February 17, 1902 – Lufkin Industries founded in East Texas

The Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company was founded in Lufkin, Texas, as a repair shop for railroad and sawmill machinery. When the pine region’s timber supplies began to dwindle, the company discovered new opportunities in the burgeoning oilfields following the 1901 discovery at Spindletop Hill.

oil history modern Lufkin pump jack unit from front

A Lufkin counterbalanced oil pump. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Inventor Walter C. Trout was working for this East Texas company in 1925 when he came up with a new idea for pumping oil. His design would become an oilfield icon known by many names – nodding donkey, grasshopper, horse-head, thirsty bird, and pump jack, among others.

By the end of 1925, a prototype of Trout’s pumping unit was installed on a Humble Oil and Refining Company well near Hull, Texas. “The well was perfectly balanced, but even with this result, it was such a funny looking, odd thing that it was subject to ridicule and criticism,” Trout explained.

Learn more about the evolution of oilfield production methods in All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology.

February 17, 1944 – H.L. Hunt discovers First Alabama Oilfield

Alabama’s first oilfield was discovered in Choctaw County when Texas independent producer H.L. Hunt drilled the No. 1 Jackson well. Hunt’s 1944 wildcat well revealed the Gilbertown oilfield. Prior to this discovery, 350 dry holes had been drilled in the state.

Alabama first oil fields maps

Alabama’s major producing regions are in the west. Map courtesy Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Geologist and historian Ray Sorenson has found a detailed 1858 report of natural oil seeps six miles from Oakville in Lawrence County. Sorenson, who has compiled a history of all reports about petroleum prior to the Drake well of 1859, cites Michael Tuomey, who wrote about the geology of Alabama in 1858.

Hunt drilled in Choctaw County and discovered the Gilbertown oilfield in the Eutaw Sand at a depth of 3,700 feet. The field produced 15 million barrels of oil.

Although it took 11 years for another oilfield discovery, new technologies and deeper wells in the late 1980s led to the prolific Little Cedar Creek and Brooklyn fields.

By 2007, scientists began new geologic assessments of potential undiscovered petroleum resources of the Black Warrior Basin of Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties and in the shales of St. Clair and neighboring counties.

Learn more in First Alabama Oil Well.

February 20, 1959 – First LNG Tanker arrives in England

After a 27-day voyage from Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Methane Pioneer – the world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker – arrived at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England.

petroleum history first liquefied natural gas tanker

The world’s first liquefied natural gas tanker, the Methane Pioneer, was a converted World War II Liberty freighter.

The first-of-its-kind vessel demonstrated that large quantities of LNG could be transported safely across the ocean.

The 340-foot Methane Pioneer, a converted World War II Liberty freighter, contained five 7,000-barrel aluminum tanks supported by balsa wood and insulated with plywood and urethane. Owned by Comstock Liquid Methane Corporation, the experimental ship refrigerated its cargo to minus 285 degrees Fahrenheit.

The world’s first purpose-built commercial LNG carrier, the Methane Princess, began regular LNG delivery to the same Canvey Island port in June 1964.

February 20, 1993 – Oil Pipe Saxophone Sculpture erected in Houston 

oil and art combined in pipeline saxophone sculpture in Texas

Texas artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade used oil pipeline segments to create a unique petroleum product.

Petroleum pipelines became pop artwork when Texas artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade debuted his 63-foot saxophone sculpture at a Houston nightclub.

Wade (1943-2019) transformed two 48-inch steel oilfield pipes into the free-standing sculpture. A Volkswagen, beer kegs, and assorted parts complete his blue creation for the Billy Blues Bar & Grill on Richmond Avenue.

After considerable debate, the Houston City Council deemed the oilfield pipeline saxophone to be art rather than signage. The Fort Worth Star Telegram described Wade as a “connoisseur of Southwestern kitsch.”

Learn more in “Smokesax” Art has Pipeline Heart.

February 21, 1887 – Herman Frasch Refining Process brings Riches to Rockefeller

this week in oil history chemist Herman Frasch Sulfur King emist

Herman Frasch (1851-1914).

German inventor Herman Frasch applied to patent his process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.” Once an employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the chemist was quickly rehired by John D. Rockefeller, who owned oilfields near Lima, Ohio, that produced a thick, sulfurous oil. Rockefeller had accumulated a 40-million-barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.”

Standard Oil Company bought Frasch’s patent for a copper-oxide refining process to “sweeten” the oil. By the early 1890s, the company’s new Whiting oil refinery east of Chicago was producing odorless kerosene from desulfurized oil, making Rockefeller a fortune.

Paid in Standard Oil shares and becoming very wealthy, Frasch moved to Louisiana – where the chemist and mining engineer invented a new method to extract sulphur from underground deposits by injecting superheated water into wells. By 1911, he was known as the “Sulfur King.”

February 22, 1923 – First Carbon Black Factory in Texas 

petroleum history february

Early cars had white rubber tires until B.F. Goodrich discovered carbon black improved strength and durability. Above is a custom 1919 Pierce-Arrow. Photo courtesy Peter Valdes-Dapena.

Texas granted its first permit for a carbon black factory to J.W. Hassel & Associates in Stephens County. It had been discovered that carbon black increased the durability of rubber used in tires.

Modern carbon black, which looks like soot, is produced by controlled combustion of petroleum products, both oil and natural gas. It is used in rubber and plastic products, printing inks and coatings.

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.

Learn more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

February 23, 1906 – Flaming Kansas Well makes Headlines

petroleum history rare photo of Kansas gas well fire

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

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.

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 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

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.

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.

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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Recommended Reading: The Natural Gas Revolution: At the Pivot of the World’s Energy Future (2013); Herman Frasch -The Sulphur King (2013); The B.F. Goodrich Story Of Creative Enterprise 1870-1952 (2010); Caney, Kansas: The Big Gas City (1985); The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942: The Mystery Air Raid (2010).

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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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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