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

As World War I neared its end in 1918, 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

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.

Pawnee Bill’s 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

petroleum history gas station selling gas for 20 cents

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

A U.S. state for the first time taxed gasoline in February 1919. Oil was selling for just $2 a barrel when Oregon enacted the one-cent gas tax to be used for road construction and maintenance.

Less than two months later, Colorado and New Mexico followed Oregon’s example.

Within a decade, every state had added a gas 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 2018 averaged about 31 cents per gallon, varying from a low of 14.7 cents (Alaska) to a high of 58.7 cents per gallon (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

february oil history

Wyatt Earp, circa 1887.

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.

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,” a science, technology, and history exhibition on a 16-acre site north of Bakersfield.

February 27, 1962 – California Voters approve Offshore Drilling

os Angeles Association of Professional Landmen THUMS in 2017

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

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.

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 Wallace Carothers invents Nylon

petroleum history february

Common man-made fibers used for textiles and plastics contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

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.

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

petroleum history february

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

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.

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 – Civil Engineer patents Highway “Cloverleaf” Design

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.

March 1, 1921 – Halliburton patents Cementing Technology

oil history February Halliburton cement patent drawing

Halliburton’s 1921 cementing process isolated down-hole zones and helped prevent collapse of casing.

Erle P. Halliburton patented his new oilfield technology – a “Method and Means for Cementing Oil Wells.” He had moved to the Healdton oilfield in Oklahoma after working in the booming Burkburnett oilfields of Texas. He established the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan, Oklahoma, in 1919.

“It is well known to those skilled in the art of oil well drilling that one of the greatest obstacles to successful development of oil bearing sands has been the encountering of liquid mud water and the like during and after the process of drilling the wells,” Halliburton noted in his 1921 patent.

The new well cementing process isolated the various down-hole zones, guarded against collapse of the casing and permitted control of the well throughout its producing life. It also protected the environment.

Halliburton’s patent application noted that typical oil production, hampered by water intrusion that required time and expense for pumping out, “has caused the abandonment of many wells which would have developed a profitable output.”

Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company and Stanolind Oil in March 1949 applied the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing at a well near Duncan. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.


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. Help the American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserve U.S. petroleum history, become a supporting member today. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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