April 13, 1974 – Oklahoma Well sets World Depth Record

After 504 days and about $7 million, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 well reached a total depth of 31,441 feet before being stopped by liquid sulfur.

petroleum history april 11

A 1974 souvenir of the Bertha Rogers, which drilled almost six miles deep in the Anadarko Basin.

Drilled in the heart of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin, it was the deepest well in world for several years and the deepest in the United States for three decades until exceeded in 2004.

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

The pioneering well found plenty of natural gas, according to historian Robert Dorman, but because of government price controls, “the sale of the gas could not cover the high cost of drilling so deeply – $6.5 million, as opposed to a few hundred thousand dollars for a conventional well.”

The Bertha Rogers No. 1 exploratory well began drilling in November 1972, averaging about 60 feet per day. By April 1974, the bottom hole pressure and temperature reached almost 25,000 pounds per square inch and 475 degrees. It took eight hours for bottom hole cuttings to reach the surface almost six miles above. No production came from the record depth, but the well was competed at 13,000 feet as a natural gas discovery. The 1.3 million pounds of casing was the heaviest ever handled by any drilling rig.

Bertha Rogers led to development of deeper drilling technologies and the successful deep gas plays of the 1990s. Learn more in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

April 14, 1865 – Dramatic Oil Company’s failed Oilman becomes Assassin

John Wilkes Booth portrait detail

John Wilkes Booth’s dreams of oil wealth ended in July 1864.

After failing to make his fortune in Pennsylvania oilfields, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C. Just one year earlier Booth had left his acting career to drill an oil well in booming Venango County.

In January 1864, Booth visited Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he leased 3.5 acres on a farm along the Allegheny River. With several partners, including friends from the stage, Booth formed the Dramatic Oil Company.

Although the Dramatic Oil Company’s well produced about 25 barrels of oil a day, Booth and his partners wanted more and tried “shooting” the well to increase production. When the well was ruined, he left the Pennsylvania oil region in July 1864.

Learn more in Dramatic Oil Company.

April 15, 1897 – Birth of the Oklahoma Petroleum Industry

petroleum history april 11

Nellie Johnstone No. 1 replica in Discovery One Park, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

A large crowd gathered at the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 well near Bartlesville, in the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma in 1907.

Drilling had begun in January 1897, the same month that Bartlesville incorporated with a population of about 200 people. Four months later, at 1,320 feet, the Nellie Johnstone No.1 well (named for partner William Johnstone’s six-year-old daughter), showed the first signs of oil.

On April 15, 1897, George Keeler’s stepdaughter dropped a “go devil” down the well bore to set off a waiting canister of nitroglycerin – producing a gusher that heralded the start of Oklahoma’s oil industry. As the discovery well for the giant Bartlesville-Dewey Field, Nellie Johnstone No.1 ushered in the oil era for Oklahoma Territory. By the time of statehood, Oklahoma would lead the world in oil production.

In the 10 years following the discovery, Bartlesville’s population grew to over 4,000 while Oklahoma’s annual oil production reached more than 43 million barrels. Today, a replica 84-foot wooden derrick and a nearby education center help tell the story in Discovery One Park, the land donated by the well’s namesake, Nellie Johnstone Cannon, a descendant of a Delaware Chief.

Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well.

April 16, 1855 – Yale Scientist sees Value in Rock Oil

petroleum history april 11

A report about oil’s potential as an illuminant will lead to the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company discovering America’s first commercial well.

Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman Jr. reported Pennsylvania “rock oil” could be distilled into a high-quality illuminating oil. The professor’s “Report on Rock Oil or Petroleum” convinced a businessman George Bissell and a group of New Haven, Connecticut, investors to finance Edwin Drake to drill where Bissell had found oil seeps in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“Gentlemen,” Silliman wrote, “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.”

Silliman’s conclusion that kerosene could be distilled from oil as readily as coal led to the first U.S. commercial oil discovery at Titusville four years later. Learn more in First American Oil Well.

April 16, 1920 – First Arkansas Oil Well

April petroleum history

The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources is just north of El Dorado.

Col. Samuel S. Hunter of the Hunter Oil Company of Shreveport, Louisiana, completed the first oil well in Arkansas. His Hunter No. 1 well (also known as the Lester-Hamilton No. 1 after owners of the lease) had been drilled to 2,100 feet.

Natural gas was discovered a few days later by Constantine Oil and Refining Company north of the present-day El Dorado field in Union County.

Although Col. Hunter’s oil well yielded only small quantities, his Arkansas oil discovery was followed by a January 1921 gusher – the S.T. Busey well – in the same field. These oil and gas wells, which made headlines, marked the beginning of oil production in Arkansas and launched the state’s petroleum industry.

Col. Hunter later sold his original lease of 20,000 acres, including his non-commercial discovery well, to Standard Oil Company of Louisiana for more than $2.2 million. Learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells.

April 17, 1861 – Fatal Oil Well Fire in Pennsylvania

The early lack of technology for controlling natural gas pressure led to a fatal oil well fire at Rouseville, Pennsylvania. Among the 19 people killed was Warren County leading citizen Henry R. Rouse, who had subleased land along Oil Creek. When the well first showed signs of oil at a depth of about 320 feet, the good news attracted most Rouseville residents. Learn more in First Oil Well Fire.

April 18, 1939 – Inventor patents Perforating Technology

April petroleum history

Ira McCullough’s 1937 patent drawing for perforating wells.

Ira McCullough of Los Angeles patented a multiple bullet-shot casing perforator and mechanical firing system. He explained the object of his invention was “to provide a device for perforating casing after it has been installed in a well in which projectiles or perforating elements are shot through the casing and into the formation.”

This innovation of simultaneous firing at several levels in the borehole greatly enhanced the flow of oil. For safety, McCullough’s device included a “disconnectable means” that once the charges were lowered into the borehole rendered percussion inoperative as “a safeguard against accidental or inadvertent operation.”

Another inventor, Henry Mohaupt, in 1951 would use World War II anti-tank technology to improve the concept by using a conically hollowed-out explosive for perforating wells. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.

April 19, 1892 – First U.S. Gasoline Powered Auto

april petroleum history

The Duryea brothers (above) built their cars in Springfield, Massachusetts.

American inventors Charles and Frank Duryea on April 19, 1892, test drove a gasoline powered automobile built in their Springfield, Massachusetts, workshop. Considered the first automobile regularly made for sale in the United States, the model would be produced – a total of 13 – by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. Other manufacturers soon followed the Duryea example.

In March 1896, the Duryea brothers sold their first automobile – the Duryea motor wagon. It was reported two months later that in New York City a motorist driving a Duryea hit a bicyclist – reportedly the nation’s first recorded automobile traffic accident.

By the time of the first U.S. automobile show in November 1900 at Madison Square Garden, of the 4,200 automobiles sold in the United States, gasoline powers less than 1,000.


Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. 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.

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