January 18, 1919 – Congregation rejects drilling in Cemetery – 

Although World War I was over, oil production continued to soar in North Texas. Reporting on “Roaring Ranger” oilfields, the New York Times noted that speculators offered $1 million for rights to drill in the Merriman Baptist Church cemetery, but the congregation could not be persuaded to disturb the interred. Posted on a barbed-wire fence surrounding the graves not far from producing oil wells, a sign proclaimed, “Respect the Dead.” Today, the cemetery — and a new church — can be found three miles south of Ranger. Learn more in Oil Riches of Merriman Baptist Church.

January 19, 1922 – Geological Survey predicts U.S. running Out of Oil

The U.S. Geological Survey predicted America’s oil supplies would run out in 20 years. It was not the first or last false alarm. Warnings of shortages had been made for most of the 20th century, according to geologist David Deming of the University of Oklahoma. His 1950 report, A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scares, documented six claims prior to 1950 alone. Among them: The Model T Scare of 1916; the Gasless Sunday Scare of 1918; the John Bull (United Kingdom) Scare of 1920-1923; the Ickes (Interior Secretary Harold Ickes) Petroleum Reserves Scare of 1943-1944; and the Cold War Scare of 1946-1948. Oil shortage predictions began as early as 1879, when the Pennsylvania state geologist predicted only enough oil remained to keep kerosene lamps burning for four more years.

January 19, 1965 – Inventor patents Offshore “Underwater Manipulator”

Howard Shatto Jr. received a 1965 U.S. patent for his “underwater manipulator with suction support device.” His concept led to the modern remotely operated vehicle (ROV) now used most widely by the offshore petroleum industry. Shatto helped make Shell Oil Company an early leader in offshore oilfield development technologies.

Howard Shatto underwater robot patent drawing from January 19. 1965.

Howard Shatto Jr. would become “a world-respected innovator in the areas of dynamic positioning and remotely operated vehicles.”

This underwater robot technology can trace its roots to the late 1950s, when Hughes Aircraft developed a Manipulator Operated Robot – MOBOT – for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Working on land, the robot performed in environments too radioactive for humans. Beginning in 1960, Shell Oil began transforming the landlocked MOBOT into a marine robot – “basically a swimming socket wrench,” according to one engineer.

In his 1965 patent – one of many he will receive – Shatto explained how his robot could help install underwater production equipment at a depth greater than divers could safely work. Howard Shatto also became an innovator in dynamic positioning. Learn more in ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench.

January 20, 1886 – Great Karg Well erupts Natural Gas in Ohio

The spectacular natural gas well – the “Great Karg Well” of Findlay, Ohio — erupted with an initial flow of 12 million cubic feet a day. The well’s gas pressure could not be controlled by the technology of the day and ignited into a towering flame that burned for four months — becoming a popular Ohio tourist attraction. Eight years earlier, another natural gas well in neighboring Pennsylvania had made similar headlines (see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh).

Great Karg Well of January 20, 1886, historic marker from 1937.

A plaque dedicated in 1937 in Findlay, Ohio, commemorated the state’s giant natural gas discovery of 1886.

Although Ohio’s first natural gas well was drilled in Findlay in 1884 by Findlay Natural Gas Company, the Karg well launched the state’s first major natural gas boom and brought many new industries. Glass companies especially were “lured by free or cheap gas for fuel,” according to a commemorative marker at the Richardson Glass Works in Findlay. “They included eight window, two bottle, two chimney lamp, one light bulb, one novelty, and five tableware glass factories.”

By 1887, Findlay became known as the “City of Light,” added another historical marker at the first field office for the Ohio Oil Company, which which changed its name to Marathon Oil in 1962. The Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay includes Great Karg Well exhibits and is less than two miles from the site of the famous well. Read about other early natural gas discoveries in Indiana Natural Gas Boom.

January 21, 1865 – First Roberts Torpedo detonated

Civil War veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts detonated eight pounds of black powder 465 feet deep in a well south of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The “shooting” of the well was a tremendous success, increasing daily production from a few barrels of oil to more than 40 barrels, according to Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine. The Titusville Morning Herald in 1866 reported, “Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo. The results have in many cases been astonishing.” Learn more in Shooters – A “Fracking” History.

January 22, 1861 – Pennsylvania Refinery produces Kerosene

The first U.S. multiple-still refinery was brought on-stream in Pennsylvania, one mile south of Titusville along Oil Creek. William Barnsdall, who drilled the first successful well to follow Edwin Drake’s historic 1859 oil discovery, and partners James Parker and W.H. Abbott spent about $15,000 to build six basic stills for refining  kerosene. Much of the equipment was purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City. The refinery produced two grades of kerosene, white and the less the expensive yellow.

January 22, 1910 – Standard Oil of California strikes Oil

After several attempts, Standard Oil Company of California drilled its first successful oil well. The discovery came in the Midway-Sunset field after a consolidation between Pacific Coast Oil Company (see First California Oil Well) and Standard Oil Company of Iowa created the Standard Oil Company of California. The new company, Socal (now Chevron), needed more oil since it had “stepped up its marketing efforts, particularly in gasoline sales, which nearly doubled between 1906 and 1910,” notes a Chevon company history. “Until now, Standard had left the hunt for oil to others.” The Kern County gusher produced 1,500 barrels of oil a day.

January 23, 1895 – Standard Oil of New Jersey closes Oil Exchanges

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey’s purchasing agency in booming Oil City, Pennsylvania, notified independent oil producers it would only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” – and not “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”

 petroleum history january 18

The Oil City, Pennsylvania, Oil Exchange incorporated in 1874. By 1877, it was the third largest financial exchange in the United States.

Oil City’s exchange had become the third largest financial exchange of any kind in America, behind New York and San Francisco. But with the Standard Oil Company buying 90 percent of production and setting its own price for certificates, all other oil exchanges soon closed. Learn more in End of Oil Exchanges.

January 23, 1957 – Wham-O launches a New Petroleum Product

petroleum history january

U.S. patent detail of a 1967 polyethylene plastic Frisbee.

One of the earliest mass-produced products made from plastic, the “Frisbee” was introduced by Wham-O Manufacturing Company of California. The toy originated in 1948 when a company called Partners in Plastic sold its “Flyin’ Saucers” for 25 cents each. In 1955, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin’s Wham-O bought the rights.

The Wham-O founders discovered that Phillips Petroleum had invented a high-density polyethylene (called Marlex). They used the new plastic to meet phenomenal demand for manufacturing Frisbees – and Hula Hoops beginning in 1958. Learn more in Petroleum Product Hoopla.

January 23, 1991 – Gulf War Oil Spill

The world’s largest oil spill began in the Persian Gulf when Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi forces opened pipeline valves at oil terminals in Kuwait. An estimated 11 million barrels of oil soon covered an area reaching as far as 101 miles by 42 miles. The oil spill, which remains the largest in history, was five inches thick in some areas. Iraqi soldiers sabotaged Kuwait’s main supertanker loading pier, dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf. By February, about 600 Kuwaiti wells had been set ablaze. It would take months to put out the fires. The last burning well was extinguished in early April 1991.

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January 24, 1895 – Pure Oil Company founded by Independent Producers

Pure Oil Company was formed by Pennsylvania independent producers, refiners and pipeline operators. It soon became a major Chicago-based oil and gas company. Originally based in Pittsburgh, the company was formed to counter Standard Oil Company’s market dominance. The company succeeded, becoming the second vertically integrated U.S. oil company after Standard Oil.

 petroleum history january 18

An Ohio firm adopted the old Pennsylvania name.

Beginning in March 1896, Pure Oil marketed illuminating oil by tank wagon in Philadelphia and New York — successfully competing with Standard Oil’s monopoly. The Ohio Cities Gas Company of Columbus acquired Pure Oil and in 1920 adopted the former Pennsylvania company’s name.

Pure Oil Chicago headquarters skyscraper at 35 East Wacker.

Pure Oil moved into its majestic 40-story Chicago headquarters at 35 East Wacker in 1926.

Exploring new offshore exploration technologies in 1938, Pure Oil Company built a freestanding offshore drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.


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.z

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