June 29, 1956 – Interstate Highway System enacted –

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, became law.

Passed at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the act provided 90 percent federal funding for a “system of interstate and defense highways,” and authorized spending $25 billion through 1969 for construction of about 41,000 miles of interstates.

map of US interstate system

The U.S. interstate system had a total length of 48,191 miles by 2016. Federal regulations initially banned collecting tolls, but some interstate routes today include toll roads.

“Of all his domestic programs, Eisenhower’s favorite by far was the Interstate System,” noted biographer Stephen Ambrose, author of Eisenhower: Soldier and President. One of the reasons the president had urged passage was the need for evacuating major cities during a nuclear attack.

June 30, 1864 – First Oil Tax funds Civil War –

One Dollar bill circa Civil War

Seeking ways to pay for the Civil War, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, featured prominently on the $1 “greenback,” advocated an oil tax.

The federal government taxed oil for the first time when it levied a $1 per barrel tax on production from Pennsylvania oilfields. Desperate for revenue to fund the Civil War as early as 1862, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase advocated a $6.30 tax per barrel of oil and $10.50 per barrel on refined products. Angry oil producers rallied against the tax in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and sent delegates to Washington, D.C., where they negotiated a tax of $1 per 42-gallon barrel of oil.

July 1, 1919 – Leading Independent Producers join Mid-Continent Association –

Alf Landon in front of his oil well

Alf Landon served as Kansas governor and was the 1936 Republican presidential candidate.

The two-year-old Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (today’s U.S. Oil & Gas Association) established its Kansas-Oklahoma Division in Tulsa.

Mid-Continent members were a “who’s who” of top independent producers:  Frank Phillips of Phillips Petroleum; E.W. Marland, whose company became Conoco; W.G. Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil; H.H. Champlin, founder of Champlin Oil; and Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential candidate. Robert S. Kerr, co-founder of Kerr-McGee Oil Company was president of the Mid-Continent Division from 1935 through 1941.

July 1, 1922 – Discovery of Smackover Field adds to Arkansas Drilling Boom –

oil drenched roughnecks at Arkansas oil well in 1922

Roughnecks photographed following the July 1, 1922, discovery of the Smackover (Richardson) field in Union County. Photo courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives.

First settled by French fur trappers in 1844, Smackover, Arkansas, had a population of just 90 people in 1922 when a wildcat well erupted oil. The well, drilled to 2,066 feet by sawmill owner Sidney Umsted, discovered the 25,000-acre Smackover field. Within six months, 1,000 wells were drilled with a success rate of 92 percent.

Smackover’s population grew to 25,000 and its uncommon name quickly attained national attention. Nearby less than two years earlier, the first commercial oil well in Arkansas, the Busey-Armstrong No. 1, had revealed the giant El Dorado field and launched the career of a young H.L. Hunt (learn more in First Arkansas Oil Wells).

July 1, 1938 – The Texas Company discovers Illinois Oilfield –

Using a newly introduced technology of seismic exploration, geologists for the Texas Company (later Texaco) found hidden anticlines with commercial quantities of oil in Marion County, Illinois. By January 1939 the Salem field was ranked seventh in U.S. daily production. In just one year the field produced more than 20 million barrels of oil. Natural gas production in Illinois began as early as 1853 when marsh or “drift gas” was produced from two water wells drilled near Champaign. Visit the Illinois Oilfield Museum.

July 2, 1910 – Naval Petroleum Reserves established by Taft –

Commissioned in 1914, the U.S.S. Texas was the last American battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers.

As the Navy converted from coal to oil-burning ships, President William Howard Taft established three Naval Petroleum Reserves. In a message to Congress he explained: “As a prospective large consumer of oil by reason of the increasing use of fuel oil by the Navy, the federal government is directly concerned both in encouraging rational development and at the same time insuring the longest possible life to the oil supply.”

The last U.S. battleship to be built with coal-fired boilers, the U.S.S. Texas, was launched in 1912 and converted to oil-fired boilers in 1926. Learn more in Petroleum and Sea Power. 

July 2, 1913 – First Gas-Electric Hybrid marks Beginning of End of Steam Trains –

petroleum history june

The locomotive “Dan Patch,” considered by many to be the first successful internal combustion engine locomotive in the United States.

While most locomotives were still steam-powered, General Electric built the first commercially successful gasoline engine locomotive in the United States. Two General Motors 175-horsepower V-8s powered two 600-volt, direct current generators to propel the 57-ton locomotive to a top speed of 51 miles per hour. The Electric Line of Minnesota Company purchased the new gas-powered electric hybrid for $34,500 and named it “Dan Patch” in honor of the world’s champion harness horse of the time. By 1930, powerful 600-horsepower diesel engines with G.E. generators would launch modern train travel with “Streamliners.” Learn more in Adding Wings to the Iron Horse.

July 4, 1906 – Louisiana conserves Natural Gas –

Joining the growing number of petroleum producing states, Louisiana enacted conservation measures to prevent waste. Lawmakers passed an act “to protect the natural gas fields of this state.” The conservation law imposed penalties for “failure to cap out of control wells, doing injury to pipe lines, or wastefully burning natural gas from any well into the air.” This measure was a result of lessons learned from the Indiana Natural Gas Boom and from other natural gas producing states.

July 5, 1900 – Edison films Standard Oil Refinery Fire, Bayonne, New Jersey –

Thomas Edison film of New Jersey refinery fire of 1900.

Screenshots from Thomas Edison’s film of destruction of Standard Oil Company’s refinery at Bayonne, New Jersey, on July 5, 1900, courtesy Library of Congress.

An early morning lightning strike at the Standard Oil Company refinery at Bayonne, New Jersey, set off explosions in three storage tanks, each with a capacity of 40,000 barrels of oil. “Within minutes after the fire began, the company siren sounded, bringing its own fire department and tugboats into action,” noted a 2017 article in the Jersey Journal.

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“The tugboats moved the company ships and oil-filled barges away from its burning docks to safe waters,” the journal noted about the fire, which was featured in one of the first newsreels by the Thomas A. Edison Company (view it here). As bad as the Standard Oil refinery fire was, there were no fatalities – unlike a destructive conflagration just days before on the nearby Hoboken waterfront, when flames destroyed the ocean liner S.S. Saale while in port. “In all, 99 passengers and crew died in that horrific blaze.”


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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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