May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield discovered in Northwestern Ohio

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began when Benjamin C. Faurot – drilling for natural gas – found oil instead in the Trenton Rock Limestone formation at a depth of 1,252 feet. “The oil find has caused much excitement and those who are working at the well have been compelled to build a high fence around it to keep curiosity seekers from bothering them,” Lima’s Daily Republican newspaper reported the next day. “If the well turns out, as it looks now that it will, look out for the biggest boom Lima ever had.”

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A circa 1909 post card promoting the petroleum prosperity of Lima, Ohio.

Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company, and by 1886, Lima was the most productive oilfield in America after producing more than 20 million barrels of oil. By the following year it was the largest in the world. After developing a new method for refining the heavy Lima oil, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey began construction on its Whiting refinery in 1889.

“In May of 1885, Lima was a bustling community of some 8,000 people with a new courthouse and, thanks to leading businessman Benjamin C. Faurot, an opera house. It claimed a soon-to-be-electrified city street car system, railroad connections in all directions and a handful of newspapers,” noted a 2019 article in the Lima News. Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Learn more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.

In 2006, the Allen County Historical Society placed an Ohio historical marker near Faurot’s discovery well site at the North Street crossing of the Ottawa River in Lima.

May 19, 1942 – Oklahoma Inventor patents Portable Drilling Rig

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George Failing’s drilling rig – powered by its truck’s engine – will prove ideal for slanted wells.

A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George E. Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, received a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed. “I designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing noted in his patent for a design he first built in 1931.

“In 1931 he mounted an existing rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” noted Kathy Dickson of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Failing would receive more than 300 patents for oilfield tools, “from rock bit cores to an apparatus for seismic surveying.”

Failing’s portable rig could drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional steam-powered rotary rig took about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth. He demonstrated his portable drilling technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, working with H. John Eastman, today considered the father of directional drilling (see Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”) 

Failing’s efficient rig also has helped millions of people in developing countries by drilling water wells. Today the Enid-based GEFCO (George E. Failing Company) still manufactures portable drilling rigs.

The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid displays a Failing rig.

May 20, 1930 – Geophysicists found Professional Society

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The Doodlebugger by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia has welcomed visitors to SEG headquarters since 2002.

The Society of Economic Geophysicists was founded in Houston. The society adopted the name Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 1937 and today fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”

SEG’s journal Geophysics appeared in 1936 with articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The journal once warned young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.

The Doodlebugger, a 10-foot bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia, was unveiled in SEG’s Tulsa headquarters in 2002. O’Melia also sculpted the “Oil Patch Warrior,” a World War II memorial dedicated in 1991 in the United Kingdom (see Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest). SEG today has 14,000 members in 114 countries.

May 21, 1923 – “Esso” first used by Standard Oil Company

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Exxon replaced the U.S. Esso brand in 1973.

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey first used “Esso” to market the company’s “Refined, Semi-refined, and Unrefined Oils Made from Petroleum, Both With and Without Admixture of Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral Oils, for Illuminating, Burning, Power, Fuel, and Lubricating Purposes, and Greases.” The phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” – Standard Oil – became a registered trademarked in 1923, and a young Theodore Geisell began drawing Essolube product ads in the 1930s. Learn more in Seuss I am, an Oilman.

May 23, 1905 – Patent issued for Improved Metal Barrel

Henry Wehrhahn of Brooklyn, NY, patented a ribbed metal barrel design “durable in construction and effective in operation.” His invention, which presaged the modern 55-gallon oil drum, allowed a lid to be “readily secured to and detached from the body of the barrel, and so constructed and arranged as to protect the locking mechanism of the head and permit the barrel when desired to stand on the end.” Wehrhahn assigned his patent to Iron Clad Manufacturing Company, founded by Robert Seaman, husband of journalist Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (see the Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum).

May 23, 1937 – Oil Tycoon John D. Rockefeller Dies

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Rockefeller at age 87. Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University.

Almost 70 years after founding the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio, (where he attended high school from 1853 to 1855), John D. Rockefeller died at age 97 in Florida, 40 years after retiring from his company.

Born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, Rockefeller formed his own company in 1859 – the same year of the first American oil well. In 1865, he took control of his first refinery, which would be the largest in the world within three years. 

Rockefeller gave away hundreds of millions of dollars by the time his fortune peaked at almost $900 million in 1912 ($21.3 billion in today’s dollars).

May 24, 1902 – Earliest Oil & Gas Journal published

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Norman Rockwell illustrated a 1962 ad promoting the Oil and Gas Journal.

Holland Reavis founded the Oil Investors’ Journal In Beaumont, Texas. Early articles focused on financial issues facing operators and investors in the booming oilfield discovered the year before by the “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill.

In 1910, Patrick Boyle acquired the Oil Investors’ Journal. The former oilfield scout and publisher of the Oil City (Pennsylvania) Derrick newspaper renamed his newly purchased magazine the Oil & Gas Journal. Boyle also increased its publication frequency to weekly, and expanded coverage to all petroleum industry operations, including exploration and production records. The Tulsa-based PennWell Corporation today publishes the Oil & Gas Journal.

The Derrick newspaper continues to be printed in Oil City, where it has been published by the Boyle family since 1885.

May 24, 1920 – Huntington Beach Oilfield discovered in California

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Pictured here in 1926, the Huntington Beach field will produce more than one billion barrels of oil by 2000. Discovery Well Park today includes six acres with playgrounds. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

The Huntington Beach oilfield was discovered in California by the Standard Oil Company. The beach town’s population grew from 1,500 to 5,000 within a month of the well drilled near Clay Avenue and Golden West Street.

By November 1921 the field had 59 producing wells with daily production of 16,500 barrels of oil. Development activities – and speculators – drew national attention to this expansion of the Los Angeles oilfield. “The unscrupulous promotion of stock selling enterprises, without the necessary acreage or working capital to insure a reasonable return on investments, caused the withdrawal of considerable public support from the normally necessary function of wildcat drilling,” noted a 1922 report from the California State Mining Bureau.

Huntington Beach produced more than 16 million barrels of oil in 1964, according to the Orange County Register. “But as oil production peaked, the pressure of explosive population growth began pushing the wells off land that had become more valuable as sites for housing.”


Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. 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. Contact © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.


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