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.

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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.

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