June 1, 1860 – First Book about Oil published –

Less than 10 months after Edwin L. Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well at Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, an 80-page pamphlet was published that some historians regard as the first book about America’s petroleum resources.

The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere by Thomas A. Gale described the advantages of Drake’s radical new fuel source for kerosene lamps.

Cover of Rock Oil, the first oil book

“Those who have not seen it burn, may rest assured its light is no moonshine; but something nearer the clear, strong, brilliant light of day,” Gale declared in his pamphlet, which sold for 25 cents. Only three copies were known to exist in 1952, when it republished by Ethyl Corporation of New York.

Learn more in First Oil Book of 1860.

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June 1, 1940 – Dallas Artist depicts Life in Texas Oilfields

oil paintings of Texas oilfields by Jerry Bywaters

Jerry Bywaters painted both the Oil Field Girls and the Oil Rig Workers in 1940.

Artist Jerry Bywaters of Paris, Texas, exhibited his newly completed Oil Field Girls in the Fine Arts Palace of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. The 1940 painting of two young women in a West Texas oilfield would become one of his best known works. Today, it is in the collection of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas. Learn more in Oil in Art.

June 1, 1909 – Howard Hughes Sr. Secretly tests Dual-Cone Drill Bit

At a drill site at Goose Creek, south of Houston, Howard Hughes Sr. tested the dual-cone roller rock bit that would make traditional rotary fishtail bits obsolete. Hughes and business partner Walter B. Sharp soon dominated the oilfield service industry by bringing faster and deeper drilling worldwide. Their roller bit’s teeth (166 on each cone) could grind through hard stone, helping to find previously unreachable reserves. Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology and Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.

June 3, 1979 – Bay of Campeche Oil Spill

Drilling in about 150 of water, the semi-submersible rig Sedco 135 suffered a devastating blowout 50 miles off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. State-owned company Pemex succeeded in reducing the flow to about 20,000 barrels of oil a day, but the well spilled 3.4 million barrels of oil before being brought under control nine months later. Considering the size of the spill, its environmental impact was surprisingly limited, according to a 1981 report by the Coordinated Program of Ecological Studies in the Bay of Campeche. “Nature played the biggest role in attacking the slicks as they floated across the Gulf. Ultraviolet light broke down the oil as it crept toward land. So did oil-eating microorganisms. Hot temperatures spurred evaporation.”

June 4, 1872 – Robert Chesebrough invents Petroleum Jelly

A young chemist living in New York City, Robert Chesebrough, patented “a new and useful product from petroleum,” which he named “Vaseline.” His patent proclaimed the virtues of this purified extract of petroleum distillation residue as a lubricant, hair treatment, and balm for chapped hands.

Antique jar of Vaseline

Robert Chesebrough himself consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96 years old. Phot o courtesy Drake Well Museum, which includes a collection of Vaselines many products.

Earlier, when the 22-year-old chemist visited the new Pennsylvania oilfields in 1865, he had noted that drilling was often confounded by a waxy paraffin-like substance that clogged the wellhead. The only virtue of this “rod wax” was as a quick first aid for the abrasions of drilling crews. Chesebrough returned to New York City, where he began working in his laboratory to purify the oil well goop, which he first dubbed “petroleum jelly.”

Female customers soon found that mixing lamp black with Vaseline made an impromptu mascara. In 1913, Miss Mabel Williams employed just such a concoction; it would lead to the start of a major cosmetic company. Learn more in A Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

June 4, 1892 – Flood and Fire devastates Pennsylvania Oil Region

Photo of great fire and flood of Titsville, PA

Titusville, Pennsylvania, residents used the “Colonel Drake Steam Pumper” during the great flood and fire of 1892. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

After weeks of heavy rain in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek Valley, a dam on Oil Creek burst, sending torrents of water that killed more than 100 people and destroyed homes and businesses in Titusville and Oil City. The disaster was compounded when fires broke out. “This city during the past twenty-four hours has been visited by one of the most appalling fires and overwhelming floods in the history of this country,” reported the New York Times. Oilfield photographer John Mather, whose studio and 16,000 glass-plate negatives were destroyed, documented the devastation.

June 4, 1896 – Henry Ford test drives his First “Quadricycle”

Driving the first car he ever built, Henry Ford left a workshop behind his home on Bagley Avenue in Detroit. He had designed his 500-pound “Quadricycle” in his spare time while working as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company. He chose the name because his hand-built “horseless carriage” ran on four bicycle tires. Inspired by advancements in gasoline-fueled engines, he founded the Henry Ford Company in 1903. Also see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

June 4, 1921 – First petroleum seismograph tested

On a farm three miles north of Oklahoma City, a team of scientists tested a seismograph machine and determined it could reveal subsurface structures. Led by Prof. John C. Karcher and W.P. Haseman, the group from the University of Oklahoma proved that reflection seismology could be a useful aid for oil and natural gas exploration. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

June 6, 1932 – First Federal Gasoline Tax

The United States government taxed gasoline for the first time when the Revenue Act of 1932 added a one-cent per gallon excise tax to gas sales. By 1993, the tax was raised to $18.4 cents, where it remains today. About 60 percent of federal gas taxes are used for highway and bridge construction. The first state to tax gasoline was Oregon (one cent per gallon in February 1919), followed by Colorado, New Mexico and other states.

June 6, 1944 – Secret English Channel Operations fuel WWII Victory

petroleum history june 6

Operation PLUTO’s spooled tubing will cross the English Channel to fuel Allied victory in WWII.

The D-Day invasion began along 50 miles of fortified French coastline in Normandy. The logistics of supplying the beaches included two top-secret engineering triumphs: construction of artificial harbors followed by the laying pipelines across the English Channel.

Code-named “Mulberrys” and using a design similar to today’s jack-up offshore rigs, the artificial harbors used barges with retractable pylons to provide platforms to support floating causeways extending to the beaches.

To fuel the Allied advance into Nazi Germany, Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) used flexible steel pipelines wound onto giant floating “Conundrums” designed to spool off when towed. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower later acknowledged the significance of the oil pipelines engineering feat. Learn more in PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II.

June 6, 1976 – Oklahoma Oil Billionaire J. Paul Getty dies

petroleum history february

The J. Paul Getty Museum art collection is displayed in California’s Getty Center (above) and in the Getty Villa on the Malibu coast.

With a fortune as high as $4 billion, J. Paul Getty died at 83 at his country estate near London. Born into his father’s oil wealth from the Oil Company of Tulsa, Getty made his first million in oil leasing by the time he was 23.

“I started in September 1914, to buy leases in the so-called red-beds area of Oklahoma,” Getty told the New York Times. “The surface was red dirt and it was considered impossible there was any oil there. My father and I did not agree and we got many leases for very little money which later turned out to be rich leases.”

After World War II and contrary to conventional wisdom, Getty bought oil rights in Saudi Arabia and soon became the richest man in the world. He established the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and left over $661 million of his estate to the museum.


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 about participating, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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