December 23, 1943 – Major Oilfield found in Mississippi

The Gulf Oil Company discovered a new Mississippi oilfield at Heidelberg in Jasper County. As early as 1929, company surveyors had recognized the geological potential of the area southeast of Jackson. For the next decade Gulf Oil used the latest seismographic and core drilling technologies to look for what was believed to be a potentially huge oil formation. After selecting a drilling site in October 1943, the discovery well revealed one of the state’s largest oilfields since the first Mississippi oil well was completed in 1939.

December 24, 2007 – Top Holiday Film includes Novelty Oil Product

wax lips petroleum product in Christmas story
The 1984 holiday classic “A Christmas Story” featured Ralphie, his 4th-grade classmates – and an unusual petroleum product. Photos courtesy MGM Home Entertainment.

The 1983 comedy “A Christmas Story” began airing in an annual 24-hour marathon on the TNT network. In addition to its infamous plastic leg-lamp, the popular holiday movie has featured another petroleum product, a novelty candy.

Paraffin, a byproduct of petroleum distillation used in candles and waxes, makes its brief appearance when Ralphie Parker and his fourth-grade classmates smuggle Wax Fangs into class, only to dejectedly hand them over to their teacher.

An older generation may recall the peculiar disintegrating flavor of Wax Fangs, Wax Lips, Wax Moustaches, and Wax Bottles (officially Nik-L-Nips) from bygone Halloweens and birthday parties. Few realize the candy cultural icons started in oilfields.

Learn more in the Oleaginous History of Wax Lips and explore these articles about other petroleum products.

December 28, 1898 – Mary Alford inherits Pennsylvania Nitroglycerin Factory

Byron S. Alford died, leaving his nitroglycerin factory to his wife, Mary Alford, who would make the business thrive, becoming in the process “the only known woman to own a dynamite and nitroglycerin factory,” explained a 2017 Smithsonian.com article, which credited the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory. She and her husband had built the dynamite factory in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1883. When technology for “shooting wells” was developed, nitroglycerin became an important part of oil production. Mrs. Alford became “an astute businesswoman in the midst of America’s first billion-dollar oilfield.”

December 26, 1905 – Nellie Bly’s Ironclad Patent of the 55-Gallon Metal Barrel

december petroleum history Nellie Bly metal barrel company
Nellie Bly was assigned a 1905 patent for the “Metal Barrel” by its inventor, Henry Wehrhahn, who worked at her Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.

Henry Wehrhahn of Brooklyn, New York, received two 1905 patents that would lead to the modern 55-gallon steel drum. He assigned them to his employer, the world-famous journalist Nellie Bly, who was then president of the Ironclad Manufacturing Company.

“My invention has for its object to provide a metal barrel which shall be simple and strong in construction and effective and durable in operation,” Wehrhahn noted in his patent for a flanged metal barrel with encircling hoops for better control when rolling. A second patent issued at the same time provided a means for detaching and securing a lid. A superintendent at Ironclad Manufacturing, Wehrhahn assigned his inventions to Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (Nellie Bly). She was the recent widow of the company’s founder. In 1895, at age 30, she had married the wealthy 70-year-old industrialist Robert Seaman.

Well known as a reporter for the New York World, Bly manufactured early versions of the “Metal Barrel.” It would become today’s 55-gallon steel drum. Wehrhahn later became superintendent of Pressed Steel Tank Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When Iron Clad Manufacturing succumbed to debt, Bly returned to newspaper reporting. She died at age 57 in 1922. Learn more in the Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum. Also see History of the 42-Gallon Oil Barrel.

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

“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.

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.

The Lou Della Crim No. 1 well erupted oil on a Sunday morning while “Mamma” Crim was attending church. The well initially produced 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 a massive oilfield extending more than 480 square miles.


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. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for membership information. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

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