfield was featured in a 2002 movie featuring a high school teacher and baseball coach. Image from Walt Disney Pictures poster.

By the summer of 1925 a baseball field was ready for use. In 1926 a 500-seat grandstand completed the facility. “In 1929 the Big Lake Oil Company began a tradition of hosting a Labor Day barbecue for employees and friends, highlighted by a baseball game,” noted historian Jane Spraggins Wilson.

“Management consistently attempted to schedule well-known clubs, such as the Fort Worth Cats and the Halliburton Oilers of Oklahoma,” added Wilson, who explained that during the Great Depression, “before good highways, television, and other diversions, the team was a source of community cohesiveness, entertainment, and pride.”

After the World War II, with its famous the oilfield diminishing and the town losing population, aging Oilers left the game for good, Wilson reports. By the mid-1950s the Texon Oilers were but a memory.

Hollywood visits Oilfields

The 2002 movie “The Rookie” – filmed almost entirely in the Permian Basin of West Texas – featured a Reagan County High School teacher.

A Midland, Texas, museum exhibits Permian Basin history.

A Midland, Texas, museum exhibits Permian Basin history.

Based on the “true life” of baseball pitcher Jimmy Morris, it tells the story of baseball coach, Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), who despite being in his mid-30s briefly makes it to the major leagues.

The movie – promoted with the phrase, “It’s never too late to believe in your dreams” – opens with a  flashback scene near Big Lake, the Santa Rita No. 1 drilling site.

oil town baseball

At the beginning of the 2002 movie “The Rookie,” Catholic nuns christened the Santa Rita No. 1 cable-tool rig. In reality, one of the well’s owners climbed the derrick and threw rose petals given to him by Catholic women investors.

As the well is being drilled, Catholic nuns are shown carrying a basket of rose pedals to christen it for the patron Saint of the Impossible – Santa Rita.

NW Indiana "Oilmen" baseball Indiana team logo.

Whiting has been home to the North-west Indiana Oilmen since 2012.

“Much is made of the almost mythic importance of oil in Big Lake, with talk of the Santa Rita oil well,” explains ESPN in the The Rookie in Reel LifeLearn more about the Permian Basin in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin and visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland.

Oilmen of Whiting, Indiana

In 1889, the Standard Oil Company began construction on its massive, 235-acre refinery in Whiting, Indiana. Today owned by BP, the Whiting refinery is the largest in the United States.

In 2012, Whiting fielded a baseball team. On June 3, the North-west Indiana Oilmen crushed the Southland Vikings 14-3 at Oil City Stadium in Standard Diamonds Park for the first win in franchise history. The Oilmen team became one of eight in the Midwest Collegiate League, a pre-minor baseball league.

June-18-Standard-Oil-Refinery-AOGHS

Standard Oil’s giant refinery in Whiting, Indiana, processed “sour crude” in the early 1900s. Now owned by BP, it is the largest U.S. refinery. The city of Whiting incorporated in 1903.

“The name Oil City Stadium celebrates Whiting’s history as a refinery town tucked away in the Northwest corner of Indiana for over 120 years,” noted team owner Don Popravak. “The BP Refinery, located just beyond they outfield fence is a constant reminder of the blue collar attitude Whiting was built on,” he added.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/oil-town-baseball. Last Updated: October 25, 2020. Original Published Date: September 1, 2007.

Meet Joe Roughneck

First “Joe Roughneck” monument dedicated in 1957.

 

Joe Roughneck’s rugged, square-jawed visage first appeared as the advertising face of an oilfield tubular goods manufacturer before becoming an industry award in 1955. His bust has been handed to top independent oil and gas company executives, dedicated in parks by Texas governors, and featured in newspaper and magazine articles.

Texas artist Torg Thompson bust of “Joe Roughneck.”

Texas artist Torg Thompson created printed and bronze versions of “Joe Roughneck” in the 1950s.

(more…)

Rocky Beginnings of Petroleum Geology

 

When oil burst onto western Pennsylvania’s marketplace as a major commercial opportunity following an 1859 well drilled by Edwin L. Drake, the art and science of petroleum geology was born.

The mining industry had long provided employment for geologists and the oil boom presented a new kind of mineral wealth for America and a new challenge for geologists. But Pennsylvania’s first oilmen soon found that hiring geologists didn’t significantly improve their chances of success in an already risky business.

Geologist Henry D. Rogers portrait.

Henry D. Rogers, (1808 – 1866) was one of the first professional U.S. geologists.

Decades before the Civil War, the pursuit and mining of coal prompted many geological surveys, studies, and assessments of potential mineral resources. Railroads stretching westward needed good quality coal supplies and routes always considered the availability of nearby sources.

Searching for high-quality bituminous coal, geologists had often reported oil seeps and the associated landforms, but mostly as a curiosity and in relation to their proximity to coal beds. In Kentucky, Ohio, and the western part of what is now West Virginia, the salt business also gave geologists important insights into formations called “structural traps.”

Drilling commercial brine wells and salt manufacturing was a lucrative industry. Geologists’ surveys found that strata of sedimentary rock fractured, faulted, and folded, sometimes producing salt domes and valuable brine deposits. Geologists also noted that oil and natural gas was occasionally trapped in porous deposits sandwiched between impermeable rock layers. Such contamination fouled commercial brine wells and was an unwelcome intrusion, but cottage industry entrepreneurs skimmed it off and sold it for patent medicine, lubrication, and other novel purposes.

Illustration of oil and gas traps in petroleum geology.

In Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, geologists studied landforms associated with salt brine and coal “structural traps.” These anticlinal traps held oil and natural gas because the earth had been bent, deformed or fractured. Unsuccessfully applying structural trap theories to Pennsylvania’s differing geology undermined early petroleum geologists’ credibility.

A pioneering Ohio physician and natural scientist named Samuel Hildreth examined and recorded details of the salt business in southeastern Ohio, noting structural traps as a geologic feature associated with brine, coal, and oil. In 1836, he published his extensive “Observations on the Bituminous Coal Deposit for the Valley of the Ohio, and the Accompanying Rock Strata.” It was America’s first petroleum geology primer.

Hildreth was a strong advocate for Ohio’s first geological survey and later served as the state geologist. His observations of the structural trapping of petroleum were later affirmed by Pennsylvania’s state geologist, Henry D. Rogers, who erroneously declared that Pennsylvania’s oilfields were likewise based on structural trapping of petroleum in anticline formations.

Pennsylvania’s oilfields were in fact found predominantly in another kind of formation altogether, the “sandstone stratigraphic trap,” but Rogers’ prestigious endorsement, circulated widely in an 1863 Harper’s Magazine article, convinced geologists to the contrary. The frenzied search for oil prompted the first petroleum geologists to impose Hildreth and Rogers’ structural trapping theory on Pennsylvania’s differing geology. It didn’t work and their failures in Pennsylvania hindered the acceptance of petroleum geologists for decades.

Although structural trapping remains a dominant characteristic for many of America’s most prolific oil and natural gas fields, ironically it wasn’t so in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek region, where the petroleum industry was born. As noted by author and geologist Ray Sorenson, “theories of trapping did not work in the absence of anticlines.”

petroleum geology

The dominant oil bearing feature in Pennsylvania’s oil region is a sedimentary geologic formation known as a “stratigraphic trap” and differs significantly from a structural trap. It is formed in place by erosion, usually in porous sandstone enclosed in shale. The impermeable shale keeps the oil and gas from escaping.

It took until the turn of the century before successful geologically driven discoveries in the Mid-Continent and Gulf regions encouraged exploration companies to use petroleum geologists.

Although the science of geology had revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas in 1915, many companies still had little confidence in geologists.

James C. Donnell, president of the Ohio Oil Company (later Marathon Oil) proclaimed, “The day The Ohio has to rely on geologists, I’ll get into another line of work.” But after the company’s first geologist, C.J. “Charlie” Hares found 19 oil and natural gas fields, Donnell changed his mind and declared Hares to be “the greatest geologist in the world.”

petroleum geologyIncreasing understanding and acceptance of petroleum geology as a valued tool in exploration led to the 1917 formation of the Southwestern Association of Petroleum Geologists, precursor to today’s American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Since then, AAPG has fostered scientific research, advanced the science of geology, promoted technology, and inspired professional conduct amongst its more than 30,000 members.

Petroleum geology has come a long way since taking its first steps and stumbles in the Ohio River Valley and Pennsylvania’s early oilfields. Geologists today grapple with enormous amounts of data and technological innovations in pursuit of petroleum.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Rocky Beginnings of Petroleum Geology.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://www.aoghs.org/technology/petroleum-geologys-rocky-beginnings. Last Updated: October 5, 2019. Original Published Date: February 14, 2016.

Oil & Gas History News, October 2020

AOGHS logo Newsletter

October 21, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 10

 

Oil & Gas History News

 

Welcome to our latest spotlight on U.S. petroleum history. October’s newsletter illuminates important petroleum milestones, including the 50th anniversary of a sleek, natural gas powered rocket car setting the world land speed record; the 90th anniversary of the discovery of the 140,000 acre East Texas oilfield; and the 103rd anniversary of the “Roaring Ranger” oilfield discovery, which allowed the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil” in World War I.

 

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

 

Links to summaries from five weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers. 

 

October 19, 1990 – First Emergency Use of Strategic Petroleum Reserve

 

As world oil prices spiked after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops, the first presidentially mandated emergency use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was authorized by President George H. W. Bush, who ordered the sale of five million barrels of SPR oil as a test…MORE 

 

October 13, 1954 – First Arizona Oil Well

 

Arizona became the 30th petroleum producing state when Shell Oil Company completed its East Boundary Butte No. 2 well one mile south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation. The well indicated natural gas production of 3,150 thousand cubic feet per day…MORE 

October 5, 1915 – Science of Petroleum Geology reveals Oilfield

 

Using a careful study of geology for finding oil led to the discovery of a major Mid-Continent field. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas…MORE 

 

September 28, 1945 – Truman claims America’s Outer Continental Shelf

 

President Harry Truman extended U.S. jurisdiction over the natural resources of the outer continental shelf, placing them under the control of the Secretary of the Interior. In August 1953, Truman’s edict would become the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act…MORE 

 

September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well

 

Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana. W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled on Spindletop Hill – completed a well that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day…MORE 

 

Featured Image

Daisy Bradford Well 1930 AOGHS

In East Texas, with a crowd of more than 4,000 landowners, leaseholders and others watching, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well was “shot” with nitroglycerin near Kilgore, Texas, on October 3, 1930. Geologists later would be stunned when it became apparent the well on the widow Bradford’s farm – along with two other wells far to the north – proved to be part of the same oil-producing formation (the Woodbine) encompassing more than 140,000 acres. See East Texas Oilfield Discovery.

 

Energy Education Articles

 

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:

 

Powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen peroxide 50 years ago on October 23, 1970, the Blue Flame set a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour. Sponsored by the American Gas Association, the 38-foot-long, 4,950-pound rocket car set the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, as the industry proclaimed natural gas “the fuel of the future.” The Blue Flame land speed record would remain unbroken more than a decade. See Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

 

On October 17, 1917, “Roaring Ranger,” a wildcat well between Abilene and Dallas, launched a Texas drilling boom that helped fuel the Allied victory of World War I. The J. H. McCleskey No. 1 well erupted oil about two miles south of the small town of Ranger, which had been founded in the 1870s near a Texas Ranger camp in Eastland County. See Roaring Ranger wins WWI.

 

Thanks to a growing number of subscribers, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society continues to expand its public outreach during these difficult times. The AOGHS website is building a network linking energy educators, researchers, community museums, historians, news media, and especially students. You can help by forwarding this newsletter to your friends. And if you have a company website, please consider adding a link to the AOGHS home page. Thank you again for subscribing.

— Bruce Wells

 
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“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, October 19 to October 25

October 19, 1990 – First Emergency Use of Strategic Petroleum Reserve – 

As world oil prices spiked after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops, the first presidentially mandated emergency use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was authorized by George H. W. Bush, who ordered sale of five million barrels of SPR oil as a test to “demonstrate the readiness of the system under real life conditions,” according to the Department of Energy.

Map of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites in 2018.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve’s four oil storage facilities are grouped into three geographical pipeline distribution systems
in Texas and Louisiana. Map courtesy U.S. Department of Energy, Report to Congress, December 2018.

Although SPR oil had been pumped in other tests, emergency competitive sales were previously done in government simulations. DOE offered oil to 11 firms that submitted the highest offers from the 33 companies that had responded to the department’s solicitation. “The amount sold was less than the 5 million barrels offered because of a lack of bids for one of the six types of crude oil the department advertised for sale,” DOE noted.

President Ford established the SPR in 1975 as a protection against severe supply interruptions. By 2020, four underground salt dome sites along the Gulf Coast stored 735 million barrels of oil — the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency oil in the world.

October 20, 1949 –  Maryland produces Some Natural Gas

The first commercially successful natural gas well in Maryland was drilled by the Cumberland Allegheny Gas Company in the town of Mountain Lake Park, Garrett County — the westernmost county in the state. The Elmer Beachy well produced about 500 thousand cubic feet of natural gas a day.

Maryland map of first natural gas well, Garrett County.

No oil has been produced in Maryland.

The discovery well prompted a rush of competing companies and high-density drilling (an average of nine wells per acre), which depleted the field. Twenty of 29 wells drilled within the town produced natural gas, but overall production from the field was low. No oil has been found in Maryland.

October 21, 1921 – First Natural Gas Well in New Mexico

New Mexico’s natural gas industry began when the newly formed Aztec Oil Syndicate’s State No. 1 well found gas reserves about 15 miles northeast of Farmington in San Juan County.

Map of northern New Mexico oil and gas wells.

New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service began after a 1921 discovery near Aztec. Oil discoveries followed in the southeast.

The drilling crew used a trimmed tree trunk with a two-inch pipe and shut-off valve to control the well until a wellhead was shipped in from Colorado. The well produced 10 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. By Christmas, a pipeline reached two miles into the town of Aztec where citizens enjoyed New Mexico’s first commercial natural gas service. In 1922, natural gas could be purchased in Aztec at a flat rate of $2 a month (for a gas heater) and $2.25 (for a gas stove).

Learn more about the state’s petroleum history in New First Mexico Oil Wells.

October 23, 1908 – Salt Creek Well launches Wyoming Boom

Wyoming’s first oil boom began when the Dutch-owned Petroleum Maatschappij Salt Creek completed the “Big Dutch” well – a gusher about 40 miles north of Casper. The Salt Creek area’s oil potential had been known since the 1880s, but a central salt dome received little attention until Italian geologist Cesare Porro recommended drilling in the dome’s area in 1906.

“Big Dutch” No. 1 discovery well gushing oil in Wyoming in 1908.

The “Big Dutch” No. 1 well, above, launched a Wyoming drilling boom in 1908. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

An English corporation, the Oil Wells Drilling Syndicate, drilled the discovery well, which produced 600 barrels of oil a day from 1,050 feet deep. By 1930, about one-fifth of all oil produced in the United States came from the Salt Creek oilfield. Water-flooding began in the 1960s and carbon dioxide injection in 2004.

Learn more in First Wyoming Oil Wells.

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October 23, 1948 – “Smart Pig” advances Pipeline Inspection

Northern Natural Gas Company recorded the first use of an X-ray machine for internal testing of petroleum pipeline welds. The company examined a 20-inch diameter pipe north of its Clifton, Kansas, compressor station. The device – today known as a “smart pig” – traveled up to 1,800 feet inside the pipe, imaging each weld.

A pipeline inspector examines a "smart Pig."

A pipeline worker inspects a “smart pig.” Photo courtesy Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal.

As early as 1926, U.S. Navy researchers had investigated the use of gamma-ray radiation to detect flaws in welded steel. In 1944, Cormack Boucher patented a “radiographic apparatus” suitable for large pipelines. Modern inspection tools employ magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current, and other methods to verify pipeline and weld integrity.

October 23, 1970 – LNG powers World Land Speed Record

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered the Blue Flame to a new world land speed record of 630.388 miles per hour. A rocket motor combining LNG and hydrogen peroxide fueled the 38-foot, 4,950-pound Blue Flame, which set the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The unique motor could produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust, about 58,000 horsepower.

Sponsored by the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Institute of Gas Technology, the Blue Flame design came from the imaginations of three Milwaukee men with a passion for speed: Dick Keller, Ray Dausman, and Pete Farnsworth. After building their record-setting X-1 rocket dragster in 1967 — and getting the attention of AGA executives — the engineers began designing the far more ambitious Blue Flame.

Speedquest Blue Flame vdeo produced by American Oil and Gas Historical Society and engineer Dick Keller.

After interviewing Dick Keller and editing a collection of his home movies in 2013, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society produced a video now viewed more than 47,000 times on YouTube.

Interviewed in 2013 by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society for an AOGHS video made from his home movies, Keller explained that with the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s, the AGA “suits” saw value in educating consumers about natural gas as a fuel. To commemorate in 2020 the 50th anniversary of his natural gas powered rocket car’s achievement, Keller published Speedquest: Inside the Blue Flame.

Keller tells the inside story of the last American team to set the world land speed record (held since 1997 by the British jet car Thrust SSC). And as he has often proclaimed, the Blue Flame, fueled by clean-burning natural gas, remains “the greenest world land speed record set in the 20th century.”

Learn more in Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car.

October 25, 1929 – Cabinet Member guilty in Teapot Dome Scandal

Albert B. Fall, appointed Secretary of the Interior in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding, was found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office, becoming the first cabinet official in U.S. history to be convicted of a felony. An executive order from President Harding had given Fall full control of the Naval Petroleum Reserves.

Teapot Rock in Wyoming before "spout" collapsed.

Wyoming’s Teapot Dome oilfield was named after Teapot Rock, whose “spout” has long since broken off. Photo courtesy Casper College Western History Center.

Fall was found guilty of secretly leasing the navy’s oil reserve lands to Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil Company and to Edward Doheny, discoverer of the Los Angeles oilfield. The noncompetitive leases were awarded to Doheny’s Pan American Petroleum Company (reserves at Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills, California), and Sinclair’s Mammoth Oil Company (reserve at Teapot Dome, Wyoming). Fall received more than $400,000 from the two oil companies.

In Senate hearings, it emerged that cash was delivered to Fall in a Washington, D.C., hotel.  The Interior Secretary was convicted for taking a bribe, fined $100,000, and sentenced to one year in prison. Sinclair and Doheny were acquitted, but Sinclair spent six-and-a-half months in prison for contempt of court and the U.S. Senate.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Blue Flame Natural Gas Rocket Car

Industry executives recognized public relations potential of LNG in 1968, after watching X-1, a rocket dragster.

 

The quest for speed perhaps began when Mrs. Karl Benz secretly took her husband’s car on the first road trip in 1882. Steam and electric vehicles would soon compete with the “cantankerous combustion” of gasoline engines.

As engine technologies evolved, high-octane but dangerous enhancers like tetraethyl gas were adopted for aviation. On the ground, as competition intensified for a land speed record, kerosene-based rocket fuel powered blistering, new milestones. In the fall of 1970, a sleek blue feat of engineering set the world land speed record — fueled with natural gas. 

Sleek front view of LNG-powered Blue Flame rocket car

The Blue Flame made a spectacular debut at the Bonneville Salt Flats on October 23, 1970, setting a new world land speed record of 630.388 mph.

The Blue Flame,  powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen peroxide, reached 630.388 miles per hour on October 23, 1970 — and had the potential of going even faster. As the petroleum industry called natural gas “the fuel of the future,” the rocket car’s record would remain unbroken more than a decade. (more…)

First Wyoming Oil Wells

Explorers overcame challenges to develop vast natural resources. A Washington Irving book first encouraged them.

 

Tales of a Wyoming “tar spring” would inspire experienced Pennsylvanian Mike Murphy to drill a shallow well in 1883. He sold his oil to Union Pacific to lubricate train axles. Others soon followed in search of Wyoming oilfields.

After Murphy’s discovery, Civil War veteran Philip Shannon explored oil seeps at Salt Creek outside of Casper in 1890. His well revealed a 22,000-acre oilfield and was followed in 1908 by the headline-making gusher drilled by a Dutch company. But the story of Wyoming’s petroleum really began with Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Wyoming oil history image of horse and wagon in vast plain

Discovered in 1908, Wyoming’s giant Salt Creek oilfield would produced more than 650 million barrels of oil over the next 100 years – and even more remains in the ground.

Irving, who also penned “Rip Van Winkle,” became fascinated with the American Northwest in 1834 while writing about John Jacob Astor’s fur trading empire, Irving met explorer Capt. Benjamin Bonneville. It would led to yet another popular Irving book.

In 1837, the writer used Bonneville’s notes and maps to publish The Adventures of Captain Bonneville: or, Scenes beyond the Rocky Mountains of the Far West. Eastern readers were spellbound by the account of the four-year exploration and detailed accounts of life on the fur-trapping trail. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, October 12 to October 18

October 13, 1954 – First Arizona Oil Well – 

Arizona became the 30th petroleum producing state when Shell Oil Company completed its East Boundary Butte No. 2 well one mile south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation. The well indicated natural gas production of 3,150 thousand cubic feet per day, but just a few barrels of oil per day from a depth of 4,540 feet. (more…)

Roaring Ranger wins WWI

After more than three months of cable-tool drilling, the J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well at Ranger, Texas, roared in on October 17, 1917.

 

As war raged in Europe, a Texas oilfield was discovered halfway between Abilene and Dallas. The October 17, 1917, wildcat well in Eastland County made headlines worldwide. “Roaring Ranger” erupted in a geyser of oil – and revealed an oilfield that would help the Allies win World War I.

roaring ranger

A detail from an image of the “Roaring Ranger” oilfield discovery well of October 1917. The gusher created an oil boom across Eastland County, Texas.

As war raged in Europe, a Texas oilfield was discovered halfway between Abilene and Dallas. The October 17, 1917, wildcat well in Eastland County made headlines worldwide. “Roaring Ranger” erupted in a geyser of oil – and revealed an oilfield that would help the Allies win World War I.

Ranger’s town leaders and citizens had been eager to find oil, especially after newspaper accounts of a 1911 oilfield discovery at Electra to the north. A decade earlier in southeastern Texas, the famous “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill had launched the modern U.S. petroleum industry.

roaring ranger

Following the October 1917 oilfield discovery, the Texas & Pacific Railroad played an important part in getting people, equipment and oil in and out of Ranger. A circa 1920 postcard shows the depot, today home of the Roaring Ranger Museum.

As the county’s farmers struggled with severe drought, Ranger officials hoped to strike “black gold” with the help of William K. Gordon, vice president of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company in nearby Thurber. After one failed attempt with a shallow well, Gordon agreed to drill a second well up to 3,500 feet deep.

View of derricks in the Ranger oilfield in Ranger, Texas, circa 1920s.

“Almost over-night, you couldn’t even see the homes for the derricks,” says Ranger historian Jeane B. Pruett. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Using a cable-tool rig, Gordon and contractor Warren Wagner spudded their well on July 2, 1917, on the McCleskey farm about two miles south of Ranger. After more than three months of drilling, the J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well roared in from a depth of 3,432 feet. When completed, “Roaring Ranger” initially produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day of high gravity oil. Later oil gushers yielded up to 10,000 barrels of oil daily. Within 20 months, Texas and Pacific Coal Company stock jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share. The company reorganized as the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.

 The 2016 Roaring Ranger Day Parade.

The 2016 Roaring Ranger Day Parade took place on the 99th birthday of the gusher. Photo courtesy Metroplex.com. Photo courtesy Ranger Historical Preservation Society.

Eastland County oil discoveries brought economic booms to Ranger, Cisco, Desdemona (today a ghost town) and Eastland. The Abilene Reporter-News reported Ranger’s population swelled from less than 1,000 to more than 30,000 – mostly men. The drilling boom began as the petroleum industry rushed to Ranger to develop the giant oilfield, according to historian Damon Sasser.

The Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company by 1919 had 22 oil wells and eight refineries open or under construction, Sasser noted. More freight was unloaded in Ranger by the railroad than at any other place upon its line, including stations in Fort Worth, Dallas and New Orleans.

 Downtown Ranger, Texas, during 1920s oil boom.

The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 discovery well of October 1917 created an mammoth oil boom at Ranger and across Eastland County, Texas. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The flood of people also brought Texas Rangers to enforce laws. When jails in Ranger overflowed, the lawmen handcuffed prisoners to telephone poles. Texas Rangers earlier had led to the town’s establishment as a Ranger camp.

Independent and major oil companies soon opened other nearby oilfields, including the Parsons, Sinclair-Earnest and Lake Sand fields. Production from the Breckenridge oilfield in neighboring Stephens County was 10 million barrels of oil by 1919. It peaked at more than 31 million barrels of oil in 1921.

Ranger

Photographs courtesy Sarah Reveley and Barclay Gibson, who have photographed Texas Historical Commission markers and (along with a dedicated group of volunteers) helped locate hundreds of historic sites stretching from Louisiana to New Mexico.

“Roaring Ranger” and the region’s production had proved essential to the Allied victory in World War I. When the armistice was signed in 1918, a member of the British War Cabinet declared, “The Allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil.” Ranger’s boom ended in the early 1920s when excess oil production caused wells to fail, but the discoveries confirmed existence of a large petroleum-producing region, the Mid-Continent with hundreds of oilfields stretching from Texas into Oklahoma and Kansas.

The McCleskey No. 1 oil well gusher of 1917.

Eastland County oil discoveries, which began with the “Roaring Ranger” well of 1917, brought economic booms to Ranger, Cisco, and Desdemona. Photo courtesy Jeane B. Pruett and the family of W.K Gordon Jr.

Among the veterans visiting booming Eastland County after the war was a young Conrad Hilton, who visited Cisco intending to buy a bank. When he witnessed the long line of roughnecks waiting for a room at the Mobley Hotel, he decided to buy the hotel (learn more in Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel).

Established by the Ranger chamber of commerce in 1982, the “Roaring Ranger” Museum – inside the original Texas and Pacific Railway’s depot – exhibits drilling equipment, historic photos and a vintage cable-tool rig. Ranger residents annually celebrate their 1917 gusher with an oil festival and parade down Main Street, according to accomplished local historian Jeane B. Pruett.

When the parade crosses the historic train depot’s tracks, participants pass a small, gray granite marker dedicated to the “First Oil Well Drilled in Eastland County.”  The1936 Texas Centennial marker remains “a highly cherished monument that Ranger should be very proud of,” according to Eastland County resident Sarah Reveley, who has documented Texas Historical Commission sites, preserving the images at PictureTrail.com.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Roaring Ranger wins WWI.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/roaring-ranger-wins-wwi. Last Updated: October 11, 2020. Original Published Date: July 1, 2004.

Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel

Visiting Cisco, Texas, to buy a bank, Conrad Hilton saw an opportunity as roughnecks waited in line at a motel.

 

The first Hilton Hotel came in 1919 when Conrad Hilton, intending to buy a Texas bank, witnessed the booming Ranger oilfield. “He can keep his bank!” declared Hilton before buying a motel overflowing with roughnecks in nearby Cisco.

Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas.

Conrad Hilton visited Cisco, Texas, intending to buy a bank. When the deal fell through, he went from the train station across the street to a two-story red brick building called the Mobley Hotel. He noticed roughnecks from the Ranger oilfield waiting in line for a room.

On October 17, 1917, the McClesky No. 1 well hit an oil-bearing sand at 3,432 feet deep and launched the world-famous Ranger oilfield boom. Thanks to this “Roaring Ranger,” in just 20 months the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company – whose stock had skyrocketed from $30 to $1,250 a share – was drilling 22 wells in the area. Eight refineries were soon open or under construction, and the city’s four banks had $5 million in deposits.

The Ranger oilfield and other nearby North Texas discoveries gained international fame by eliminating critical oil shortages during World War I – allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.” (more…)

First Arizona Oil Well

Navajo Indian Reservation produces oil and natural gas (and helium) in 1950s after decades of drilling.

 

After reports of oil seeps in the late 1890s, the search for commercial quantities of oil in Arizona began in 1902, one decade before statehood.

Cover art from 1961 report of Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Cover from a 1961 report of Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; painting by E. M. Schiwetz, courtesy Humble Oil Co.

Joseph Heslet, a part-time prospector from Pennsylvania, drilled a few unsuccessful wells that showed traces of oil. His effort caught the attention of exploration companies, including several arriving from the 1901 giant oilfield discovery at Spindletop Hill in Texas. In 1905, a wildcat well was drilled in the Chino Valley, 20 miles north of Prescott, that reached a depth of 2,000 feet before being abandoned.

A well drilled in 1906 in Graham County by A. C. Alexander was abandoned as a dry hole at 1,400 feet. Other exploration attempts followed, most lacking knowledge of the emerging science of petroleum geology. There would be 50 more years of Arizona dry holes.

“A series of speculative ventures and explorations in oil drilling occurred over the ensuing decades, followed by the discovery of helium, an industrial gas that has become a major industry in the state,” noted a March 2004 article at Tucson.com. Better known for abundant copper deposits, it was the search for petroleum that led to helium discoveries in Arizona (also see Gas, Oil and Development Company in Kansas).

Kipling Petroleum Company discovered helium 20 miles east of Holbrook in Navajo County in 1950, but “commercial production of helium in Arizona began in 1961 with the state’s first helium extraction plant producing 9 billion cubic feet of gas over 15 years,” the article explained.

"Oil, Gas and Helium in Arizona, Its Occurrence and Potential," page 47.

Arizona’s first natural gas well in 1954 (top) and first significant oil well in 1959. Image from “Oil, Gas and Helium in Arizona, Its Occurrence and Potential,” page 47.

Arizona became the 30th petroleum-producing state on October 13, 1954, with a natural gas well.

Shell Oil Company completed the East Boundary Butte No. 2 well south of the Utah border on Apache County’s Navajo Indian Reservation. Natural gas was discovered as the well reached a depth of 4,540 feet.

“The first producing well in Arizona was drilled by Shell Oil Company in 1954 on a surface structure known as the East Boundary Butte anticline,” proclaimed a 1961 report by the Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. That well found natural gas and a small amount of oil.

The Shell Oil well indicated gas production of 3,150 thousand cubic feet per day; daily oil production was 3.6 barrels of oil (plus 8.4 barrels of salt water per day) from part of the Pennsylvanian geologic formation, the Hermosa, according to the commission’s report, Oil, Gas and Helium in Arizona, Its Occurrence and Potential, which sought to encourage further exploration.

Navajo Reservation in Apache County, Arizona, with drilling rig.

A well site on the Navajo Reservation in Apache County, Arizona. The 16-million-acre reservation extends into New Mexico and Utah. Photo courtesy Shell Oil Co.

One candidate for the first Arizona oil well, according to the report, was Humble Oil Company’s No. 1 E Navajo well, drilled in 1958 near the Shell Oil natural gas well. Although initial oil production was from the same formation (Hermosa), “subsequent production showed increasing gas,” and by 1961 it was considered a natural gas well.

“Additional drilling on this structure resulted in completion of three more wells producing mostly gas with some distillate and oil,” noted Lee Feemster of the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company. “Oil and gas shows were encountered in the Hermosa, Mississippian, and Devonian but to date the production is confined to the Hermosa.”

In 1956, the Franco Western Oil Company drilled a well based on a seismic anomaly in the Mississippian formation and found more natural gas. A well completed a year later by Superior Oil Company also produced significant amounts of gas from the Hermosa producing zone.

Map of Arizona oil and natural gas fields in the northeast corner of the state.

All of Arizona’s oil and natural gas fields are in the northeast corner of the state: (I) East Boundary Butte; (2) Bita Peak; (3) Toh-ah-tin; (4) Unnamed Paradox gas and distillate; (5) Dry Mesa; (6) Unnamed Devonian oil; (7) Pinta dome helium area.

“Encouraging shows of oil and gas were recorded in the Mississippian and Devonian in this test, Feemster noted in the commission report. It was his company, Texas Pacific Coal and Oil, that drilled a test well that finally found commercial quantities of oil in Arizona in 1959.

Founded in 1888, Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company had established the mining town of Thurber, Texas, and by the early 1900s provided almost half of the coal supply for Texas. The company’s Arizona oil discovery, the Navajo No. 1 well, was completed in the extreme northeastern part of the state. The well produced 240 barrels of oil per day from the Mississippian formation at a depth of 5,566 feet, according to Feemster, who added, “The nearest Mississippian production at that time was in the Big Flat field more than 100 miles north in Utah.”

In 1967, the Kerr-McGee Navajo No. 1 well revealed an oil-producing geologic anticline about 4,000 feet deep. That well joined the others producing on the Navajo Reservation in Apache County (reservation land includes 16 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah). By 2012, the the Navajo Reservation’s Dineh-bi-Keyah – “The People’s Field” – would produce more than 18 million barrels of oil. Recognizing the importance of new horizontal drilling technologies, in 2013 the Arizona Geological Survey issued a report, Potential Targets for Shale-Oil and Shale-Gas Exploration in Arizona, as the state’s quest for more oil and natural gas deposits continued.

As of March 2016, Arizona had 32 oil and natural gas wells, according to the state commission. Of the 1,129 wells drilled in the state since 1954, almost 90 percent have been dry holes (2014 data). Apache County in the northeast corner of the state remains the only petroleum-producing county.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information: Article Title – “First Arizona Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-arizona-oil-well. Last Updated: October 11, 2020. Original Published Date: October 9, 2018.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, October 5 to October 11

October 5, 1915 – Science of Petroleum Geology reveals Oilfield – 

Using the careful study of geology for finding oil led to discovery of a major Mid-Continent field. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.

“Pioneers named El Dorado, Kansas, in 1857 for the beauty of the site and the promise of future riches but not until 58 years later was black rather than mythical yellow gold discovered when the Stapleton No. 1 oil well came in on October 5, 1915,” explains Kansas geologist Lawrence Skelton.

Pump Jack and plaque of

The Stapleton No. 1 well discovered the El Dorado, Kansas, oilfield, which became one of the largest producing fields in the world. By 1919, Butler County had more than 1,800 producing oil wells. Photos by Bruce Wells.

The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels of oil a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produce 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands. Other wells soon joined the Kansas oil boom east of Wichita. Natural gas discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado civic leaders to seek their own geological study. (more…)

Kansas Oil Boom

Emerging science of petroleum geology helps reveal Mid-Continent Oilfield in 1915.

 

Community leaders in El Dorado, Kansas, were desperate for their town to live up to its name, especially after major natural gas discoveries in neighboring towns. It would be oil instead of gas that would do just that when an October 5, 1915, well east of Wichita launched a drilling boom. 

Pump jack at Kansas oil well with historic marker near El Dorado.

A marker at the Stapleton No. 1 well commemorates the October 1915 discovery of the El Dorado, Kansas, oilfield, at the time one of the largest in the world. Photo by Bruce Wells.

One-hundred years later, an October 2015 article in El Dorado’s newspaper celebrated the mid-continent oilfield by telling its story.

“In 1915, about 3,000 people called the rural agricultural community of El Dorado home.” noted Julie Clements in the Butler County Times-Gazette. “They had no idea events toward the end of that year would begin something that would forever change not just El Dorado, but the state and an entire industry.”

Using Science to find Oil and Natural Gas

The science of petroleum geology played a vital role in the 1915 discovery of a Mid-Continent oilfield. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the October 5 discovery well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.

The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produce 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands. Other wells soon followed east of Wichita. Discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado city fathers to seek a geological study of the area, according to Larry Skelton of the Kansas Geological Survey.

“Pioneers named El Dorado, Kansas, in 1857 for the beauty of the site and the promise of future riches but not until 58 years later was black rather than mythical yellow gold discovered when the Stapleton No. 1 oil well came in on October 5, 1915,” explained Kansas geologist Lawrence Skelton in a 1997 USGS Journal article.

By 1914 interest was growing in Butler county and south central Kansas. “A few positive finds had been made, but nothing exciting,” Skelton also noted in “Striking It Big in Kansas” for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. “Henry Doherty, founder of Cities Service in 1910, was seeking new gas reserves and opted for scientific exploration in lieu of wildcatting,” he wrote in the 2002 AAPG Explorer article.

Roughnecks pose in from of Kansas oil well circa 1930.

According to the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado, as Butler County wells multiplied, Oil Hill became the largest “company town” in the world, with some 8,500 residents. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.

Doherty hired geologists Charles Gould and Everett Carpenter in Oklahoma, sending them to Augusta, in Butler County. Gould had organized the Oklahoma Geological Survey in 1908 and served as its first director until 1911. According to Skelton, the geologists mapped prominent anticlinal structures in Permian Age limestone. By late 1914, several Augusta exploratory wells found commercial volumes of natural gas. Several wells also found oil. These developments “chafed El Dorado city fathers.”

About 15 miles northeast of Augusta, El Dorado had unsuccessfully searched for hydrocarbons since the 1890s,” Skelton explained. The city now hired its own geologist, Erasmus Haworth, the state geologist and chairman of the University of Kansas geology department. “He mapped a large anticline on the same formations used by Gould and Carpenter at Augusta and selected a site that proved to be a dry hole,” Skelton reported.

Undeterred, Cities Service subsidiary Wichita Natural Gas bought the town’s 790 leased acres for $800, verified Haworth’s work and began drilling in late September 1915. The Stapleton No. 1 well found oil within a week. “Using scientific geological survey methodology for the first time, Cities Service had identified a promising anticline,” Skelton noted. “His field work outlined the El Dorado Anticline.”

Butler County’s geologic revelations encouraged Gulf Oil, Standard Oil, and other companies to secure leases around August and El Dorado. In addition to Henry Doherty, industry leaders like Archibald Derby, John Vickers and William Skelly established successful El Dorado oil-producing and refining companies.

Butler County oil “company town” with some 8,500 residents.

According to the Kansas Oil Museum, as Butler County wells multiplied, Oil Hill became the largest “company town” in the world, with some 8,500 residents. Photo courtesy Kansas Oil Museum.

“So the idea from that point forward, no oil company in the world would go and drill a well without seeking the advice of a geologist first,” proclaimed the executive director of the Kansas Oil Museum.

“Before 1915, geologists were seen in the same vein as witching and doodlebugs. They were just charlatans,” explained Warren Martin in a 2015 Butler County Times-Gazette article on the centennial of Stapleton No. 1. “It fundamentally transformed it from that point going forward,” Martin added. “Geology was established as one of the great science industries.”

With the influx of thousands of workers, even Wichita accommodations were overwhelmed. Butler County’s population, about was 23,000 in 1910, nearly doubled in 1920. To house its workers, Empire Gas & Fuel Company (formerly Wichita Natural Gas) built a 64-acre town northwest of El Dorado.

Demonstration of Kansas Oil Museum's "spudder" drilling rig.

The Kansas Oil Museum includes drilling and production equipment. The museum annually hosts a “Rockfest celebration of geology and oil and gas culture.” Photo by Bruce Wells

Although Oil Hill and its more than 8,000 residents, swimming pool, tennis courts and small golf course would disappear by the late 1950s, at the time it was called the largest “company town” in the world. When the United States entered World War I, development of Mid-Continent production escalated. In 1918 the El Dorado field produced almost 29 million barrels of oil, almost nine percent of the nation’s oil.

The Stapleton No. 1 well, which produced oil until 1967, today is visited by tourists – as is the Kansas Oil Museum, which includes 20 acres of rig displays, equipment exhibits and models of the region’s refinery history. The museum, which annually hosts a “Rockfest,” has a 1970s Otek pump jack donated by Hawkins Oil Company. The unit, the largest one on the grounds, educates visitors about evolving production technologies. Visitors also stroll Main Street and explore buildings depicting a Kansas boom town like Oil Hill.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Kansas Oil Boom.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/kansas-oil-boom. Last Updated: October 5, 2020. Original Published Date: October 4, 2015.

 

Cities Service Company

Subsidiaries in Kansas and Oklahoma discover giant Mid-Continent oilfields.

 

Cities Service Company was established in September 1910 by Henry Latham Doherty as a public utility holding company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, home of the first commercial Oklahoma oil well. Five years after its founding, Doherty’s company would make its own historic discoveries.

Doherty began by selectively purchasing natural gas producing properties in Kansas and Oklahoma. He acquired distributing companies and linked them to his natural gas supplies. Cities Service Company derived income from the subsidiary corporations’ stock dividends. One natural gas subsidiary drilled exploratory wells in central Kansas.

Cities Service stock certificate. (more…)

Million Barrel Museum

First an experimental 1928 concrete reservoir for Permian Basin oil, then a water park for a day.

Tourists traveling on I-20 in West Texas should not miss the Monahans oil museum in the heart of the Permian Basin. Not just a petroleum-related museum, it is a Million Barrel Museum whose main attraction is an elliptical cement oil tank the size of three football fields.

The Permian Basin was once known as a “petroleum graveyard” until a series of successful wells beginning in 1920 brought exploration companies to the arid region. The Santa Rita No. 1 well alone would endow the University of Texas with millions of dollars.

Monahans oil museum concrete tank seen from above.

The Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot main attraction, originally built to store Permian Basin oil in 1928, became a water park for just one day in 1958. Photo courtesy Top of Texas Gazette.

Lack of infrastructure for storing and transporting the large volumes of oil proved to be a major problem. “There were great oil discoveries around 1926 and few places to put the oil. No pipelines or tanks,” explained Elizabeth Heath, chairwoman of the Ward County Historical Commission, in 2010. A single well in the Hendricks field could produce 500 barrels of oil a day.

Exhibits at the Monahan, TX, million barrel museum include a Gulf station

In Monahans, Texas, the Million Barrel Museum tells the story of how a lack of pipelines during 1920s West Texas oil discoveries led to the construction of a massive concrete tank. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.

“Unfortunately, the Roxana Petroleum Company – later absorbed by Shell Oil – did not have a pipeline to get all that oil to a refinery,” added journalist Mike Cox in his 2006 “Texas Tales” column. To solve the problem, the company decided to build a giant concrete reservoir. Using mule-drawn equipment, workers completed an excavation and laid wire mesh over the packed earth, Cox explained. Contractors then started pouring tons of concrete.

monahans oil museum Texas map

Founded in 1881, Monahans incorporated two years after oil was discovered in 1926.

“By late April 1928 workers hammered away at a wooden cover for the colossal tank, placing creosote-soaked support timbers at 14 foot intervals across the sprawling reservoir floor,” Cox reported. The timbers supported a domed redwood roof covered with tar paper. Completion of the walls, pillars and roof took just three months because construction took place 24 hours a day. (more…)

Library of Mid-Continent Well Data

Preserving the foundation of Oklahoma petroleum exploration and production history.

 

Looking for hand-drawn geologic strip-log records of structure features and detail about rocks, sands, clays, shales, and other formations? Carefully filed in rows of cabinets, a library of mid-continent well data benefits the Oklahoma petroleum industry. The Mid-Continent Geological Library (MCGL) collection preserves well data. It holds eons of geologic history.

Editor’s Update (2020) – The geological library, with its more than 211,000 proprietary, hand-written scout tickets dating from the early 1900s into the 1950s, relocated from downtown Oklahoma City to nearby Edmond. Visit the collection at 3409 S. Broadway, No. 804, Edmond, OK 73013.

Established in 1966, the geological library is owned and operated by the Oklahoma City Geological Society. The facility offers researchers thousands of easily accessible geological histories; its growing digital archive is the premier repository for mid-continent well logs.

Mid-Continent Geological Library 2017 CEO Mike Harris describes log recrords.s.

Past library CEO Mike Harris in 2017 explained a typical log documenting a well and could unfold to many feet, depending on drilled depth. Photos by Bruce Wells.

Recent History

Thanks to the Oklahoma City Geological Society (OCGS), which began the extensive collection in the 1960s, the geological library first moved from Oklahoma City’s First National Center to a site on 6th Street in January 2015. The society also began the legal process of making the library independent, according to former MCGL CEO Mike Harris in a September 2017 interview. That summer, MCGL officially became a 501(c)(3) separate organization.

OCGS members continue to support and give historic records to the library. The collection of well log histories has resulted from a long-standing arrangement with the state of Oklahoma. By 2020, the library had been moved to a larger location in Edmond.

Detail of files in the Mid-Continent Geological Library.

A MCGL drawer containing strip/sample logs. These are filed in section, township and range (congressional grid) order.

Well logs submitted by operators to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for required public release are provided to MCGL on a biweekly basis. On behalf of the state, MCGL staff scans the newly released logs, which also are printed and filed in the library’s log files, where they are available to library members and other users. Lists of released logs are posted online after processing. CDs containing log images are returned to state officials.

Importantly, new well log data files are immediately uploaded to the MCGL digital library where subscribers are able to view and download them. “This is well before they can be accessed from commercial services or the state,” Harris explained. That is a benefit of library membership.

 Historic Oklahoma oilfield photos are on display in the Mid-Continent Geological Library.

The MCGL collection includes digital files, audio-visual facilities, and many images depicting Oklahoma petroleum history, which began a decade before statehood in 1907.

The well log library originated in 1966 when several OCGS geologists acquired a private collection. It now operates autonomously from the geological society, allowing more of the general public to explore the collection. “Anyone can be a member of the library,” noted Harris. “It is a public resource. As a not-for-profit, anyone who wants to pay the dues can have access to the facility’s information.” 

Access to Geological Records

Accessibility is a key part of MCGL mission of collecting, preserving and archiving geological data. Online researchers must buy a subscription, which helps fund operations and on-going development the MCGL Digital Library. The influx of well data and other information is continuous, which adds value. Exploration companies frequently have their geologists join to gain early access.

Volumes of donated historical well data that has been given to the Mid-Continent Geological Library in Oklahoma City.

Just a portion of the “significant volume of donated historical well data that has been given to the library,” noted Mike Harris in 2017. Many student volunteers would be needed to review the material.

This closely kept well information was once gathered by a special kind of oilfield detectives who first made their appearance soon after the Civil War. Further, “the well scout was an individual who would meet with well scouts from other companies to exchange information on wells being drilled,” explained Harris. “You can’t have too much information.”

Cabinets hold manually-typed and handwritten sheets of “Scout Tickets. Work areas for research share space for MCGL part-time staff, who regularly perform document scanning and indexing for preservation.

Detail of a hand-drawn strip log oil and gas well record.

A hand-drawn strip log records various structure features and type of rocks, clays, shales, and formations.

The geological data library also includes reference materials, documents, journals, and maps. Some of the older maps are remarkably detailed — hand drawn and colored, often many years ago by independent geologists. There are storage areas for boxes of documents and artifacts donated to the library. Each must be carefully sorted through by a staff member or volunteer.

Many of the boxes of donated materials come from the families of petroleum geologists who have passed away. The contents can vary, but there often are records that should be preserved. “These are just a portion of the significant volume of donated historical well data that has been given to the library,” reported Harris. “Our members volunteer their time to go through the materials to determine what should be added to our collection.”

Opening the boxes themselves can become a discovery process, hand-drawn strip log record added, noting, “we often find unique and one-of-a-kind documents.”

Prior to the move to Edmond, material was housed in the former home of the Oklahoma Cotton Growers Association, the building was built in 1923 with two floors and a full basement. Large, slanted glass windows in the roof (uncovered during renovation) once helped illuminate bales of cotton for consistent evaluation and pricing.

Exterior of Mid-Continent Geological Library in Oklahoma City.

The former MCGL building in Oklahoma City was the revovated 1923 home of the Oklahoma Cotton Growers Association. Photo by Bruce Wells

The OCGS is an affiliate member of the Mid-Continent Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). Devon Energy, with its 50-story, $750 million headquarters located nearby, contributed $1 million to the original OCGS Capital Campaign and secured naming rights for the library’s renovated building, the OCGS Devon Geoscience Center.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information — Article Title: “Library of Mid-Continent Well Data.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://www.aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/mid-continent-geological-library. Last Updated: October 6, 2020. Original Published Date: October 30, 2017.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, September 28 to October 4

September 28, 1945 – Truman claims America’s Outer Continental Shelf – 

President Harry Truman extended U.S. jurisdiction over the natural resources of the outer continental shelf, placing them under the control of the Secretary of the Interior. In August 1953, Truman’s edict would become the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which affirmed exclusive jurisdiction over U.S. continental shelf and a federal leasing program, “to encourage discovery and development of oil.”

September 30, 2006 – Bronze Roughnecks dedicated at Signal Hill, California

A “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue by Cindy Jackson was dedicated near the Alamitos No. 1 well, which in 1921 revealed California’s prolific Long Beach oilfield 20 miles south of Los Angeles.

"Tribute to the Roughnecks" statue by Cindy Jackson.

Signal Hill once had so many derricks people called it Porcupine Hill. The city of Long Beach is visible in the distance from the “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue by Cindy Jackson.

The bronze statue commemorates the Signal Hill Oil Boom. A plaque notes the monument serves, “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.”

October 1, 1908 – Ford Motor Company produces First Model T

The first production Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford would build about 15 million Model Ts, each fueled by inexpensive gasoline. The popularity of Ford’s initially all-black automobile proved fortuitous for the U.S. petroleum industry, which had endured falling demand for kerosene lamp fuel as consumers switched to electric lighting.

White tires on a the Model T Ford.

Ford Model T tires were white until 1910, when the petroleum product carbon black was added to improve durability.

New major oilfield discoveries, especially the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, met growing demand for what had been a refining byproduct: gasoline. Also see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

(more…)

Derricks of Triumph Hill

Post-Civil War discoveries create Allegheny oil boom.

 

Soon after the Civil War ended and demand for kerosene for lamps soared, the young U.S. petroleum industry found oil at a small hill west of Tidioute, Pennsylvania. Wooden derricks soon replaced trees on Triumph Hill.

Formerly quiet Pennsylvania hillsides of hemlock woods vanished in the fall of 1866 when oil fever came to Triumph Hill. The oil industry was barely seven years old. Just 15 miles east of the 1859 first American oil well along Oil Creek well at Titusville, an 1866 oil discovery at Triumph Hill sparked a rush of uncontrolled development. They would not last long, but truly notorious boom towns sprang up at Gordon Run and Daniels Run west of Tidioute on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River. Like the earlier discoveries at Titusville, Rouseville, and Pithole Creek, wooden derricks replaced hillside trees.

Wooden derricks crowd an oilfield at Triumph hill, PA.

An 1870s photograph of the east side of Triumph Hill, near Tidioute, Pennsylvania, by Frank Robbins of Oil City. Image is right half of a stereo card rendered black and white for clarity from original sepia tone. Photo courtesy Biblioteca Nacional Digital Brazil.

Tidioute (pronounced tiddy-oot) was joined by the roughneck-filled towns of Triumph and Babylon with “sports, strumpets and plug-uglies, who stole, gambled, caroused and did their best to break all the commandments at once.”

Fresh from the oilfields at boom town Pithole 25 miles southwest, the infamous Ben Hogan, self proclaimed “Wickedest Man in the World,” operated a bawdy house on the Triumph hillside. Despite growing recognition that crowded drilling reduced reservoir pressures and production, the exploration and production bonanza, which began with the first well on October 4, 1866, prompted a frenzy of drilling as investors tried to cash in before the oil ran out.

By the summer of 1867, Triumph Hill was producing 2,000 barrels of oil a day. The flood of oil bought lower prices – an early example of the petroleum industry’s boom and bust cycles. Photographer Frank Robbins of Oil City published stereographic images of Triumph Hill, declaring it to be “the most magnificent oil belt (as oil men call a strip of producing land) ever yet discovered. On this belt which is but two miles long, and less than one mile wide – were over 180 producing wells, nearly every one of which was in operation at once.”

Robbins, who moved his studio to Bradford 1879 when that region was on its way to becoming “America’s first billion dollar oilfield,” also printed postcards for sale to tourists.

An image from the 1903 edition of "Sketches in Crude-Oil."

An image from the 1903 edition of “Sketches in Crude-Oil; some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe” by James McLaurin.

“Triumph Hill turned out as much money to the acre as any spot in Oildom,” noted James McLaurin in his 1896 book Sketches in Crude-Oil (some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe).

Many of the hill’s wells averaged 25 barrels of oil a day, McLaurin reported, adding that “the sand was the thickest – often ninety to one hundred and ten feet – and the purest the oil region afforded.” Eventually the tempo of oil exploration around Tidioute and boom town debauchery slowed as the region’s daily production fell. Drilling discipline and well spacing, reservoir engineering and other oilfield management skills would evolve, but Triumph Hill’s glory dissipated within five years as overproduction drained the field.

Today, Triumph Hill remains as one of the many quietly beautiful and forest-covered sites along the Allegheny River Valley that has earned a special place in America’s petroleum history. Tidioute also is among the earliest panoramic maps of America’s earliest petroleum communities by Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler. Read more about his work in Oil Town “Aero Views.”

Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler oil town “aero view" of Tidioute, PA.

Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas at the turn of the century, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler created oil town “aero views” – panoramic maps of many of America’s earliest petroleum communities. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Frank Robbins – Early Oilfields Photographer

Pioneer oil industry photographers like “Oil Creek Artist” John A. Mather documented Northwestern Pennsylvania boom towns.  He and other photographers like Frank Robbins captured many views of North American oil booms, according to geologist and oil patch historian Jeff Spencer. “Common scenes included oil gushers, oilfield fires, teamsters, and boom towns.”

“Frank Robbins documented the emerging Pennsylvania petroleum industry of the 1860s through 1880s,” Spencer noted in a 2011 article in the journal Oil-Industry History“He was one of the most prolific producers of stereoscopic views of oilfields in the Oil City and Bradford, Pennsylvania and Olean, New York area. His many oilfield views include scenes of Triumph Hill, Tidioute, Petrolia, and Pithole. Many of his photographs also were used in early twentieth century postcards.”

Sereoscopic view of "Drake Well, the first oil well."

A stereoscopic view by Frank Robbins described simply as “Drake Well, the first oil well.” Courtesy the New York Public Library

Spencer in 2003 published a book featuring historic Texas postcards (see Postcards from the Texas Oil Patch)

For more resources of oilfield imagery, visit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s Petroleum Photography Websites.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Derricks of Triumph Hill.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/triumph-hill-oil. Last Updated: September 28, 2020. Original Published Date: July 3, 2015.

This Week in Petroleum History, September 21 to September 27

September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well –

Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana. W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill – completed a well that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings.

Scott Heywood first Louisiana oil well historical marker from1951.

Mrs. Scott Heywood unveiled a marker as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee in 1951. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 well found oil at a depth of 1,700 feet. “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” noted the Jennings Daily News. The discovery led to the state’s first commercial oil production by opening the prolific Jennings field, which Haywood further developed by building pipelines and storage tanks. As the field reached peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906, new oilfield discoveries arrived in northern Louisiana. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well.

September 23, 1918 – Giant Wood River Refinery goes Online

Roxana Petroleum Company’s new Wood River (Illinois) facility began refining crude oil. It processed more than two million barrels of oil from Oklahoma oilfields in its first year of operation.

 Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the Phillips 66 Refinery.

The Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the Phillips 66 Refinery southeast of Roxana, Illinois.

Roxana Petroleum Company was the 1912 creation of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which founded the American Gasoline Company in Seattle to distribute gas on the West Coast. Roxana Petroleum was established in Oklahoma to produce the state’s high quality oil to be refined at the Wood River plant. Today, the 2,200-acre facility 15 miles northeast of St. Louis is the largest refinery owned by Phillips 66. Learn more by visiting the Wood River Refinery History Museum.

September 23, 1933 – Standard Oil of California Geologists visit Saudi Arabia

Invited by Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz, geologists from Standard Oil Company of California arrived at the Port of Jubail in the Persian Gulf. Searching the desert for petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter,” they discovered a giant oilfield. This early partnership between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil became known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), later joined by Texaco and other major U.S. companies.

September 23, 1947 – New Patent for “Hortonspheres”

The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) received a patent for improvements to a spherical storage vessel invented by the company’s founder in the 1920s. Designed to store natural gas, butane, propane and other volatile petroleum products, the efficient sphere was among the most important storage innovations to come to the U.S. petroleum industry.

Hortonsphere patent drawing by Horace E. Horton.

Hortonspheres were invented by Chicago bridge builder Horace E. Horton.

First erected in 1923, CB&I named the “Hortonspheres” after engineer Horace E. Horton, who had started the company in 1889 to build bridges across the Mississippi River. The company built its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1892. “The elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations,” notes a CB&I historian. In 1923 at Port Arthur, Texas, the company built “the world’s first field-erected spherical pressure vessel.” Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.

September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology

Call it a “downhole bazooka.” In 1951, war veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brought a key World War II anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry. Mohaupt had been in charge of a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to direct and focus detonation energy ultimately produced a rocket grenade used in the bazooka.

Henry Mohaupt "Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun" patent drawing,

Henry Mohaupt’s “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun” brought to the oil patch his World War II anti-tank “bazooka” technology patented one decade earlier.

After the war, the potential of these downhole rocket grenades to facilitate flow from oil-bearing strata was recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The company employed Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

September 25, 1922 – First New Mexico Oil Well

Midwest Refining Company launched the New Mexico petroleum industry by completing the state’s first commercial oil well on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Drilled near Shiprock, the Hogback No. 1 well produced 375 barrels of oil per day. Following the discovery, Midwest successfully completed 11 more wells to establish the Hogback oilfield as a major producer of the San Juan Basin. Two years later, a pipeline was built to Farmington and the field’s oil shipped by rail to Salt Lake City, Utah, for refining.

Map of New Mexico's San Juan oil and gas basin.

Midwest Refining Company discovered the Hogback oilfield in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.

Production from the prolific Hogback oilfield encouraged further exploration in New Mexico, which led to discoveries in 1928 that brought prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs. Learn more about this exploration and production history in First New Mexico Oil Wells. 

September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well

Although Charles Mentry’s California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells that showed promise, his first gusher arrived with the Pico No. 4 well in September 1876. Drilling with a cable-tool rig powered by steam in an area known for its oil seeps, the well revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It would be declared California’s first commercial oil well.

Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society outdoor exhibit of California’s first refinery

Thanks to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, California’s first refinery has been preserved, perhaps the oldest in the world. Photo courtesy Konrad Summers.

The Star Oil Works well, which initially produced 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, led to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery for making kerosene, axle grease and other lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations had a refining capacity of 150 barrels of oil a day. Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, can trace its beginning to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company.

September 26, 1933 – King Ranch Lease sets Record

Despite the reservations of Humble Oil and Refining Company’s president, geologist Wallace Pratt convinced the company to lease the million-acre King Ranch in Texas for almost $128,000 per year (plus a one-eighth royalty on any discovered oil). The September 1933 petroleum lease deal was the largest oil lease contract ever negotiated in the United States. Humble Oil and Refining, a Houston company founded in 1917, had drilled the King Ranch’s early “dusters.”

TIME magazine cover in 1957 of King Ranch and oil lease.

A 1933 King Ranch oil lease set a record.

Subsequent leases from nearby ranches gave Humble Oil & Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. By 1947, Humble would be operating 390 producing oil wells on the King Ranch lease. ExxonMobil has regularly extended the Humble oil and natural gas lease agreement in effect since 1933. Learn more in Oil Reigns at King Ranch.

September 26, 1943 – First Florida Oil Well

The Humble Oil Company completed Florida’s first commercially successful oil well on September 26, 1943 – the Sunniland No. 1 – near a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The company spent $1 million drilling to a depth of about 11,600 feet to complete the discovery well, located 12 miles south of Immokalee, near Big Cypress Preserve and the city of Naples.

Historical marker of first Florida oil well.

Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women.

Florida’s petroleum had eluded hundreds of wildcatters since 1901. By 1939, almost 80 dry holes had been drilled. Florida legislators – desperate for their state to become an oil producer and benefit from the tax revenue – offered a $50,000 bounty for the first oil discovery. Revealing the Sunniland oilfield brought more drilling, and by 1954 the field was producing 500,000 barrels of oil per year from 11 wells.

Texas-based Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state legislature, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. Humble later became ExxonMobil. Learn more in First Florida Oil Well.

September 26, 1962 – Popular TV Show begins with Shallow Oil Discovery

CBS aired the first episode of the Beverly Hillbillies, “The Clampetts Strike Oil,” where the O.K. Oil Company of Tulsa informed poor mountaineer Jed Clampett that he owned an oil-rich swamp. Paid $25 million, the Clampett family reluctantly moved to Beverly Hills. The show ranked no. 1 in the Nelson ratings for two years and in the top 20 of most-watched TV programs for eight of its nine seasons.

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September 27, 1915 – Deadly Explosion in Ardmore, Oklahoma

At 2:20 p.m., a railroad car carrying casinghead gasoline exploded in Ardmore, Oklahoma, killing 43 people and injuring many others. The car, which had arrived the day before, was waiting to be taken to a nearby refinery. Casinghead gasoline (also called natural gasoline) at the time was integral to the state’s petroleum development, with 40 processing plants in operation.

Destroyed by 1915 casing gas explosion, image of downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma.

A casing gas explosion destroyed most of downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1915. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the disaster began when rising afternoon temperatures activated a valve to release the car’s gas pressure. “The Ardmore Refining Company then sent a representative, who removed the dome from the top of the car, filling the air with gas and vapors.”

Triggered by an unidentified source, the explosion destroyed much of downtown Ardmore. The Atchinson, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway was found responsible for the explosion and paid 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million, the society reports, adding that “oil companies changed and improved the extraction and transportation methods for natural gasoline.”

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

First Louisiana Oil Wells

Acadia Parish oil seeps inspired 1901 Jennings oilfield discovery.

 

The first Louisiana oil well discovered the giant Jennings field in 1901 and launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. Almost a quarter million wells would be drilled by 2014.

Nine months after the 1901 headline-making oil discovery at Spindletop, Texas, oil erupted 90 miles to the east. W. Scott Heywood – already successful wildcatter at Spindletop – drilled a well that revealed the Jennings oilfield. The September 21, 1901, Louisiana gusher initially produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day.

The widow of Louisiana's oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood," unveiled an historical marker in 1961.

Mrs. Scott Heywood, “the widow of Louisiana’s oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood,” unveiled an historical marker on September 23, 1951, as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Louisiana’s first commercial oil well came in on the Jules Clements farm about seven miles northeast of Jennings. Local investors earlier had formed the Jennings Oil Company and hired Scott, who recognized that natural gas seeps found nearby were nearly identical to the conditions observed at Spindletop.

Scott would insist on drilling deeper than many investors thought wise.

Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana.

The Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana on September 21, 1901. Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

“At the age 29, W. Scott Haywood was already a seasoned, experienced and successful explorer,” notes the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS). “He had gone to Alaska in 1897 during the great Yukon gold rush, sinking a shaft and mining a profitable gold deposit.”

Haywood, who also had drilled several successful oil wells in California, was one of the first to reach Spindletop following news of the “Lucas Gusher” of January 10, 1901. Haywood eventually convinced the reluctant Clements to allow drilling in the farmer’s rice field. The Clements farm was at the small, unincorporated community of Evangeline in Acadia Parish, northeast of Jennings.

W. Scott Heywood, who drilled the first Louisiana oil well.

W. Scott Heywood

However, after drilling to 1,000 feet without finding oil or natural gas, the Jennings Oil Company’s investors wanted to abandon the first attempt. “After all, 1,000 feet had been deep enough to discover the tremendous oil gushers at Spindletop field,” explains Scott Smiley of the LGS. “Instead of drilling two wells to a depth of 1,000 feet each, Heywood persuaded the investors to change the contract to accept a single well drilled to a depth of 1,500 feet.”

More drilling pipe was brought in and the well deepened.

Heywood finally found oil at 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors had sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, stock in the Jennings Oil Company even sold for as little as 25 cents per share. Patient investors were rewarded with the gusher of 7,000 barrels of oil per day. According to the Jennings Daily News, “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice.”

Scott Haywood and his oil well drilling crew circa early 1900s

Scott Haywood and his Louisiana roughnecks. Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Although the Jules Clements No. 1 well is on only a 1/32 of an acre lease, it marked the state’s first oil production and launched the Louisiana petroleum industry. It opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks. The Jennings oilfield reached its peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906. Meanwhile, an October 1905 discovery in northern Louisiana further expanded the state’s young petroleum industry. Visit the Louisiana Oil City Museum.

Haywood returned to Alaska in 1908 on a big-game hunting trip. He retraced much of his travels to the Klondike gold fields, notes Smiley. “After a brief retirement in California, he returned to Jennings and drilled several wells at Jennings and elsewhere in Louisiana,” Smiley reports, adding the he also found success at the Borger and Panhandle oilfields in Texas.

“Heywood returned to Jennings in 1927 and assisted Gov. Huey P. Long in passing legislation to provide schoolbooks for children,” concludes the LGS geologist in Jennings Field – The Birthplace of Louisiana’s Oil Industry, September 2001. Among all petroleum producing states in 2014, Louisiana ranked fourth in natural gas production and tenth in oil production.

Early 1900s scene of the Jennings oilfield of Louisiana.

Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Editor’s Note – A retired professor challenged the date of Louisiana’s first commercial oil well during a 2011 presentation at Carnegie Library in Sulphur. Thomas Watson, PhD, “has uncovered evidence that the first producing oil well in Louisiana was at the Sulphur Mines in 1886,” notes an article in the Sulphur Daily News. “This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana.”

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In 2014, the cumulative number of wells drilled in Louisiana from the first year of production (1902 for oil, 1905 for natural gas) was 230,647, according to the IPAA Oil & Gas Producing Industry in Your State. Of those wells, 35 percent (80,907) were dry holes.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Louisiana Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-louisiana-oil-well. Last Updated: September 21, 2020. Original Published Date: September 1, 2005.

 

Horace Horton’s Spheres

Inventor’s Chicago Bridge & Iron Company erected a spherical pressure vessel in 1923.

 

Seen from the highway, they look like giant eggs or perhaps fanciful Disney architectural projects. A Chicago bridge builder invented the distinctive high-pressure storage globes, once constructed by riveting together wrought iron plates.

Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) named their “Hortonspheres” after Horace Ebenezer Horton, the company founder and inventor of the round vessels. His creation of a highly efficient storage tank was one of the great innovations to come to the oil patch.

A row of giant Hortonspheres holding LNG.

Hortonspheres, the trademarked name of many containers like these, were invented by a bridge builder.

Horton (1843-1912), the son of a successful Rochester, New York, real estate developer, grew up in Chicago. Skilled in mechanical engineering, he was 46 years old when he formed CB&I in 1889. His company had built seven bridges across the Mississippi River when its Washington Heights, Illinois, fabrication plant expanded into the manufacture of water tanks.

Patent drawing of a Hortonsphere.

Horace Ebenezer Horton (1843-1912) founded the company that would build the world’s first “field-erected spherical pressure vessel.”

CB&I erected its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1892, according to the company, which notes that “the elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations.”

When Horton died in 1912, his company was just getting started. Soon, the company’s elevated tank towers were providing efficient water storage and pipeline pressure that benefited many cities and towns. CB&I’s first elevated “Watersphere” tank was completed in 1939 in Longmont, Colorado.

The company had brought its steel plate engineering expertise to the oil and natural gas industry as early as 1919, when it built a petroleum tank farm in Glenrock, Wyoming, for Sinclair Refining Company (formed by Harry Sinclair in 1916).

Horace E. Horton designed spherical storage vessels called Hortonspheres

Horace E. Horton designed spherical storage vessels for his Chicago Bridge & Iron Company. Photo courtesy CB&I.

CB&I’s innovative steel plate structures and its tank building technologies proved a great success. The company left bridge building entirely to supply the petroleum infrastructure market. Newly discovered oilfields in Ranger, Texas, in 1917 and Seminole, Oklahoma, in the 1920s were straining the nation’s petroleum storage capacity.

In the Permian Basin, a West Texas company desperate to store soaring oil production constructed an experimental tank designed to hold up to five million barrels of oil. The structure used concrete-coated earthen walls 30 feet tall and covered with a cedar roof to slow evaporation. But the tank’s seams leaked and it was abandoned. It today is home to the Million Barrel Museum.

Chicago Bridge and Iron Company 1912 sales book with Hotonspheres.

A spherically bottomed water tower shown in the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company 1912 sales book.

By 1923, CB&I’s storage innovations like its “floating roof” oil tank had greatly increased safety and profitability as well as setting industry standards. That year the company built its first Hortonsphere in Port Arthur, Texas. Soon, pressure vessels of all sizes where being used for storage of compressed gases such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or propane and butane in a liquid gas stage. Hortonspheres also hold liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced by cooling natural gas at atmospheric pressure to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (which point it liquefies).

In one of engineering’s finest examples of form following function, a sphere is the theoretical ideal shape for a vessel that resists internal pressure.

In the first Port Arthur installation and up until about 1941, the component steel plates were riveted; thereafter, welding allowed for increased pressures and vessel sizes. As metallurgy and welding advances brought tremendous gains in Hortonspheres’ holding capacities, they also have proven to be an essential part of the modern petroleum refining business. B&I constructed fractionating towers for many petroleum refineries, beginning with Standard Oil of Louisiana at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1930. The company also built a giant, all-welded 80,000 barrel oil storage tank in New Jersey.

Since 1923, Chicago Bridge & Iron has fabricated more than 3,500 Hortonspheres for worldwide markets in capacities reaching more than three million gallons. The company today says it continues to be the leading spherical storage container builder worldwide.

A Poughkeepsie, New York, Hortonsphere

Fascinated by geodestic domes and similiar structures, Jeff Buster discovered a vintage Hortonsphere in Poughkeepsie, New York. In 2012 he contacted the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

A Hortonsphere viewed in 2012 in Poughkeepsie, New York.

A Hortonsphere viewed in 2012 from the “Walkway over the Hudson” in Poughkeepsie, New York. Photo courtesy Jeff Buster.

Buster wanted the agency to save Horton’s sphere at at the corner of Dutchess and North Water streets. He asked that an effort be made “to preserve this beautiful and unique ‘form following function’ structure, which is in immediate risk of being demolished.”

Buster posted a photo of the Poughkeepsie Hortonsphere on a website devoted to geodestic domes. “The jig saw pattern of steel plates assembled into this sphere is unique,” he wrote. “The lay-out pattern is repeated four times around the vertical axis of the tank,” Buster added. “With the rivets detailing the seams, the sphere is extremely cool and organic feeling.”

Although the steel tank, owned by Central Hudson Gas and Electric Company, was demolished in late 2013, Buster’s photo helps preserve its oil patch legacy.

LNG Spheres at Sea

Sphere technology became seaborn as well. On February 20, 1959, after a three-week voyage, the Methane Pioneer – the world’s first LNG tanker – arrived at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England, from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Modern LNG tankers are massive and doubled hulled.

The Methane Pioneer, a converted World War II liberty freighter, contained five, 7,000-barrel aluminum tanks supported by balsa wood and insulated with plywood and urethane. The successful voyage demonstrated that large quantities of liquefied natural gas could be transported safely across the ocean.

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Most modern LNG carriers have between four and six tanks on the vessel. New classes have a cargo capacity of between 7.4 million cubic feet and 9.4 million cubic feet. They are equipped with their own re-liquefaction plant. In 2015 – about 100 years after Horace Ebenezer Horton died – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced it was building next-generation LNG carriers to transport the shale gas produced in North America.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Horace Horton’s Spheres.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/hortonspheres/. Last Updated: September 21, 2020. Original Published Date: December 14, 2016.

 

Downhole Bazooka

WWII anti-tank weapon improves technology for perforating well casings.

Swiss inventor Henry Mohaupt used his experience from creating a World War II anti-tank weapon to develop a new technology for improving production of oil and natural gas wells. He used conically hollowed-out explosive charges to focus each detonation’s energy.

Word War II bazooka and shaped charge patent image

In 1951, Henry Mohaupt applied for a U.S. patent for his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun,” based on anti-tank technology he had patented a decade earlier – a conically hollowed out explosive fired from bazookas.

(more…)

First Florida Oil Well

Humble Oil found oil in 1943 — after desperate lawmakers offered a $50,000 bounty.

 

Among its petroleum history records, Florida’s first – but certainly not last – unsuccessful attempt to find commercially viable oil reserves began in 1901, not far from the Gulf Coast panhandle town of Pensacola. Two test wells were drilled, the first to 1,620 feet and the second 100 feet deeper. Both were abandoned. Whether that wildcatter followed science or intuition, contemporary accounts of his efforts reveal only a small footnote: Florida’s first two dry holes. Twenty years later, as America’s oil demand soared, oil still had not been found in Florida. The state’s panhandle still looked promising – despite a growing list of failed drilling ventures.

first florida oil well oil pumps at Collier County Museum

Florida’s first oil well’s site is by present day Big Cypress Preserve in southwest Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the resort city of Naples.

Indian legends and a wildcat stock promoter’s claim of oil inspired yet another attempt near today’s Falling Waters Park, about 100 miles east of Pensacola. A tall, wooden derrick and steam-driven rig were used to drill. At a depth 3,900 feet, a brief showing of natural gas excited area residents with a false report of a possible gusher. Undeterred, the oilmen continued to drill to a depth of 4,912 feet before finally giving up. No oil of commercial quantity was found and the well was capped in 1921. Another dry hole. (more…)

Oil Reigns at King Ranch

A 1933 lease earned hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and launched a major oil company.

 

The largest U.S. private oil lease ever negotiated was signed in Texas during the Great Depression. The 825,000 acre King Ranch oil deal with Humble Oil and Refining helped establish a major petroleum company. The 1933 agreement has been extended ever since.

Despite dry holes drilled more than a decade earlier, a geologist convinced his petroleum company to further explore a big ranch in South Texas. At one point covering one million acres, King Ranch today is still bigger than the state of Rhode Island (776,960 acres). According to the Texas State Historical Association, King Ranch began in 1852, when Richard King and Gideon Lewis set up a cattle camp on Santa Gertrudis Creek southwest of Corpus Christi. The ranch expanded into Nueces, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties. Its Running W  brand appeared in the 1860s.

King Ranch became famous for its Texas longhorn cattle. Petroleum exploration there began as early as 1919. Exploratory wells drilled by a future major oil company – the largest in America – were dry holes.

king ranch oil LIFE magazine 1957 cover

Well known in 1957, Robert Kleberg, the grandson of ranch founder, Richard King, made hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from his grandfather’s 1933 lease deal.

Humble Beginnings

Humble Oil and Refining Company, a Houston company founded in 1917, drilled early unsuccessful wells on the King Ranch. With no oil discoveries by 1926, the company let its lease expire. Years would  pass as new exploration and production terms were negotiated.

“Agreement was not reached until 1933 because Humble’s top management was uncertain about the oil potential of this part of Texas,” explained a 2010 article by John Ashton and Edgar Sneed. Company geologist Wallace E. Pratt finally convinced Humble Oil and Refining President W.S. Parrish to lease the King Ranch for $127,824 per year, plus a one-eighth royalty.

King ranch oil Humble Oil Houston logo

Humble Oil and Refining Company’s first home office was built in 1920 at Main and Polk streets in downtown Houston.

The petroleum lease, signed on September 26, 1933, would bring wealth to both the ranch and the young petroleum company. Subsequent leases from neighboring ranches gave Humble Oil and Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. The first successful oil well on the King Ranch was completed in 1939.

“Drilling was minor until 1945, when the Borregas oilfield was discovered,” noted Ashton and Sneed in their Handbook of Texas Online King Ranch article. “After that, several major oil and gas discoveries were made on the ranch, where in 1947 Humble operated 390 producing oil wells,” they added. The company constructed a refinery in Kingsville to handle its growing oil production in South Texas.

Destined for Greatness

King Ranch had 650 producing oil and natural gas wells in 1953. In 1980, a subsidiary — King Ranch Oil and Gas — was formed to conduct exploration and production in five states and the Gulf of Mexico. Eight years later the company sold its Louisiana and Oklahoma holdings to Presidio Oil for more than $40 million.

“In 1992 King Ranch Oil and Gas was one among several companies to discover natural gas off the coast of Louisiana,” concluded  Ashton and Sneed. By 1994, the King Ranch had received oil and natural gas royalties amounting to more than $1 billion since World War II, they estimated.

king ranch oil post card of Kingsville Texas mansion

In Kingsville, Texas, the tiered Mediterranean-style main house of King Ranch headquarters, “looms like a palace over the kingdom.”

Humble Oil and Refining Company will consolidate operations with Standard Oil of New Jersey. By the 1950s it merges operations with Esso, leading to Exxon.

Today, as ExxonMobil,  the company continues to extend the King Ranch lease agreement that has been in effect since September 1933. “The King family became the closest thing to royalty in Texas,” Nanette Watson proclaimed in her April 2012 article in Houses with History. “Admired for their hard work and generosity, the family is expressly private and protective of their land,” she reported. “The ruling family’s tiered Mediterranean-style main house at the headquarters looms like a palace over the kingdom.”

Watson also said the family’s “destined for greatness” legacy was portrayed in the 1956 Hollywood epic “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson.

Although the rancher (Hudson) and the roughneck (Dean) are thrown into conflict prior to an oil gusher, by the time the movie was made, well control had been around more than 30 years (see Ending Oil Gushers – BOP).

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Reigns at King Ranch.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/king-ranch-oil. Last Updated: September 23, 2020. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.

 

Oil & Gas History News, September 2020

AOGHS logo Newsletter

September 16, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 9

 

Oil & Gas History News

 

This month’s newsletter during an unprecedented back-to-school year offers the latest “This Week In petroleum History” summaries and links to in-depth articles about the people, events, and technologies that have shaped the modern energy industry. AOGHS website visitors (new and returning) are sharing our petroleum research with educators, who benefit from having a historical context in their energy curricula.

 

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

 

Links to summaries from four weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers. 

September 14, 1871 – President Grant visits Pennsylvania Region

President Ulysses S. Grant visited Titusville, Petroleum Center, and Oil City, Pennsylvania, to learn more about the nation’s growing petroleum industry. The 18th president would improve Washington City’s streets, directing in 1876 that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad asphalt…MORE

September 7, 1917 – Oilfield Legacy of Texas Governor Hogg

In 1917, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company’s No. 1 Hogg well discovered oil 50 miles south of Houston, ending a streak of dry holes dating back to 1901, when former Texas Governor James “Big Jim” Hogg first thought he saw signs of oil. The Hogg family would appreciate a clause in his will requiring them to keep the lease…MORE

August 31, 1850 – San Francisco Utility manufactures Gas from CoalThe San Francisco Gas Company incorporated to produce and distribute manufactured gas from a coal “gasification” plant. Renamed the Pacific Gas & Electric, by 1915 the company operated about 8,500 gas street lamps — each hand lit and shut off every day. The first U.S. manufactured gas street lamps illuminated Baltimore, Maryland, in 1817…MORE

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

Patillo Higgins, who would become known as the “Prophet of Spindletop,” founded the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company. He and several partners leased 2,700 acres four miles south of Beaumont, Texas. A self-taught geologist, Higgins believed oil-bearing sands could be found near a big hill there…MORE

 

Featured Image

drake-oil-well-AOGHS

The U.S. petroleum industry was born on August 27, 1859, in Titusville, Pennsylvania, when former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake drilled the first American oil well 69.5 feet deep. Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, had hired Drake to find oil for refining into a popular new lamp fuel: kerosene. When fire destroyed his derrick and engine house, Drake rebuilt on the original site, and in this 1861 photo he stands at right with his friend Peter Wilson of Titusville. Oilfield photographer John A. Mather’s iconic (and often misidentified) image is part the extensive collection of glass negatives preserved at the Drake Well Museum and Park.

 

Energy Education Articles

 

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:

After decades of failed attempts by major oil companies, J. L. “Mike” Dougan of Salt Lake City discovered Utah’s first significant oilfield on September 18, 1948. He had searched in state for more than 25 years before finding the Uinta Basin field about 10 miles southeast of Vernal. See First Utah Oil Wells.

The Texas petroleum industry began on September 12,1866, when Lyne Taliaferro Barret and his Melrose Petroleum Oil Company completed the state’s first well drilled for oil. Because the Confederate Army veteran’s Nacogdoches County discovery did not produce commercial quantities, it would be decades before others returned. See First Lone Star Discovery.

Gasoline pumps began with a small device for dispensing kerosene. On September 5, 1885, S.F. (Sylvanus Freelove) Bowser sold his newly invented kerosene pump to the owner of a grocery store in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Less than two decades later, the first purposely built drive-in gasoline service station opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. See First Gas Pump and Service Station.

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In addition to hundreds of articles and images, the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s website offers energy education resources, including student chapters of leading earth sciences organizations. There also are links to petroleum museums and exhibits.

The East Texas Oil Museum at Kilgore College this month celebrates its opening 40 years ago in the heart of the 140,000-acre oilfield, discovered during the Great Depression. A two-year renovation of the Boomtown Theater is complete, according to Olivia Moore, museum manager, and a newly digitized version of the 16 mm film “The Great East Texas Oil Boom” is the main attraction. 

Thank you again for subscribing. Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed. Even a small financial contribution helps us add articles, respond to research requests, and continue preserving petroleum history.

— Bruce Wells

“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, September 14 to September 20

September 14, 1871 – President Grant visits Pennsylvania Oil Region –

During a tour of northwestern Pennsylvania, President Ulysses S. Grant visited Titusville, Petroleum Center, and Oil City to learn more about the nation’s growing petroleum industry. Consumer demand for kerosene for lamps had led to drilling the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville in 1859. The 18th U.S. president would help improve Washington City’s streets, directing in 1876 that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad asphalt (Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way).

September 14, 1929 – West Texas Well sets Record

A West Texas well struck oil at a depth of 1,070 feet and produced an astounding 204,672 barrels of oil a day — the nation’s most productive single well up until that time. The Yates 30-A initially produced 8,528 barrels of oil per hour, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. The Pecos County well was drilled just a few hundred yards from the 1926 discovery well of the giant Yates field, the Ira G. Yates 1-A. (more…)

First Utah Oil Wells

Deeper drilling launched state’s petroleum industry in 1948.

 

After decades of expensive failed exploration attempts (a few small producers but mostly dry holes), the first significant Utah oil well was competed on September 18, 1948, in the Uinta Basin. “The honor of bringing in the state’s first commercial oil well went not to the ‘Majors’ but to an ‘Independent’ — the Equity Oil Company,” noted Osmond Harline in a 1963 article.

 The Uinta Basin drilling courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

The Uinta Basin witnessed Utah’s first drilling boom following a 1948 oil discovery. A modern boom would return thanks to coalbed methane gas. Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society.

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Indiana Natural Gas Boom

Turn-of-the-century alternative fuel for manufacturers.

 

A series of major Indiana natural gas discoveries in the late 1880s revealed the Trenton Field, which extended across the state into Ohio. New pipelines and abundant gas supplies soon attracted manufacturing industries to the Midwest.

Discoveries of natural gas in Eaton and Portland quickly ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom. New exploration and production will dramatically change the state’s economy.  In 1859, the same year that “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake drilled the country’s first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, there already were almost 300 “manufactured gas” (known as coal gas) companies in the 33 United States.

Replacing Coal Gas

Coal gas was produced in a distillation process that extracted it from wood or coal. After further purification, coal gas was distributed via low-pressure street mains to consumers. America’s first public street lamp used it to illuminate Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1817. Coal gas, also called manufactured gas, eventually would provide home illumination to almost five million U.S. customers.

Natural gas flambeaux light streets in Indiana, wasting the gas.

Indiana lawmakers banned “flambeaux” lights in 1891, becoming one of the first states to legislate conservation. Photo of Findlay during its 1888 Gas Jubilee courtesy Hancock Historical Museum.

Although natural gas was known to burn much cleaner, hotter, and more efficiently than coal gas, pre-Civil War technology made handling it far too dangerous for commercial applications. When drilling for oil, natural gas was often found — a colorless, odorless, highly flammable and unwelcome hazard. Drillers sought oil to send to refiners for distilling into kerosene, a safe and affordable lamp fuel. But while demand for kerosene built wooden derricks up and down the Allegheny River, and the coal gas business still prospered, natural gas was just an impediment.

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Marathon of Ohio Oil

The Ohio Oil Company drilled a well more than four miles deep in 1954.

 

Founded in 1887 by Henry M. Ernst, the Ohio Oil Company got its exploration and production start in northwestern Ohio, at the time a leading oil producing region. Two years later,  John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust purchased the company — known as “the Ohio” — and in 1905 moved headquarters from Lima to Findlay.

Soon establishing itself as a major pipeline company, by 1908 the Ohio controlled half of the oil production in three states.The company resumed independent operation in 1911 following the dissolution of the Standard Oil monopoly. The new Ohio Company’s petroleum exploration operations would expand to Wyoming and beyond.

Marathon of Ohio Oil motor oil advertisement

The Ohio Oil Company in 1930 purchased Transcontinental Oil, a refiner that had marketed gasoline under the trademark “Marathon” since 1920. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1915, the company assigned 1,800 miles of pipeline, as well as gathering and storage facilities, to its newly acquired Illinois Pipe Line Company. The Ohio then purchased the Lincoln Oil Refining Company to better integrate and develop crude oil outlets.

“Ohio Oil saw the increasing need for marketing their own products with the ever increasing supply of automobiles appearing on the primitive roads,” explained Gary Drye, a collector of gas station antiques, in a 2006 forum at Oldgas.com.  “They finally ventured into marketing in June 1924 with the purchase of Lincoln Oil Refining Company of Robinson, Illinois. With an assured oil supply, the “Linco” brand soon expanded.

Marathon of Ohio Oil gas station

The Ohio Oil Company marketed its oil products as “Linco” after purchasing the Lincoln Oil Refinery in 1920. Undated photo of a station in Fremont, Ohio.

Meanwhile, a subsidiary in 1926 co-discovered the giant Yates oilfield in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and West Texas. “With huge successes in oil exploration and production ventures, Ohio Oil realized they needed even more retail outlets for their products,” Drye reported. By 1930 Ohio Oil Company distributed Linco products throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Kentucky.

Marathon of Ohio Oil

In 1930 Ohio Oil purchased Transcontinental Oil, a refiner that had marketed gasoline under the trademark “Marathon” across the Midwest and South since 1920. Acquiring the Marathon product name included the Pheidippides Greek runner trademark and the “Best in the long run” slogan.

Marathon of Ohio Oil Marathon logo

Adopted in 2011, the third logo for corporate branding in Marathon Oil’s 124-year history.

According to Drye, Transcontinental “can best be remembered for a significant ‘first’ when in 1929 they opened several Marathon stations in Dallas, Texas in conjunction with Southland Ice Company’s ‘Tote’m’ stores (later 7-Eleven) creating the first gasoline/convenience store tie-in.”

The Marathon brand proved so popular that by World War II the name had replaced Linco at stations in the original five state territory. After the war, Ohio Oil continued to purchase other companies and expand throughout the 1950s. In 1962, celebrating its 75th anniversary, The Ohio changed its name to Marathon Oil Company and launched its new “M” in a hexagon shield logo design. Other milestones include:

1981 – U.S. Steel (USX) purchased the company.
1985 – Yates field produced its billionth barrel of oil.
1990 – Marathon opened headquarters in Houston.
2005 – Marathon became 100 percent owner of Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC, which later became Marathon Petroleum Corp.
2011 – Completed a $3.5 billion investment in the Eagle Ford Shale play in Texas.

On June 30, 2011, Marathon Oil became an independent upstream company and unveiled an “energy wave” logo as it prepared to separate from Marathon Petroleum, based in Findlay. Read a more detailed history in Ohio Oil Company and visit the Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay.

Ohio Oil’s California Record

As deep drilling technologies continued to advanced in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Marathon of Ohio Oil magazine article

Petroleum Engineer magazine in 1954 noted the well set a record despite being “halted by a fishing job.”

The deep oil well drilling attempt about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, experienced many challenges. A final problem led to it being plugged with cement on December 31, 1954. At more than four miles deep, down-hole drilling technology of the time was not up to the task when the drill bit became stuck.

The challenge of retrieving obstructions from deep in a well’s borehole – “fishing” – has challenged the petroleum industry since the first tool stuck at 134 feet and ruined a well spudded just four days after the famous 1859 discovery by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania. See The First Dry HoleIn a 1954 article about deep drilling technology, The Petroleum Engineer noted the Kern County well of the Ohio Oil Company – today’s Marathon Oil – set a record despite being “halted by a fishing job.”

The well was lost. A 1953 Kern County well drilled by Richfield Oil Corporation produced oil from 17,895 feet, according to the magazine. At the time, the average U.S. cost for the nearly 100 wells drilled below 15,000 feet was about $550,000 per well. Six hundred and thirty-two exploratory wells with a total footage of almost three million feet were drilled in California during 1954, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Visit the West Kern Oil Museum.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Marathon of Ohio Oil.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/stocks/marathon-ohio-oil. Last Updated: September 12, 2020. Original Published Date: December 28, 2014.

 

Governor Hogg’s Texas Oil Wells

In 1917, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company’s No. 1 Hogg well discovered oil south of Houston and ended a streak of dry holes dating back to 1901 – when former Texas Governor James S. “Big Jim” Hogg first thought oil might be there and leased the land. Hogg, the Lone Star State’s 20th governor, would die in 1906 and not see the latest Texas drilling boom he helped launch. But the Hogg family would benefit from his unwavering belief in finding oil in region with a geology similar to the already famous “Lucas Gusher.”

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This Week in Petroleum History, September 7 to September 13

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

After drilling 20 dry holes, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company completed the No. 1 Hogg well  50 miles south of Houston. Four months later, a second well produced about 600 barrels a day. The discoveries ended a succession of dry holes dating back to 1901 — when former Texas Governor James “Big Jim” Hogg paid $30,000 for the lease (he also help launch the Texas Company, predecessor to Texaco). Hogg died 11 years before the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company wells found oil, but fortunately for his family, he stipulated in his will that the mineral rights should not be sold for at least 15 years after his death. Learn more in Governor Hogg’s Texas Oil Wells.
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First Lone Star Oil Discovery

Historic 1866 Texas well produced just 10 barrels of oil.

Lyne Taliaferro Barret completed the first Texas oil well on September 12, 1866, west of the Sabine River. His Nacogdoches County discovery well did not produce commercial quantities of oil; it lay dormant for nearly two decades until others returned to Barret’s oilfield. 

In December 1859, less than four months after Edwin L. Drake’s first U.S. oil well drilled in Pennsylvania, a similarly determined petroleum explorer named Lyne (Lynis) Taliaferro Barret began searching in an East Texas area known as Oil Springs. The 1848 invention of “coal oil” —  kerosene — had prompted demand for an illuminating fuel made from oil, inspiring speculation and drilling. 

First Texas oil well rare map of east Texas oil well site

Lyne T. Barret leased land just east of Nacogdoches, an area known for its oil seeps. Detail from Texas & New Orleans Railroad map (1860) courtesy David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Native Americans had long known of the eastern Texas natural seeps. Early settlers used oil for its purported medicinal benefit for both themselves and their livestock. Barret’s interest in finding the newly prized resource was no doubt prompted by its lucrative $20 a barrel selling price.  He joined the chase for petroleum riches, but prudently continued to operate his successful mercantile partnership in Melrose.
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First California Oil Wells

A 1876 Pico Canyon oil well brought pipelines, refineries, and helped make Chevron an industry giant.

Following an 1859 oil discovery in Pennsylvania, young U.S. oil exploration companies began reaching the West Coast, attracted by California’s natural oil seeps. Some made small but historic discoveries of “black gold” soon after the Civil War. The state’s first gusher arrived in 1876 – and launched an industry.

Pico Canyon produced limited amounts of crude oil as early as 1855, but there was no market for the oil, which was found near oil seeps about 35 miles north of Los Angeles. In northern California, an 1865 well near oil seeps in Humboldt County also could be considered the first California oil well. Drilled by Old Union Matolle Company after the Civil War, the well produced oil near Petrolia and attracted early oil companies to the oilfield. A state historical marker (no. 543) dedicated on November 10, 1955 declared:

California’s First Drilled Oil Wells – California’s first drilled oil wells producing crude to berefined and sold commercially were located on the north fork of the River approximately three miles east of here. The Old Union Mattole Oil Company made its first shipment of oil from here in June 1865 to a San Francisco refinery. Many old well heads remain today.

Although the “Old Union well” initially yielded about 30 barrels of high quality oil, “production soon slowed to one barrel per day and the prospect was abandoned,” explained K.R. Aalto, a geologist at Humboldt State University. The Humboldt County well in what became the oilfield, “attracted interest and investment among oilmen because of the abundance of oil and gas seeps throughout that region,” Aalto noted in his 2013 Oil-Industry History article.

Pico Well No. 4 in 1877, and early California oil well.

The steam boiler and cable-tools, including the “walking beam,” of Pico Well No. 4 in 1877. Photo by Carleton Watkins courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Meanwhile in Pico Canyon, Charles Mentry of the California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells in 1875 and 1876 that showed promise. The first West Coast oil gusher arrived with his fourth well and helped established a major oil company.

Drilling with a steam-powered cable-tool rig in an area known for its many oil seeps, Mentry discovered the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. California’s first truly commercial oil well, the Pico Well No. 4 gusher of September 26, 1876, launched other industries, including constructing a pipeline and an oil refinery for producing kerosene. (more…)

Women Oilfield Roustabouts

Remembering contributions of all oilfield pioneers.

 

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS), community museums, and professional associations have sought ways to preserve written histories of the men and women who have worked in the industry. Many museum have established oral (and video) history collections. In 2017, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) published Anomalies – Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917 to 2017.

This AOGHS website provides another resource for those wanting to share their career experiences in the petroleum industry. When contacted with family stories, the historical society tries to post some of the personal oilfield stories of women, including oilfield crew leader Tamara George. Helping add to this chronicle of oilfield women pioneers, a 2020 email from the son of Lynda Armstrong noted her working as a roustabout for Gulf Oil in 1974. 

Lynda Armstrong: Gulf Oil Roustabout

Although Tamara George’s pioneering work as a roustabout foreman was notable, other determined women made similar pioneering oilfield achievements (see Women of the Offshore Petroleum Industry tell Their Stories). In August 2020, John Armstrong emailed the historical about his late mother’s accomplishments. He reported that In 1974, Lynda Armstrong worked in Goldsmith Texas, outside of Odessa, “as a roustabout for Gulf Oil before becoming the foreman for the water injection plant that is located on the Y.T .Ranch in Goldsmith.”

Lynn Armstrong working in Texas oilfield

“I blazed a few trails in my days,” noted the late Lynn Armstrong about her oilfield career.

Armstrong would go on to teach corrosion technology at Odessa College and Eastern New Mexico University. “I blazed a few trails in my days,” she later explained about her oil patch career: “Gulf Oil, first woman to be hired in 1974 as roustabout; Arco lease operator; Enserch production supervisor; ENMU-R production technology instructor; Odessa College technology instructor.”

Tamara George: Roustabout Crew Leader

In early 1980s in Texas Panhandle oilfields, Tamara L. George led a skilled service company crew. Among the very first women to hold the dangerous, labor-intensive job, her oilfield journey began at D-J’s Roustabout and Well Services in Borger, Texas. “At the time two brothers owned the company, Jerry Nolan, who handled the office work, and Harold Nolan, who did everything outside the office, George explained in a December 2018 email to AOGHS.

“It was Harold Nolan who wanted to hire me, but Don Nolan was not keen on this idea thinking I would be problems that I could not handle the work, get along with the men,” she added. “Don did not know I had been an Industrial, commercial and residential electrician, apprentice iron welder, and an auto body technician.”

rig on display outside oil museum in Borger, texas.

The Hutchinson County Historical Museum in Borger exhibits North Texas petroleum heritage with emphasis on the oilfield boom of the 1920-1930 era. Photo by Bruce Wells.

She said Nolans gave her a chance, and “within six months I moved to being a roustabout foreman running my own crew,” George explained in her note to the historical society. “I was the most requested crew in the Texas Panhandle oilfields.”

After leading her crews in the 1980s, George has proclaimed herself to be “only woman to ever hold such a position,” and even the “first woman to be a roustabout foreman in oilfield history!” Her personal oilfield record (which she is still researching) may extend to Canada, where she worked a few months as a roustabout foreman for Pangea Oil & Gas Company of Calgary, Alberta. And there’s still more to her career firsts. “When the oilfield shut down, I went into medicine,” she noted, adding that she returned to school to work on advanced degrees in radiology and gastroenterology. Then came a personal health crisis.

“I was around two years into obtaining my doctorates when a fatal tumor revealed itself,” George explained. “The tumor had caused a rather large aneurysm to which the doctors shook their heads in disbelief.” It was a mystery to her doctors how the roustabout foreman survived while doing such labor intensive work of the oil industry. In the years since her service company work, George, who today lives in Elk City, Oklahoma, has “not come across any women doing what I did” earlier in the oilfields.

Oil History of Borger, Texas

Thousands of people rushed to the Texas Panhandle in early 1926 after Dixon Creek Oil and Refining Company completed the Smith No. 1 well, which flowed at 10,000 barrels of oil a day in southern Hutchinson County. A.P. “Ace” Borger of Tulsa, Oklahoma, leased a 240-acre tract and by September his Borger oilfield had more than 800 producing wells, yielding 165,000 barrels a day Dedicated in 1977, the Hutchinson County Boom Town Museum in Borger today celebrates “Oil Boom Heritage” every March. Special exhibits, events and school tours occur throughout the Borger celebration, about 40 miles northeast of Amarillo.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Women Oilfield Roustabouts.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://www.aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/women-oilfield-roustabouts. Last Updated: September 6, 2020. Original Published Date: December 6, 2018.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, August 31 to September 6

August 31, 1850 – San Francisco Utility manufactures Gas from Coal –

The San Francisco Gas Company incorporated in 1850 to produce and distribute “manufactured gas” extracted from coal. Irish immigrants Peter and James Donahue and engineer Joseph Eastland erected a “gasification plant” to distill coal for manufacturing the gas for lighting. Their company illuminated its first “town gas” street lamps in 1852. (more…)

First Dry Hole

An unsuccessful 1859 Pennsylvania oil well achieved many industry “firsts.”

 

Modern petroleum exploration and production technologies began with the earliest wells of the mid-19th century in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Just four days after America’s first commercial oil well of August 27, 1859, a second attempt nearby resulted in the first “dry hole” for the new U.S. petroleum industry.

 

Edwin L. Drake drilled the first U.S. oil well specifically seeking oil at a creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania. His historic feat included inventing of a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of the well bore. The former railroad conductor borrowed a kitchen water pump to produce the first barrel of oil.

Although Drake’s headline-making discovery at Oil Creek launched an industry, an August 31 well would achieve far lesser known milestones. It was on that day that 22-year-old John Livingston Grandin began drilling America’s second well to be drilled for petroleum.

Historic marker for first U.S. oil well "dry hole."

Visitors to the scenic Allegheny National Forest Region on U.S. 62 near Tidioute, Pennsylvania, will discover this Warren County roadside marker.

Despite not finding the oil-producing formation (later called the Vanango Sands), the Grandin well produced technology firsts for the young exploration and production industry, including:

♦ First dry hole,
♦ first well in which tools stuck,
♦ first well “shot” with an explosive charge. (more…)

First Mississippi Oil Wells

Young geologist revealed giant Yazoo County oilfield in 1939.

 

The first major Mississippi oil well was drilled following a geological survey by a young geologist — who had sought a suitable Yazoo County clay to mold cereal bowls for children. “It all began quite independently of any search for oil,” noted a southern history journal decades later.

In February 1939, Frederic F. Mellen worked for the Works Progress Administration in Yazoo County during the Great Depression. The 28-year-old geologist supervised a clay and minerals survey project, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.”

Instead, Mellen launched Mississippi’s oil industry.

Mississippi geologist Fred Mellen and Yazoo oilfield map

Frederic Mellen became president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946. Images courtesy Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey.

At Perry Creek, about a mile southwest of Tinsley, Mellen’s survey found a strata of Mississippi’s known Jackson formation. But the seam was 250 feet above where it was supposed to be. It was a salt dome structure, well known since Texas’ spectacular Spindletop Hill discovery in January 1901.

Mellen urged more seismographic testing. Natural gas had been produced in Mississippi in the mid-1920s, and the Jackson formation was persuasive evidence that oil could be found along Perry Creek. Indications in the Yazoo Clay suggested an anticlinal structure, according to Edgar Wesley Owen in Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975).

“Although the favorable area had been leased by an oil company about 10 years earlier and relinquished after a seismic examination, the Survey issued a press release in April 1939 describing its findings and recommending that the structure be drilled,” Owen explained. When published in the State Geological Bulletin on April 12, 1939, Mellen’s startling survey results prompted renewed interest in finding Mississippi’s first commercial oil deposits after decades of searching and hundreds of dry holes.

The Tinsley formation included, “a northward contour closure of at least 135 feet – a structure so favorable for oil and gas accumulation as to warrant further geologic sturdy and seismographic exploration,” the Bulletin press release proclaimed, adding that it “especially should it be further explored for the reason that it lies less than 35 miles north-west of the Jackson Gas Field.”

first Mississippi oil well

“Mississippi’s prospects of finding oil in commercial quantities were heightened yesterday,” proclaimed the Vicksburg Evening Post in 1939.

Union Producing Company of Houston, Texas, leased much of the area. Company landmen quickly acquired mineral rights to about 2,500 acres around Tinsley. As others rushed to find their own leases, Union Producing Company began seismographic testing, 10 miles southwest of Yazoo City.

Seismic data prompted the company to choose a drill site on the Green Crowder Woodruff family farm on Perry Creek (S.W. Corner, N.W. Quarter, Section 13, Township 10 North, Range 3 West).

On September 5, 1939, after six weeks of drilling, Union Producing completed the G.C. Woodruff No. 1 well at a depth of 4,560 feet. The well, which had shown signs of oil at the end of August, flowed at 235 barrels of oil a day from a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Within 35 days, drilling companies, investors, and speculators recorded more than $5 million in lease and purchase transactions.

first Mississippi oil well

Union Producing Company discovered the Tinsley oilfiled at a depth of 4,560 feet.

“Almost eighty years to the day after the discovery of the famous Drake well on Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, the first commercially important oil pool in the southeastern states was discovered,” declared John S. Ezell in The Journal of Southern History, (Vol.18, No. 3, August 1952).

“Hotels are over-flowing, restaurants are overtaxed, map companies are dizzy from the rush of new business,” reported Oil Weekly, adding that “farmers are trying to obtain drilling clauses with leases, geophysical crews are slipping through the woods, and in every hotel lobby John Doe will tell you he has a sure-shot lease – for sale at the right price.”

Three weeks after the Woodruff No. 1 well was completed, Union Producing exported to Louisiana the first barrel of Mississippi crude oil, sending four tank cars carrying 8,000 gallons of oil from Tinsley Station to the Standard Oil Refinery at Baton Rouge.

first Mississippi oil well newspaper headline about oil well

Following the discovery, the Commercial Appeal of Memphis explained the well’s completion with “a drilling crew sets a ‘Christmas tree’ (drilling apparatus) in place.”

The Southland Company in 1940 constructed a small oil refinery at Crupp, seven miles southeast of Yazoo City, near the Illinois Central railroad freight line. By June 1944, Mississippi had 388 wells in eight producing oilfields. Texas oilman Sid W. Richardson discovered the prolific Gwinville oilfield in August 1944.

Cumulative production from the Tinsley field would reach more than 224 million barrels of oil and 14.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas by 1997, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. “The discovery and development of the largest oil field in the southeastern States is an exciting part of Mississippi’s history,” proclaimed Mississippi State Geologist William H. Moore in 1974.

“The fact that this giant field was discovered through the application of basic geology, in an investigation not necessarily slated toward oil and gas exploration, is a tribute not only to the geologist making the discovery but to all geologists engaged in similar undertakings,” he added. The Office of the Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey, in 1974 published Moore’s Tinsley Field 1939-1974, A Commemorative Bulletin. A Yazoo City newspaper editor was among his sources regarding the historic well.

“When the Tinsley oil field was discovered in August of 1939 Mississippians, and Yazooans in particular, thought at last Mississippi would mushroom in development as did Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Louisiana,” noted Norman Mott Jr., editor of the Yazoo City Herald in 1974. “Yazoo City experienced a great deal of excitement and the chaos of the early days as the center of the beginning oil industry in the state,” Mott said. “Adding greatly to the dreams of an oil boom was the discovery in the spring of 1940 of the Pickens Field in eastern Yazoo County. However, Pickens was not another Tinsley.”

Frederic Mellen (1911-1989) was a founding member in 1939 of the Mississippi Geological Society. In 1985, the society sponsored a summer field trip led by Mellen, “to traverse the very hillsides of Yazoo County that he had mapped 47 years previously in his discovery of the large surface anticline that later became the giant Tinsley field,” reported Stanley King in A Brief History Of The Mississippi Geological Society.

As of 2017, with secondary recovery through carbon-dioxide injection, the Tensely oilfield was still producing more than 6,000 barrels of oil a day, about eight percent of Mississippi’s total oil production.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Mississippi Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-mississippi-oil-well. Last Updated: August 31, 2020. Original Published Date: September 3, 2018.

 

Coin-Operated Gas Pumps

“Drop the coin in the slot…Mr. Robot delivers the correct amount of gasoline.”

 

Almost as soon as the first gasoline filling stations appeared, inventors began experimenting with ways to make user-friendly pumps for consumers. The revenue possibilities of self-service gasoline pumps prompted a number of innovators to develop coin-operated systems in the early 20th Century.

Scientific American featured a “Gasoline Slot Machine” in its October 1913 issue. The article looked at the mechanics of the device, which took its cue “from the fortunes that have resulted from the harvest of pennies dropped into chewing gum slot machines.”

Garage Dealer and Motor Age magazine ad for Coin-Operated Gas Pumps

Trade magazines like Garage Dealer and Motor Age featured advertisements for coin-operated gas pump technologies of the 1920s.

But a coin-operated pump had risks, the publication noted. “On the other hand, it is evident that a vending machine liable to hold fifty or a hundred half-dollars would be a magnet for thieves,” the article explained.

In Minnesota, the Anthony Liquid Vending Machine Company designed its Anthony Automatic Salesman, which was extensively marketed to garage owners. The company promised a savings of $5 in overhead costs for every dollar invested in its new pumps.

Several other companies experimented with coin-operated gasoline dispensing, and some of their “gas pump slot machines” survive today in museums. But what seemed like a good idea then lacked the technology to make it work. Commercial names like Beacon, Gas-O-Mat, and others disappeared in a flurry of patents that could not overcome the challenges of coin-operated pumps.

Donate to AOGHS plea

“You can sell gasoline 24-hours a day and 365-days a year, without effort on your part,” the company proclaimed, adding that paying was a simple process for consumers. “Drop the coin in the slot – a quarter, half-dollar, or a silver dollar, and Mr. Robot delivers the correct amount of gasoline.”

A 1915 article in National Petroleum News reported a key drawback of unattended, coin-operated pumps. “One gasoline vending outfit tried out recently in a middle western city returned about $2 in real currency and $37 in lead slugs, buttons and counterfeit coins for its first 500 gallons of gasoline.”

Nonetheless, as a system for numbered highways was established, and U.S. 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles approved in 1926 (learn more in America On the Move), some coin-operated machines survived into the 1930s.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Coin Operated Gas Pumps.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/coin-operated-gasoline-pumps. Last Updated: August 30, 2020. Original Published Date: July 11, 2018.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, August 24 to August 30

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

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

First American Oil Well

The petroleum industry was launched in 1859 to meet growing demand for “Coal Oil” – kerosene – to fuel lamps.

 

American oil history began in a valley along a creek in remote northwestern Pennsylvania. Today’s exploration and production industry was born on August 27, 1859, near Titusville when a well specifically drilled for oil found it.

Although crude oil had been found and bottled for medicine as early as 1814 in Ohio and in Kentucky in 1818, these had been drilled seeking brine. Drillers often used an ancient technology, the “spring pole” Sometimes the salt wells produced small amounts of oil, an unwanted byproduct. 

American oil history rock oil stock certificate

Considered America’s first petroleum exploration company – the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York – incorporated in 1854. It reorganized as Seneca Oil Company of New Haven Connecticut in 1858.

The advent of cable-tool drilling introduced the wooden derrick into the changing American landscape. The technology applied same basic idea of chiseling a hole deeper into the earth. Using steam power, a variety of heavy bits, and clever mechanical engineering, cable-tool drillers continued to become more efficient. (Learn more Making Hole – Drilling Technology.) (more…)

Centennial Oil Stamp Issue

Millions of commemorative stamps recognized U.S. petroleum industry heritage in 1959.

 

A centennial oil stamp commemorating the birth of the U.S. petroleum industry was issued on August 27, 1959, by Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, who proclaimed: “The American people have great reason to be indebted to this industry. It has supplied most of the power that has made the American standard of living possible.” 

As the sesquicentennial of America’s 1859 first commercial oil discovery neared – a special committee sought U.S. Postal Service approval for a commemorative stamp for 2009. (more…)

Prophet of Spindletop

Before a famous 1901 Texas gusher, experts considered self-taught geologist Pattillo Higgins, “something of a fool.”

 

Self-taught geologist Patillo Higgins became known as the “Prophet of Spindletop” a decade after founding his Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company in 1892. He was instrumental in discovering the world-famous Spindletop oilfield at Beaumont, Texas. 

 

“Pattillo Higgins believed that oil lay beneath his feet at Spindletop,” reported the Gladys City Chronicles. “He had a feeling that drilling a well on top of this salt dome (and others like it) would produce oil, and lots of it.”

 Gladys City Oil, Gas and; Manufacturing Company stock certificate.

Pattillo Higgins formed the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company on August 24, 1892. He left the company prior to its famous gusher.

Higgins was convinced that an area known as “Big Hill” – Spindletop – four miles south of Beaumont, had oil, despite all conventional wisdom to the contrary. As petroleum geologists worldwide would soon learn, salt domes are surrounded by oil, and one of the largest was Spindletop Hill, south of Beaumont, notes a local museum. (more…)

Oil & Gas History News, August 2020

August 19, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 8

 

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to our August newsletter, and thank you for subscribing. The pandemic continues to bring more people than ever online, especially as an unprecedented school year struggles to begin. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society is sharing energy education research and articles during this time of social distancing. We are adding new and updated posts to the website, which is undergoing improvements, thanks to supporting members.

This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update

Links to summaries from five weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers. 

August 17, 1785 – Oil Discovered Floating on Pennsylvania Creek

Two years after the end of the Revolutionary War, oil was reported floating on a creek in northwestern Pennsylvania. “Oil Creek has taken its name from an oil or bituminous matter being found floating on its surface,” noted a report by Army Gen. William Irvine. His report of the natural oil seeps would lead to the first U.S. oil well in 1859…MORE

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

“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented a roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to drilling faster and deeper. Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit…MORE

August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt (Not Tar) Pits discovered

The La Brea, “the tar,” pits were discovered during a Spanish expedition on the West Coast. “We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes,” noted a Franciscan friar. Commonly called tar pits, the sticky pools between modern Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. are actually comprised of natural asphalt, also known as bitumen…MORE

July 27, 1918 – Standard Oil of New York launches Concrete Oil Tanker

The Socony, America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, launched from its shipyard at Flushing Bay, New York. Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the barge was 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam and carried oil in six center and two wing compartments, “oil-proofed by a special process,” according to Cement and Engineering NewsMORE

July 20, 1920 – Texas Company reveals Permian Basin

The first commercial well of the Permian Basin produced oil from a depth of 2,750 feet on land owned by William Abrams, an official of the Texas & Pacific Railway. Later “shot” with nitroglycerin by the Texas Company (the future Texaco), the W.H. Abrams No. 1 well today is part of the 75,000-square-mile Permian Basin…MORE

Featured Image

About 450 million years ago, a meteor struck north-central Oklahoma, creating an impact crater – an astrobleme – eight miles wide. Hidden beneath 9,000 feet of sediment, an oilfield discovery at the crater in 1991 attracted worldwide attention of petroleum companies.

“The Ames Astrobleme is one of the most remarkable and studied geological features in the world because of its economic significance,” noted independent producer Lew Ward from nearby Enid in 2007. Learn more in Ames Astrobleme Museum.

Energy Education Articles

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:

It was a foggy summer morning in 1927 as eight airplanes prepared for takeoff before a crowd of more than 50,000 at the Oakland Airport in California. Aviation history was about to be made with a 2,400-mile air race to Honolulu. High-octane gasoline refined by Phillips Petroleum Company powered the “Woolaroc” monoplane to victory in the record-setting but deadly air race. See Flight of the Woolaroc.

“The World’s Wonder Oil Pool” discovery in 1918 on a small farm along the Red River in Texas launched a drilling boom that would bring prosperity — and inspire a Hollywood movie starring Clark Gable, who was a teenager working in Oklahoma oilfields. Two decades later, he would star in “Boom Town,” a 1940 MGM movie inspired by the Burkburnett oilfield discovery. See Boom Town Burkburnett.

 

In addition to the above articles, a recent AOGHS website posting features Ray Sorenson, a petroleum geologist who has researched first oil sightings in the United States, Canada, and many parts of the world. Sources cited in the ongoing Exploring Earliest Signs of Oil would add up to 11 feet of shelf space!

Please share our latest newsletter. Like many small, educational organizations, the 2020 pandemic has put a financial strain on this historical society. We need your help to tell the many stories of petroleum history.

— Bruce Wells

“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

This Week in Petroleum History, August 17 to August 23

August 17, 1785 – Oil Discovered Floating on Pennsylvania Creek –

Two years after the end of the Revolutionary War, oil was reported floating on a creek in northwestern Pennsylvania. “Oil Creek has taken its name from an oil or bituminous matter being found floating on its surface,” noted a report by Gen. William Irvine.

“Many cures are attributed to this oil by the natives, and lately by some of the whites, particularly rheumatic pains and old ulcers,” Gen. Irvine wrote. He confirmed an earlier Army survey reporting Oil Creek, “empties itself into the Allegheny River, issuing from a spring, on the top of which floats an oil, similar to what is called Barbados tar (see Asphalt Paves the Way), and from which may be collected by one man several gallons in a day.”

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Gen. Irvine’s report of the natural oil seeps would help lead to the first U.S. oil well in 1859.

August 17, 1915 – End of Hand-Cranked Auto Engines

Charles Kettering of Dayton, Ohio, patented an “engine-starting device” for cantankerous automobiles, inventing the first practical electric starter. Kettering, an engineer at Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO) earlier had devised an electric motor to replace hand cranks on cash registers. “The present invention is particularly applicable to automobiles, wherein an engine of the combustion or explosion type is employed, as a means of propulsion,” Kettering noted in his patent (no. 1,150,523). Cadillac was the first manufacturer to add electric starters to its models; Ford Model Ts used hand cranks until 1919.

August 18, 2007 – Astrobleme Museum opens in Oklahoma

Color image of meteorite crater in Ames, Oklahoma

A meteorite hit Oklahoma 450 million years ago, producing a crater thousands of feet deep and eight miles wide. It proved to be one of six oil-producing U.S. impact craters.

Ames, Oklahoma, celebrated the opening of its Astrobleme (meteor crater) Museum, designed to educate visitors about a meteor impact that led to a major oilfield discovery 450 million years later. Located about 20 miles southwest of Enid, the Ames meteor crater was buried by about 9,000 feet of sediment, making it barely visible on the surface. Most geologists believed impact craters unlikely locations for petroleum.

Although wells were drilled nearby, no one had attempted to reach deep into the hidden, eight-mile-wide Ames crater in Major County. In 1991, Continental Resources drilled deeper than usual for the area – about 10,000 feet – and found oil.

petroleum history august

Oklahoma’s Ames Astrobleme Museum, which opened in 2007, requires no staff to educate visitors. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The Ames crater discovery well uncovered what became the most prolific of the six oil-producing craters found in the United States, producing 17.4 million barrels of oil and 79.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“The Ames Astrobleme is one of the most remarkable and studied geological features in the world because of its economic significance,” explained independent producer Lew Ward in 2007. The potential of drilling in impact craters got the attention of oil companies worldwide. Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm funded construction of the Ames Astrobleme Museum.

August 19, 1909 – Canadian Journal lampoons Standard Oil Monopoly

“The Standard Oil Company has decided to drive the cow and the dairyman out of business,” declared the Stanstead Journal of Quebec, reporting from Jersey City, New Jersey. “Its skilled chemists have discovered a process whereby they can make gilt-edge butter as a byproduct of crude petroleum.” The journal also fancifully proclaimed, “The chemists, in the steps leading up to the petroleum butter discovery, also have perfected a cheap process by which they can convert the kerosene into sweet milk.”

August 19, 1957 – First Commercial Oil Well in Washington

petroleum history august

Surrounded by unsuccessful attempts, Washington’s only commercial oil well (red) was capped in 1961.

The first and only commercial oil well in the state of Washington was drilled by the Sunshine Mining Company. The Medina No. 1 well flowed 223 barrels a day from a depth of 4,135 feet near Ocean City in Grays Harbor County.

Although a well drilled six years earlier produced 35 barrels of oil a day, it was deemed noncommercial and abandoned. The Medina No. 1 well produced 12,500 barrels before being capped in 1961.

According to a 2010 report from the Washington commissioner of public lands, “About 600 gas and oil wells have been drilled in Washington, but large-scale commercial production has never occurred.”

The state’s most recent production – from the Ocean City field – ceased in 1962, “and no oil or gas have been produced since that time,” the commissioner added, noting that some companies continue to look for coalbed methane.

August 21, 1897 – Olds Motor Vehicle Company founded

Oldsmobile Curved Dash, first mass-produced U.S. auto.

Powered by a a single-cylinder, five-horsepower gasoline engine, the 1901 Oldsmobile Curved Dash was the first mass-produced U.S. automobile.

American automotive pioneer Ransom Eli Olds (1864–1950) founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan. Renamed Olds Motor Works in 1899, the company became the first auto manufacturer established in Detroit. “By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one of each power mode: steam, electricity and gasoline,” noted George May in R.E. Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer. “He was the only American automotive pioneer to produce and sell at least one of each mode of automobile.”

The modern assembly line concept also began with Olds, who used a stationary assembly line (Henry Ford would be the first to use a moving assembly line). Olds Motor Works sold the first mass-produced automobile in 1901, one year after the first U.S. Auto Show. America’s oldest automotive brand ended in 2004, when the last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in Lansing.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Ames Astrobleme Museum

A 1991 oil discovery in a meteor crater, “seized the attention of the Oklahoma oil industry” and attracted worldwide attention.

 

About 450 million years ago, a meteor about the size of a football struck north-central Oklahoma, creating an impact crater – an astrobleme – more than eight miles wide.  (more…)

Exploring Earliest Signs of Oil

A geologist traces first petroleum sightings in the United States, Canada, and many parts of the world.

 

Petroleum geologist and historian Raymond P. Sorenson has spent much of his professional career researching and writing about the oil and natural gas industry. In recent years, his research has extensively documented references to hydrocarbons prior the first U.S. oil well drilled by Edwin L. Drake along a Pennsylvania creek in 1859. (more…)

Wallace Oil Company

When Edwin L. Drake drilled the first U.S. oil well in 1859 along a creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania, he transformed the landscape of the Allegheny River valley — and America’s energy future. The former railroad conductor’s discovery launched an industry as investors and drillers rushed to cash in on the new resource for making kerosene for lamps.

Vignette from Wallace Oil Company stock certificate, 1875

Grocery store owner John Wallace formed the Wallace Oil Company in 1865 to drill for “black gold.” Detail from Wallace Oil Company stock certificate.

The ensuing scramble fueled the nation’s first petroleum exploration boom. Newspapers reported discoveries on farms clustered in Northwestern Pennsylvania’s “oil region.” Newly incorporated oil companies rushed to construct wooden derricks with steam-powered cable-tools for “making hole.” Drillers came to John Rynd’s farm at the junction of Oil Creek and Cherry Tree Run, the Blood farm to the north, and the widow McClintock farm to the south. 

 

Operating a grocery store on the Rynd farm in 1859, Irish immigrant John Wallace witnessed the excitement firsthand. When the first of many wells found oil on the Rynd farm in 1861, derricks already had crowded the region’s hillsides. Four years later, the ambitious 24-year-old entrepreneur could no longer resist catching oil fever.

With the science of petroleum geology its infancy, “creekology” and oil seeps often were the only tools for finding promising locations to drill. Some exploration companies turned to dowsing (hazel or peach tree rods preferred) to find oil.

Map of Wallace Oil Company wells on Rynd farm, PA

After witnessing the oil region’s drilling boom from his Rynd farm grocery store, John Wallace caught oil fever. “Oil Region of Pennsylvania,1865” map courtesy David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, F.W. Beers & Co.

Wallace acquired a 3/32 royalty interest in a 200-acre tract on the neighboring McClintock farm (previously owned by investors Curtiss, Haldeman, and Fawcett). He incorporated Wallace Oil Company in 1865 with an office at 319 Walnut Street in Philadelphia and issued stock certificates.

Although records offer no evidence of Wallace Oil Company actually drilling and completing a well, Wallace’s lease trading speculations, financed by his 3/32 royalty income, and energetic sales of stock, made the company money.

Wallace Oil Company building, circa 1875 building in the Pennsylvania oil region

A circa 1875 building at Rouseville in the Pennsylvania oil region hosted an attorney, lease agents, a small oil exchange, and petroleum companies like Wallace Oil Company. Detail from stereograph “Pleasant morning – Rouseville,” courtesy Library of Congress.

Purchasers of Wallace’s stock stood to gain from both royalties and appreciation. The financial horizon looked promising. In 1865, a 42-gallon barrel of oil sold for for $6.59 a barrel (nearly $100 in 2013 dollars).

Boom and Bust

As the gamble to find oil spread, Pithole Creek and other oilfield discoveries inspired more drilling — and speculation at oil exchanges in Titusville, Oil City, and elsewhere. Those seeking petroleum riches in 1864 included John Wilkes Booth, whose Dramatic Oil Company drilled on a 3.5-acre lease on the Fuller farm.

By the end of 1869, Wallace Oil Company ‘s McClintock farm leases still produced an average of 200 barrels of oil daily from 32 wells. It took three more years before Wallace Oil Company paid its first and only dividend to investors, who received one cent per share in 1874. But by then, one industry publication noted, “oil had left the territory.”

The company dutifully paid the state an annual “Tax on Stock,” and in 1871 paid its first ever “Tax on Income.” A circa 1875 Library of Congress stereograph of a small building includes signs for the “Wallace Oil Company,” the “Allegheny & Pittsburgh Oil Co.,” the “Oil Basin Petroleum Co.,” the “Buchanan Royalty Oil Co.,” and the “Rouseville Oil Co.”  

Rouseville in 1861 had been the scene of a deadly oil well fire, one the earliest fatal conflagrations of the U.S. petroleum industry.

By the early 1890s, Wallace Oil Company’s expanded oil-region holdings were reduced to the original 3/32 royalty from its McClintock property, which no longer produced commercial quantities of oil. Overproduction had drained profitability from the countryside.

In August 1895, American Investor reported Wallace Oil Company had lost its wells and property and could not even muster resources to pay legal fees associated with formal dissolution of the company. The grim assessment concluded, “the company is in a hopeless condition. The stock has no market value.”

Visit the Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville.

The stories of exploration and production companies joining petroleum booms (and avoiding busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please join the society as a supporting member. © 2020 AOGHS.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, August 10 to August 16

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

“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to faster and deeper rotary drilling.

Historians note that several men were trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it was Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit. (more…)

Making Hole – Drilling Technology

Answering the necessity and opportunity for finding oil and natural gas at greater depths.

 

“A good cable-tool man is just about the most highly skilled worker you’ll find,” one historian noted. “Besides having a feel for the job, knowing what’s going on thousands of feet under the ground just from the movement of the cable, he’s got to be something of a carpenter, a steam-fitter, an electrician, and a damned good mechanic.” – A 1939 interview in “Voices from the Oil Fields” by Paul Lambert and Kenny Franks.

Petroleum exploration technologies have evolved from ancient “spring poles,” to steam-powered percussion cable-tools, to modern rotary rigs with diamond bits that can drill miles into the earth.

making hole image from World Struggle for Oil 1924 movie

Often used for drilling brine wells, a “spring-pole” well discovered oil in Appalachia. Photo from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“A cable tool driller knows more knots and splices than any six sailors you can find,” noted historians Lambert and Franks in their 1984 book, a collection of 1930s Federal Writers Project interviews  about oilfield life. The stories — featuring cable-tool rigs with giant “bull wheels” spinning off manila rope — reported firsthand accounts of the “grueling toil, primitive living and working conditions, and ever-present danger in a time when life was cheap and oil was gold.”

oil well drilling technology

Standard cable-tool derricks stood 82 feet tall and were powered by a steam boiler and engine using a “walking beam” to raise and lower drilling tools. Image from The Oil-Well Driller, 1905.

Drilling or “making hole” began long before crude oil or natural gas were anything more than flammable curiosities found seeping from the ground.

For centuries, digging by hand or shovel was the best technologies that existed to pry into the earth’s secrets. Oil seeps provided a balm for injuries. Natural gas seeps – when ignited – created folklore and places called “burning springs.” (more…)

Flight of the Woolaroc

Phillips Petroleum Company makes aviation history in 1927 air race across Pacific.

 

Thanks to Frank Phillips, high-octane gas refined by Phillips Petroleum Company powered the “Woolaroc” monoplane to victory in a record-setting but deadly 1927 air race from California to Hawaii.  (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, August 3 to August 9

August 3, 1769 – La Brea Asphalt (Not Tar) Pits discovered –

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

Outside the Page Museum of Los Angeles

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

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

Illustration of crude oil seeps.

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

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

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

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

Map of Big and Little Big Inch 24-inch pipelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another major discovery in 1919 revealed the Hewitt field, which extended oil production in a 22 mile swath across Carter County. The Greater Healdton-Hewitt oilfield produced “an astounding 320,753,000 barrels of crude by the close of the first half of the 20th century,” noted historian Kenny Franks. In 1929, Wirt Franklin became the first president of the then Tulsa-based Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Erle Halliburton perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Visit the Healdton Oil Museum.

August 4, 1977 – President Carter creates DOE

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

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

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

1995 stamp commemorating “Alley Oop”

A 1995 stamp commemorated “Alley Oop” by Victor Hamlin, who worked in the Yates oilfield.

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

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

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

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

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

Firefighter Paul “Red” Adair in 1964.

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

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

August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography breakthrough

Thanks to pioneering research led by John C. Karcher, an Oklahoma geophysicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section was measured in 1921 in Murray County. “Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society, adding that the technology would be responsible for the discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields.

petroleum history august

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

This first geological section measurement followed limited testing in June 1921 in the outskirts of Oklahoma City and verification tests in July. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

August 9, 1922 – Psychic Oilfield of Luling, Texas

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

Luling Oil Museum in historic Texas building.

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

By 1924, the Luling field was annually producing 11 million barrels of oil. Some would proclaimed Davis had found the oil after consulting a psychic. The unusual oil patch reading came from the then well-known clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.


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Davis later sold his Luling leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest oil deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Cayce claimed success helping other wildcatters — but left the oil business for good after forming his own company…and drilling dry holes. Learn more by visiting the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum in Luling.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

Big Inch Pipelines of WW II

The final weld on the “Big Inch” was made in July 1943, just 350 days after construction began.

 

A government-industry partnership built two petroleum pipelines from Texas to the East Coast that proved vital during World War II. “Big Inch” carried oil from East Texas oilfields. “Little Big Inch” carried gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and kerosene.

oil pipelines Nazi U-boat in Atlantic

Prior to the pipelines, German U-boats wreaked havoc on oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Caribbean to the East Coast. Photo courtesy the German Historical Society of Military History.

“Without the prodigious delivery of oil from the U.S. this global war, quite frankly, could never have been won,” noted historian Keith Miller. (more…)

Alley Oop’s Oil Roots

Popular cartoonist Victor Hamlin worked as an oilfield cartographer in West Texas.

The popular Depression Era comic strip caveman Alley Oop began in the imagination of a cartoonist who drew Permian Basin oilfield maps.

 

Alley Oop appeared for the first time in the summer of 1933 when Victor Hamlin, a former Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reporter, published the soon wildly popular tales about a caveman.

alley oop USA 32 cent 1992 commemorative stamp

A 1995 postage stamp commemorates Alley Oop by Victor Hamlin, a cartoonist from the Yates oil field company town of Iraan, Texas.

Hamlin began syndicating his daily cartoon in the Des Moines Register in Iowa. His Paleolithic Age idea for the comic strip, which soon would run in more than 800 newspapers, reportedly began in a small oil “company town” in the Permian Basin.

The West Texas oil town of Iraan (pronounced Eye-Rah-Ann) today proclaims itself as Hamlin’s inspiration for Alley Oop. Story begins with major oilfield discoveries in the Permian Basin, beginning with a 1920 discovery by W. H. Abrams in Mitchell County.

It was the stunning success of the Santa Rita No. 1 well in May 1923 that convinced independent oil companies to explore the full 300-mile extent of the basin from most of West Texas into the southeastern corner of New Mexico.

Iraan first appeared as a company town following the discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield in October 1926. The town’s name combined names of the townsite owners, Ira and Ann Yates. Discovered in southeastern Pecos County, the Yates field brought prosperity to Midland, Odessa and other communities by producing more than 40 million barrels in just three years.

According to one comic strip historian, the cartoonist came up with the idea for Alley Oop while working in the Permian Basin oilfields. As Iraan boomed in the late 1920s, Hamlin, originally from Perry, Iowa, began working in Texas oilfields. “He could watch dinosaur bones being removed by the steam shovels and scrapers as they cleared the sites for drilling, wells, and pumps,” Mike Hanlon explains. Hamlin developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology.

Steve Stiles noted in The Man Who Walked With Dinosaursthat Hamlin moved on to doing art for an oil industry publication and one day, while wandering through the desolate landscape of the oilfields, began musing about the dinosaurs who had once roamed through the very same territory.”

Hamlin, who reportedly witnessed the first oil gusher at Iraan, worked as a cartographer for a petroleum company making site maps. The official start date of his Alley Oop as a daily comic strip was August 7, 1933. Alley Oop started life in the imaginary prehistoric nation of Moo. A popular Sunday page began September 9, 1934. 

The biggest days of roughnecking were over in Iraan by 1960 – when the band “The Hollywood Argyles” sang Alley Oop was “the toughest man there is alive.” The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960.

Tourists visit the Alley Oop Museum and R.V. Park on the northwest edge of Iraan. Thanks to improved recovery techniques, oil production from Yates oil wells continues – and the field is estimated to have one billion barrels of recoverable oil remaining.

Although Hamlin retired in 1971 and died in 1993, his daily strips (now by Jack and Carole Bender) today appear in 600 newspapers. Alley Oop was one of 20 U.S. Postal Service commemorative Comic Strip Classics postage stamp series in 1995. When visiting West Texas, stop by Iraan and visit the Alley Opp Park and Fantasy Land.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/alley-oop-origin-in-permian-basin. Last Updated: February 18, 2020. Original Published Date: August 2, 2015.

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum

Did a famous psychic helped reveal the Luling oilfield of 1924?

 

In a restored 1885 mercantile building downtown, the Luling Oil Museum (also known as the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum) displays historic equipment from the Luling oilfield of the 1920s. Some claim the giant field was discovered thanks to a “reading” by the psychic Edgar Cayce. Petroleum geologists remain skeptical.

 

Known for its tasty BBQ ribs, annual watermelon seed-spitting contest, and colorful pump jacks, Luling, Texas, can still stake a claim in U.S. petroleum history because of prolific oil discoveries.

Luling, Texas, oil museum historic 1885 building

Exhibits in Luling’s restored 1885 mercantile store educate visitors about a 1922 oil discovery – and the modern petroleum industry. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Just two years after its 1922 discovery, the booming Luling oilfield had about 400 wells annually producing about 11 million barrels of oil. Modern drilling and production technologies have reinvigorated the Luling oil patch, according to Luling Oil Museum Director Carol Voight, interviewed in 2013 on Austin TV news. Voight explained the historic oilfield’s return to prosperity was thanks to horizontal drilling technology.

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum exhibit

Edgar B. Davis in 1922 discovered an oilfield 12 miles long. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Once known as the toughest town in Texas, visitors to Luling on the first Saturday in April now find the streets crowded with families enjoying the annual Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off. “Best ribs in the country,” Reader’s Digest once proclaimed.

Crowds today rally again in Luling beginning on the last Thursday in June for the Watermelon Thump Festival – and Seed-Spitting Contest. The Guinness Book of World Records documents the contest’s still unbeaten distance of 68 feet, 9 and 1/8 inches set in 1989.

Just a few steps from the carefully calibrated arena where the watermelon seed-spitting record was set, visitors find the oil museum, housed in an 1885 former mercantile store. The historic Walker Brothers building in the heart of the business district.

The museum “shows the contrast of the tools and technology of the past with those utilized in the oil industry today.” Exhibits trace the development of the oil industry – from the first strike in 1859 in Pennsylvania to the social and economic impact on Central Texas. “We strive to demonstrate the struggles between the men and women who were the oil field pioneers and to create a better understanding of the process of oil exploration and production,” noted one volunteer.

“Our collection includes a working model of a modern oil rig, pump jacks, the ‘Oil Tank Theater,’ and an excellent assortment of tools from each decade of the oil industry,” added Voight.

Revealing the Luling Field

The museum’s restored building was constructed in 1885 as a place where cotton was financed and traded. But oil replaced cotton in Luling’s future thanks to Edgar B. Davis’ Rafael Rios No. 1 well of August 9, 1922.

After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company brought in the Rafael Rios No. 1 well – discovering an oil field 12 miles long and two miles wide.

Local lore says Davis, a leading citizen of Luling and president of the company, found the well only after getting a psychic reading from famed clairvoyant Edgar Cayce (see below). Today, the museum introduces visitors to the science behind the discovery and to Luling’s oil boom, when the town’s population grew from 500 to 5,000 almost overnight.

Decorated pump jack in Luling, Texas

After sampling “the best ribs in the country,” visitors to Luling, Texas, marvel at the many decorated pump jacks seen in its historic downtown.

By 1924, Luling was a top U.S. oilfield. To preserve the city’s petroleum heritage, a large collection of locally donated artifacts illustrate not only how it was in “the olden days,” but also what can be accomplished with community efforts, cooperation, and creative programs.

Voight credited Luling area petroleum companies and service companies and especially Tracy Perryman, a multi-generation independent producer.

One of the museum’s great outreach success stories has been its “Reflections of Texas Art Exhibit,” Voight added.

For five years, the art show has brought a growing regional audience to the museum. Another unconventional program is the annual Davis Street Quilt Show, which draws yet another new audience into the museum’s exhibit space.

Educating Young People

young visitor to oil museum in Luling, TX

Dad signs the museum guestbook for this visitor. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Like all community oil and gas museums, the Luling Oil Patch Museum must carefully manage its limited budget, said Voight. Required maintenance and repairs are expensive and the costs of a needed expansion prohibitive.

In a frugal approach to integrating downtown park expansion with outdoor exhibit space, the museum partnered with Susan Rodiek, Ph.D. and students of her graduate architectural design studio at Texas A&M University.

Voight said six teams of students were assigned to create designs that could economically exploit existing property and facilities, while providing Luling and the museum with new exhibit spaces. Students approached the project competitively, proclaiming the museum to be their “first client.”

Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey noted, “The preliminary designs that the Aggie students presented to us were fantastic. There were some terrific concepts and the work was detailed and quite fascinating.”

luling oil field

Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey and his children. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Voight added, “They really got it – Luling’s rich heritage in oil, the E.B. Davis story and more. Being able to get this quality of work and vision is tremendous to our efforts to showcase some of the true historic gems of Luling.

“Dr. Rodiek and her able team have again offered us the ability to get this project moving, especially considering the limited budget we have at this time.”

The Luling Oil Museum staff and the Chamber of Commerce, which share space in the historic Walker Brothers building, are interested in sharing their approaches and learning from other museums’ experience.

Psychic Edgar Cayce 

Biographers of the once famous American psychic Edgar Cayce have noted that he found his own mysterious path into exploring the oil patch at Luling. In 1904, Cayce was a 27-year-old photographer when a local news-paper described his “wonderful power that is greatly puzzling physicians and scientific men.”

The Hopkinsville Kentuckian reported that Cayce – from a hypnotic state – could seemingly determine causes of ailments in patients he never met.

By 1910, the New York Times proclaimed that “the medical fraternity of the whole country is taking a lively interest in the strange power possessed by Edgar Cayce to diagnose difficult diseases while in a semi-conscious state.”

As his reputation grew, Cayce expanded his photography business with the addition of adjacent rooms and a specially made couch so he could recline to render readings. He became known as “The Sleeping Prophet” while his readings expanded beyond medical diagnoses into reincarnation, dream interpretation, psychic phenomenon…and advising oilmen.

Edgar Cayce at his drilling rig in Luling oil field

Edgar Cayce visits his drilling site in San Saba County, Texas, in 1921. The famed psychic’s abilities failed him searching for oil.

Sidney Kirkpatrick, author of Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet, explained that Cayce in 1919 provided detailed trance revelations to several oil-men probing the prolific Desdemona oil field in Eastland County, Texas. The results inspired Cayce and several partners to form their own company.

In September 1920, Cayce became the clairvoyant partner of Cayce Petroleum Company.

Guided by his own psychic readings, Cayce Petroleum Company leased acreage around Luling. But raising capital for drilling proved difficult and eventually led to loss of the lease.

Not far away, Luling’s most revered citizen, Edgar B. Davis, drilled eight dry holes and nearly went broke before bringing in Rafael Rios No. 1, the discovery well for the highly productive Luling field. Undaunted by the loss of its lease in Luling, Cayce Petroleum unsuccessfully tried again 150 miles north in San Saba County, Texas.

Modern Crudoleum

According to Kirkpatrick’s book, Cayce’s readings included “detailed descriptions given of the various rock geological formations that would be encountered as they drilled.” The Rocky Pasture No. 1 well would drill beyond 1,650 feet in search of what Cayce described as a 40,000 barrel per day “Mother Pool.” It was a dry hole. Cayce Petroleum Company ran out of money and failed.

Today, the psychic oilman’s legacy lives on at his Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia, founded in 1931, and “the official world headquarters of the work of Edgar Cayce, considered America’s most documented psychic.”

petroleum product called Crudoleum

A psychic’s petroleum product sold today.

An invention from Cayce’s venture into the oil business remains on the market – his “pure crude oil” product he recommended as a first step toward replenishing healthy hair. Cayce invented a “pure crude oil” product he called Crudoleum, which is sold today as a cream, shampoo and conditioner.

Local lore stills maintain that Davis found his well only after getting a Cayce reading. But according to a petroleum geologist and historian, it’s highly doubtful Cayce helped Davis find the Luling oilfield. In a 2017 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, long-time AOGHS member Dan Plazak noted Cayce was “speaking in a trance, when he proclaimed that oil would be found at Luling associated with a salt dome. But there are no salt domes at Luling, and Cayce’s bad psychic advice could only have prevented Davis from finding oil.”

Plazak explained that it was “a geologist working for Davis who saw faulting in the outcrop, and correctly predicted that the oil would be trapped behind the fault.” After a few early wells, “Cayce’s oil-exploration readings were a complete bust, both for his own oil company, and later for many other oil drillers, in locations all over the country.”

In his email, Plazak — a “geologist and researcher of finding oil with doodlebugs, dreams, and crystal balls” from Colorado — added there are still those today who believe in psychic advice who no doubt are “raising money on the internet to drill yet another dry hole in San Saba County.” See his research from other mid-2000s investigations in Mining Swindles, and learn more about about Davis and Luling in the comment section below.

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/luling-oil-field. Last Updated: May 24, 2020. Original Published Date: June 21, 2015.

 

Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits”

Asphalt pools trapped Ice Age animals in what today is Los Angeles.

 

Although commonly called tar pits, the sticky pools between Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. are actually comprised of natural asphalt, also known as bitumen.

The La Brea site, discovered by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola on August 3, 1769, originated from naturally produced California oil seeps, onshore and offshore. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, July 27 – August 2

July 27, 1918 – Standard Oil of New York launches Concrete Oil Tanker –

The Socony, America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, launched from its shipyard at Flushing Bay, New York.

Standard Oil of New York concrete oil tanker

Socony, the first concrete oil tanker, launched in 1918. Below, a second version of the oil barge.

Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the barge was 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam and carried oil in six center and two wing compartments, “oil-proofed by a special process,” according to the journal Cement and Engineering News.

“Eight-inch cast iron pipe lines lead to each compartment and the oil pump is located on a concrete pump room aft,” the journal explained. Steel shortages during World War II would lead to the construction of larger reinforced concrete oil tankers. (more…)

Boom Town Burkburnett

“The World’s Wonder Oil Pool” attracted investors, drillers, and Hollywood.

 

A 1918 oil discovery on a small farm along the Red River in Texas launched a drilling boom that would bring prosperity — and inspire a Hollywood movie starring Clark Gable, who was a teenager working in nearby Oklahoma oilfields.

On July 29, 1918, a wildcat well drilled by the Fowler Farm Oil Company revealed an oilfield beneath the small cotton-farming town of Burkburnett in North Texas. The subsequent exploration and production frenzy arrived two decades before “Boom Town,” the popular 1940 MGM movie it inspired. (more…)

Petroleum Survey discovers U-boat

Routine scan of Gulf of Mexico seabed for new petroleum pipelines reveals shipwrecks.

 

During World War II, U-boats prowled the Gulf of Mexico to disrupt the flow of oil carried by tankers departing ports in Louisiana and Texas.

Today’s petroleum companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf routinely provide government scientists with sonar data for areas with potential archaeological value. Several federal agencies review oil and natural gas-related surveys every year, and over the years the data have revealed more than 100 historic shipwrecks in U.S. waters.

oil industry sonar and photo images of U-boat in Gulf of Mexico

A 2001 archaeological survey by BP and Shell prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline confirmed discovery of U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast.

In 2001, the Minerals Management Service (superseded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management a decade later) noted that “a German submarine definitely got our attention.”

(more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, July 20 – July 26

July 20, 1920 – Texas Company discovers Permian Basin Oilfield –

The Permian Basin made headlines in 1920 when a West Texas wildcat well found oil at a depth of 2,750 feet on land owned by William Abrams, an official of the Texas & Pacific Railway.

Drilled and “shot” with nitroglycerin by the Texas Company (later Texaco), the W.H. Abrams No. 1 well revealed the West Columbia field, which proved to be part of the Permian Basin, which covers 75,000 square miles in 43 counties of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico).

Map of Permian Basin in West Texas.

The Permian Basin would become the leading source of U.S. oil. Image courtesy Rigzone.

“As a crowd of 2,000 people looked on, a great eruption of oil, gas, water and smoke shot from the mouth of the well almost to the top of the derrick,” notes a Texas State Historical Marker.

“Locally, land that sold for 10 cents an acre in 1840 and $5 an acre in 1888 now brought $96,000 an acre for mineral rights, irrespective of surface values…the flow of oil money led to better schools, roads and general social conditions.”

Another West Texas discovery well in 1923 near Big Lake brought an even greater drilling boom that helped establish the University of Texas (see Santa Rita taps Permian Basin)

July 21, 1935 – “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy strikes Oil

 petroleum history july 20

Glenn McCarthy appeared on TIME magazine in 1950.

Glenn H. McCarthy struck oil 50 miles east of Houston in 1935, extending the already prolific Anahuac field. The well was the first of many for the Texas independent producer who would build Houston’s famed Shamrock Hotel a decade later. By 1945, McCarthy had discovered 11 Texas oilfields. He became known as another “King of the Wildcatters” and “Diamond Glenn” by 1950, when his estimated worth reached $200 million ($2 billion today).

In addition to his McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, McCarthy eventually would own a gas company, a chemical company, a radio station, 14 newspapers, a magazine, two banks, and the Shell Building in Houston.

In 1946 McCarthy invested $21 million to build the Shamrock Hotel on the edge of Houston. He reportedly spent  $1 million on the hotel’s 1949 opening-day gala, which newspapers dubbed, “Houston’s biggest party.”

Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.

July 22, 1933 – Phillips Petroleum sponsors Solo Flight around the World

Before 50,000 cheering New York City onlookers, Wiley Post made aviation history when he landed his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae.” The former Oklahoma roughneck was the first person to fly solo around the world. Post had worked in oilfields near Walters, Oklahoma, when he took his first airplane ride with a barnstormer in 1919. Taking a break from oilfield work in the 1920s, he joined “Burrell Tibbs Flying Circus” as a parachute jumper before learning to fly.

Wiley Post, former oil worker, set flying records with this plane

Thanks to a friendship with Frank Phillips, Wiley Post set altitude records — and was the first man to fly solo around the world.

In 1926, Post returned to work in the oilfields, “where he was injured the first day on the job, losing the sight in his left eye,” noted a biographer, adding that Post’s injury happened while working at a well site near Seminole.

When a metal splinter damaged his eye, Post used the $1,700 in compensation to buy his first airplane. He became friends with Frank Phillips, who sponsored Post’s high-altitude experimental flights. Phillips Petroleum Company, which produced aviation fuel before it produced gasoline for cars, also sponsored another historic plane – the “Woolaroc” – in an air race across the Pacific.

Learn more in Flight of the Woolaroc.

July 22, 1959 – Historical Marker erected to Second U.S. Oil Well

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a state marker to commemorate a well drilled shortly after Edwin Drake completed first U.S. commercial well on August 27, 1859.

PA Marker for second oil well

On August 31, 22-year-old John Grandin and a local blacksmith began drilling a well that would reach almost twice as deep as Drake’s cable-tool depth of 69.5 feet. But the Warren County well was a dry hole. “After Drake’s discovery of oil in Titusville some area residents attempted to sink their own well,” notes Explore Pennsylvania. “The vast majority of such efforts failed.”

Learn how Grandin’s well achieved other historic industry milestones in First Dry Hole.

July 23, 1872 – “Real McCoy” Device drips Oil into Steam Engines

Patent for the Real McCoy of 1872Using petroleum for improving the performance of locomotives became widespread when Elijah McCoy patented an automatic lubricator for steam engines. McCoy, an African-American inventor, designed a device that applied oil through a drip cup to locomotive and ship steam engines.

Born in Canada in 1843, McCoy was the son of slaves who had escaped from Kentucky and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he graduated from high school. By the time of his death in 1929, McCoy had been awarded 60 patents, notes a Michigan historical marker dedicated in 1994.

Some industry sources maintain that McCoy’s 1872 invention left an additional legacy: “The term ‘the real McCoy’ is believed to have come about because railroad engineers did not want low-quality copycat versions of this device.” Before purchasing, buyers would ask if it was “the real McCoy.”

AOGHS Support ad

July 23, 1951 – Desk & Derrick Clubs organize

The Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs of North America was formed with articles of association signed by presidents of the clubs of New Orleans, Jackson, Los Angeles, and Houston. There now are 42 clubs throughout the United States and Canada. Learn more in Desk and Derrick Educators.

July 24, 2000 – BP unveils New Green and Yellow Logo

BP the official name of a group of companies that included Amoco, ARCO and Castrol, unveiled a new corporate identity brand – replacing the “Green Shield” logo with a green and yellow sunflower pattern.

The company also introduced a new corporate slogan: “Beyond Petroleum.” In 1998, when BP – then British Petroleum – merged with Amoco, the company’s name had briefly changed to BP Amoco as Amoco stations converted to the BP brand.

July 25, 1543 – Oil reported in New World

Sailing vessel known as a brigThe first documented report of oil in the New World resulted when a storm forced Spanish explorer Don Luis de Moscoso to land two of his brigantines at the mouth of the Sabine River. He had succeeded expedition leader Hernando de Soto and built seven of the small vessels to sail down the newly discovered Mississippi River and westward along the Gulf Coast.

According an account of the expedition, Indians knew of the future Texas’ natural seeps. “There was found a skumme, which they call Copee, which the Sea casteth up, and it is like Pitch, wherewith in some places, where Pitch is wanting, they pitch their ships; there they pitched their Brigandines.”

_______________________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

“Diamond Glenn” McCarthy

The Texas independent oil producer who “rocketed into the national imagination in the late 1940s.”

 

As giant oilfield discoveries created Texas millionaires after World War II, people started calling “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy the reigning King of the Wildcatters. Some historians have said a $21 million hotel McCarthy opened in 1949 put Houston on the map. Others proclaim he inspired the character Jett Rink in the 1952 novel Giant.

Glenn H. McCarthy’s petroleum career began with a 1935 well 50 miles east of Houston. On July 21, he and partner R.A. Mason brought in the No. 1 White well with initial production of almost 600 barrels of oil a day. The well extended the already productive Anahuac field three miles to the north.

petroleum historyJuly 21 - july 27

After discovering 11 Texas oil fields, Glenn McCarthy appeared on the February 13, 1950, cover of TIME.

By 1945, McCarthy went on to discover 11 new oilfields and extend others. In Brazoria County a year later he drilled the highest-pressure gas well drilled to that time.

Described as a “bombastic, plucky Irishman best known for building the famous Shamrock Hotel,” the Texas independent oilman would be featured on the February 13, 1950, cover of TIME. (more…)

Desk and Derrick Educators

Petroleum industry secretaries hosted a 1951 energy education convention at Shamrock Hotel in Houston.

 

Since the first Desk and Derrick club meeting in 1949 in New Orleans, this national association has “ebbed and flowed with the tides of the energy and allied industries.”

desk and derrick

The first Desk and Derrick club was founded in New Orleans in 1949.

“Greater Knowledge – Greater Service” is the motto of the Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America, which began with a club founded in New Orleans.

Soon, hundreds of the growing number of women working in the petroleum industry – primarily as secretaries – were organizing clubs in other cities.

In 1951, they gathered in New Orleans to share ways to promote energy education in the United States and Canada. ADDC articles of association were signed on July 23 by presidents of the clubs founded in Los Angeles, Houston, Jackson and New Orleans.

“A New Orleans secretary working for Humble Oil & Refining organized the first Desk and Derrick,” noted a January 2012 article in the Permian Basin Petroleum Association magazine PBOil&Gas.

“Inez Awty (later Schaeffer) was tired of writing reports about things she knew little about and believed women working for oil companies wanted to see and know more about a derrick and other aspects of the industry,” the PBOil&Gas article explained.

desk and derrick

By 1951, there were 1,500 Desk and Derrick members in the United States and Canada. Photo courtesy Permian Basin Petroleum Association.

The article also quoted a 1951 Midland Reporter-Telegram that reported, “Miss Awty thought if men in the oil industry could be organized and know other men outside their own company, then the women could do likewise.”

With a combined membership of 883 women, the charter clubs dedicated themselves to “the education and professional development of individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries and to educate the general public about these industries.”

The PBOil&Gas article added that in April 1957, a guest speaker was a young Midlander named George H.W. Bush, who reviewed offshore drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Bit of Fun” for Young People

Educating youth about the earth sciences and how the petroleum industry works has remained part of the Desk and Derrick mission. Since 2004, the group has published (in English and Spanish) “Bit of Fun with PetroMolly and PetroMack,” an energy activity book designed for third and fourth graders.

In 1957, the organization’s members adopted a motto, “Greater Knowledge – Greater Service,” according to the nonprofit ADDC website. Membership numbers have fluctuated over the year in close relation to the state of the oil and gas industry – and oil prices. In 2018, about 1,200 women – and men – employed in or affiliated with the energy and allied industries comprised 48 clubs in seven regions.

ADDC today promotes its energy education mission using variety of programs, including seminars, field trips, and individual clubs hosting the annual national convention. “Thousands of hours of education have been provided for members through monthly programs on the many facets of this industry and given by speakers ranging from company CEO’s to oil-well-fire fighters,” explains the website.

Among ADDC’s historic milestones are: 1949 – The first club is founded in New Orleans by Inez Awty Schaeffer.

July 23, 1951 – Articles of association are signed by presidents of the clubs founded earlier in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston and Jackson, Mississippi.

December 1-2, 1951 – First Board of Directors meet in New Orleans.

desk and derrick

ADDC published its first “Bit of Fun” Energy Activity Book in 2004.

1952 – A newsletter is published (today’s The Desk and Derrick Journal) after Josephine Nolen of Odessa, Texas, wins a contest for its name: The Oil and Gal Journal.

1952 – The first convention is held at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston led by the first association president, Lee Wilson Hoover. Forty member clubs are represented by almost 1,000 registrants.

1957 – “Greater Knowledge – Greater Service” is adopted as a motto.

1977 – “of North America” is deleted from the association’s name and the acronym ADDC becomes common usage.

1987 – The ADDC Foundation is established and the first issue of The Desk and Derrick Journal published, replacing the Oil and Gal Journal.

1988 – Delegates at the annual convention approve equitable membership in the association, opening membership to men.

1996 – The first association website goes online in September.

2001 – Celebration of the association’s 50th anniversary year.

2004 – Publishes the first “Bit of Fun” Energy Activity book.

2010 – Website is revamped; updated and improved.

West Virginia ADDC Convention in 2013

ADDC annual convention field trips have visited offshore drilling rigs, refineries, manufacturing plants, and pipeline facilities. The 2013 convention took place in late September in Charleston, West Virginia. The West Virginia Desk and Derrick Club hosted “Autumn in Appalachia” for the 62nd annual convention, says General Arrangements Chair Melinda Johnson. The club has 95 member companies and meets the third Tuesday of each month at various locations across the state, adds Johnson.

Clubs in each of the seven ADDC regions host membership meetings.

Her convention’s program included education seminars and the choice of five day-long field trips. Among the seminars were Five Traits of Professionalism; Intro to Petroleum Engineering; Hot Oil and Gas Plays in the Appalachian Basin; Formulas and More – Excel Training; and Leadership and Effective Communication.

On one of field trip, service company representatives from Nabors Services provided a seminar and demonstration on fracturing treatments in the Marcellus Shale. Convention attendees learned the steps in performing a hydraulic fracturing treatment and the difference between how a conventional reservoir and an unconventional reservoir is fractured, says Johnson.

Another field trip visited a Halliburton oil field service yard for education on coil tubing – with a “snubbing” unit demonstration. Another trip was to a Baker Hughes center in Clarksburg where visitors learned about directional drilling and viewed down hole motors, rotary steerable subs, and different kinds of drill bits.

_______________________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Desk and Derrick Educators.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/desk-derrick-educators. Last Updated: July 18, 2020. Original Published Date: July 21, 2014.

 

Oil & Gas History News, July 2020

July 15, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 7

 

Oil & Gas History News

 

Knowing the past is always important, especially in times of extreme disruption. As we deal with uncertainty, history stories can inspire resilience and innovation. Thank you for subscribing to the historical society’s newsletter, which is meant to preserve and share a complex industry’s history. Your help is essential for this mission. Please become a supporting member.

 

Monthly Highlights from “This Week in Petroleum History”

 

Links to summaries and articles from five weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including oilfield discoveries, new technologies, petroleum products, and more. 

July 19, 1957 – Major Oil Discovery in Alaska Territory

Richfield Oil Corporation discovered oil north of Sterling at the Swanson River in Alaska Territory. The oilfield would provide “the economic justification for statehood” two years later, according to Alaska’s first governor. It was the first significant oil production since the Katalla field of 1902…MORE

July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz

L. Frank Baum, future author of the beloved children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, started a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. His store offered lubricants, oils, axle greases – and Baum’s Castorine, which is still sold today. Did it also inspire the Tin Man character?…MORE

June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted

Passed at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Federal-Aid Highway Act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways” and authorized spending $25 billion through 1969 for construction of about 41,000 miles of highways…MORE

June 23, 1921 – Signal Hill Discovery brings California Oil Boom

When the Alamitos No. 1 well erupted oil at Signal Hill, 20 miles south of Los Angeles, the discovery revealed one of California’s largest and most prolific fields. Soon covered with derricks, Signal Hill became known as “Porcupine Hill.”…MORE

 

Energy Education Articles

 

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:

The first pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1936) worked in California oilfields as a teenager and began his career playing on an oil town baseball team. As baseball became America’s favorite pastime in the early 20th century, new petroleum boom towns fielded teams – with names that reflected their communities’ enthusiasm and livelihood. See Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball.

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City received the first of his many patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.” The invention used controlled down-hole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.” The Roberts Torpedo would lead the evolution of technologies for fracturing geologic formations to increase oil and natural gas production. See Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

Featured Image

 

Oil-drenched Arkansas roughnecks pose following the July 1, 1922, discovery of the Smackover (Richardson) field in Union County. Wildcat wells created two Arkansas boom towns, boosted the early career of H.L. Hunt, and launched the state’s petroleum industry. Photo courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives. Learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells.

 

Energy Education Articles

 

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:

A 19th century petroleum product made America’s July 1969 moon landing possible. The first stage of the Saturn V rocket burned 2,230 gallons per second of a highly refined propellant first refined in 1848 as “coal oil” for lamps. It also fuels today’s SpaceX rockets. See Kerosene Rocket Fuel.

With a collection of more than three million artifacts, the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., offers few relating to the U.S. petroleum history. It wasn’t always so. In June 1967, a “Hall of Petroleum” opened at the museum on the National Mall.” See Smithsonian’s Hall of Petroleum.

When U.S.S. Texas was commissioned in 1914, it became the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers. A reluctant U.S. Navy soon recognized fuel oil produced far more energy and simplified resupply logistics. Converted to burn oil in 1925, the “Mighty T” today is a museum. See Petroleum and Sea Power.

Thanks for reading our July newsletter. Share it with your friends and please link to aoghs.org. As always, consider becoming a supporting member. Next month there will be more archives, technologies, and discoveries to explore. Knowing history makes a difference.

— Bruce Wells

“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, July 13 to July 19

July 14, 1863 – Patent issued for “Tool for Boring Rock” – 

French tunnel engineer Rodolphe Leschot received a U.S. patent for his “Tool for Boring Rock.” His concept included a ring of industrial-grade diamonds on the end of a tubular drill rod designed to cut a cylindrical core. Water pumped through the drill rod washed away cuttings and cooled the bit. Leschot’s system proved successful in drilling blast holes for tunneling Mount Cenis on the France-Italy border.

By 1865, the use of diamond bits in oil well drilling was being examined in the petroleum regions of western Pennsylvania. “It is not known if there is any connection between the 1865 experimental diamond core drilling in the Pennsylvania oil region and the Leschot blast hole drilling in France in 1863,” noted historian Sam Pees in 2004. Learn more about Making Hole – Drilling Technology and visit Pennsylvania’s Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

July 14, 1891 – Rockefeller expands Oil Tank Car Empire – 

Oil tanks cars of Standard Oil

By 1904, Standard Oil’s tank car fleet had grown to 10,000.

John D. Rockefeller incorporated Union Tank Line Company in New Jersey and transferred his fleet of several thousand oil tank cars to the Standard Oil Trust. He then systematically acquired control of all but 200 of America’s 3,200 existing oil tank cars. By 1904, his rolling fleet of tank cars had grown to 10,000.

Union Tank Line Company shipped only Standard Oil products until 1911, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated dissolution of his trust. The newly independent company changed its name to Union Tank Car Company (its official rolling stock reporting mark retained Standard’s UTL or UTLX). In 1963, the company introduced a 50,000-gallon tank car, the largest in rail service. Learn more about the early days of transporting petroleum in Densmore Oil Tank Car.

July 16, 1926 – Oil Discovery launches Greater Seminole Area Boom – 

Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole, Oklahoma

Now  closed, the Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole educated visitors about the area’s historic oilfields, including Earlsboro, St. Louis, Bowlegs, Little River, and Allen. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Three years after an oil well was completed near Bowlegs, Oklahoma, a gusher south of Seminole revealed the true oil potential of Seminole County. The Fixico No. 1 well penetrated the prolific Wilcox Sands formation at 4,073 feet deep.

The well, drilled by the R.F. Garland and his Independent Oil Company, was among more than 50 Greater Seminole Area oil reservoirs discovered; six were giants that produced more than one million barrels of oil each. With the addition of the giant Oklahoma City oilfield, discovered in 1928, by 1935 Oklahoma would become the largest supplier of oil in the world. Learn more in Great Seminole Oil Boom.

July 16, 1935 – Oklahoma Publisher produces First Parking Meter – 

Carl Magee, designer of the Park-O-Meter

Oklahoma college students helped Carl Magee design the Park-O-Meter No. 1. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

As the booming Oklahoma City oilfield added to the congestion of cars downtown, the world’s first parking meter was installed at the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue. Carl C. Magee, publisher of the Oklahoma News, designed the Park-O-Meter No. 1. “The meter charged five cents for one hour of parking, and naturally citizens hated it, viewing it as a tax for owning a car,” notes historian Josh Miller. “But retailers loved the meter, as it encouraged a quick turnover of customers.”

Magee designed the Park-O-Meter No. 1, today preserved by the Oklahoma Historical Society. It was manufactured by MacNick Company of Tulsa, a maker of timing devices used to explode nitroglycerin in oil wells (also see Zebco Reel Oilfield History). By 1940, there were 140,000 parking meters operating in the United States.

July 16, 1969 – Kerosene fuels launch of Saturn V Moon Rocket – 

Saturn V launches burning "rocket grade" kerosene.

Powered by five first-stage engines fueled by “rocket grade” kerosene, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever built. Photos courtesy Nasa.

A 19th century petroleum product made America’s 1969 moon landing possible. Kerosene powered the first-stage rocket engines of the Saturn V when it launched the Apollo 11 mission on July 16. Four days later, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

During launch, five engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burned “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust. The fuel was a highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1) that could trace its roots to the 1840s and “coal oil” for lamps.

Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner began refining the fuel from coal in 1846. He coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax). RP-1 today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas, SpaceX, and other rockets. Learn more in Kerosene Rocket Fuel.

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July 19, 1957 – Major Oil Discovery in Alaska Territory – 

Anchorage Daily Times headline "Richfield Hits Oil"

Even the Anchorage Daily Times could not predict oil production would account for more than 90 percent of Alaska’s revenue.

Although some oil production had occurred earlier in the territory, Alaska’s first commercial oilfield was discovered by Richfield Oil, which completed the Swanson River Unit No. 1 in Cook Inlet Basin. The well yielded 900 barrels of oil per day from a depth of 11,215 feet.

Alaska’s first governor, William Egan, would proclaim the 1957 discovery provided “the economic justification for statehood for Alaska” two years later. Richfield leased more than 71,000 acres of the Kenai National Moose Range, now part of the 1.92 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. More Alaska discoveries followed. By June 1962, about 50 wells were producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil a day. Atlantic Richfield evolved into today’s ARCO.

Learn about the earliest exploration wells in the 49th state in First Alaska Oil Wells.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

First Alaska Oil Wells

Commercial production began with a 1902 oilfield in a region known for natural oil seeps. The real boom came in 1957.

 

Alaska’s petroleum history began long before statehood in 1959 and the major oilfield discovery two years earlier.  

The truly first Alaskan oil well with commercial production was completed in 1902 in rugged, coastal territory where oil seeps had been known for years. Despite limited cable-tool technologies of the day, the Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate produced oil near the remote settlement of Katalla on Alaska’s southern coast. The small oilfield also led to construction of Alaska Territory’s first refinery.

first Alaska oil well panoramic maps of oil town

The Katalla discovery well, drilled on private land owned by the Alaska Development Company, marked the first unsteady steps of Alaska’s petroleum industry.

small Alaska railroad leading to oil  derrick

Drilled using cable tools in 1902, the first Alaska oil well proved production was possible in the territory – but difficult and costly to transport. Photo courtesy University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives.

 “Among Alaska’s vast resources, gold and oil were the rich twins that put the territory on the map near the turn of the last century,” noted Tricia Brown in a 2012 article, “Katalla: Alaska’s First Oil Well.”

“Gold discoveries had been made in the interior and at Nome when, in September 1902, the Alaska Development Company, known as the English Company, made the first commercial oil discovery at Katalla, 47 miles southeast of Cordova,” she explained.

Enthusiastic reporting about Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate’s success brought investors and competing exploration companies. Newspaper articles – often wildly exaggerating the Katalla discovery – encouraged a rush of entrepreneurs looking for opportunities similar to the famous gold rush. “A special dispatch from Valdez announces an immense oil gusher was struck at Cotella [Katalla], on the Southern Alaska Coast, at a depth of 200 feet, reported the New York Times in a vivid (but inaccurate) article. “The gusher took everything away with it, rising nearly 200 feet before it could be capped.”

Adding that the Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate had announced its intention of “refining the oil on the spot,” the Times article concluded that an important new industry had arrived in the territory. A January 1903 article in the St. Paul Globe gushed even more.

first Alaska oil well snow covered cable-tool derrick

Harsh winters at the Katalla oilfield frequently challenged men and equipment. Photo courtesy University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives.

“Oil experts who have just returned to Tacoma from the oilfields of southern Alaska declare that they will rival the fields in Pennsylvania in the matter of production within a short time,” exclaimed the Minnesota newspaper. Such accounts of Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate’s success attracted new companies, including the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company (1903), Amalgamated Development Company, and the Alaska Oil & Refining Company.

The oil fever centered on Alaska Development Company’s 826-acre Katalla patent along Oil Creek and Arvesta Creek as cable-tool rigs multiplied there. “I expect to see, next year, a dozen big outfits actively at work developing the oil fields surrounding the city,” wrote John F.A. Strong, publisher of the Katalla Herald, in 1907.

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“I gave it out that the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company stood ready to give every encouragement to oil men to come here, and we are ready to let oil developers have from 40 to 80 acres each to begin work upon, on the most liberal terms,” added the future governor of the Alaska Territory.

Territory Boom Town – Where Rails meet Sails

Katalla was on Controller Bay and accessible by water if the weather was right. This was rough country, but planned railroad service from Alaska’s prolific interior copper mines promised new opportunities.

Alaska paddle wheel cargo ships at dock

Unloading supplies at the dock in Katalla, Alaska Territory. Photo courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.

As the Alaska Pacific Railway and Terminal Company started building its line, Katalla promoted the venture by declaring, “Katalla, Where the Rails Meet the Sails!” Drilling on the original patent continued and a number of successful wells continued to produce “Pennsylvania quality” crude oil.

And yet before the year ended, Katalla residents would be reduced to subsisting on salt pork and porcupine after storms cut off supplies from the outside. “Ship After Ship Undertakes to Land Relief but in Vain – Six Weeks of the Roughest of Weather,” reported the The Marshfield, Oregon, newspaper.

first Alaska oil well remotest oil boom town street

A view of Katalla’s Front Street not long after the town’s historic 1902 oil discovery. The population would later peak at about 5,000 resident before a dramatic decline. Photo courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.

Violent storms in late 1907 isolated Katalla and destroyed the breakwater along with an 1,800-foot dock under construction by the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad. The village of Cordova about 50 rugged miles west of Katalla was was chosen to be the new terminus and thereby the Katalla oilfield’s nearest railhead.

Katalla was further isolated when the Army’s Washington to Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System also changed its destination to Cordova. Without a railroad or telegraph, Katalla’s population dropped from a peak of 5,000 residents to 770 residents. Then prospects for Alaska’s first oil boom town got even worse.

Concerned that over development of oil supplies on federal lands would diminish the United States’ petroleum reserves, President William Howard Taft intervened. On November 2, 1910, he issued an executive order preventing further exploration and drilling in the Alaska Territory. Only Katalla’s privately owned 826-acre patent remained open amidst all of Alaska’s vast petroleum potential of almost 425 million acres. Despite this setback, the Alaska Oil & Refining Company rebounded by building Alaska’s first refinery.

Alaska Territory’s First Oil Refinery

The refinery on Katalla Slough serviced local needs for gasoline, kerosene and lubricants. Once a week, the company shipped 60 100-gallon drums to Cordova. Products traveled to markets by boat, barge – or towed in floating tanks. Alaska Oil & Refining operated the refinery until 1915, when the St. Elias Oil Company took over the company’s assets. Petroleum exploration was still limited to the original 826 acres permitted by Taft’s executive order.

St. Elias Oil advised investors of expansion plans to “increase the output of the refinery…pumping four wells, anticipating four more within the year. Will install tanks at Katalla to facilitate immediate shipment.” The company drilled three successful wells (and three dry holes) that helped keep the refinery running as the rest of Alaska imported in excess of 732,000 gallons of illuminating oil and 373,000 gallons of lubricants.

Nonetheless, Katalla’s population dropped to 87 hardy souls by 1920. Congress then passed the Mineral Leasing Act to finally open the rest of Alaska to petroleum exploration. “All the Alaska oil lands were withdrawn in 1910, and patent has been granted to only one claim, which is in the Katalla field,” noted a 1921 report of the U.S. Geological Survey.

“This condition persisted until the passage of the recent oil and gas leasing act of February 25, 1920,” the report explained. “The provisions of this law applying to Alaska appear to be liberal and will permit prospecting the fairly accessible localities near the Pacific where seepages have been found.”

first Alaska oil well earliest refinery produces kerosene

Oil from the Katalla field was processed at Alaska’s first refinery – until it burned down on Christmas eve in 1933. Photo courtesy Alaska Digital Archives.

The 1921 report, “Preliminary report on petroleum in Alaska,” also noted areas with oil seeps “now give promise of being of commercial importance. There are, however, some indications of oil in the extreme northern part of Alaska, a region at present almost inaccessible.”

That same year St. Elias Oil sold out to Chilkat Oil Company and the federal government issued about 400 new exploration permits. But few came to Alaska and none to the Katalla oilfield for the next 65 years. The Alaskan Crude Corporation drilled briefly there in 1985 but suspended operations.

While Alaska’s oil industry struggled, California’s had been booming; by 1921 annual oil production exceeded 77 million barrels with oil selling for just $1.73 per barrel (oil prices would stay below $2 a barrel until 1948). At those prices, transporting oil from Alaskan oilfields made no economic sense. Chilkat Oil’s refinery continued to deliver Katalla oilfield products to nearby customers.

Alaska’s first refinery burned on Christmas eve of 1933, taking with it the fortunes of Chilkat Oil Company and the town of Katalla. The refinery had produced a total of about 6.5 million gallons of distillates, but there would be no more. With no economic engine, Katalla was soon abandoned – with only 12 residents by the 1940s.

When a 9.2 magnitude earthquake raised the land around Katalla by eight feet in 1964, the town’s old waterfront disappeared. “It put the last nail in the coffin,” according to the Anchorage Press. Katalla became a ghost town.

Alaska Swanson River discovery oil well 1957

A rare photo of the Swanson River Unit No. 1 well, which in 1957 revealed a major oilfield in Alaska Territory and helped pave the way to statehood in 1959. The image, courtesy retired geologist Doug Baily of Arkansas, should be upside down. The historic rig is seen reflected on reserve mud pit.

Although Katalla’s heritage as home of the first Alaska oil well and refinery was acknowledged in 1974 by the National Register of Historic Places, the town’s 30 years of oil production actually amounted to less than what Alaska’s North Slope would yield in a single day.

Despite its fate, Katalla proved petroleum production was possible in Alaska Territory – but transporting oil to market was difficult and expensive. In 1946, the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Navy began an eight-year exploration program, but found only two minor oil deposits after drilling 36 wells.

Swanson River Oil Discovery

In 1957, a remote exploratory well drilled by Richfield Oil Corporation, a predecessor of ARCO, tested at 900 barrels of oil a day, the first significant commercial discovery in Alaska since 1902.

The July 19, 1957, discovery of oil north of Sterling at Swanson River provided, according to Alaska’s first governor William Egan, “the economic justification for statehood for Alaska,” noted a 2017 article, “Oil workers celebrate 60 years of Swanson river.”

Atlantic Richfield had sent geologists Bill Bishop and Ray Arnett to explore the 50,000 acres the company had leased. “Bishop and Arnett drilled a successful oil well at Swanson River, in the northwest Kenai Peninsula. Their announcement of the well on July 23 set off a flurry of economic activity that some compared to the gold rush.”

By 1959, Unocal discovered a major natural gas field near the Swanson River oilfield. When Atlantic Richfield and Humble Oil companies discovered the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay field in 1968, the largest oilfield in North America inspired the industry’s modern engineering marvel, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Outstanding images can be found at the University of Alaska’s Digital Archives.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join AOGHS and help maintain this energy education website, expand historical research, and extend public outreach. For annual sponsorship information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Alaska Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-alaska-oil-well. Last Updated: July 11, 2020. Original Published Date: March 23, 2015.

 

Kerosene Rocket Fuel

Today’s highly refined propellant began as “coal oil” for lamps.

 

A 19th century petroleum product made America’s 1969 moon landing possible. On July 16, 1969, kerosene rocket fuel powered the first stage of the Saturn V of the Apollo 11 mission.

Four days after the Saturn V launched Apollo 11, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” His historic achievement rested on new technologies – and tons of fuel first refined for lamps by a Canadian in 1848.

kerosene powers Saturn V engines at liftoff

Powered by five first-stage engines fueled by “rocket grade” kerosene, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever built.

During launch, five Rocketdyne F-1 engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burn “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust.

Coal Oil Rocket Fuel Saturn V engines

The F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Photos courtesy NASA.

Saturn’s rocket fuel is highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or Refined Petroleum-1) which, while conforming to stringent performance specifications, is essentially the same “coal oil” invented in the mid-19th century.

Canadian physician and geologist Abraham Gesner began refining an illuminating fuel from coal in 1846. “I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he noted in his patent.

Robert Goddard with the first liquid-fuel rocket in 1926

The father of American rocketry, Robert Goddard, in 1926 used gasoline to fuel the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket, seen here in its launch stand. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

By 1850, Gesner had formed a company that installed lighting in the streets in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1854, he established the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company at Long Island, New York.

Although he had coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax), because his fluid was extracted from coal, most consumers called it “coal oil” as often as they called it kerosene.

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By the time of the first U.S. oil well drilled by Edwin Drake in 1859, a Yale scientist (hired by the well’s investors) has reported oil to be an ideal source for making kerosene, far better than refined coal. Demand for kerosene refined from petroleum launched the nation’s exploration and production industry.

Although electricity will replace kerosene lamps and gasoline dominate 20th century demand for a transportation fuel, kerosene’s ease of storage and stable properties attract rocket scientists. Decades of rocket engine research and testing led to the Saturn V’s five Rocketdyne F-1 engines.

“The F-1 remains the most powerful single-combustion chamber liquid-fueled rocket engine ever developed, according to David Woods, author of How Apollo Flew to the Moon, 2008. The Rocketdyne F-1 engines, 19 feet tall with nozzles about 12 feet wide, include fuel pumps delivering 15,471 gallons of RP-1 per minute to their thrust chambers.

The Saturn V’s upper stages burned highly volatile liquid hydrogen (liquid oxygen was used in all three stages). The five-engine main booster held 203,400 gallon of RP-1. After firing, the engines emptied the giant fuel tank in 165 seconds.

"Rocket grade" kerosene fueled the Saturn V - and today's rockets.

Kerosene fueled the Saturn V – and today’s latest rocket engines. NASA photo detail.

The Apollo 11 landing crowned liquid-rocket fuel research in America dating back to Robert H. Goddard and his 1914 “Rocket Apparatus” powered by gasoline. In March 1926, Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket from his aunt’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. His rocket was powered by liquid oxygen and gasoline.

Although gasoline will be replaced with other propellants, including the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen used in the space shuttle’s external tank, RP-1 kerosene continues to fuel spaceflight.

Cheaper, easily stored at room temperature, and far less of an explosive hazard, the 19th century petroleum product today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas, Delta II, Antares and latest SpaceX rockets. Last launched in 1972, the Saturn V remains the most powerful rocket ever built.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Kerosene Rocket Fuel.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:https://aoghs.org/products/kerosene-rocket-fuel. Last Updated: July 11, 2020. Original Published Date: July 12, 2015.

Seminole Oil Boom

Although the area’s first discoveries came at Wewoka in 1923 and Cromwell in 1924, the long hoped-for giant oilfield arrived in 1926.

 

Many historic oil and natural gas discoveries followed the Indian Territory’s first oil well drilled at Bartlesville in 1897, especially after statehood came a decade later. Few of these discoveries had the tremendous economic impact as the greater area Seminole oil boom of the 1920s. 

 

Although oil from the 1897 Bartlesville discovery could not get to refineries for two years (a lack of infrastucture), the first Oklahoma oil well brought more exploration. Other major discoveries soon arrived, including the Red Fork Gusher of 1901, which helped in Making Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World.” 

The Seminole oil boom eclipsed them all. (more…)

Zebco Reel Oilfield History

Oilfield service provider Zero Hour Bomb Company produced “cannot backlash” fishing reels in 1949 — and became Zebco.

 

When Jasper R. Dell Hull walked into the Tulsa offices of the Zero Hour Bomb Company in 1947, he carried a piece of plywood with a few nails in a circle wrapped in line. Attached was a coffee-can lid that could spin. Hull, known by his friends as “R.D.,” was an amateur inventor from Rotan, Texas. He had an appointment with executives at the Oklahoma oilfield service company.

Since its incorporation in 1932, the Zero Hour Bomb Company had become well known for manufacturing dependable electric timer bombs for fracturing geologic formations. It had designed and patented technologies for “shooting” wells to increase oil and natural gas production. The company’s timer controlled a mechanism with a detonator in a watertight casing. The downhole device could be pre-set to detonate a series of blasting caps, which set off the well’s main charge, shattering rock formations.

Oil well explosive timers of the Zero Hour Bomb Company

The Zero Hour Bomb Company was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1932. Photos courtesy Zebco.

Hull’s 1947 visit was timely for Zero Hour Bomb Company, because post World War II demand for its electrically triggered devices had declined. With the military no longer needing oil to fuel the war, the U.S. petroleum industry was in recession. The company and other once booming Oklahoma service companies were reeling, and the future did not look good.

“Vast fossil fuel reserves beneath other Middle Eastern nations were being unlocked,” noted journalist Joe Sills in a 2014 article. “OPEC was beginning to take shape, and Texas and Oklahoma-based domestic oil in the U.S. was about to take a decades-long backseat to foreign oil.”

Further, with company patents expiring in 1948, “the Zero Hour Bomb Company needed a solution,” explained Sills, an editor for Fishing Tackle Retailer. After examining Hull’s contraption, a prototype fishing reel, the company hired him for $500 a month. Hull later received a patent that would transform Zero Hour Bomb Company – and sport fishing in America.

Downhole Patents and a Fishing Reel

Beginning in the early 1930s, Zero Hour Bomb engineers patented many innovative oilfield products. A 1939 design for an “Oil Well Bomb Closure” facilitated assembly of an explosive device capable of withstanding extreme pressures submerged deep in a well. A 1940 invention provided a hook mechanism for safely lowering torpedoes into wells. The locking method was to “positively prevent premature release of the torpedo while it is being lowered into the well.”

Two patents in July 1953 for the Zero Hour Bomb Company

Two patents in July 1953 for a well bridge would be among the last the Zero Hour Bomb Company received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer, thanks to a fishing reel designed by R.D. Hull in the late 1940s and patented on February 2, 1954.

A 1941 patent improved positioning blasting cartridges with a canvas plugging device that looked like an upside-down umbrella. The “well bridge” automatically opened “when the time bomb or weight reached a position at the bottom of the well.”

A 1953 design that took this concept even further would be the last patent Zero Hour Bomb received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer. By then, the earliest model of Hull’s new “cannot backlash” reel was attracting crowds at sports shows.

“After trying to design ‘brakes’ for bait-casting reels, and even failing at launching one fishing reel company, Hull hit on a better way one day as he watched a grocery store clerk pull string from a large fixed spool to wrap a package,” reported Lee Leschper in a 1999 Amarillo Globe-News article.

First Zebco reel of 1949

Zero Hour Bomb Company’s first “cannot backlash” reel made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June 1949.

Hull realized he needed a cover to keep the line from spinning off the reel itself and soon developed a prototype, Leschper noted. “Zero Hour officials asked two company employees who were avid fishermen for their opinions on the reel. One tied his set of car keys to the end of the line and sent a cast flying through one of the windows in the plant. The other sent a cast high over the building. All were impressed.”

Given his own Hull-deigned fishing reel at about age six, Leschper recalled, the “tiny black pushbutton reel” came with 6 lb. monofilament line (a petroleum-based polymer), a four-foot white hollow fiberglass rod, and a hard yellow plastic practice plug. It is possible the plug was made from Marlex, a revolutionary plastic invented at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Leschper added, “I wore it down to a nub pitching it across the hard-baked grass in our front yard.”

Zero Hour Bomb Company manufactures Zebco reels

A Zero Hour Bomb Company package addressed to President Eisenhower was submerged in water by White House security in 1956. Photo courtesy Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine.

Earlier, Hull, had tested several designs before developing a production process; the first reel was produced on May 13, 1949. Called the Standard, it made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June. By 1954, the reel’s simple push-button system used today was introduced.

Panic at White House

The regional marketing name – Zebco – became popular, but the bottom of each reel’s foot was stamped with the the name of the manufacturer, Zero Hour Bomb Company. The official name change to Zebco came in 1956, soon after a friend of President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked the company to send a reel to the president.

According to a Zebco company history, when White House security officers saw the package labeled “Zero Hour Bomb Company,” they plunged it into a tub of water and called the bomb squad. After changing its name to Zebco, the company left the oilfield for good.

In 1961, Zebco was acquired by Brunswick Corporation and introduced the 202 ZeeBee spincast, “an instant classic.” After shifting reel assembly production to China in 2000, Brunswick a year later sold Zebco to the W.C. Bradley Company. Zebco headquarters today remains in Tulsa, where it leases a 200,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center.

Jasper R. Dell “R.D.” Hull was inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame in 1975 after receiving more than 35 patents. At the time of his induction, 70 million Zebco reels had been sold. He retired from the former oilfield time-bomb company in January 1977 after being diagnosed with cancer and died in December at age 64.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Zebco Reel Oilfield History.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/zebco-reel-oilfield-history. Last Updated: July 12, 2020. Original Published Date: February 20, 2018.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, July 6 to July 12

July 6, 1988 – Piper Alpha North Sea Tragedy –

An explosion and fire on Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha offshore production platform in the North Sea resulted in the deaths of 167 out of 224 personnel. It remains the most deadly offshore disaster of the petroleum industry.

At the time of the explosion, Piper Alpha was receiving natural gas from two platforms while exporting gas to a compression platform. “The initial explosion was caused by a misunderstanding of the readiness of a gas condensate pump that had been removed from service for maintenance of it’s pressure safety valve,” according to safety consultant Gary Karasek. New platform designs, operations engineering, evacuation technologies, and safety procedures emerged following an official inquiry of the tragedy. “It was a ground-breaking effort, with numerous detailed findings and 106 recommendations, which were readily accepted by industry.” (more…)

Oil in the Land of Oz

Did L. Frank Baum’s Castorine Company of 1883 inspire the Tin Man?

 

The Tin Man’s oil can in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can trace its roots to America’s earliest oilfields – where L. Frank Baum founded a petroleum lubricant business before becoming the world-famous children’s book author.

“Sometimes, when researching history, you find places where it’s still alive,” explained Evan Schwartz in his 2009 book, Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story.

Illustration from 1900 children's book Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Before publishing his children’s book in 1900, L. Frank Baum sold a popular axle oil from a company he founded in Syracuse, New York.

Schwartz’s search for the Tin Man’s mythic oil-can led him to finding that in the 1880s L. Frank Baum and his brother started an oil products business in Syracuse, New York. The business continues to this day.

 Baum's Castorine Company axle oil ad, circa 1880s

L. Frank Baum – whose father found success in Pennsylvania oilfields – served as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which he founded with his brother on July 9, 1883.

The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz once sold cans of buggy wheel and axle oil for a living. In 1883, Baum and his brother Benjamin launched their small business offering lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”

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Reporting on the July 9, 1883, opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper noted that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”

Baum’s Castorine Company prospered with L. Frank Baum serving as superintendent and chief salesman for the next four years.

oil can

L. Frank Baum’s sales trips may have influenced Oz. “On one of these trips, while installing a window display for a customer, the idea of the Tin Woodman came to him.”

“He was a traveling salesman for the company,” noted a 2011 exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Michigan. “On one of these trips, while installing a window display for a customer, the idea of the Tin Woodman came to him.”

The Kalamazoo exhibit’s text also explained that although the petroleum lubricating company enjoyed some success, the business “came to an end when the bookkeeper gambled away the profits.”

Baum wrote of his Baum’s Castorine Company, “I see no future in it to warrant my wasting any more years of my life in trying to boom it.” The frustrated businessman sold the oil venture. In May 1900 he published the first of his children’s classics.

Son of a Successful Oilman

L. (Lyman) Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York, on May 15, 1856, the seventh of nine children of Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum – one of only five of the children to survive into adulthood. Thanks to Benjamin Ward Baum’s financial success in the newly born Pennsylvania petroleum industry, the young Baum grew up in an environment where his imagination and love of reading flourished.

Baum's Castorine products tin advertising sign

Baum’s Castorine products “are designed to extend machine life and reduce your maintenance costs.”

In 1860, just one year after America’s first commercial oil discovery, Benjamin Ward Baum closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the western Pennsylvania oilfields. “Frankie” was then only four and a half years old. Productive oil wells drilled near Titusville and Cherry Tree Run would bring his enterprising father great wealth.

“Benjamin recognized a splendid opportunity and joined the crowds who moved in to exploit the oilfields and develop the area. A hundred new wells were drilled every month, ingenious mechanical contrivances were invented, towns and cities were built,” wrote Katharine M. Rogers in her 2002 book, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography.

“Benjamin began acquiring oilfields, including a particularly profitable one at Cherry Tree Run, a few miles south of Titusville,” Rogers reported. “He later bought property between Bradford, Pennsylvania, and Olean, New York, where he helped to develop the hamlet of Gilmour and built a hotel and an opera house.”

By 1862, the elder Baum owned Carbon Oil Company and was a well-established oilman. His success helped finance diversification into dry goods and other mercantile businesses. Son Frank found employment in several of these family ventures as a young man.

When his father purchased the Cynthia Oil Works in Bolivar, New York, Frank operated a retail outlet for awhile.

The Pioneer Oil Museum of New York

L. Frank Baum’s father once owned an oil company in Bolivar, New York, where a museum today exhibits the region’s extensive petroleum history. Photo by Bruce Wells.

“The Cynthia Oil Works, the first refinery in Bolivar Township, was erected on the Porter Cowles flats at the north end of Bolivar village in 1882,” according to historian Ronald G. Taylor. “The plant, owned by B.W. Baum & Son, dealers in oil leases and managers of the first opera house at Richburg, was designed as a lubricating oil works and for the manufacture of ship oil of 300 fire test for illuminating on board ships.” 

However, there was no longer unlimited free enterprise in the oil fields, added Rogers in her book. “John D. Rockefeller had moved in and was increasingly controlling distribution. In 1878, Benjamin organized a group of independent producers to break Rockefeller’s grip by building a pipeline from Bradford to Rochester, where the oil could be transferred to tank cars and shipped to refineries in New York and Buffalo.”

Although the Standard Oil Company used its influence with the New York Central Railroad and the state legislature to block the plan, Baum continued to find success by discovering productive wells in New York.

In 1887, after almost 30 years in the oil business, Benjamin Ward Baum died in New York. His father’s prosperity in the oil business permitted Frank to pursue writing, publishing journals and writing for the stage. There were nine daily and 18 weekly newspapers published in the oil region; Benjamin Baum – thanks to income from his oil profits – had acquired several small theaters in New York and Pennsylvania, perhaps setting the stage for his son’s future.

Finding the Tin Man’s Oil Can

When historian Evan L. Schwartz researched his 2009 book, Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story, he was surprised to learn of the role petroleum played in Baum’s life – and that the Tin Man’s oil can trace its roots to Baum’s Castorine Company.

detail from 1919 OZ book by L. Frank Baum

L. Frank Baum sold his Baum’s Castorine Company in 1888. His many Castorine sales trips may have led to the idea of a Tin Woodman character for his book, illustrated by W.W. Denslow.

“L. Frank Baum sold cans of buggy wheel oil for a living as the co-owner of Baum’s Castorine Company of Syracuse, New York,” Schwartz explained, noting the company’s troubles that led to Baum’s selling it in 1888. Schwartz also discovered the company still manufactured industrial oils and lubricants under the brand name, Baum’s Castorine Company.

“So I visited the current location in Rome, New York, and sat down for a peek into the archives with owner Charles Mowry, whose grandfather was one of the investors who bought the company from Frank Baum himself,” Schwartz wrote.

“The smells of fine lubricant wafted in the air as I perused the collection of historic oil cans and heard the legend of Baum’s magic balms,” he noted. “What if Frank had never sold oil cans? Would we have never met the heartless Tin Man? And in 1939, why wasn’t Baum’s Castorine given the chance to pony up for some choice product placement?”

Learn about the historic Allegheny petroleum industry by visiting the Pioneer Oil Museum of New York in Bolivar.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil in the Land of Oz.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/l-frank-baum-castorine-oil. Last Updated: July 6, 2020. Original Published Date: June 1, 2005.

 

This Week in Petroleum History – June 29 to July 5

June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted –

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, became law.

Passed at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways,” and authorized spending $25 billion through 1969 for construction of about 41,000 miles of interstates.

map of US interstate system

The U.S. interstate system had a total length of 48,191 miles by 2016. Federal regulations initially banned collecting tolls, but some interstate routes today include toll roads.

“Of all his domestic programs, Eisenhower’s favorite by far was the Interstate System,” noted biographer Stephen Ambrose, author of Eisenhower: Soldier and President. One of the reasons the president had urged passage was the need for evacuating major cities during a nuclear attack.

June 30, 1864 – First Oil Tax funds Civil War –

One Dollar bill circa Civil War

Seeking ways to pay for the Civil War, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, featured prominently on the $1 “greenback,” advocated an oil tax.

The federal government taxed oil for the first time when it levied a $1 per barrel tax on production from Pennsylvania oilfields. Desperate for revenue to fund the Civil War as early as 1862, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase advocated a $6.30 tax per barrel of oil and $10.50 per barrel on refined products. Angry oil producers rallied against the tax in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and sent delegates to Washington, D.C., where they negotiated a tax of $1 per 42-gallon barrel of oil.

July 1, 1919 – Leading Independent Producers join Mid-Continent Association –

Alf Landon in front of his oil well

Alf Landon served as Kansas governor and was the 1936 Republican presidential candidate.

The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (today’s U.S. Oil & Gas Association) established its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa.

Mid-Continent members were a “who’s who” of top independent producers:  Frank Phillips of Phillips Petroleum; E.W. Marland, whose company became Conoco; W.G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil; H.H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil; and Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential candidate. Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company was president of the Mid-Continent Division from 1935 through 1941.

(more…)

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

Powered by a single eight-cylinder diesel-electric engine, in 1934 a “Streamliner” cut average steam locomotive time by half.

 

“Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time. Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?” – Bing Crosby

Art Deco illustration of Burlington train

Diesel-electric engines pioneered by General Motors and Winton Engine Company (established in 1896 as a bicycle company) saved America’s railroad passenger industry. Two-stroke diesel engines provided a four-fold power to weight gain. Photo courtesy Model Railroader magazine, January 1999.

Famous sreamliners M-1000 and Burlington Zephyr at station

The two “streamliner” trains that changed America’s railroad industry in the late 1930s: the Union Pacific M-10000 (left) and Burlington Zephyr. Today the Zephyr is on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Photo courtesy Union Pacific Museum.

In the early 1930s America’s passenger railroad business was in trouble. In addition to the Great Depression, the once dominant industry faced growing competition from automobiles. New refineries produced gasoline thanks to the discovery of a giant East Texas oilfield.

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

Diesel engines had been used since about 1925. The engines were heavy, producing only a single horsepower from 80 pounds of engine weight.

It had been just 60 years since coal-burning steam locomotives and the transcontinental railroad had linked America’s east and west coasts. Now, more than 30 million cars, trucks, and buses were on U.S. roads. What would power heavy transportation?

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

The powerful diesel-electric Zephyr arrived in 1934 – a result of the Navy’s search for a new engine for its submarines.

Although railroad steam engine technology had advanced since the “golden spike” of 1869 in Promontory Point, Utah, locomotives still “belched steam, smoke, and cinders,” notes one railroad historian. “Passengers often felt like they had been on a tour of a coal mine.”

The railroads’ distillate-burning internal combustion engines of the day were heavy and troublesome. Primitive diesels had been used in switch engines from about 1925, but they were slow, explains Richard Cleghorn Overton in Burlington Route: A History of the Burlington Lines.

Burning fuels ranged from a low-grade gasoline to painter’s naphtha and diesel. Distillate railroad engines emitted an oily smoke and often produced only a single horsepower from 80 pounds of engine weight. These common four-stroke engines fouled easily and required multiple spark plugs per cylinder.

Bing Crosby lamented the fate of railroads in his popular song.

Improved Iron Horse Engine

Help was on the way for America’s failing passenger railroads. It would come from the U.S. Navy in the form of a diesel-electric engine…wrapped in a stainless steel Art Deco locomotive.

“Wings to the Iron Horse,” proclaimed a company advertisement in the 1930s. “Burlington pioneers again – the first diesel streamline train.”

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

New diesel-electric engines generated power for the “Making of a Motor Car” exhibit at the 1933 Century of Progress fair in Chicago. The assembly line fascinated visitors who watched from overhead galleries.

With the threat of war on the horizon, the U.S. Navy needed a lighter weight, more powerful diesel engine for its submarine fleet. General Motors joined the nationwide competition to develop a new diesel engine.

Seeking engineering and production expertise, in 1930 GM acquired the Winton Engine Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Winton, established in 1896 as Winton Bicycle Company, was an early automobile manufacturer.

The Winton Engine Company evolved into a developer of engines for marine applications, power companies, pipeline operators – and railroads.

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

America’s first diesel-electric train made railroad history.

With GM’s financial backing, Winton engineers designed a radical new two-stroke diesel that delivered one horsepower per 20 pounds of engine weight. It provided a four-fold power to weight gain.

The Model 201A  prototype — a 503-cubic-inch, 600 horsepower, 8-cylinder diesel-electric engine – used no spark plugs, relying instead on newly patented high pressure fuel injectors and a 16:1 compression ratio for ignition.

At Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933, GM evaluated two 201 diesel-electric engines, using them to generate power for its “Making of a Motor Car” exhibit. The working demonstration of a Chevrolet assembly line fascinated thousands of visitors who watched from overhead galleries.

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

Powered by a single eight-cylinder Winton 201A diesel engine, the revolutionary “streamliner” traveled the 1,015 miles from Denver to Chicago in just over 13 hours — a passenger train record.

One visitor happened to be Ralph Budd, president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (known as the Burlington Line). Budd immediately recognized the locomotive potential of these extraordinary new diesel-electric power plants. He saw them as a perfect match for the lightweight “shot-welded” stainless steel rail cars being pioneered by the Edward G. Budd (no relation) Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia.

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

During its “dawn to dusk” record-breaking run, the Zephyr burned only $16.72 worth of diesel fuel.

Edward Budd was the first to supply the automobile industry with all steel bodies in 1912. His success in steel stamping technology made the production of car bodies cheaper and faster. By 1925, his system was used to produce half of all U.S. auto bodies.

The Depression, however, put the Budd Manufacturing Company almost $2,000,000 in the red — prompting its fortuitous diversification into the railroad car market to generate revenue. When approached by Burlington President Ralph Budd in 1933, this Budd was ready.

Within a year, the two technologies were successfully merged with the creation of the Winton 201A powered Burlington Zephyr – America’s first diesel-electric train. It would change railroad transportation history.

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

Chicago World’s Fair visitors line up to admire the stainless steel beauty of the Burlington Zephyr, which will soon be featured in a Hollywood movie. Eight major U.S. railroads soon convert to efficient diesel-electric locomotives. Photo from a Burlington Route Railroad 1934 postcard.

Art Deco and the Silver Streak

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

Although ”The Silver Streak” was a 1934 “B” movie — intended for the bottom half of double features — it remains a favorite of some railroad history fans.

The Zephyr rolled into Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition on May 26, 1934, ending a nonstop 13 hour, 4 minute, and 58 second “dawn to dusk” promotional run from Denver.

Powered by a single eight-cylinder Winton 201A diesel, the “streamliner” cut average steam locomotive time by half. The Zephyr traveled 1,015 miles at an average speed of 76.61 miles per hour and reached speeds along the route in excess of 112 mph — to the amazement and delight of track-side spectators from Colorado to Illinois.

During its record-breaking run, the Zephyr burned just $16.72 worth of diesel fuel (about four cents per gallon). The same distance in a coal steamer would have cost $255. Construction innovations included the specialized shot-welding that joined sheets of stainless steel. The lightweight steel also resisted corrosion so it didn’t have to be painted.

Americans fell in love with the Zephyr. Four months after its high-speed appearance at Chicago’s Century of Progress, the streamliner made its 1934 Hollywood film debut, starring as “The Silver Streak” for an RKO picture.

The Zephyr was loaned for filming —  and the Burlington logo on its front was repainted to read Silver Streak. “The stream-lined train, platinum blonde descendant of the rugged old Iron Horse, has been glorified by Hollywood in the modern melodrama,” proclaimed the New York Times.

Adding Wings to the Iron Horse

Winton diesel-electric engines powered a new generation of U.S. submarines. The Porpoise (SS-172) was the first of its class to join the fleet in 1935 — and served throughout World War II.

Although the black-and-white “B” movie came and went without making much of a splash, it has won its place in movie history as a rail-fan favorite, according to a 2001 article in the Zephyr Online. “It did have a lot of action, and the location shots of the Zephyr are an interesting record of this pioneer.”

The RKO film should not to be confused with 20th Century Fox’s 1976 comedy “Silver Streak,” which was filmed in Canada using Canadian Pacific Railway equipment from the Canadian, a transcontinental passenger train.

Winning Technology for WWII Subs

By the end of 1934, eight major U.S. railroads had ordered diesel-electric locomotives. The engine technology’s cost advantages in manpower, maintenance, and support were quickly apparent.

 

Despite the greater initial cost of diesel-electric, a century of steam locomotive dominance soon came to an end. By the mid-1950s, steam locomotives were no longer being manufactured in the United States.

GM won the Navy’s competition for a lightweight powerful diesel – choosing the 16-cylinder Winton Engine Company diesel-electric to power a new class of submarine. In 1935, the USS Porpoise was first to join the fleet, where it served throughout World War II. Diesel-electrics power plants descended from the Burlington Zephyr would remain part of the fleet until replaced by nuclear propulsion.

A Zephyr competitor — the Union Pacific M-10000 built by the Pullman Car & Manufacturing Company — also appeared at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago.

In fact, the aluminum M-10000 streamliner was revealed six weeks earlier than the Zephyr. Recognized as America’s first streamliner, the M-10000 was cut up for scrap in 1942.

The Zephyr (later renamed the Pioneer Zephyr) is on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

_______________________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/adding-wings-to-the-iron-horse. Last Updated: May 25, 2020. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.

 

Another First Oklahoma Oil Well

Early petroleum exploration began near oil seeps in Indian Territory.

 

Drilled in 1889 and completed a year later near oil seeps at Chelsea in Indian Territory, the story behind the another first Oklahoma oil well is not as well known as the Bartlesville gusher seven years later.

Under President Andrew Jackson, Congress enacted the Indian Removal Act of 1830, forcibly relocating native American tribes westward to what would later become known as Indian Territory.

marker at 1889 oil in Indian Territory-Oklahoma

The Cherokee Nation town began as a stop on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad in 1881.

Land west of Arkansas, “remote from white settlements,” seemed a good place to send them at the time, explained a 1900 report by the American Geographical Society of New York (Vol. 32).  “It was intended to settle them there for all time, whereby they could live to themselves, according to their own pleasure, with self-government, under the protection of the general Government.” (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, June 22 – 28

June 23, 1921 – Signal Hill Discovery brings California Oil Boom –

A discovery at Signal Hill, California, one of the world’s most famous oil strikes, launched another southern California drilling boom.

When the Alamitos No. 1 well erupted oil, the discovery revealed of one of California’s most prolific oilfields. The natural gas pressure was so great that a gusher rose 114 feet. The well produced about 600 barrels of oil a day when it was completed two days later. (more…)

Red Fork Gusher

Pennsylvanians discover oilfield near Tulsa in Oklahoma Territory.

 

Six years before Oklahoma statehood, the 1901 Red Fork oilfield discovery south of Tulsa set the town on its journey to becoming “Oil Capital of the World.”

 

Attracted to Indian Territory following an 1897 discovery at Bartlesville – read First Oklahoma Oil Well – two experienced drillers from the Pennsylvania fields found oil in the Creek Indian Nation on June 25, 1901. They drilled with steam boilers powering cable tools, a technology still evolving from the start of U.S. petroleum industry in 1859 along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

red fork oil steel oil derrick

Dedicated during the 2007 Oklahoma centennial, a circa 1950s derrick commemorates the 1901 Red Fork discovery well. Photo courtesy Route 66 Historic Village.

After leasing thousands of acres in the Creek Nation, John S. Wick and Jesse A. Heydrick spudded their well near the village of Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. It was not easy for the Pennsylvanians.

“At the beginning of the twentieth-century Oklahoma Indian lands were in the process of being transferred from communal tribal ownership to individual tribal member holdings,” explains Bobby D. Weaver of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “This process, which made legal access to Indian property very uncertain, kept most oilmen away from areas under Indian control.”

AOGHS support advertisementThe exploratory well was almost never drilled when the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway station agent at Red Fork “refused to accept a draft on their Pennsylvania backers to release their drilling equipment,” Weaver notes.

A loan from two local doctors, John C. W. Bland and Fred S. Clinton, led to the well being drilled at Red Fork on the tribal allotment of Sue A. Bland, a Creek citizen and wife of Dr. Bland.

Although the Sue A. Bland No. 1 well announced its arrival by erupting high into the air, the discovery soon settled into production of 10 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 537 feet. Despite the low production, the Oklahoma Territory well attracted a  lot of national attention, drawing large numbers of exploration companies to the Tulsa area.

 

The Tulsa Democrat newspaper exclaimed, “Geyser of Oil Spouts at Red Fork” and “Oil Well Gusher Fifteen Feet High.” Within a week, Red Fork – once a quiet town of 75 people – was overrun by people clamoring for leases.

Many of the newcomers settled in Tulsa, which in 1904 constructed its first bridge across the Arkansas River to accommodate wagon loads of oi field workers and equipment.

Redfork oil gusher Tulsa county historical marker“The Red Fork discovery never produced a great amount of oil, with most of the wells being in the fifty-barrel-per-day range, but it did produce excitement and drilling activity,” explains Bobby Weaver of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

“The discovery also prompted Tulsa citizens to begin a strong promotional campaign, with the result that by 1904 a much needed bridge had been built across the Arkansas River,” he adds. “This gave Tulsa access to the Red Fork Field and beyond and started that community on the road to becoming the predominant oil city in Oklahoma.”

The city’s petroleum industry future is assured in 1905 when a well is drilled below the Red Fork production sands and reveals a massive oilfield; the Glenn Pool production will far exceed Tulsa County’s earlier Red Fork discovery. Learn more in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org.© 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Red Fork Gusher.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/oklahoma-red-fork-oilfield. Last Updated: June 22, 2020. Original Published Date: June 23, 2014.

 

Smithsonian’s Hall of Petroleum

Museum exhibits once included drilling, production, and transportation technologies.

 

The Smithsonian Institution’s “Hall of Petroleum,” which opened in the summer of 1967, devoted an entire wing to oilfield exhibits. The historic collection included cable-tool and rotary drilling rigs, pump jacks, and other oilfield exhibits.

With a collection of more than three million artifacts, the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., offers few relating to the U.S. petroleum exploration and production technologies. It wasn’t always so. In June 1967, an entire wing of exhibits – the “Hall of Petroleum” – opened at the popular museum on the National Mall. 

Smithsonian hall of transportation oil truck

Oil history today has a small role in the Smithsonian’s “America on the Move” exhibit. Photos by Bruce Wells.

Thousands of visitors viewed the petroleum history – including examples of exploration and production technological advancements. Rows of old and new equipment highlighted exhibit hall – in what became part of the National Museum of American History in 1980. As tourists entered the hall, they were greeted by a giant 13-foot-by-56-foot mural by Delbert Jackson (1915-1982), a renowned Tulsa artist. (more…)

Signal Hill Oil Boom

Derricks were so close to one cemetery that graves “generated royalty checks to next-of-kin when oil was drawn from beneath family plots.”

 

In the summer of 1921, the Signal Hill oil discovery would help make California the source of one-quarter of the world’s entire oil output. Soon known as “Porcupine Hill,” the town’s Long Beach oilfield would produce about 260,000 barrels of oil every day by 1923.

 

The Alamitos No. 1 well, drilled on the remote hilltop south of Los Angeles, erupted a 114-foot column of “black gold” on June 23, 1921. 

Roughneck statue on Skyline Drive atop Signal Hill, California

Two bronze roughnecks at 2300 Skyline Drive commemorate the men who brought petroleum wealth to California.

The natural gas pressure is so great the oil gusher climbed 114 feet into the air. The well produced almost 600 barrels a day when completed on June 25. It will eventually produce 700,000 barrels. Signal Hill incorporated three years after the Alamitos discovery well. (more…)

Trans-Alaska Pipeline History

North Slope oil began moving through the 800-mile pipeline system in 1977.

 

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, designed and constructed to carry billions of barrels of North Slope oil to the port of Valdez, has been recognized as a landmark of engineering. The first barrel of oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield would arrive at the Port of Valdez on July 28, 1977, after a 38-day, 800-mile journey.

With the laying of the first section of pipe on March 27, 1975, construction began on what at the time was the largest private construction project in American history. 

Trans-Alaska Pipeline illustration of zig-zag

The Alaskan Pipeline system’s 420-miles above ground segments are built in a zig-zag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe.

A tie-breaking, deciding vote in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Spiro Agnew had passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act on July 17, 1973.

Years of debate about the project’s environmental impact escalated. Concerns were raised about earthquakes and elk migrations.

The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, including pumping stations, connecting pipelines, and the ice-free Valdez Marine Terminal, ended up costing billions. The last pipeline weld was completed on May 31, 1977.

On June 20, 1977, oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay field began flowing to the port of Valdez at four miles an hour through the 48-inch-wide pipe. It arrived at the port eight days later.

The completed pipeline system, at a cost of $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations, will transport about 20 percent of U.S. petroleum production. Tax revenues alone earned Alaskans about $50 billion by 2002.

Special engineering was required to protect the environment in difficult construction conditions, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Details about the pipeline’s history include:

  • Oil was first discovered in Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope in 1968.
  • Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was established in 1970 to design, construct, operate and maintain the pipeline.
  • The state of Alaska entered into a right-of-way agreement on May 3, 1974; the lease was renewed in November of 2002.
  • Thickness of the pipeline wall: .462 inches (466 miles) & .562 inches (334 miles).
  • The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System cross the ranges of the Central Arctic heard on the North Slope and the Nelchina Herd in the Copper River Basin.
  • The Valdez Terminal covers 1,000 acres and has facilities for crude oil metering, storage, transfer and loading.
  • The pipeline project involved some 70,000 workers from 1969 through 1977.
  • The first pipe of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was laid on March 27, 1975. Last weld was completed May 31, 1977.
  • The pipeline is often referred to as “TAPS” – an acronym for the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
  • More than 170 bird species have been identified along the pipeline.
  • First oil moved through the pipeline on June 20, 1977.
  • 71 gate valves can block oil flow in either direction on the pipeline.
  • First tanker to carry crude oil from Valdez: ARCO Juneau, August 1, 1977.
  • Maximum daily throughput was 2,145,297 on January 14, 1988.
  • The pipeline is inspected and regulated by the State Pipeline Coordinator’s Office.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The Alaskan pipeline brings North Slope production to tankers at the port of Valdez. Map courtesy USGS.

More than 28,000 people worked directly on the pipeline at the peak of its construction in the fall of 1975.

Thirty-one construction camps, built on gravel to insulate and help prevent pollution to the underlying permafrost, are built along the route.

Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes.

Anchor structures, 700 feet to 1,800 feet apart, hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two each, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.”

The first tanker carrying North Slope oil from the new pipeline sails out of the Valdez Marine Terminal on August 1, 1977. By 2010, the pipeline will have carried about 16 billion barrels of oil.

 

According to the Energy Information Administration, Alaska’s oil production peaked in 1988 at 738 million barrels, about 25 percent of U.S. oil production. In 2013, it was nearly 188 million barrels, or about seven percent of total U.S. production.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline today has been recognized as a landmark engineering feat. It remains essential to Alaska’s economy.

The Prudhoe Bay field was discovered in March 1968 by Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) and Exxon 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

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The first Alaska oil well with commercial production was completed in 1902 in a region where oil seeps had been known for years. The Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate produced the oil near the remote settlement of Katalla on Alaska’s southern coastline. The oilfield there also led to construction of Alaska Territory’s first refinery.

For U.S. petroleum pipeline history during World War Two, see Big Inch Pipelines of WW II and PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WWII.

_______________________________________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/trans-alaska-pipeline. Last Updated: July 25, 2020. Original Published Date: June 20, 2015.

 

Oil & Gas History News, June 2020

June 17, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 6 

Oil & Gas History News 

Thank you for taking time to read this month’s American Oil & Gas Historical Society summary of petroleum history during these extraordinary times. Please forward articles from This Week in Petroleum History to your friends and consider becoming a supporting member. Individual donations help the society add more articles, maintain the website, and expand our historical database for educators, students, researchers — and you.  

Monthly Highlights from “This Week in Petroleum History”

Links to summaries from four weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers.  

June 15, 1954 – Launch of First Mobile Offshore Rig 

The barge drilling platform Mr. Charlie left its Louisiana shipyard and went to work for Shell Oil Company in the East Bay field near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Navy veteran Alden “Doc” LaBorde, a marine superintendent for Kerr-McGee Company, designed this first transportable, submersible drilling rig…MORE 

June 9, 1894 – Water Well finds Oil in Corsicana, Texas 

A contractor hired by the town of Corsicana to drill a water well on 12th Street found oil instead, launching the first Texas oil boom seven years before the more famous Spindletop gusher. Although the discovery would bring great prosperity, the city paid the drilling contractor only half his $1,000 fee. The agreement had been for drilling a water well…MORE 

June 4, 1872 – Robert Chesebrough invents Petroleum Jelly 

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

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons 

A new petroleum product would get its name from the French word for chalk, craie, and an English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous. Crayola Crayons began when Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith of Easton, Pennsylvania, received a patent for their “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black”…MORE 

Energy Education Articles 

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles: 

Oil from Alaska’s North Slope began moving through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System on June 20, 1977. Four years earlier, a deciding vote in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Spiro Agnew had passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act. The 800-mile pipeline system has since carried billions of barrels of oil to the port of Valdez and been recognized as an engineering landmark. See Trans-Alaska Pipeline History

Following the first commercial New Mexico oil well in 1922, the state’s petroleum industry took off with the discovery of the Hobbs field on June 13, 1928, by the Midwest State No. 1 well. Oil production attracted investors and drilling companies, transforming Hobbs from “sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits” to the fastest growing town in America. See First New Mexico Oil Wells

In 1923, near Big Lake in West Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, a new Permian Basin oilfield was discovered after 21 months of cable-tool drilling (averaging less than five feet a day). Within three years of the discovery by the Santa Rita No. 1 well, royalties endowed the University of Texas with $4 million, which the student newspaper reported, “made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.” See Santa Rita taps Permian Basin

Featured Image

WWII Operation PLUTO  AOGHS
To prevent fuel shortages from stalling the 1944 Normandy invasion, Operation PLUTO – Pipe Line Under The Ocean – became a top-secret Allied strategy. Pipe was wound onto enormous floating “conundrums” designed to spool off the pipe when towed across the English Channel. Each mile used over 46 tons of lead, steel tape, and armored wire, for crossing almost 70 miles from Isle of Wight to Cherbourg. Learn more in PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II.
Thank you again for subscribing. Please share this newsletter with your friends — and visit our website often. Help promote using petroleum history in energy education programs and teacher workshops. Finally, support keeping the American Oil & Gas Historical Society operating during these iconic times. — Bruce Wells
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“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, June 15 – 21

June 15, 1954 – Launch of First Mobile Offshore Rig –

The offshore barge drilling platform, Mr. Charlie left its Louisiana shipyard and went to work for Shell Oil Company in a new oilfield in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The rig’s design, which would revolutionize the offshore industry, originated with Alden “Doc” LaBorde, a marine superintendent for the Kerr-McGee Company in Morgan City, Louisiana. (more…)

Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump

Armais Arutunoff manufactures efficient down-hole centrifugal pump, founds Reda.

 

Today’s petroleum industry owes a lot to Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff, son of an Armenian soap maker. 

 

Armais Arutunoff will obtain 90 patents. Above, a 1934, patent for an improved submersible well pump – and “submersible electric cable and method for making same.” At right, a 1951 Reda Pump advertisement.

With the help of a prominent Oklahoma oil company president, Arutunoff built the first practical electric submersible pumps (ESPs). His revolutionary concept would enhanced oil production in wells throughout the world.

A 1936 Tulsa World article described his downhole pump as “An electric motor with the proportions of a slim fence post which stands on its head at the bottom of a well and kicks oil to the surface with its feet.”

By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artificial lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump.

According to an October 2014 article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology, the first patent for an oil-related electric pump was issued in 1894 to Harry Pickett. His invention used a downhole rotary electric motor with “a Yankee screwdriver device to drive a plunger pump.”

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

More than two decades later, Robert Newcomb received a 1918 patent for his “electro-magnetic engine” driving a reciprocating plunger pump.

“Heretofore, in very deep wells the rod that is connected to the piston, and generally known as the ‘sucker’ rod, very often breaks on account of its great length and strains imposed thereon in operating the piston,” noted Newcomb in his patent application.

Although several patents followed those of Picket and Newcomb, the Journal reports, “it was not until 1926 that the first patent for a commercial, operatable ESP was issued – to ESP pioneer Armais Arutunoff. The cable used to supply power to the bottomhole unit was also invented by Arutunoff.”

Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff (Reda)

Arutunoff built his first ESP in 1916 in Germany, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Suspended by steel cables, it was dropped down the well casing into oil or water and turned on, creating a suction that would lift the liquid to the surface formation through pipes,” reported OHS historian Dianna Everett.

After immigrating to the United States in 1923, in California Arutunoff could not find financial support for manufacturing his pump design. He moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1928 at the urging of a new friend – Frank Phillips, head of Phillips Petroleum Company.

“With Phillips’s backing, he refined his pump for use in oil wells and first successfully demonstrated it in a well in Kansas,” noted Everett. The device was manufactured by a small company that soon became Reda Pump.

The name Reda – Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff – was the cable address of the company that Arutunoff originally started in Germany. The inventor would move his family into a Bartlesville home just across the street from Frank Phillips’ mansion.

 The founder and president of the REDA Pump Company, Armais Arutunoff, once lived in this house at 1200 Cherokee Avenue - across from the home of Phillips Petroleum founder Frank Phillips, whose home today is a Bartlesville museum. Courtesy Kathryn Mann, Only in Bartlesville.

The founder and president of the Reda Pump Company, Armais Arutunoff, once lived in this house at 1200 Cherokee Avenue – across from Phillips Petroleum founder Frank Phillips, whose home today is a Bartlesville, Oklahoma, museum. Photo courtesy Kathryn Mann, Only in Bartlesville.

A holder of more than 90 patents in the United States, Arutunoff was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1974. “Try as I may, I cannot perform services of such value to repay this wonderful country for granting me sanctuary and the blessings of freedom and citizenship,” Arutunoff said at the time.

A modern ESP applies artificial lift by spinning the impellers on the pump shaft, putting pressure on the surrounding fluids and forcing them to the surface. It can lift more than 25,000 barrels of fluids per day. Courtesy Schlumberger.

A modern ESP applies artificial lift by spinning the impellers on the pump shaft, putting pressure on the surrounding fluids and forcing them to the surface. It can lift more than 25,000 barrels of fluids per day. Courtesy Schlumberger.

Arutunoff died in February 1978 in Bartlesville. At the end of the twentieth century, Reda was the world’s largest manufacturer of ESP systems. It is now part of Schlumberger.

Son of a Soap Maker

Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff was born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, part of the Russian Empire, on June 21, 1893. His home town, in the Caucasus Mountains between the Caspian and Black Sea, dated back to the 5th Century.

According to an online electrical submersible pump history at ESP Pump, his father was a soap manufacturer and his grandfather a fur trader. In his youth, Arutunoff lived in Erivan (now Yerevan) the capital of Armenia.

The ESP Pump website, which includes a profile of his extensive scientific career, described how Arutunoff’s research convinced him that electrical transmission of power could be efficiently applied to oil drilling and improve the antiquated methods he saw in use in the early 1900s in Russia.

“To do this, a small, yet high horsepower electric motor was needed,” ESP Pump explained. “The limitation imposed by available casing sizes made it necessary that the motor be relatively small.”

However, a motor of small diameter would necessarily be too low in horsepower. “Such a motor would be inadequate for the job he had in mind so he studied the fundamental laws of electricity to find the basis for the answer to the question of how to build a higher horsepower motor exceedingly small in diameter,” according to ESP Power.

By 1916, Arutunoff was designing a centrifugal pump to be coupled to the motor for de-watering mines and ships. To develop enough power it was necessary the motor run at very high speeds. He successfully designed a centrifugal pump, small in diameter and with stages to achieve high discharge pressure.

“In his design, the motor was ingeniously installed below the pump to cool the motor with flow moving up the oil well casing, and the entire unit was suspended in the well on the discharge pipe,” ESP Pump noted. “The motor, sealed from the well fluid, operated at high speed in an oil bath.”

An Upside Down Well Motor

Although Arutunoff built the first centrifugal pump while living in Germany, he built the first submersible pump and motor in the United States while living in Los Angeles.

“Before coming to the U.S. he had formed a small company of his own, called Reda, to manufacture his idea for electric submersible motors,” noted ESP Pump. “He later settled in Germany and then came with his wife and one-year-old daughter to the United States to settle in Michigan, then Los Angeles.”

However, after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff could not find financial support for his down-hole production technology. Everyone he approached turned him down, saying the unit was “impossible under the laws of electronics.” No one would consider his inventions until friends at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville encouraged him to form his own company there.

The Reda Company manufacturing plant in Bartlesville will cover nine acres and employ hundreds.

Arutunoff’s manufacturing plant in Bartlesville will cover nine acres, employing hundreds during the Great Depression.

In 1928 Arutunoff moved to Bartlesville, where formed Bart Manufacturing Company, which changed its same to the Reda Pump Company in 1930. He soon demonstrated a working model of an oilfield electric submersible pump.

One of his pump-and-motor devices was installed in an oil well in the El Dorado field near Burns, Kansas – the first equipment of its kinds to be used in a well. One reporter telegraphed his editor, “Please rush good pictures showing oil well motors that are upside down.”

By end of the 1930s Arutunoff’s company held dozens of patents for industrial equipment, leading to decades of success and even more patents. His “Electrodrill” aided scientists in penetrating the Antarctic ice cap for the first time in 1967. “Arutunoff’s ESP oilfield technology quickly had a significant impact on the oil business,” concluded the ESP Pump article. “His pump was crucial to the successful production over the years of hundreds of thousands of oil wells.”

Also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology and Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/electric-submersible-pump-inventor. Last Updated: June 10, 2020. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.

 

Oil Well Tractor Ad Keepsake

Son preserves magazine advertisement with father operating “Caterpillar” D4 Diesel Tractor in New York oilfield.

 

While working as a foreman in the oilfield service industry in Pennsylvania and New York, Charles Gerringer’s father operated an innovative diesel-fueled tractor. The family kept a circa 1950 trade magazine advertisement featuring Harold Gerringer as he worked at a well using the “Caterpillar” D4.

“My Dad worked for N.V.V. Franchot and was a foreman in the oil and gas fields around Allegany, New York,” Charles noted in a 2019 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “I have an advertisement of him using one of the first modern Caterpillar tractors to pull a well.”

Caterpillar tractor at New York oil well

Thanks to his son Charles, this image of Allegany lease tractor operator Harold Gerringer (at right) in a Caterpllar advertisement has been preserved. This partially restored image of a well workover is from the ad, which appeared in Producers Monthly Magazine.

The trade magazine advertisement featured Harold Gerringer with a “Caterpillar” D4 at a workover site (replacing production equipment to extend the life of a well).  The promotion came from an prominent machine company in the region that sold the “Caterpiller” D4, whose virtue was its low diesel fuel consumption.

N.V.V. Franchot lease

“Never was there a cheaper power on a lease,” the ad proclaimed. Originally designed for farm use, the 41-horsepower tractor proved popular in oilfields. Its ads appeared in Producers Monthly magazine, published by the Bradford District of the Pennsylvania Oil Producers Association from 1936 to 1969.

The “Caterpiller” D4 ad began with a simple description of the oilfield photo. “Four men and a tractor are putting new economy into their work on the N.V.V. Franchot lease at Four Mile, New York, lease pictured above. Credit is due to the N.V.V. F. Munson, the general superintendent, Lawrence Gallets, the foreman, Harold Gerringer the tractor operator, and Norbert Karl, the able helper,” the text noted.

Caterpillar Tractor at oil well ad

“For more than three months now this ‘Caterpillar’ Diesel D4 Tractor has been operating at the amazingly low fuel consumption of only four gallons of Diesel fuel in an eight-hour day,” the ad continued.

The Caterpillar Company ad, promoting the region’s supplier, Beckwith Machine Company, proclaimed: “Never was there a cheaper power on a lease, never so much work for so little fuel cost, and never greater satisfaction for the owner built into a Tractor.”

Beckwith Machine provided contact information for sales at field offices in Pittsburgh, Bradford, Wilkes-Barre, and Harrisburg. Bradford today is home to the Penn-Brad Oil Museum. Not far away in New York, the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar also preserves the region’s considerable petroleum history.

Special thanks to Charles Gerringer, a supporting member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, for sharing a brief part of his father’s oilfield history.

Recommended Reading – Published in 1949, Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State by John P Herrick. “If you are doing business in the oil and gas industry in New York State this is a must read. The level of historical research is excellent,” noted one online reviewer in 2014 after reading the 474-page history.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad. Last Updated: June 18, 2020. Original Published Date: June 14, 2020.

 

Mr. Charlie, First Mobile Offshore Drilling Rig

The 1954 platform’s design and technology would be declared a mechanical engineering landmark.

 

When the barge drilling platform Mr. Charlie left its New Orleans shipyard for the Gulf of Mexico on June 15, 1954, it became the world’s first mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU).

Using advanced technology, the self-sufficient Mr. Charlie went to work for Shell Oil Company in a new oilfield in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River. A reporter from LIFE magazine covered the launch, noting the new “singularly monstrous contraption” could drill “a 12,000-foot hole at a different location every month.”

Mr. Charlie, the first mobile offshore drilling platform.

Beginning in 1954 and capable of drilling wells in water up to 40 feet in depth, Mr. Charlie was the first mobile offshore drilling platform. Photos courtesy Murphy Oil Corporation.

Mr. Charlie offered an exploration alternative to erecting permanent, pile-supported offshore drilling platforms to be tendered by utility boats. Kerr-McGee had pioneered this approach with the Kermac No. 16 in 1947, but Mr. Charlie could drill in water twice as deep and then move to another site. (more…)

Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation

Established in 1932, the company created powerful perforating guns that rifled casing. 

 

About 15 years after its first oil well perforation job, Lane-Wells Company returned to the same well near Motebello, California, to perform its 100,000th perforation. The publicity event of June 18, 1948, was a return to Union Oil Company’s La Merced No. 17 well.

Lane-Wells

As production technologies evolved after World War II, Lane-Wells developed a downhole gun with the explosive energy to cut through casing. Above, one of the articles preserved in a family scrapbook, courtesy Connie Jones Pillsbury, Atascadero, California.

 The gathering of executives at the historic well celebrated a leap in oilfield production technology. Their combined inventiveness had accomplished much a short time, “so it was a colorful ceremony,” according to a trade magazine.

Officials from both companies and invited guests gathered to witness the repeat performance of the company’s early perforating technology, noted Petroleum Engineer in its July 1948 issue. Among them were “several well-known oilmen who had also been present on the first occasion.”

Walter Wells, chairman of the board for Lane-Wells, was present for both events. The article reported he was more anxious at the first, which had been an experiment to test his company’s new perforating gun. In 1930, Wells and another enterprising oilfield tool salesman, Bill Lane, came up with a practical  way of using guns downhole. They envisioned a tool which would shoot steel bullets through casing and into the formation.

The two men created a multiple-shot perforator that fired bullets individually by electrical detonation of the powder charges. After many tests, success came at the Union Oil Company La Merced well. As explained further in Downhole Bazooka, by late 1935 Lane-Wells had established a small fleet of trucks as the company grew into a leading provider of well-perforation services.

“Bill Lane and Walt Wells worked long hours at a time, establishing their perforating gun business,” explained Susan Wells in a 2007 book. The men designed tools that would better help the oil industry during the Great Depression, she noted. “It was a period of high drilling costs, and the demand for oil was on the rise. Making this scenario worse was the fact that the cost of oil was relatively low.”

What was needed was a high-powered gun for breaking through casing, cement and into formations. An oilfield worker, Sidney Mims, had patented a similar technical tool for this purpose, but could not get it to work as well as it could. Lane and Wells purchased the patent and refined the gun.

Lane-Wells

Lane-Wells became Baker Atlas, which celebrated its 75 anniversay in 2007, and today is a division of Baker-Hughes

Established in Los Angeles in 1932, the oilfield service company developed a remotely controlled 128-shot gun perforator.

“Lane and Wells publicly used the reengineered shotgun perforator they bought from Mims on Union Oil’s oil well La Merced No. 17. There wasn’t any production from this oil well until the shotgun perforator was used, but when used, the well produced more oil than ever before,” she noted in 75 Years Young…BAKER ATLAS The Future has Never Looked Brighter.

The successful application attracted many other oil companies to Lane-Wells, which decided to conduct its 100,000th perforation 15 and a half years later at the same California oil well. The continued success led to new partnerships beginning in the 1950s.

A merger with Dresser Industries was finalized in March 1956. Another merger came in 1968 with Pan Geo Atlas Corporation, forming Dresser Atlas.

A 1987 joint venture with Litton Industries led to Western Atlas International, which became an independent company before becoming a division of Baker-Hughes in 1998. Baker Atlas today provides well logging technology and perforating services worldwide.

Preserving Petroleum History

Connie Jones Pillsbury of Atascadero, California, possesses the original guest book (press-clippings scrapbook) from the “Lane-Wells 100,000th Gun Perforating Job” of June 18, 1948, at the Union Oil Company La Merced No. 17 well at Montebello, California. She seeks a good, museum home for her rare oil patch artifact, which comes from an event “attended by most of the top players in the oil industry in Los Angeles during this era.”

Pillsbury’s book has attendees’ signatures, photographs, and articles about the event (from TIME, The Oil and Gas Journal, Fortnight, Oil Reporter, Drilling, The Petroleum Engineer, Oil, Petroleum World, California Oil World, Lane-Wells Magazine, the L.A. Examiner, L.A. Daily News and L.A. Times). The children of Dale G. Jones and the grandson of Walter T. Wells have sought for an oil museum to preserve this family record. Contact the American Oil & Gas Historical Society for more information (see Oil & Gas Families).

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/oil-well-perforation-company. Last Updated: June 12, 2020. Original Published Date: June 30, 2017.

This Week in Petroleum History, June 8 – 14

June 9, 1894 – Water Well finds Oil in Corsicana, Texas – 

A contractor hired by the town of Corsicana to drill a water well on 12th Street found oil instead, launching the First Texas Oil Boom, seven years before a more famous discovery at Spindletop Hill, 230 miles southeast.

Although the 1894 oilfield discovery attracted thousands and brought great prosperity to Corsicana, the city paid the contractor only half his $1,000 fee since the agreement had been for drilling a water well. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, June 1 – 7

June 1, 1860 – First Book about Oil published –

Less than 10 months after Edwin L. Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well at Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, an 80-page pamphlet was published that some historians regard as the first book about America’s petroleum resources.

The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere by Thomas A. Gale described the advantages of Drake’s radical new fuel source for kerosene lamps.

Cover of Rock Oil, the first oil book

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

Learn more in First Oil Book of 1860.

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Offshore Oil Piers, Platforms, and Barges

America’s offshore petroleum industry began with drilling and production from platforms constructed on lakes in Ohio and Louisiana, and on California oil piers. In Ohio, state geologists reported oil wells drilled on Grand Lake as early as 1891. Dozens of wells  on Louisiana’s Caddo Lake also produced oil in 1911. 

California Piers

By 1897, Henry Williams  had successfully pursued the giant Summerland, California, oilfield to the scenic cliff side beaches of Santa Barbara.

With reports of “tar balls” on the beaches from natural offshore oil seeps, Williams recognized that the highly productive field extended into the Pacific Ocean. He and his associates constructed a 300 foot pier, mounted a cable-tool derrick, and began drilling. (more…)

PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II

“Conundrums” spooled off steel pipe when towed across the English Channel after D-Day.

 

To provide vital oil across the English Channel after the June  6, 1944, D-Day landings, within months secret pipelines were unwound from massive spools to reach French ports.  

Wartime planners knew that following the D-Day invasion Allied forces would need vast quantities of petroleum to continue the advance into Europe.

secret pipelines

The secret pipeline mission used a popular Walt Disney character for its logo.

Allied leadership also knew that petroleum tankers trying to reach French ports would be vulnerable to Luftwaffe attacks. A secret plan looked to using new undersea pipeline technologies.

To prevent fuel shortages from stalling the Normandy invasion, a top-secret “Operation PLUTO” – Pipe Line Under The Ocean – became the Allied strategy. It would fuel victory with oil production from the U.S. petroleum industry.

Although by 1942 the industry had laid thousands of pipe miles of across all manner of terrain, to span the English Channel would require an unprecedented leap in technology. The channel was deep, the French ports distant, and the hazards unpredictable. In great secrecy, two approaches were developed.

The first PLUTO system required a new kind of pipe that looked more like an undersea communications cable than an oil pipeline. It exploited existing subsea cable technology, but instead of a bundle of wiring at its core, a three-inch flexible lead pipe would carry fuel.

Pluto-Pipeline-AOGHS

Following D-Day on June 6, 1944, Operation Pluto pipelines fueled the advance into Nazi Germany. Image from “World War 2 From Space,” a History Channel documentary.

(more…)

Oilfield Photographer John Mather

Thousands of glass-negative images preserve earliest scenes of U.S. petroleum industry.

 

Soon after the first American oil well of 1859 launched the U.S. petroleum industry in northwestern Pennsylvania, a young immigrant from England made his living as a photographer among the wooden derricks and engine houses. John A. Mather would become known as the “Oil Creek Artist.”

Mather set up his first studio in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in October 1860. It was an ideal location for documenting the people and evolving drilling technologies of the new petroleum industry. He would become the oil and natural gas industry’s premier photographer, amassing a more than 20,000 glass plate negatives.

oilfield photographer John Mather Edwin Drake at his oil well

This iconic but often misidentified photograph by John A. Mather shows Edwin L. Drake (at right) with a friend standing in front of the rebuilt engine house and derrick at the original site of America’s first commercial oil well of 1859. A fire recently had claimed the original structure. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

What famed photographers Matthew Brady and James Gardner documented on Civil War battlefields, Mather accomplished in Pennsylvania’s oil region. Like Brady, Mather (1829-1915) abandoned one-of-kind daguerreotypes and ambrotypes in favor of wet plate negatives using collodion – a flammable, syrupy mixture also called “nitrocellulose.” With one plate, many paper copies of an image could be printed and sold.

oilfield photographer John Mather self portrait

John A. Mather, probably a circa 1900 self-portrait.

Preparing, exposing, and developing such glass negatives was difficult and best suited for portraits of motionless subjects in a studio. Mather photographed the newly famous as well as ordinary townspeople and babies.

But unlike others, Mather transported his studio camera and chemicals into the industrial chaos of early Pennsylvania oilfields, where he became known as the “Oil Creek Artist.”

Like most of western Pennsylvanians, Mather also was susceptible to “oil fever,” and he hoped to drill a few successful wells.

Having narrowly missed the opportunity for a one-sixteenth share of the Sherman Well, which would be “best single strike of the year,” Mather and three associates invested in several wells near Pithole Creek. He proved to be better at using a camera,

Mather’s investment in exploratory wells at Pithole Creek did not lead to commercial quantities of oil. He tried again on the Holmden Farm off West Pithole Creek. His unsuccessful effort was among the last wells to be drilled at the infamous oil boom town of Pithole.

Years later, Mather acknowledged that excitement of the Pithole drilling boom was so great that he temporarily “forsook photography for the oil business.”

Mather’s rolling darkroom and floating studio traveled up and down Oil Creek as he produced more than 16,000 glass negatives, later described by the trade magazine Petroleum Age as, “so perfect in finish it stands the test of time.”

oilfield photographer John Mather sitting in his studio

John Mather photographs courtesy Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine and Drake Well Museum, Titusville. Above, the interior of this Titusville studio, circa 1865.

Many tried, but few people in the increasingly crowded oil region would rival the wealth of the celebrated “Coal Oil Johnny.”

Floods and Fires: Disaster at Oil Creek

On Sunday morning June 5, 1892, and after weeks of rain, Oil Creek’s overflowing Spartansburg Dam failed at about 2:30 a.m. A wall of water and debris swelled towards Titusville and its oil works, seven miles downstream.

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“On rushed the mad waters, tearing away bridge after bridge, carrying away horses, homes and people,” one newspaper reported about the flood’s devastation. Then fire erupted from ruptured benzine and oil storage tanks.

oilfield photographer John Mather oilfield images of workers and derricks

Oilfield workers pose on and among their oil derricks and engine houses in this 1864 John Mather photo from the Drake Well Museum collection in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Newspapers all over America carried stories of the disaster. In Montana, the Helena Independent headlines included: “Waters of an Overflowing Creek Become a Rushing Mass of Flames” mourning victims, reported the “Spared by the Deluge Only to Become the Prey of the Fire.”

oilfield photographer John Mather women and children at oil town

John Mather’s photographs documented family life in remote early oil boom towns. He also briefly caught “oil fever” and unsuccessfully invested in a few wells in booming Pithole Creek field.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle added: “The Waters Subside and The Flames Die Away, Revealing the Full Extent of the Calamity.” Oil City and Titusville were “Nearly Wiped From Off the Earth.” Mather’s studio flooded to a depth of five feet, destroying expensive equipment and most of his life’s work of prints from glass plate negatives.

photographer John Mather 1892 fire at Oil Creek steam  fire engines

Pennsylvania oil towns were “Nearly Wiped From Off the Earth” by an 1892 fire and flood that destroyed thousands of Mather’s prints and glass plates. Photo from Drake Well Museum collection.

As the fires and flood continued, Mather set up his camera and photographed the disaster in progress with his bulky equipment, which already was being rendered obsolete by new imaging technologies.

oilfield photographer John Mather  and his floating studio barge

John Mather often used a floating darkroom to capture his historic images along Oil Creek.

Just a  few years before the Titusville flood, George Eastman of Rochester, New York, introduced celluloid roll film and created an entirely new market: amateur snapshot photography. Expertise in preparing fragile glass plates and dangerous chemicals were no longer required. Instead, Kodak offered, “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.”

As oil booms moved to discoveries in other states, including the massive 1901 “Lucas Gusher” in Texas, Mather worked little in his later years. His financial circumstances diminished with age and illness. The artist of Oil Creek died poor and without fanfare on August 23, 1915, in Titusville. His death certificate reported the cause as cerebral hemorrhage, “complicated by suppression of urine.”

To preserve John A. Mather’s petroleum industry legacy, the Drake Well Memorial Association would purchase 3,274 surviving glass negatives for about 30 cents each. Today, the Drake Well Museum and surrounding park allow visitors to see rare artifacts and a visual record of the early U.S. oil and natural industry. Visit it and other Pennsylvania petroleum museums.

More John A. Mather Resources

“Virtually unknown, certainly unheralded, and completely unappreciated — in these few words is a description of John Aked Mather, pioneer photographer, whose skill, devotion, and energy endowed the petroleum industry with one of the finest pictorial records of growth and development of any early all-American industry,” proclaimed Ernest C. Miller and T.K.Stratton in their January 1972 article, “Oildon’s Photographic Historian,” in The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine (Volume 55, Number 1).

“Born in 1829 in Heapford Bury, England, the son of an English paper-mill superintendent, Mather followed his two brothers to America in 1856. His brother Robert was looking to open a paper mill in Tennessee, but John was not ready to settle down, too transfixed by the beauty of the Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio regions,” explain Stephanie David and Brennen French in “John A. Mather’s Photographic Studio” for NWPaHeritage, documenting the history of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oilfield Photographer John Mather.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/oilfield-photographer-john-mather. Last Updated: June 1, 2020. Original Published Date: March 11, 2005.

 

The Crude History of Mabel’s Eyelashes

How oilfield paraffin led to petroleum jelly – Vaseline – and the founding of Maybelline cosmetics.

 

Few associate 1860s oil wells with women’s smiling faces, but they are fashionably related. This is the story of how goop that accumulated around the sucker rods of America’s earliest oil wells made its way to the eyelashes of women.

In 1865, a 22-year-old Robert Chesebrough left the prolific oilfields of Titusville, Pennsylvania, to return to his Brooklyn, New York, laboratory and experiment with a waxy substance that clogged well heads. He already had dabbled in the “coal oil” business.

vaseline maybelline new york city sales wagon

Robert Chesebrough will find a way to purify the waxy paraffin-like substance that clogged oil wells in early Pennsylvania petroleum fields. Photo courtesy Unilever.

Chesebrough’s expertise included distilling cannel coal into kerosene, a lamp fuel in high demand among consumers. He knew of the process for refining oil into kerosene, so when Edwin L. Drake completed the first U.S, commercial oil well in 1859, Chesebrough was one of many who rushed to northwestern Pennsylvania oilfields to make his fortune.

detail of old Vaseline bottle from museum

Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96. This early bottle from the collection of the Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Scientific American magazine reported, “Now commenced a scene of excitement beyond description. The Drake well was immediately thronged with visitors arriving from the surrounding country, and within two or three weeks thousands began to pour in from the neighboring States.”

Robert Chesebrough’s fortune was out there somewhere. He just had to find it.

Sucker Rod Wax

In the midst of the Venango County oilfield chaos, the young chemist noted that drilling was often confounded by a waxy paraffin-like substance that clogged the wellhead and drew the curses of riggers who had to stop drilling to scrape away the stuff.

The only virtue of this goopy oilfield “sucker rod wax” was as an immediately available first aid for the abrasions, burns, and other wounds routinely afflicting the crews.

Chesebrough eventually abandoned his notion of drilling a gusher and returned to New York, where he worked in his laboratory to purify the troublesome sucker-rod wax, which he dubbed “petroleum jelly.” By August 1865, he had filed the first of several patents “for purifying petroleum or coal oils by filtration.”

Chesebrough experimented with the purported analgesic effect of his extract by inflicting minor cuts and burns on himself, then applying his purified petroleum jelly. He gave it to Brooklyn construction workers to treat their minor scratches and abrasions.

old Vseline ad for Woman's Magazine

After refining oilfield wax, Chesebrough experimented by inflicting minor cuts and burns on himself, then applying his petroleum balm.

On June 4, 1872, Chesebrough patented a new product that would endure to this day – “Vaseline.” His patent extolled Vaseline’s virtues as a leather treatment, lubricator, pomade, and balm for chapped hands. Chesebrough soon had a dozen wagons distributing the product around New York. 

 vaseline Maybelline mascara case with brush

Customers at first used toothpicks to mix Vaseline with lamp black. By 1917, Tom Williams was selling premixed “Lash-Brow-Ine” by mail-order. Photo courtesy Sharrie Williams.

Customers used the “wonder jelly” creatively: treating cuts and bruises, removing stains from furniture, polishing wood surfaces, restoring leather, and preventing rust. Within 10 years, Americans were buying it at the rate of a jar a minute

An 1886 issue of Manufacture and Builder even reported, “French bakers are making large use of vaseline in cake and other pastry. Its advantage over lard or butter lies in the fact that, however stale the pastry may be, it will not become rancid.”

Flavor notwithstanding, Chesebrough himself consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day. He lived to be 96 years old. It was not long before thrifty young ladies found another use for Vaseline.

Mabel’s Eyelashes

Vaseline history Maybelline ad

Women were using Vaseline to make mascara by 1915. Cosmetic industry giant Maybelline traces its roots to the petroleum product. “What a Difference Maybelline Does Make” magazine ad from 1937.

As early as 1834, the popular book Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion had suggested alternatives to the practice of darkening eyelashes with elderberry juice or a mixture of frankincense, resin, and mastic.

“By holding a saucer over the flame of a lamp or candle, enough ‘lamp black’ can be collected for applying to the lashes with a camel-hair brush,” the book advised. Chesebrough’s female customers found that mixing lamp black with Vaseline using a toothpick made an impromptu mascara.

The story goes that in 1913, Miss Mabel Williams employed just such a concoction preparing for a date. Williams was dating Chet Hewes.

Perhaps using coal dust or some other readily available darkening agent, she applied the mixture to her eyelashes for a date. Her brother, Thomas Lyle Williams, was intrigued by her method and decided to add Vaseline in the mixture, noted a Maybelline company historian.

Another version of the story, written by his grandniece Sharrie Williams, has Mabel demonstrating “a secret of the harem” for her brother.

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“In 1915, when a kitchen stove fire singed his sister Mabel’s lashes and brows, Tom Lyle Williams watched in fascination as she performed what she called ‘a secret of the harem’ mixing petroleum jelly with coal dust and ash from a burnt cork and applying it to her lashes and brows,” Sharrie Williams explained in her 2007 book, The Maybelline Story.

“Mabel’s simple beauty trick ignited Tom’s imagination and he started what would become a billion-dollar business,” concluded Williams. Inspired by his sister’s example, he began selling the mixture by mail-order catalog, calling it “Lash-Brow-Ine” (an apparent concession to the mascara’s Vaseline content). Women loved it.

vaseline used in mascra of silent screen star Theda Bara

Silent screen stars like Theda Bara, right, helped glamorize Maybelline mascara, which by the 1930s was available at five-and-dime store for 10 cents a cake.

When it became clear that Lash-Brow-Ine had potential, Williams, doing business in Chicago as Maybell Laboratories, on April 24, 1917, trademarked the name as a “preparation for stimulating the growth of eyebrows and eyelashes.”

In honor of his sister Mabel (she married Chet Hewes in 1926), Williams renamed his mascara “Maybelline.”

An unlikely petroleum product.

Whatever its petroleum product beginnings, Hollywood helped expand the Williams family cosmetics empire. The 1920s silent screen had brought new definitions to glamour. Theda Bara – an anagram for “Arab Death” – and Pola Negri, each with daring eye makeup, smoldered in packed theaters across the country.

Maybelline trumpeted its mail-order mascara in movie and confession magazines as well as Sunday newspaper supplements. Sales continued to climb. By the 1930s, Maybelline mascara was available at the local five-and-dime store for 10 cents a cake.

Today, both Vaseline, now part of Unilever, and Maybelline, a subsidiary of L’Oréal, continue with highly successful products, distantly removed from northwestern Pennsylvania’s antique derricks and oil wells. Unilever’s Park Avenue public relations agency, M Booth & Associates of New York, proclaims: “From Vaseline Petroleum Jelly – the ‘Wonder Jelly’ introduced in 1870, to Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion…Vaseline products have helped deliver healthy, moisturized skin for 135 years.”

Editors Note – Special thanks to Linda Hughes, granddaughter of Mabel and Chet Hewes, who notes that Mabel was dedicated to her brothers – and helped run the Maybelline company in Chicago.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “A Crude History of Mabel’s Eyelashes.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/products/vaseline-maybelline-history. Last Updated: June 1, 2020. Original Published Date: March 1, 2005.

 

First Oil Book of 1860

The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere

 

Less than 10 months after former railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well in August 1859 along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Thomas A. Gale wrote a detailed study about the new rock oil – petroleum. 

 

The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere described a radical fuel source for the popular lamp fuel kerosene, which had been made from coal for more than a decade.

“Those who have not seen it burn, may rest assured its light is no moonshine; but something nearer the clear, strong, brilliant light of day,” Gale declared in his 1860 pamphlet, published by Sloan & Griffith and sold for 25 cents. “In other words, rock oil emits a dainty light; the brightest and yet the cheapest in the world; a light fit for Kings and Royalists, and not unsuitable for Republicans and Democrats.”

rock oil history book

Thomas A. Gale played a role in early U.S. energy education.

Gale’s descriptions of the value of petroleum helped launch investments in new exploration companies. He noted the commercial qualities of Pennsylvania oil for refining into kerosene (today also used as a rocket fuel).

Rarest of Oil Books

Many historians have regarded Gale’s 80-page pamphlet as the first book about America’s new petroleum industry.

In 1952, the Ethyl Corporation of New York republished Gale’s historic The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere.

“Not by the widest stretch of the imagination could Thomas Gale have realized, when he put down his pen on June 1, 1860, that he had written a book destined to become one of the rarest of all oil books,” noted the Ethyl historian in 1952 when the company republished Gale’s work. Only three copies were known to exist in 1952.

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Ethyl Corporation noted the scarcity of copies of the book had prevented “all but a few historians” from giving the book the attention it deserved. “Gale wrote his book to satisfy a public desire for more information about petroleum. Newspapers had carried belated accounts of Drake’s discovery well, and the mad scramble for oil that followed, but actually the world new little about petroleum.”

The book’s 11 chapters explained practical aspects of the new petroleum industry. Chapters one and two, “What is Rock Oil?”and “Where is the Rock Oil found?” were followed by “Geological structure of the oil region.” Chapters four though six explained the early technologies (and costs) for pumping the oil, while the next two chapters examine “Uses of Rock Oil.” The final three chapters offered “Sketches of several oil wells,” “History of the Rock Oil enterprise,” and “Present condition and prospects of Rock Oil interests in difference localities.”

Originally published by Sloan & Griffith of Erie, Pennsylvania, the 1860 cover noted the author as “a resident of Oil Creek” and included a biblical quote: “The Rock poured me out rivers of oil,” from Job, 29:6.

Was Thomas Gayle’s 1860 work the first oil book, as Ethyl Corporation historians believed when they reprinted it in 1952? Natural oil and gas seeps were recorded millennia ago (including the bible). In more recent centuries, writers around the world have noted coal, bitumen, and substances like petroleum – a word derived from the Latin roots of petra, meaning “rock” and oleum meaning “oil.” 

Several years prior to Drake’s historic 1859 oil well, businessman George Bissell had hired a prominent Yale chemist to study the potential of oil and its products to convince potential investors.

“Gentlemen, it appears to me that there is much ground for encouragement in the belief that your company have in their possession a raw material from which, by simple and not expensive processes, they may manufacture very valuable products,” reported Benjamin Silliman Jr. in his 1855 “Report on the Rock Oil, or Petroleum, from Venango Co., Pennsylvania, with Special Reference to its Use for Illumination and Other Purposes,” convinced the investors to drill at Titusville (also see George Bissell’s Oil Seeps).

According to historian Paul H. Giddens in the 1939 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry, Silliman’s 1855 report, “proved to be a turning-point in the establishment of the petroleum business, for it dispelled many doubts about its value.”

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Oil Book of 1860.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/first-oil-book-of-1860. Last Updated: June 3, 2020. Original Published Date: May 31, 2020.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, May 25- 31

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons –

Today’s Crayola crayons began when Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith received a patent for their “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

The refining process used petroleum to produce a fine, intensely black soot-like substance – a pigment far better than any other at the time.

petroleum history may 23

Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin will lead to Crayola crayons in 1903.

The thriving Pennsylvania oil industry supplied the feedstock for the Easton-based Binney & Smith Company’s carbon black, which won an award for its quality at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

More innovations followed as the company mixed carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker. The useful marker was promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named “Staonal,” which is still sold.

In 1903, Binney & Smith’s more colorful petroleum product got its name from the French word for chalk, craie, combined with an English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous.

The first Crayola crayons were manufactured in small batches of hand-mixed pigments and paraffin. Paper labels were rolled by hand and pasted onto each crayon. The box included eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black.

Learn more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons. (more…)

Santa Rita taps Permian Basin

The 1920s West Texas petroleum discoveries that keep on giving.

 

West Texas petroleum history is made in 1923 when a well blessed by nuns reveals the size of the Permian Basin. A small Texas university owns the arid land deemed worthless by many experts.

The Permian Basin, once known as a “petroleum graveyard,” began to make U. S. petroleum history in 1920 with a discovery by W. H. Abrams in Mitchell County in West Texas. When completed, his well produced just 10 barrels of oil a day.  It would be another discovery well, the Santa Rita No. 1, that convinced wildcatters to explore the full 300-mile extent of the basin from most of West Texas into the southeastern corner of New Mexico.

west texas oil history walking beam of Santa Rita No. 1 well at University of Texas

In 1958, the University of Texas Board of Regents moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. After the dedication, the student newspaper described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.” Photo by Bruce Wells.

Although many experts still considered West Texas barren of oil, the Santa Rita well will produce for seven decades after tapping into the vast commercial oil production of the Permian Basin. Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made its major oil strike May 28, 1923 – after 21 months of cable-tool drilling that averaged less than five feet a day. (more…)

Carbon Black & Oilfield Crayons

Petroleum product of 1903 got its name from French word for chalk, craie, and English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous.

 

The worldwide oil and natural gas industry supplies countless varieties of petroleum products, some often hiding in plain sight.

Crayola crayons began in 1891 with a refining patent by Edwin Binney for manufacturing an intensely black pigment — carbon black. The Pennsylvania-based schoolroom chalk maker, Binney & Smith Company, would soon add oilfield paraffin and colors to create an iconic petroleum product.

oilfield paraffin patent drawing for carbon black device

Binney & Smith Company received an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black,” which produced a fine, soot-like black pigment – far better than any other in use at the time.

For Binney and C. Harold Smith, early Pennsylvania oilfields proved to be the key for success, which began with invention of an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

Box of the dustless chalk made by Benny and Smith Co.

Teachers loved dustless chalk, shown here circa 1904.

Binney & Smith Company already had found success manufacturing dustless chalk and a red iron oxide for the red paint farmers used on barns. The company’s carbon black refining process produced a fine, soot-like substance of incredible blackness – a better pigment than any other in use at the time.

Binney & Smith then took common oilfield paraffin and changed the company’s destiny by adding color to children’s imaginations.

Mrs. Binney’s Classroom Chalk (more…)

First Nebraska Oil Well

Oilfield discovered in 1940 after 57 years of expensive “dry holes.”

 

Pawnee Royalty Company drilled the first Nebraska oil well on May 29, 1940, in Richardson County…after desperate state legislators offered a $15,000 bonus.

After more than a half century of dry holes, on May 29, 1940, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well was completed in the far southeastern corner of the state. The Pawnee Royalty Company made the discovery just west of Falls City in Richardson County.

first nebraska oil well counties map

Nebraska’s 2012 oil production was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil, about 6,900 barrels per day, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

 

first nebraska oil well

A 1940s postcard image depicts “pool of first oil from first Nebraska well at Falls City, Nebraska.”

“The first publicized report of oil in Nebraska had been an 1883 newspaper account of a ‘vein of petroleum’ discovered in the same county,” explains a Nebraska historical marker.

“Over the next 57 years the search for oil consumed thousands of dollars, and hundreds of wells were drilled throughout Nebraska,” adds the marker placed by the Nebraska Petroleum Council. “Traces of oil were reported at various locations across the state, but Nebraska did not have a producing well until 1940.”

State offers Oil Bounty

Eager to become an oil-producing state, the Nebraska legislature had offered a $15,000 bonus for the first oil well in Nebraska to produce 50 barrels daily for 60 consecutive days.

In 1939 and 1940 the Pawnee Royalty Company had two encouraging but unsuccessful drillings near Falls City. A third well, Bucholz No. 1, was begun near the marker on April 22, 1940. On May 29 the well began producing and averaged 169-1/2 barrels daily for the first 60 days.

The discovery easily qualified for the Nebraska Legislature’s $15,000 bonus. Richardson County enjoyed an oil boom for three years. The Bucholz No. 1 was located just five miles east of the “vein of petroleum” reported in 1883.

Western Nebraska Oil

Modern Nebraska petroleum production comes from the southwestern panhandle – where a  1949 discovery well produced 225 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,429 feet. This oil discovery ended 60 years of unsuccessful searching in western Nebraska, according to another roadside historical marker. Marathon Oil completed the well, the Mary Egging No. 1, five miles southeast of Gurley in Cheyenne County.

The marker, on U.S. 385 between Sidney and Gurley, reports that interest in oil in western Nebraska first occurred in 1889, near Crawford, in the northwest corner of the Panhandle.

first nebraska oil well oil production chart

Prior to 1950, Nebraska has no office to report production for record keeping. Oil production from 1939 to 1949 is estimated by the Geological Survey to have been almost six million barrels.

“The first recorded drilling operation there took place in 1903 near Chadron, also in the northern part of the Panhandle,” the marker explains. “In 1917, the first exploratory well to drill in the southwest Panhandle, near Harrisburg, failed,” it adds. “Oil searchers sunk many other dry test wells in western Nebraska until success came in 1949.”

By 1966, wells in the western Nebraska oilfields produced more than 216 million barrels of oil. “The pioneer efforts in this area have resulted in a major contribution to the economy of the state,” concludes the Nebraska State Historical Society.

New technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, today bring renewed activity to the state. Independent oil and natural gas companies are testing the potential of the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, Wyoming – and southwestern Nebraska.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Nebraska Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL:https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-nebraska-oil-well. Last Updated: May 25, 2020. Original Published Date: May 26, 2013.

 

Oil & Gas History News, May 2020

May 20, 2020  –  Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 1, No. 5

Oil & Gas History News

Welcome to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society summary of U.S. petroleum milestones, including links to some events that have shaped the energy industry. Understanding history remains as important as ever, and This Week in Petroleum History may help with distant learning during the health and economic crisis. Please share this newsletter and support energy education!

Monthly Highlights from “This Week in Petroleum History”

Links to summaries and articles from five weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including oilfield discoveries, new technologies, petroleum products, and more. 

May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield discovery in Northwestern Ohio

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began when local businessman Benjamin Faurot – drilling for natural gas – found oil instead in the Trenton Limestone formation. “The oil find has caused much excitement and those who are working at the well have been compelled to build a high fence around it to keep curiosity seekers from bothering them.”…MORE

May 14, 1953 – Golden Driller debuts at Petroleum Expo

As the mid-continent oil industry grew, the “Golden Driller” statue first appeared climbing a derrick at the International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa. Temporarily erected again by Mid-Continent Supply Company for the 1959 petroleum expo, the giant roughneck attracted so much attention the company donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Today’s 76-foot, mustard-shade statue was rebuilt in 1966…MORE

May 9, 1863 – Confederate Cavalry raids Oilfield

Confederate cavalry attacked a thriving oil town in what would soon become West Virginia. Gen. William “Grumble” Jones led the attack on Burning Springs along the Kanawha River, destroying equipment and thousands of barrels of oil. This marked the first time an oilfield was targeted in war, according to a West Virginia historian…MORE

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

After discovering several Oklahoma oilfields, Marland Oil Company acquired Continental Oil to create a network of Conoco service stations in 30 states. Future Oklahoma Governor Ernest W. Marland had founded Marland Oil in 1921. Headquartered in Ponca City, the new company adopted the name of Continental Oil, but kept the Marland Oil red triangle. Continental Oil Company had begun in 1875 by delivering kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah…MORE

April 20, 1892 – Prospector finds Los Angeles Oilfield

The Los Angeles oilfield was discovered when a struggling prospector, Edward Doheny, and his mining partner Charles Canfield drilled into natural oil seeps between today’s Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue. Their well produced about 45 barrels of oil a day. Often camouflaged, oil production continues in downtown L.A…MORE

Energy Education Articles

Updated editorial content on the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website includes these articles:

The first pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1936) worked in California oilfields as a teenager and began his career playing on an oil town baseball team. As baseball became America’s favorite pastime in the early 20th century, new petroleum boom towns fielded teams – with names that reflected their communities’ enthusiasm and livelihood. See Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball.

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts of New York City received the first of his many patents for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells.” The invention used controlled down-hole explosions “to fracture oil-bearing formations and increase oil production.” The Roberts Torpedo would lead the evolution of technologies for fracturing geologic formations to increase oil and natural gas production. See Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

Featured Image

The first U.S. patent for an offshore oil drilling rig was issued to Thomas Rowland of Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.” Rowland designed a fixed, working platform with four telescoping legs that many experts believe inspired offshore technologies used today. Rowland’s Continental Iron Works, which had built the Union iron clad Monitor in 1861, later became an industry leader in oil storage tank design and construction. Learn more in Offshore Rig Patent of 1869.

As many new and returning visitors explore the AOGHS website, the historical society is especially grateful to our supporting members. Please help add new content and preserve petroleum history. Your contribution keeps the historical society operating.

— Bruce Wells, Executive Director, American Oil & Gas Historical Society

“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

 

This Week in Petroleum History, May 18 – 24


May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield discovered in Northwestern Ohio

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began when Benjamin C. Faurot – drilling for natural gas – found oil instead in the Trenton Rock Limestone formation at a depth of 1,252 feet. “The oil find has caused much excitement and those who are working at the well have been compelled to build a high fence around it to keep curiosity seekers from bothering them,” Lima’s Daily Republican newspaper reported the next day. “If the well turns out, as it looks now that it will, look out for the biggest boom Lima ever had.”

petroleum history may 16

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

Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company, and by 1886, Lima was the most productive oilfield in America after producing more than 20 million barrels of oil. By the following year it was the largest in the world. After developing a new method for refining the heavy Lima oil, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey began construction on its Whiting refinery in 1889.

“In May of 1885, Lima was a bustling community of some 8,000 people with a new courthouse and, thanks to leading businessman Benjamin C. Faurot, an opera house. It claimed a soon-to-be-electrified city street car system, railroad connections in all directions and a handful of newspapers,” noted a 2019 article in the Lima News. Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Learn more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.

In 2006, the Allen County Historical Society placed an Ohio historical marker near Faurot’s discovery well site at the North Street crossing of the Ottawa River in Lima. (more…)

Technology and the “Conroe Crater”

A 1933 Texas well disaster would lead to advancements in directional drilling.

 

A Great Depression era disaster in a giant oilfield near Conroe, Texas, brought together the inventor of a revolutionary portable drilling rig and the father of directional drilling. 

Although the Conroe well’s producing sands proved to be dangerously gas-charged, shallow and unstable, the oilfield – the third largest in the United States at the time – soon had 60 successful wells producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil a day. The region north of Houston boomed as the Great Depression worsened. Disaster came in January 1933 when one of the wells blew out and erupted into flame. The runaway well cratered – completely swallowing nearby drilling rigs. (more…)

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