January 14, 1928 – Illustrating Ads for Standard Oil launches Career of Future Dr. Seuss

New York City’s Judge magazine included its first cartoon drawn by Theodor Seuss Geisel – who would develop his skills as “Dr. Seuss” while working for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

January petroleum history Dr. Seuss first ad for Flit bug spray

Standard Oil’s “Flit” was a popular bug spray.

In the 1928 cartoon that launched his professional career as an advertising illustrator, Geisel drew a peculiar dragon trying to dodge Flit, a popular bug spray of the day.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” soon became a common catchphrase nationwide. Flit was one of Standard Oil of New Jersey’s many consumer products derived from petroleum.

Throughout the Great Depression hundreds of Geisel’s fanciful critters populated Standard Oil advertisements, providing him much-need income. Ad campaigns included cartoon creatures for Esso gasolines, lubricating oils, and Essomarine Oil and Greases. He later acknowledged that this experience, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

January petroleum history Standard Oil ad drawn by future Dr. Seuss

During the Great Depression, Theodor S. Geisel – Dr. Seuss – created popular advertising campaigns for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

Learn more in Seuss I am, an Oilman.

January 14, 1954 – Oil discovery in South Dakota

A Shell Oil Company wildcat well in Harding County, South Dakota, began producing oil from about 9,300 feet deep, revealing South Dakota’s first oilfield. This single well drilled in what proved to be the Buffalo field produced more than 341,000 barrels of oil for the next five decades.

january petroleum history wooden oil derrick and cars circa 1929

A wooden cable-tool rig drilled a Custer County dry hole in 1929. Photo courtesy South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Although South Dakota had a long history of petroleum exploration (natural gas production began in 1899), drilling in Harding and Custer counties had resulted in dry holes, according to Gerald McGillivray of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

By 2010, Harding County’s cumulative production was 44.4 million barrels of oil, almost 89 percent of the state’s total production, McGillivray noted in South Dakota Oil & Gas Development, Past, Present and Future. Harding County still produces the bulk of the state’s oil. Although the Bakken shale of North Dakota does not extend into South Dakota, exploration companies have noted a number of oil-producing formations, such as the Tyler and Three Forks, that do extend into the state. Also see First North Dakota Oil Well.

January 17, 1911 – North Texas Discovery hints of Booms to Come

The Electra oilfield was discovered in Texas by the Producers Oil Company’s Waggoner No. 5 well completed with production of 50 barrels of oil aday from a depth of 1,825 feet. The discovery would attract more exploration companies to the small North Texas community. Three months later, the April 1 Clayco gusher would send Electra’s fortunes skyward. Learn more in Pump Jack Capital of Texas.

January 18, 1919 – Texas Church rejects drilling in Cemetery

Although World War I was over, oil production continued in North Texas. Reporting on the growing number of booming oilfields in Eastland County (learn more in Roaring Ranger wins WWI), the New York Times noted that speculators had offered $1 million for rights to drill on the Merriman Baptist Church cemetery grounds, but they could not persuade the congregation to disturb interred church members. Posted on a barbed-wire fence surrounding the cemetery amidst oil wells in the distance, a sign proclaimed, “Respect the Dead,” and the membership did. Today, the old cemetery – and a new church –  are about 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.

A 1950 report, A Case History of Oil-Shortage Scares, documented six claims prior to 1950 alone. Among them were: 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 Pennsylvania’s state geologist predicted only enough oil remained to keep kerosene lamps burning for four more years.

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

 petroleum history january Howard Shatto patent 1965

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

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.

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.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join AOGHS today to help maintain this energy education website, expand historical research, and extend public outreach. Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy. Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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