February 22, 1923 – First Carbon Black Factory in Texas – 

Texas granted its first permit for a carbon black factory to J.W. Hassel & Associates in Stephens County. Scientists had discovered that carbon black greatly increased the durability of rubber used in tires. Produced by the controlled combustion of petroleum products, carbon black could be used in many rubber and plastic products.

petroleum history february

Early cars like the 1919 Pierce-Arrow had white rubber tires until B.F. Goodrich discovered carbon black improved durability. Photo courtesy Peter Valdes-Dapena.

Automobile tires were white until B.F. Goodrich Company in 1910 discovered that adding carbon black to the vulcanizing process improved strength and durability. An early Goodrich supplier was Crayola crayon manufacturer Binney & Smith Company (see Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons).

February 23, 1906 – Flaming Kansas Gas Well makes Headlines

A small town in southeastern Kansas found itself making headlines when a natural gas well erupted into flames after a lightning strike. The 150-foot burning tower could be seen at night for 35 miles.

petroleum history rare photo of Kansas gas well fire

Kansas oilfield workers struggled to extinguish this 1906 well at Caney. Photo courtesy Jeff Spencer.

Drilled by the New York Oil and Gas Company, the well became a tourist attraction. Newspapers as far away as Los Angeles regularly updated their readers as technologies of the day struggled to extinguish the highly pressurized well, “which defied the ingenuity of man to subdue its roaring flames.”

Postcards were printed and sold of the Caney well, which took five weeks to smother using a specially designed and fabricated steel hood. Learn more about Caney’s famed oilfield in Kansas Gas Well Fire.

February 23, 1942 – Japanese Submarine shells California  Oil Refinery

Less than three months after the start of World War II, a Japanese submarine attacked a refinery and oilfield near Los Angeles. The shelling caused little damage but created the largest mass sighting of UFOs ever in American history.

Japanese postcard of submarine off Los Angeles attacking oilfield

A rare Japanese postcard from World War II commemorates the shelling of the California refinery. Image courtesy John Geoghegan.

Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-17 fired armor-piercing shells at the Bankline Oil Company refinery in Ellwood City, California. The shelling north of Santa Barbara continued for 20 minutes before I-17 escaped into the night. It was the first Axis attack on the continental United States of the war.

Learn more about 1942 panic of the “Battle of Los Angeles” in Japanese Sub attacks Oilfield.

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February 24, 1938 – First Nylon Bristle Toothbrush

The Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” toothbrush went on sale – the first to use synthetic nylon developed three years earlier by a former Harvard professor working at a DuPont research laboratory in New Jersey.

August 1938 Life magazine ad for first nylon bristle toothbrush.

August 1938 Life magazine advertisement for first nylon bristle toothbrush.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” noted a 1938 Weco Products advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with EXTON, a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”

“Exton” toothbrushes were the first commercial use of the petroleum product nylon, a synthetic polymer. Weco Products guaranteed “no bristle shedding,” and sold its 1938 toothbrush for 50 cents ($9.04 in 2021 dollars),  Americans would soon be brushing their teeth with nylon bristle toothbrushes, declared the New York Times.

February 25, 1918 – Pawnee Bill’s Oklahoma Oil Companies

As World War I neared its end, Gordon William “Pawnee Bill” Lillie entered the oil business in Yale, Oklahoma. Despite not being as famous as his Wyoming friend Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Lillie was a widely known showman and promoter of his state, according to his biographer.

Pawnee Bill Oil Company stock certificate

Although most are only family keepsakes, some old oil company certificates are valued collectors.

The Pawnee Bill Oil Company operated a refinery in Yale, leasing 25 railroad tank cars during World War I. When the end of the war reduced demand for refined petroleum products, his company along with many Oklahoma refineries were soon operating at half capacity – or closed.

Although his oil company was still operating in March 1921, Pawnee Bill was forced to shut down his Yale refinery. His friend and fellow western showman Col. William Cody also tried his hand in the oil business. Cody’s Shoshone Oil Company had failed about a decade earlier in Wyoming.

February 25, 1919 – Oregon enacts First Gasoline Tax

Oil was selling for just $2 a barrel when Oregon enacted the one-cent gas tax to be used for road construction and maintenance. It was the first U.S. state to impose a gasoline tax. Less than two months later, Colorado and New Mexico followed Oregon’s example.

Gas station selling gas for 20 cents a gallon in 1930s.

A circa 1930s service station owner explains why gas costs 20 cents a gallon in this Library of Congress photo.

By 1930, every state would add a gasoline tax of up to three cents per gallon. Faced with $2.1 billion federal deficit, President Herbert Hoover tacked on another one-cent per gallon federal excise tax in 1932.

State gasoline taxes and fees in 2020 averaged about 36.83 cents per gallon, varying from a low of 13.77 cents per gallon (Alaska) to a highs of 62.47 cents (California) and 58.7 cents (Pennsylvania). The federal excise tax on gasoline has remained unchanged since 1993 at 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel.

February 25, 1926 – Wyatt Earp’s California Oil Wells

A northern California oil well invested in by former lawman Wyatt Earp was completed with production of 150 barrels of oil a day. At age 75, his interest in the prolific Kern County oilfields came long after the famous 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Earp’s search for petroleum riches would not last long.

Portrait of famed lawman Wyatt Earp, circa 1887.

Wyatt Earp, circa 1887.

As he began working on Hollywood movie deals and his autobiography, Earp turned over management of his Kern County oil properties to his wife’s sister. Disappointing results would later prompt his wife to write, “I was in hopes they would bring in a two or three hundred barrel well. But I must be satisfied as it could have been a duster, too.”

Founded in 1941, the Kern County Museum includes “Black Gold: The Oil Experience” on a 16-acre site north of Bakersfield.

February 27, 1962 – California Voters approve Offshore Drilling

Voters at Long Beach, California, approved “controlled exploration and exploitation of the oil and gas reserves” underlying the harbor south of Los Angeles. The city’s charter had prohibited such drilling since a 1956 referendum, but advances in technology offered new and environmentally sensitive opportunities to exploit an additional 6,500 acres of the Wilmington oilfield.

os Angeles Association of Professional Landmen THUMS in 2017

Los Angeles Association of Professional Landmen members toured THUMS in 2017. Photo courtesy LAAPL.

Four artificial islands were soon constructed at a cost of $22 million by a consortium of companies called THUMS: Texaco (now Chevron), Humble (now ExxonMobil), Union Oil (now Chevron), Mobil (now ExxonMobil) and Shell Oil. The islands in 1967 were named Grissom, White, Chaffee, and Freemen in honor of lost Nasa astronauts. Occidental Petroleum purchased THUMS in 2000.

Today operated by the California Resources Corporation, the four “Astronaut Islands” were designed to blend in with the coastal environment. From shore, they appear to be occupied by upscale condos with landscaped vegetation, courtesy of Disneyland architect Joseph Linesch, whose integration of oil production structures was described by the Los Angeles Times as “part Disney, part Jetsons, part Swiss Family Robinson.” Learn more in THUMS – California’s Hidden Oil Islands.

February 28, 1935 – DuPont Chemist invents Nylon

A former Harvard professor working in a DuPont research laboratory discovered the world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – a petroleum product. After experimenting with artificial materials for more than six years, professor Wallace Carothers created a long molecule chain, a stretching plastic. The inventor had earlier discovered neoprene (commonly used in wet-suits), advancing understanding of polymers.

Illustration of Nylon, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms strung in a chain.

Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms strung in a chain created man-made fibers used for textiles and plastics contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

Just 32 years old, Carothers produced the fibers when he formed a polymer chain using a process to join individual molecules. Each molecule consisted of 100 or more repeating units of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, strung in a chain. DuPont company patented nylon in 1935, but it was not revealed until 1938.

Initially known as “Fiber 66” the new polyamide was one product from DuPont’s 12-years and $27 million in research. A variety of market names were considered for this “artificial silk,” including Norun, Nilon, Nuron, and Nepon, before Nylon was chosen. The first commercial use was for toothbrush bristles, which went on sale the same year. After World War II, nylon hosiery for women would make the Delaware chemical company a fortune. Learn more in Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.

February 28, 1982 – Getty Museum becomes Richest in World

Following years of legal battle by his relatives, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles became the most richly endowed museum in the world after receiving a $1.2 billion bequest left to it by oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, who died in 1976.

The Getty Center and the Getty Villa on the Malibu coast.

The J. Paul Getty Museum art collection is housed at the Getty Center (above in 2009) and the Getty Villa on the Malibu coast.

After working in his father’s oilfields in Oklahoma, Getty founded his first oil company in Tulsa and drilled the Nancy Taylor No. 1 well near Haskell, where oil and natural gas production began in 1910. The J. Paul Getty Museum opened in 1954. Getty’s oil-wealth philanthropy enabled expansion of the art museum’s collections and creation of the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Research Institute, and the Getty Foundation,” notes the J. Paul Getty Trust.

February 29, 1916 – Design for Highway “Cloverleaf” patented

Maryland civil engineer Arthur Hale patented the “cloverleaf” interchange for roadways, a design that managed traffic with two-level looped roads that did not require traffic signals. His concept improved the common diamond interchanges used at junctions when freeways crossed minor roads. The first cloverleaf was constructed in New Jersey on the Lincoln Highway (Route 25) and today’s Route 35 in Woodbridge Township. Coincidentally, the same year Hale received his  patent, Tennessee garage worker Ernest Holmes installed a hand-cranked rig on the back of a 1913 Cadillac — inventing the tow truck.

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Recommended Reading: The B.F. Goodrich Story Of Creative Enterprise 1870-1952 (2010); Caney, Kansas: The Big Gas City (1985); The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021); The Natural Gas Revolution: At the Pivot of the World’s Energy Future (2013); The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942: The Mystery Air Raid (2010); Pawnee Bill: A Biography of Major Gordon W. Lillie (1958); Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend (2012); Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon (2005); The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History (2019). Your Amazon purchases benefit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society; as an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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 © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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