December 1, 1865 – Lady Macbeth arrives at Famous Oil Boom Town – 

Shakespearean tragedienne Miss Eloise Bridges appeared as Lady Macbeth at the Murphy Theater in Pithole, Pennsylvania, America’s first famously notorious oil boom town. A January 1865 oil discovery had launched the drilling frenzy that created Pithole, which within a year had 57 hotels, a daily newspaper and the third busiest post office in Pennsylvania.

Portrait of actress Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Eloise Bridges, circa 1865.

Bridges appeared at Murphy’s Theater, the biggest building in a town of more than 30,000 teamsters, coopers, lease-traders, roughnecks and merchants of all kinds. Three-stories high, the building had 1,100 seats, a 40-foot stage, an orchestra, and chandelier lighting by Tiffany. Bridges was the acclaimed darling of the Pithole stage. Eight months after she departed for new engagements in Ohio, Pithole’s oil ran out; the most famous U.S. boom town collapsed into empty streets and abandoned buildings. Today, visitors walk on the grass streets of the historic ghost town.

Learn more in Oil Boom at Pithole Creek.

December 1, 1901 – Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company organized

With almost 1.5 million acres of Osage Indian Reservation under a 10-year lease expiring in 1906, Henry Foster organized the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company by combining the Phoenix Oil Company and Osage Oil Company. The lease provided the Osage with a 10 percent royalty on oil produced and $50 per year for each natural gas well. Foster subleased drilling to 75 different companies, but only 30 wells were drilled in 1903.

Although debt would drive the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company into receivership, the company emerged thanks to Theodore Barnsdall, who helped Foster complete 361 producing wells by the end of 1904. Barnsdall in 1912 sold his interests to a Cities Service Company subsidiary for $40 million as Foster became known as “the richest man west of the Mississippi” and built the La Quinta Mansion in Bartlesville (now Oklahoma Wesleyan University). Learn more in First Oklahoma Oil Well

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December 1, 1913 – First U.S. Drive-In Service Station opens in Pittsburgh

“Good Gulf Gasoline” was sold when Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first drive-in service station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this purposefully designed pagoda-style brick facility offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation. A manager and four attendants stood nearby. The service station’s lighted marquee provided shelter from bad weather.

Gulf Refining Company first gas service station in 1913.

Gulf Refining Company opened the first service station (above) in 1913 on “automobile row,” Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

“On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. On its first Saturday, Gulf’s new service station pumped 350 gallons of gasoline,” notes the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. “Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.”

When the station was opened in 1913, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the high number of dealerships that were located along the thoroughfare. In addition to gas, the Gulf station provided free air and water – and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States.

The modern gasoline pump can trace its roots to a pump that dispensed kerosene at an Indiana grocery store in the late 1880s. Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

December 1, 1960 – Lucy’s Broadway Oil Musical

Lucille Ball debuted in “Wildcat,” her first and last foray onto Broadway. Critics loved Lucy — but hated the show. She played the penniless “Wildcat Jackson” scrambling to find an oil gusher in a dusty Texas border town, circa 1912.

Stereo album cover of Lucille Ball in Broadway play "Wildcat."

Oil gushers featured on album cover of 1960 Broadway musical “Wildcat.”

“Wildcat went prospecting for Broadway oil but drilled a dry hole,” proclaimed a New York Times critic. Although some audiences appreciated a rare oil patch musical, after 171 performances, the show closed.

December 2, 2001 – Enron Corporation files for Bankruptcy

Enron, once the world’s largest energy-trading company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, beginning one of the largest corporate scandals in U.S. history. The Houston-based company had reached a market value of almost $70 billion before it collapsed, causing thousands of employees to lose their jobs and more than $2 billion in pensions.

Infamous ENRON logo for This Week in Petroleum History

In 2006, former Enron Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay and former Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Skilling were tried in federal district court; the jury convicted both of multiple counts of securities and wire fraud. New accounting regulations resulted from scandal.

December 2, 1970 – President Nixon creates EPA

Eleven months after the 1969 offshore platform oil spill at Santa Barbara, California, President Richard M. Nixon established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Logo of EPA, founded in 1970.

The new agency consolidated “a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.” Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus was named the agency’s first administrator.

According to an EPA history, newly proposed environmental initiatives included improvement of water treatment facilities; creation of national air quality standards; stringent guidelines to lower motor vehicle emissions; a clean-up of federal facilities; tightening of safeguards on the seaborne transportation of oil; and a proposed tax on lead additives in gasoline.

December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography

Following successful tests in the early 1920s, reflection seismic technology was first used to find oil. The Petroleum Corporation drilled a well into the Viola limestone formation near Seminole, Oklahoma.

Illustration of oil search using seismic reflection method.

Seismic reflections help identify geologic formations.

The exploratory well resulted in the world’s first oil discovery in a geological structure that had been identified by reflection survey. Others soon followed as the technology revealed dozens of mid-continent oilfields.

Conducted by Amerada Petroleum subsidiary Geophysical Research, the new exploration method resulted from experiments by an academic team led by Professor John C. Karcher of the University of Oklahoma. Reflection seismography – seismic surveying – applied techniques from weapons research. During World War I, Allied scientists developed portable equipment that used seismic reflections to locate sources of enemy artillery fire. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

December 4, 1928 – Giant Oklahoma City Oilfield discovered

Henry Foster’s Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company and Foster Petroleum Corporation completed the Oklahoma City No. 1 well, discovery well for the Oklahoma City oilfield. Oil exploration companies had searched for decades before this successful well just south of the city limits.

Derricks at the capitol building in the Oklahoma City oilfield.

The Oklahoma City oilfield would bring stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The 6,335-foot-deep wildcat well produced 110,000 barrels of oil in its first 27 days, causing a rush of development that extended the field northward toward the capitol building. Drilling reached the city limits in May 1930, prompting the city council to pass ordinances limiting drilling to the southeast part of the city and allowing only one well per city block. By 1932, with about 870 producing wells completed, the Oklahoma City oilfield’s production peaked at 67 million barrels. “From such a beginning the sprawling Oklahoma City oil and natural gas field will become one of world’s major oil-producing areas,” noted a state historical marker erected in 1980.

Another major oil discovery erupted in 1930 thanks to Oklahoma City’s prolific Wilcox sands. With blowout-preventer technology still evolving, extreme gas pressure at the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well remained uncontrolled for 11 days — making it “the most publicized oil well in world.” See more in the World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.” 

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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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