November 23, 1951 – Superman and the World’s Deepest Oil Well – 

Public fear of the risk of drilling wells too deep highlighted the theatrical release of Superman’s first feature length movie, “Superman and the Mole Men.” The 1951 plot unfolded in the fictional town of Silsbey, “Home of the World’s Deepest Oil Well” after an experimental well’s drill bit had “broken into clear air” at a depth of of 32,742 feet.

Superman and the Mole Men poster with oil well.

Mole men emerge from an experimental oil well drilled more than miles deep.

“Good heavens, that’s practically to the center of the earth!” exclaimed Lois Lane (in fact, the deepest U.S. well in 1951 reached just 20,521 feet). When mole-men emerged from the well,  townspeople feared an invasion, but Superman calmed the mob. At the end of the movie, the well ignited in flames, forever closing the connection between the two worlds.

Learn about a real six-mile-deep well in Anadarko Basin in Depth.

November 23, 1947 – World’s First LPG Ship

first U.S. seagoing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) ship.

The first vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks.

The first U.S. seagoing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) ship went into service as Warren Petroleum Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, sent the Natalie O. Warren from the Houston Ship Channel to Newark, New Jersey. The vessel had an LPG capacity of 38,053 barrels in 68 vertical pressure tanks.

The one-of-a-kind ship was the former Cape Diamond dry-cargo freighter, converted by the Bethlehem Steelyard in Beaumont, Texas. The experimental design would lead to new maritime construction standards for such vessels. Warren Petroleum was the largest producer and marketer of natural gasoline and propane in the world by the early 1950s, according to an exhibit at the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Modern LPG tankers carry almost 20 times the capacity of the company’s historic vessel.

November 25, 1875 – Continental Oil brings Kerosene to the West

Convinced that he could profit by purchasing bulk kerosene in cheaper eastern markets, Isaac Blake formed the Continental Oil and Transportation Company. He soon transported Ohio kerosene to Ogden, Utah, for distribution.

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Conoco began in 1875 as Continental Oil, delivering kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah.

Continental purchased two railroad tank cars – the first to be used west of the Mississippi River — and began shipping kerosene from a Cleveland refinery. The company grew, expanding into Colorado in 1876 and California in 1877. Standard Oil Company absorbed Continental Oil in 1885. Following the 1911 breakup of Standard, Continental Oil reemerged as Conoco; it became ConocoPhillips in 2002.

Learn more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

November 27, 1940 – Art Museum features Painting of Mobilgas Station

Service stations had become part of America’s popular culture when Edward Hopper’s painting “Gas” was first exhibited by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Art critics praised Hopper’s work and suggested the painting with its Pegasus sign anticipated the modern Pop Art movement by more than a decade.

Edward Hopper oil on canvas painting "Gas."

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) oil on canvas painting “Gas” of 1940. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

According to Hopper’s wife, the image of a Mobilgas station at the end of a highway was an amalgamation of several gas stations near their home in Truro, Massachusetts. The painting today is in the Museum of Modern Art.

November 27, 1941 – “Oil Queen of California” dies

Mrs. Emma Summers, once known as the “Oil Queen of California” died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles. Forty years earlier, the San Francisco Call newspaper described Mrs. Summers as “A woman with a genius for affairs — it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”

California Oil Queens featured in newspaper in early 1900s.

Newspapers featured Emma Summers as she succeeded in the fiercely competitive Los Angeles oilfields of the early 1900s.

Summers graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles in 1893 to teach piano – but soon caught oil fever. With her home not far from where Edward Doheny had discovered the Los Angeles City field just a year before, Summers invested $700 for half interest in a well just a few blocks from Doheny’s. Summers’ first 14 wells produced oil — helping launch her dominance in the Los Angeles City oilfield.

Learn more about this remarkable woman in Oil Queen of California.

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November 28, 1892 – First Kansas Oil Well

While drilling for natural gas, William Mills found small amounts of oil in eastern Kansas. He took a sample from his Norman No. 1 well and visited more experienced oil drillers in Pennsylvania. Impressed, they convinced him to “shoot” the well at Neodesha with 30 quarts of nitroglycerine.

Rare photo of 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas.

A rare photograph of the 1897 Standard Oil refinery in Neodesha, Kansas, the first to process oil from the Mid-Continent field. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

The Kansas discovery well would later be called the first oil commercial discovery west of the Mississippi River. “It proved that Neodesha had the riches of oil and gas in their back yard,” explains Neodesha’s oil museum. Just 832 feet deep, the well uncovered the vast Mid-Continent producing region, which eventually included five states. Abandoned in 1919, the discovery well was neglected until 1961, when a replica 67-foot wooden derrick was erected on the site as a memorial.

Learn more in First Kansas Oil Well.

November 27, 1923 – Standard Oil registers “Esso” Trademark

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey registered the “Esso” trademark, which had been in use since May 1923 for refined, semi-refined, and unrefined petroleum products. The name was a phonetic spelling of the abbreviation “S.O.” for Standard Oil. A young Theodore Geisell created many Essolube ads beginning in the 1930s (see Seuss I am, an Oilman). When Standard Oil renamed itself Exxon in 1973, the company adopted the Exxon trademark nationwide. The Esso name, acquired by BP through various mergers, has remained in use in other countries.

November 28, 1895 – Inventor wins First American Auto Race

Six of America’s first “motor cars” left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back through the snow. Inventor J. Frank Duryea received $2,000 for winning the first U.S. auto race. His No. 5 automobile took just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 mph.

J. Frank Duryea in his gas-powered automobile.

J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles invented America’s first gas-powered automobile. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, also awarded $500 to a racing enthusiast who named the horseless vehicles “motocycles.” The newspaper added: “Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.”

Learn more in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

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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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