March 29, 1819 – Birthday of Father of the Petroleum Industry – 

Edwin Laurentine Drake was born in Greenville, New York. Forty years later, he used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to drill the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania. The former railroad conductor overcame many financial and technical obstacles to make “Drake’s Folly” a milestone in energy history.

Drake pioneered new drilling technologies, including using iron casing to isolate his well from nearby Oil Creek. “In order to overcome the hurdles before him, he invented a ‘drive pipe’ or ‘conductor,’ an invention he unfortunately did not patent,” noted historian Urja Davé in 2008. “Mr. Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill.”

Portrait of Edwin L. Drake, who drilled first U.S. oil well in 1859.

Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880) invented a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of America’s first oil well. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

Determined to find oil for refining into the popular lamp fuel kerosene, Drake created the American petroleum industry on August 27, 1859, at a depth of 69.5 feet. Visit the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

March 29, 1938 – Magnolia Oilfield Discovery in Arkansas

A well drilled by Kerlyn Oil Company (predecessor to the Kerr-McGee company) revealed the 100-million-barrel Magnolia oilfield in Arkansas, adding to 1920s giant oilfield discoveries at El Dorado and Smackover. “Wildcat Strike In Southern Arkansas is Sensation of the Oil Country” proclaimed the local newspaper.

Drilling the Barnett No. 1 well had been suspended by a lack of funds for drilling deeper, but Kerlyn Oil Company Vice President Dean McGee persevered. An experienced geologist, McGee was rewarded with the giant oilfield discovery at a depth of 7,650 feet. He would later lead efforts in early offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. 

March 30, 1980 – Deadly North Sea Gale

Massive waves during a North Sea gale capsized a floating apartment for Phillips Petroleum Company workers, killing 123 people. The Alexander Kielland platform, 235 miles east of Dundee, Scotland, housed 208 men who worked on a nearby rig in the Ekofisk field. Most of the Phillips workers were from Norway. The platform, converted from a semi-submersible drilling rig, served as overflow accommodation for the Phillips production platform 300 yards away.

April 1, 1911 – First Well of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas”

South of the Red River border with Oklahoma, near Electra, Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well launched an oil boom that would last decades. “As news of the gusher spread through town, people thought it was an April Fools joke and didn’t take it seriously until they saw for themselves the plume of black oil spewing high into the sky,” a local historian noted.

petroleum history April 1 Electra, Texas, oil pump

Electra was named after the daughter of local rancher W.T. Waggoner, who had once complained about finding oil when drilling water wells for his cattle. Photo by Bruce Wells

The well on cattleman William Waggoner’s lease settled into production of 650 barrels per day from about 1,600 feet deep. Hundreds of producing wells followed, leading to the Electra oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913. Oil fever would return to North Texas in 1917 when “Roaring Ranger” erupted in neighboring Eastland County. A third major discovery arrived with the Burkburnett oil boom in 1918.

Thanks to a campaign by community activists, in 2001 Texas legislators designated Electra the Pump Jack Capital of Texas. The 2,800 residents today host an annual festival celebrating their petroleum heritage.

April 1, 1986 – Crude Oil Price Collapse

World oil prices fell below $10 a barrel. Causes included excessive OPEC production, worldwide recession, and a U.S. petroleum industry regulated by production and price controls. “Saudi Arabia, tiring of cutting output to support prices, flooded the market,” Bloomberg News later explained. Oil prices recovered by 1990 and set a record peak of $145 per barrel in July 2008, before another price drop below $32 by the end of that year.

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April 2, 1978 – First Episode of “Dallas” airs on CBS

Marketed as a prime-time soap opera, “Dallas” debuted on the CBS network. The show featured the Ewing family and the independent oil company, Ewing Oil. The U.S. petroleum industry’s image would suffer for 14 seasons as J.R.’s shady business schemes and “unapologetic commitment to self-interest” attracted loyal viewers, noted a 1990 New York Times article. The 1980 cliffhanger “Who shot J.R.?” led to the highest-rated television episode in U.S. history at the time, watched by 83 million people.

April 2, 1980 – President Carter signs Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax

One year after lifting price controls on oil, President Jimmy Carter signed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax (WPT) into law. It would be repealed eight years later. The controversial WPT imposed an excise tax on oil production. “From 1980 to 1988, the nation levied a special tax on domestic oil production,” explained historian Joseph Thorndike. Policymakers “imposed an excise levy on domestic oil production, taxing the difference between the market price of oil and a predetermined base price.”

President Jimmy Carter signing Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax in 1980.

President Jimmy Carter signed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax in 1980. It was repealed in eight years later.

The base price was derived from 1979 oil prices and required annual adjustments for inflation. A remnant of President Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls of 1971, WPT was meant to limit jumps in oil prices. But after eight years of the tax, domestic oil production fell to its lowest level in 20 years as dependence on imported oil increased, according to the Congressional Research Service. The depressed state of the U.S. oil industry after 1986 also compelled Congress to repeal the tax in 1988.

April 4, 1951 – First North Dakota Oil Well taps Williston Basin

After eight months of difficult drilling and severe snowstorms, Amerada Petroleum discovered oil in North Dakota, revealing the Williston Basin two miles beneath the farm of Clarence Iverson near Tioga. About 30 million acres were under lease within two months of the discovery as petroleum companies rushed to the region. The giant basin would prove to extend into Montana, South Dakota and Canada.

A monument for the 1951 wildcat well drilled in a North Dakota that revealed the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin.

A 1951 wildcat well drilled in a North Dakota wheat field revealed the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin.

According to historian James Key, the well had reached 10,500 feet deep in March 1951 before a severe blizzard ended operations. After resuming drilling on April 4, the well was perforated from 11,630 feet to 11,640 feet (using shaped charges, four holes per foot). Later that evening, “a new industry was born in North Dakota,” Key reported. “This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II.”

Learn more in First North Dakota Oil Well.

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Recommended Reading: Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009); Texas Oil and Gas, Postcard History (2013); Early Louisiana and Arkansas Oil: A Photographic History, 1901-1946 (1982); Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap (2005); The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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.

 

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