October 5, 1915 – Science of Petroleum Geology reveals Oilfield – 

Using the careful study of geology for finding oil led to discovery of a major Mid-Continent field. Drilled by Wichita Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Cities Service Company, the well revealed the 34-square-mile El Dorado oilfield in central Kansas.

“Pioneers named El Dorado, Kansas, in 1857 for the beauty of the site and the promise of future riches but not until 58 years later was black rather than mythical yellow gold discovered when the Stapleton No. 1 oil well came in on October 5, 1915,” explains Kansas geologist Lawrence Skelton.

Pump Jack and plaque of

The Stapleton No. 1 well discovered the El Dorado, Kansas, oilfield, which became one of the largest producing fields in the world. By 1919, Butler County had more than 1,800 producing oil wells. Photos by Bruce Wells.

The Stapleton No. 1 well produced 95 barrels of oil a day from 600 feet before being deepened to 2,500 feet to produce 110 barrels of oil a day from the Wilcox sands. Other wells soon joined the Kansas oil boom east of Wichita. Natural gas discoveries a year earlier in nearby Augusta had prompted El Dorado civic leaders to seek their own geological study.

 Volunteers at Kansas Oil Museum demonstrate antique spudder.

The Stapleton No. 1 well and the Kansas Oil Museum preserve a 1915 oil discovery.

Oil companies led by William Skelly, Archibald Derby, and John Vickers soon established El Dorado as a center for refining. Exhibits at the Kansas Oil Museum explain how lessons from the El Dorado oilfield helped start a new scientific specialist, the petroleum geologist (also see Rocky Beginnings of Petroleum Geology).

October 5, 1958 – Monahans Water Park opens in West Texas

A water park inside a decades-old experimental concrete oil tank opened in West Texas. The opening celebration in Monahans, Texas, attracted swimmers, boaters, anglers and even water skiers to the unique manmade lake — before leaks forced it to close the next day.

october oil history

The Million Barrel Museum’s site was originally built to store Permian Basin oil. For scale, note the railroad caboose and car exhibit at right.

A local couple had attempted to find a good use for the 525-foot by 422-foot “million barrel reservoir.” Once covered by a redwood dome roof, the tank had been completed in 1928 by Shell Oil due to a lack of pipeline for Permian Basin oil. Shell stopped using the tank because of the oil leaking from seams in the concrete. Learn more in Million Barrel Museum.

October 6, 1886 – Natural Gas fuels Glass Manufacturing Company

A 900-foot-deep natural gas well in a corn field added to the Indiana natural gas boom, established the Indiana Natural Gas Company one year later, and created the Opalescent Glass Works (today Kokomo Opalescent Glass), a company that has been in continuous operation since 1888. The stained-glass manufacturer, which would almost succumb to bankruptcy when gas supplies later dwindled, sold more than 10,000 of pounds of glass to Louis Tiffany in 1893. Electric insulators were made for Edison General Electric with the excess glass, according to Kokomo Opalescent Glass, An Early History. Indiana’s first official natural gas well was drilled in 1867 by G. Bates, who found gas at a depth of 500 feet while searching for oil.

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October 7, 1859 – First American Oil Well ignites in Flames

The wooden derrick and engine house of the first U.S. commercial oil well erupted in flames, perhaps America’s first oil well fire. The well beside Oil Creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania, had been completed the previous August by Edwin L Drake for George Bissell and the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Working with driller William “Uncle Billy” Smith, Drake had used steam-powered cable-tool technology to find oil.

“The first oil well fire was started by ‘Uncle Billy,’ who went to inspect the oil in the vat with an open lamp, setting the gases alight,” notes historian Urja Davin. “It burned the derrick, all the stored oil, and the driller’s home.” Drake would quickly rebuild at his already famous well site. Learn more in First Oil Well Fire.

October 7, 1929 – Teapot Dome brings Jail Time for Interior Secretary

Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall began serving a one-year sentence for taking a $100,000 bribe in the Teapot Dome scandal. In 1910, almost 30,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming had been established as a Naval Petroleum Reserve by President William Taft.

Teapot Rock in Wyoming with spout still intact.

Wyoming’s Teapot Dome oilfield was named after Teapot Rock, whose “spout” has long since broken off. Photo courtesy Casper College Western History Center.

In 1921, an executive order from President Warren G. Harding gave Fall control of the Naval Reserves. A year later and without competitive bidding, Fall leased Teapot Dome fields to Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil Company and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills, California, fields to Edward Doheny, discoverer of the Los Angeles oilfield. In Senate hearings, it emerged that cash was delivered to Fall in Washington, D.C. Although the Interior Secretary was convicted for taking a bribe, both Sinclair and Doheny were acquitted. Sinclair spent six-and-a-half months in prison for contempt of court and the U.S. Senate.

October 8, 1915 – Elk Basin oilfield discovered in Wyoming

Elk Basin Field with oil gusher circa 1917.

“Gusher coming in, south rim of the Elk Basin Field, 1917.” Photo courtesy American Heritage Center.

In a remote Wyoming valley on the border of Montana, a discovery well opened the giant Elk Basin oilfield. Drilled by the Midwest Refining Company, the wildcat well produced up to 150 barrels of oil a day of a high-grade, “light oil.” Since 1908, the earliest Wyoming oil wells produced
oil that even unrefined proved to be excellent lubricants.

The Elk Basin extended from Carbon County, Montana, into northeastern Park County, Wyoming. Geologist George Ketchum first recognized the potential of the basin as a source of oil deposits. Ketchum had explored the remote area in 1906 with C.A. Fisher while farming near Cowly, Wyoming. Fisher was the first geologist to map sections of the Bighorn Basin southeast of Cody, Wyoming, where oil seeps had been found as early as 1883. The Wyoming discovery in unproved territory attracted speculators, investors, and new companies – including the Elk Basin United Oil Company.

October 8, 1923 – Tulsa hosts International Petroleum Exposition and Congress

Five thousand visitors braved torrents of rain for opening day of the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress in downtown Tulsa, an event that would return for almost six decades.

A bus of tourist visit the 76-foot-tall Golden Driller  in Tulsa.

Although still a tourist attraction, the 76-foot-tall Golden Driller arrived decades after Tulsa’s first International Petroleum Exposition in 1923.

Attendance grew to more than 120,000 every year. Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth introduced the original Golden Driller of Tulsa at the expo in 1953. Economic shocks beginning with the 1973 Opec oil embargo depressed the industry and after 57 years, the International Petroleum Exposition ended in 1979.

October 9, 1999 – Converted Offshore Platform launches Rockets

Sea Launch, a Boeing-led consortium of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Norway, began commercial launches in 1999 using Ocean Odyssey, a modified semi-submersible drilling platform. It launched a Russian rocket carrying a U.S. satellite. In 1988, the rig had been used by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for North Sea explorations. The Ocean Odyssey made 36 more rocket launches until 2014, when a civil war began in eastern Ukraine that ended the consortium. Learn more in Offshore Rocket Launcher.

October 10, 1865 – Oil Pipeline constructed in Pennsylvania

A two-inch iron pipeline began transporting oil five miles through hilly terrain from a well at booming Pithole, Pennsylvania, to the Miller Farm Railroad Station at Oil Creek. With their livelihoods threatened, teamsters attempted to sabotage the pipeline, until armed guards intervened. A second oil pipeline would begin operating in December.

Large wooden oil tanks and 42-gallon barrels with nearby teamsters.

Oil tanks at the boom town of Pithole, Pennsylvania, where Samuel Van Syckel built a five-mile pipeline in 1865. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

Built by Samuel Van Syckel, who had formed Oil Transportation Association, the pipeline used 15-foot welded joints. Three 10-horsepower Reed and Cogswell steam pumps pushed the oil at a rate of 81 barrels per hour. With up to 2,000 barrels of oil arriving at the terminal every day, more storage tanks were soon needed, along with a fourth pump, explained historian Samuel Pees in 2004. The pipeline transported the equivalent of 300 teamster wagons working for 10 hours.

“The day that the Van Syckel pipeline began to run oil a revolution began in the business,” proclaimed Ida Tarbell in her 1904 History of the Standard Oil Company. “After the Drake well, it is the most important event in the history of the Oil Regions.” Also see Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.

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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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