August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Dual-Cone Roller Bit –

“Fishtail” drill bits became obsolete after Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patented the dual-cone roller bit consisting of two rotating cones. By pulverizing hard rock, his bit led to faster and deeper rotary drilling.

Historians note that several men were trying to improve bit technologies at the time, but it was Hughes and business associate Walter Sharp who made it happen. Just months before receiving the 1909 patent, they established the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture the new bit.

patent drawing of Hughes 1909 drill bit

Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1909 patent for “roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”

“Instead of scraping the rock, as does the fishtail bit, the Hughes bit, with its two conical cutters, took a different engineering approach,” reported the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which in 2009 designated the invention as an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. “By chipping, crushing, and powdering hardrock formations, the Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit could reach vast amounts of oil in reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface,” ASME explained. “This new drilling technology would revolutionize the industry.”

Hughes engineers would invent the modern tri-cone bit in 1933. Frank and George Christensen developed the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s. Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

August 11, 1891 – Oil Well brings prosperity to Sistersville, West Virginia

The discovery well of the Sistersville oilfield was drilled at the small West Virginian town on the Ohio River just north of Parkersburg. “The bringing in of the ‘Pole Cat’ well, which pumped water for a year before it pumped oil, brought in a sudden influx of oil men, drillers, leasers, speculators, followers, floaters, wildcatters, and hangers-on,” a local historian noted. “This quickly boomed Sistersville from a rural village of 300 people to a rip-roaring, snorting, metropolis of 15,000 people almost overnight.” Today, the annual Sistersville Oil and Gas Festival has celebrated the town’s discovery for more than 50 years.

August 12, 1888 – Bertha Benz makes World’s First Auto Road Trip

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Bertha Benz became the world’s first female automotive pioneer in 1888. Image courtesy Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Thirty-nine-year-old Bertha Benz made history when she became the first person to make a long-distance trip by automobile. Her trip also included, “the first road repairs, the first automotive marketing stunt, the first case of a wife borrowing her husband’s car without asking, and the first violation of intercity highway laws in a motor vehicle,” noted Wired magazine in 2010. Bertha drove away in the “Patent Motorwagen” (after leaving a note to her husband) and took their two young sons to visit her mother in Pforzheim. Their route from Mannheim was about 56 miles. The drive, which took about 15 hours, helped popularize Karl Benz’s latest invention.

By the end of the century, Mercedes-Benz was the largest car company in the world. The first road trip can today be retraced by following signs of the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 as the first female automotive pioneer. Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip.

August 12, 1930 – Kentucky Oil and Gas Producers unite

Eastern Kentucky independent producers joined the Western Kentucky Oil Men’s Association in Frankfort, where articles of incorporation were amended to create a state-wide organization – today’s Kentucky Oil and Gas Association. A 1919 oil discovery in Hancock County had touched off a drilling boom in western Kentucky. Commercial amounts of oil had been found as early as 1829 while boring for salt brine with a spring-pole near Burkesville. Learn more in Kentucky’s Great American Well .

August 13, 1962 – Norman Rockwell illustrates Oil and Gas Journal

The Oil and Gas Journal promoted itself with an illustration from artist Norman Rockwell captioned, “Where Oil Men Invest Their Valuable Reading Time.” Rockwell’s renditions of American life brought him widespread popularity through magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

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A Norman Rockwell illustration advertised a leading industry magazine.

In addition to the illustrations for advertisements in the Oil and Gas Journal, in 1959 Rockwell provided artwork to the American Petroleum Institute (API), which sponsored a U.S. Postal Service “first day of issue” to commemorate the 1959 centennial of the birth of the U.S. oil industry (see Centennial Oil Stamp Issue). The illustration included the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959, Born in Freedom Working for Progress.”

petroleum history August

Norman Rockwell’s art commemorated the 1959 centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry.

Rockwell’s drawing depicted “the men of science, the rugged extraction of the crude oil, and ending with your friendly service station attendant,” notes a collector. Learn about another oil-patch illustrator in Seuss I am, an Oilman.

August 15, 1945 – Gas Rationing ends

World War II gasoline rationing ended in the United States after beginning in December 1942. Coupon books had been issued by the Office of Price Administration to conserve oil for fighting World War II. Most civilian cars carried “A” stickers, limiting them to four gallons of gas a week. A national speed limit of 35 mph also was imposed. In addition to gasoline and fuel oil, wartime rationing included tires, food, clothing, shoes, and coffee.

August 16, 1861 – World’s Oldest Continuously Producing Oil Well drilled in Pennsylvania

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Drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1861, the McClintock well is pumped a few times a year to supply oil for souvenir bottles sold at the Drake Well Museum and Park. Photo by Bruce Wells.

What would become the world’s oldest continuously producing oil well was completed in 1861 near Rouseville, Pennsylvania. The McClintock No. 1 well, reaching 620 feet deep into the Venango Third Sand, initially produced 50 barrels of oil a day. The well was drilled located just north of Oil City, Pennsylvania, 14 miles from Titusville, where America’s first commercial oil discovery was made two years earlier.

“This is the oldest well in the world that is still producing oil at its original depth,” notes the Oil Region Alliance. Donated by Quaker State in 1995, the historic well is pumped monthly to produce up to 10 barrels of oil, according to the Alliance. A nearby marker identifies the McClintock Well No. 1, but “thousands of people pass it each year and don’t even know it’s there.” Souvenir bottles of its oil are available at the Drake Well Museum.

August 16, 1927 – High-Octane Gas powers Air Race to Hawaii


petroleum history August 11 - August 17

Several competitors disappeared over the Pacific during the 1927 Dole air race. The winning aircraft today is on display at the Woolaroc Ranch near Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

High-octane aviation fuel developed by Phillips Petroleum Company powered a monoplane on a deadly air race over the Pacific Ocean. With a crowd of 50,000 cheering them on in 1927, eight aircraft took off from a muddy Oakland, California, airfield.

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Dole Pineapple Company offered a $25,000 first prize for an airplane race from Oakland to Honolulu. Just three months earlier, Charles Lindbergh had made the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. Aviation fuel developed by Phillips Petroleum fueled the “Woolaroc” monoplane for the Dole race.

A new Phillips fuel – Nu-Aviation Gasoline – was used for the dangerous, 2,400-mile flight over the Pacific. The single-engine monoplane was christened Woolaroc, the name of Frank Phillips’ Bartlesville ranch and nature preserve. At Oakland’s airport, two of the fuel-heavy planes crashed on takeoff. Five aircraft eventually headed out over the Pacific. Only two made it to Hawaii. Learn more in Flight of the Woolaroc.

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 © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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