November 2, 1902 – First Gas-Powered Locomobile delivered – 

Previously known for building steam-powered automobiles, the Locomobile Company of America delivered its first gasoline-powered “Locomobile” to a buyer in New York City. The company had hired Andrew Riker, a self-taught engineer and racecar driver, to create the four-cylinder, 12-horsepower vehicle, which sold for $4,000.

In 1908, Locomobile’s “Old 16,” a four-cylinder, 16-liter, two-seater, won the Vanderbilt Cup race on the Long Island Motor Parkway, one of the first modern paved parkways. “The Locomobile Company reigned supreme in the niche category of luxury American cars for decades, bolstered by celebrity owners (like the President of the United States) and highly publicized racecar victories like the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup — the first international racing victory using an American-made car,” notes Today in Connecticut History.

November 3, 1878 – Haymaker Natural Gas Well lights Pittsburgh

While drilling for oil in 1878, a well drilled by Michael and Obediah Haymaker erupted with natural gas from a depth of almost 1,400 feet. “Every piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind. But instead of oil, we had struck gas,” Michael Haymaker later recalled. Eighteen miles east of Pittsburgh, the out-of-control well in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, produced an estimated 34 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. It was considered the largest natural gas well ever drilled up to that time.

Harper’s Weekly 1885 illustration of burning natural gas well tourist attration,

“A sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly in 1885.

Given oilfield technologies of the late 1880s, there was no way to cap the well and no pipeline to exploit commercial possibilities. The Haymaker well drew thousands of curious onlookers to a flaming torch that burned for 18 months and was visible miles away.

“Outlet of a natural gas well near Pittsburgh – a sight that can be seen in no other city in the world,” noted Harper’s Weekly. When finally brought under control, the Haymaker well provided inexpensive gas light to Pittsburgh for many years. Learn more in Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.

November 3, 1900 – New York City hosts First U.S. Auto Show

America’s first gathering of the latest automotive technologies attracted thousands to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Manufacturers presented 160 different vehicles and conducted driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide wooden track that encircled the exhibits.

First U.S. auto ad, the Winton Motor Carriage of 1898.

The Winton Motor Carriage of 1898 was the first American automobile advertisement.

Almost 50,000 visitors paid 50 cents each to witness autos driving up a 200-foot ramp to test hill-climbing power. The most popular models proved to be electric, steam, and gasoline…in that order. New Yorkers welcomed the new models as a way to reduce the 450,000 tons of manure and 15,000 horse carcasses that had to be removed from city streets every year.

Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in 1900, less than a thousand were powered by gasoline. But within five years, consumer preference established the dominance of gasoline-powered autos. Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show and First Gas Pump and Service Station.

November 6, 1860 – First Multi-Still Oil Refinery started in Pennsylvania

As the Civil War neared, construction began on America’s first multiple-still oil refinery one mile south of Titusville, Pennsylvania. William Barnsdall, who drilled America’s second commercial oil well, would build six stills for refining kerosene. His $15,000 oil refinery used equipment purchased in Pittsburgh and shipped up the Allegheny River to Oil City, then up Oil Creek to the site near oilfields. With construction finished in January 1861, the refinery produced two grades of kerosene for lamps – white and the less expensive yellow. Each barrel of oil yielded about 20 gallons of the kerosene.

November 8, 1880 – Death of Edwin L. Drake, Father of U.S. Petroleum Industry

Edwin Laurentine Drake, the former railroad conductor who drilled America’s first commercial oil well, died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the age of 61. Drake drilled just three wells – but his first – which produced oil  on August 27, 1859 – launched the U.S. petroleum industry.

Grave of Edwin Drake with bronze statue in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

A monument to Edwin Drake with a bronze statue, “The Driller,” was dedicated in 1901, in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It was refurbished after the 2009 sesquicentennial of his historic well. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Although his discovery brought prosperity to many, by 1863 Drake had lost all his money in speculative ventures. A decade later he was so ill and destitute the Pennsylvania legislature voted him a $1,500 pension in recognition of his historic contribution.

After America’s first independent oil producer died in 1880 in relative obscurity, Standard Oil executive Henry Rogers anonymously commissioned a monument for Drake (Rogers also was the financial savior of Mark Twain). Drake was re-interred in 1902 in Woodlawn Cemetery at Titusville. It was long overdue recognition in the valley where he launched the U.S. oil industry (see Edwin Drake and his Oil Well).

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November 8, 1928 – Oil Discovery near Hobbs reveals Permian Basin in New Mexico

Six years after the first New Mexico oil wells, a giant oilfield was revealed in a flat, remote region of Lea County at the southeast corner of the state. Midwest Refining Company (the future Amoco) made a major Permian Basin oil discovery near Hobbs while searching for a northern trend of the Scarborough field, which had launched a 1927 drilling boom in Winkler County, Texas.

A cable-tool rig erected in 1952 by the American Petroleum Institute in Hobbs, N.M.

The 1928 Hobbs oilfield discovery well was commemorated with a cable-tool rig erected in 1952 by the American Petroleum Institute.

At 4,220 feet deep, “having penetrated all the oil-bearing beds, and Midwest’s State No. 1, the discovery well of the future Hobbs oil pool, was completed, producing 700 barrels of oil per day on state land,” noted Gil Hinshaw in his 1976 book, Lea County’s Last Frontier. A January 1930 well drilled by Humble Oil Company (the future Exxon) three miles northwest of Hobbs would initially produce 9,500 barrels of oil a day.

Today, the “Biggest Little Museum in the West,” the Lea County Museum in Lovington, New Mexico, features petroleum history exhibits and equipment, including a 1946 Aeronca Champ airplane, a type of aircraft used in the industry to check pipelines.

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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 © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

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