December 28, 1898 – Mary Alford inherits Pennsylvania Nitro Factory – 

Byron S. Alford died, leaving his nitroglycerin factory to his wife Mary, who would make the business thrive, becoming “the only known woman to own a dynamite and nitroglycerin factory,” explained a 2017 Smithsonian article that credited an American Oil & Gas Historical Society story, Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory.

Alford and her husband built their dynamite factory in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1883. When technology for “shooting wells” was developed, nitroglycerin soon became an important part of oil production. Mrs. Alford became “an astute businesswoman in the midst of America’s first billion-dollar oilfield.” One refinery in Bradford has been operating since 1881, the American Refining Group.

December 28, 1930 – Widow Crim’s Well reveals Size of East Texas Oilfield

Three days after Christmas, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim of Kilgore revealed the extent of the giant East Texas oilfield. Her son, J. Malcolm Crim, had ignored advice from most geologists and drilled the well about 10 miles north of the field’s discovery well, drilled in October by Columbus “Dad” Joiner on the farm of another widow, Daisy Bradford.

Mrs. Lou Della Crim watches her pumping oil wells from her porch.

“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photo courtesy Neal Campbell, Words and Pictures.

The Lou Della Crim No. 1 well erupted oil on a Sunday morning while “Mamma” Crim was attending church. The well initially produced an astonishing 20,000 barrels of oil a day. A month later, 15 miles farther north, a third wildcat well, the Lathrop No. 1 well, (drilled by Fort Worth wildcatter W.A. “Monty” Moncrief), confirmed the size of what proved to be the largest oilfield in the continental United States, extending more than 480 square miles. Learn more in Lou Della Crim Revealed.

December 30, 1854 – First American Oil Company incorporates

George Bissell and six other investors incorporated the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York. Convinced oil could be found in northwestern Pennsylvania, Bissell formed this first U.S. petroleum exploration company “to raise, manufacture, procure and sell Rock Oil” from Hibbard Farm in Venango County (see George Bissell’s Oil Seeps).

1854 stock certificate of Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, first American oil exploration company.

America’s first oil company incorporated on December 30, 1854, in Albany. George Bissell wanted oil for a new product: kerosene.

In 1855, after struggling to attract investors, the company reorganized under Connecticut corporate law, which protected shareholders from company debts. The Wall Street Panic of 1857 rendered control of the company to New Haven financier Robert Townsend, who re-incorporated it as the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in March 1858. Townsend and Bissell then hired Edwin L. Drake to drill a well on the the 105-acre Hibbard Farm lease. On August 27, 1859, Drake’s discovery well marked the beginning of the U.S. oil industry.

December 31, 1954 – Ohio Oil Company sets California Drilling Depth Record

As deep drilling technologies continued to advance in the 1950s, a record depth of 21,482 feet was reached by the Ohio Oil Company in California. The well was about 17 miles southwest of Bakersfield in prolific Kern County, in the San Joaquin Valley. At more than four miles deep, the well’s down-hole drilling technology was not up to the task and became stuck.

January 1954 trade magazine headline of record oil well depths in California.

A January 1954 trade magazine noted the record depth reached by the Ohio Oil Company’s deep well in Kern County – a dry hole.

Petroleum Engineer noted the well set a depth record, despite being “halted by a fishing job” and ending up as a dry hole. More than 630 exploratory wells were drilled in California during 1954.

Founded in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company discovered the Permian Basin’s giant Yates field in 1926 and later purchased Transcontinental Oil, acquiring the Marathon product name – and Greek runner trademark. To learn more about deep drilling history, see Anadarko Basin in Depth.

December 31, 1998 – Amoco merges with BP

Amoco completed its merger with British Petroleum in a stock swap valued at about $48 billion, at the time the world’s largest industrial merger and the largest foreign takeover of an American company. Amoco, founded in 1889 as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of Indiana, had changed its name to Amoco in 1985.

BP shareholders owned 60 percent of the newly combined companies, BP Amoco, PLC.  The company in 2001 changed its brand to simply “BP,” and announced all Amoco stations would be closed or renamed to BP service stations. In October 2017, BP announced the reintroduction of the Amoco brand to the United States – 105 years after the first Amoco service station opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

January 2, 1866 – Patent describes Early Rotary Rig

Peter Sweeney of New York City received a U.S. patent for an “Improvement in Rock Drills” design that included basic elements of the modern rotary rig. The inventor described his idea as a “peculiar construction particularly adapted for boring deep wells.”

Sweeney’s drilling patent, which improved upon an 1844 British patent by Robert Beart, used a roller bit with replaceable cutting wheels such “that by giving the head a rapid rotary motion the wheels cut into the ground or rock and a clean hole is produced.”

Illustration from 1866 rotary drilling rig patent drawing

Peter Sweeney’s innovative 1866 “Stone Drill” patent included a roller bit using “rapid rotary motion” similar to modern rotary drilling technologies.

The rig’s “drill-rod” was hollow and connected with a hose through which “a current of steam or water can be introduced in such a manner that the discharge of the dirt and dust from the bottom of the hole is facilitated.” The petroleum industry soon improved upon Sweeney’s 1866 rotary rig.

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January 2, 1882 – Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust

John D. Rockefeller continued to expand his Standard Oil Company empire by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled much of the U.S. petroleum industry though 40 producing, refining and marketing affiliates. The trust also operated all of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tank cars (also see Densmore Oil Tank Cars) until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling broke it up in 1911.

January 2, 1932 – Birth of Union “76” Brand

December petroleum history Union 76 ball

The Union 76 ball debuted in 1962.

The Union Oil Company “76” brand was launched at service stations in western states. The brand’s orange circle with blue type logo was adopted in the 1940s, and the “76” orange orb first appeared at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. A smaller version of the ball proved so popular that millions would be given away as bright attachments to car antennas.

The California Oil Museum in Santa Paula is in the original Union Oil headquarters of the 1890s.

January 2, 1974 – President Nixon sets 55 mph Speed Limit

Although setting speed limits previously had been left to each state, when OPEC cut U.S. oil supplies on October 17, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act to reduce consumption. As a national speed limit of 55 mph became law, the embargo’s higher gas prices boosted sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars from Japan. In 1995, President Bill Clinton repealed the federal limit, returning the power to the states. The highest U.S. posted speed limit today is 85 mph on Texas State Highway 130.

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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.

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