March 16, 1911 – Pegasus Trademark takes flight –
A Vacuum Oil Company subsidiary in Cape Town, South Africa, trademarked a flying horse logo inspired by Pegasus of Greek mythology. Based in Rochester, New York, Vacuum Oil had built a successful lubricants business long before gasoline was a branded product. When Vacuum Oil and Standard Oil of New York combined in 1931, the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company adopted the red-winged horse trademark and marketed Pegasus Spirits and Mobilegas products.
A stylized red gargoyle earlier had advertised the company, which produced petroleum-based lubricants for carriages and steam engines. Created by the Vacuum Oil Company of South Africa, the Pegasus trademark proved to be a far more enduring image. Learn more in Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.
March 16, 1914 – “Main Street” Oil Well completed
A well completed in 1914 produced oil from about 1,770 feet beneath Barnsdall, Oklahoma. The popular TV program Ripley’s Believe It or Not would proclaim the well the “World’s Only Main Street Oil Well.”
The Osage County town, originally called Bigheart for Osage Chief James Bigheart, was renamed in 1922 for Theodore Barnsdall, owner of the Barnsdall Refining Company, which today is a wax refinery owned by Baker Hughes, a GE Company. The Main Street well site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
March 17, 1890 – Natural Gas Company founds Sun Oil
The Peoples Natural Gas Company, founded four years earlier by Joseph Pew and Edward Emerson to provide natural gas to Pittsburgh, expanded to become the Sun Oil Company of Ohio.
At the turn of the century, the company had acquired promising leases near Findlay and entered the business of “producing petroleum, rock and carbon oil, transporting and storing same, refining, purifying, manufacturing such oil and its various products.” In the 1920s, the company marketed Sunoco Motor Oil and opened service stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company became an oilfield equipment supplier in 1929, forming Sperry-Sun. Also see Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.
March 17, 1923 – Oklahoma Discovery leads to Giant Oilfields
The Betsy Foster No. 1 well, a 2,800-barrel-a-day oil gusher near Wewoka, county seat of Seminole County, Oklahoma, launched the Seminole area boom. The discovery south of Oklahoma City was followed by others in Cromwell and Bethel (1924), and Earlsboro and Seminole (1926). Thirty-nine separate oilfields were ultimately found around Seminole and parts of Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Hughes, and Pontotoc counties. Once one of the poorest economic regions in Oklahoma, by 1935 the Seminole area became the largest supplier of oil in the world.
March 17, 1949 – First Commercial Application of Hydraulic Fracturing
A team from Halliburton and Stanolind companies converged on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma, and performed the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.
A 1947 experimental well had fractured a natural gas field in Hugoton, Kansas, and proven the possibility of increased productivity. The technique was developed and patented by Stanolind (later known as Pan American Oil Company) and an exclusive license was issued to Halliburton Company to perform the process. Four years later, the license was extended to all qualified oilfield service companies.
“Since that fateful day in 1949, hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase recoverable reserves than any other technique,” proclaimed a Halliburton company spokesman in 2009, adding that more than two million fracturing treatments have been pumped without polluting an aquifer. Erle Halliburton had patented an efficient well cementing technology in 1921 that improved oil production while protecting the environment. The earliest attempts to increase petroleum production by fracturing geologic formations began in the 1860s. Learn more in Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History.
March 17, 1949 – Texas Wildcatter opens Houston’s Shamrock Hotel
Texas independent producer Diamond Glenn” McCarthy hosted the grand opening of his $21 million, 18-story, 1,100-room Shamrock Hotel on outskirts of Houston. McCarthy reportedly spent another $1 million for the hotel’s St. Patrick’s Day opening day gala, including arranging for a 16-car Santa Fe Super Chief train to bring friends from Hollywood.
The Texas wildcatter, who had discovered 11 oilfields by 1945, also introduced his own label of bourbon at Shamrock, the largest hotel in the United States at the time. Dubbed Houston’s biggest party, the Shamrock’s debut “made the city of Houston a star overnight,” one newspaper reported. Learn more in “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy.
March 18, 1937 – New London School Explosion Tragedy
With just minutes left in the school day, a natural gas explosion destroyed the New London High School in Rusk County, Texas. Odorless gas (a residual natural gas called casing-head gas) had leaked into the basement and ignited with an explosion heard four miles away. East Texas oilfield workers — many with children attending the school — rushed to the scene, as did a cub reporter from Dallas, Walter Cronkite.
Despite desperate rescue efforts, 298 people were killed that day (dozens more later died of injuries). The explosion’s source was later found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked odorless gas that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. As a result of this disaster, Texas and other states passed laws requiring that natural gas be mixed with a malodorant to give early warning of a gas leak. Learn more about the tragedy in New London School Explosion.
March 18, 1938 — First Offshore Well drilled in Gulf of Mexico’s Creole field
Oil production from a well drilled by Pure Oil Company and Superior Oil Company in the Gulf of Mexico marked the beginning of the modern offshore industry. Louisiana’s Creole oilfield in offshore Cameron Parish southwest of the town of Creole, was the first discovered in the “open waters” of the Gulf, according to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Many more offshore wells followed World War II, including a Kerr-McGee drilling platform, the Kermac Rig No. 16, which in 1947 became the first offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico that was out of sight of land. By the end of 1949, the offshore petroleum industry had discovered 11 oil and natural gas fields. The first mobile offshore drilling platform, “Mr. Charlie,” began drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in 1954 (see articles in Offshore Oil History).
March 20, 1919 – American Petroleum Institute founded
Tracing its roots to World War I when the petroleum industry and Congress worked together to fuel the war effort, the American Petroleum Institute (API) was founded in New York City. By 1921, the organization had established a scale to measure a petroleum liquid’s density relative to water, called API gravity. Today based in Washington, D.C., the organization represents the interests of large oil and natural gas companies. API maintains standards and recommended practices while lobbying for the industry.
March 21, 1881 – Earth Scientist becomes USGS Director
President James Garfield appointed John Wesley Powell director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Powell was among the pioneers who laid the foundation for modern earth science research, according to the American Geological Institute (AGI). He led USGS for more than a decade.
Born in 1834 at Mount Morris, New York, Powell was a Union officer during the Civil War, where he lost an arm at the Battle of Shiloh. After the war, he became a highly respected geologist and organized early surveys in the West before helping to establish USGS in 1879.
Powell championed national mapping standards and a geodetic system still in use today. “A Government cannot do any scientific work of more value to the people at large than by causing the construction of proper topographic maps of the country,” he told Congress in 1884.
Recommended Reading: A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field (1981); The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy (2016); A Texas Tragedy: The New London School Explosion (2012); Oil Boom Architecture: Titusville, Pithole, and Petroleum Center, Images of America (2008); The Powell Expedition: New Discoveries about John Wesley Powell’s 1869 River Journey (2017).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.