May 4, 1869 – Offshore Drilling Platform Design patented

The first U.S. patent for an offshore oil drilling rig was issued to Thomas Rowland, owner of Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, for his “submarine drilling apparatus.”

May 1869 offshore rig patent drawing

Although never constructed, Thomas Rowland’s 1869 offshore drilling platform with telescoping legs was ahead of its time.

Many experts believe this remarkable 1869 patent helped inspire some offshore exploration technologies used today. Rowland designed a fixed, working platform for drilling offshore to a depth of 50 feet.

Although his rig was designed to operate in shallow water, the anchored, four-legged tower resembles modern offshore fixed platforms. Rowland and his Continental Iron Works also became a leader in petroleum storage tank design and construction.

The first offshore wells drilled completely out of sight from land began in the Gulf of Mexico as technologies advanced after Rowland’s patent. (see Offshore Rig Patent). 

The American Society of Civil Engineers in 1882 began awarding its prestigious Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize.

May 5, 1889 – Construction begins on Largest U.S. Refinery

Seventeen miles east of downtown Chicago, Standard Oil Company began construction of a 235-acre refinery complex on May 5, 1889. The refinery, using advanced processes introduced by John D. Rockefeller, was the largest in the United States at the time. Using a newly patented method, the Whiting, Indiana, refinery processed sulfurous “sour crude” from the Lima, Ohio, oilfields – transported on Rockefeller-controlled railroads. The refinery (Today owned by BP) produced vast amounts of high-quality kerosene to meet demand for use in home lamps. Learn more in Standard Oil Whiting Refinery.

May 5, 1907 – A Marker to North Texas Petroleum History

Although unlisted in the Texas Historical Commission Atlas, Clayco Oil & Pipeline's stone marker is on Texas Highway 148 just south of Petrolia.

A stone marker can be found south of Petrolia, Texas.

Near Oil City (today Petrolia), Texas, the Clayco Oil & Pipeline Company completed its Lockridge No.1 well, later proclaiming it the first commercial natural gas well in Texas.

A small monument off Texas Highway 148 east of Wichita Falls notes Lone Star Gas Company built the region’s first large-diameter, long-distance pipeline to transport natural gas from the field to Fort Worth and Dallas in 1920.

Petrola’s stone marker in the Henrietta-Petrolia field also credits the first oil well in North Texas to local rancher J.W. Lochridge, who drilled a shallow well in search of water.

According to a 2016 article in North Texas Farm & Ranch, “Lochridge was disappointed because he needed water for his livestock. He found a use for the oil, using it in his dipping vats to rid his cattle of parasites.”

In 1911, an oil gusher near Electra revealed an oilfield 40 miles west of Oil City (see Pump Jack Capital of Texas).

May 7, 1920 – Halliburton founds Well Cementing Company in Oklahoma

As mid-continent oilfields continued to grow, Erle Palmer Halliburton founded the Halliburton Company as an oilfield well service and cementing company.

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An Erle P. Halliburton statue was dedicated in 1993 in Duncan, Oklahoma.

The Wilson, Oklahoma, venture succeeded Halliburton’s New Method Oil Cementing Company, formed a year earlier during the Burkburnett oil boom in North Texas.

The use of cement in drilling oil wells has remained an integral part of the industry because its injection seals off water formations from the oil, protects the casing, and minimizes the danger of blowouts.

In 1922, Halliburton patented an innovative “jet-cement” mixer that increased the speed and quality of the mixing process. By the end of the year, 17 Halliburton trucks were cementing wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

The company also introduced cement pumps powered by truck motors rather than steam from rig boilers and a device that allowed testing of a formation without setting casing. Halliburton was the first to offer self-contained cementing units operating under their own power. More advances in cementing technology followed. Learn more in Halliburton cements Wells.

May 8, 1918 – Shreveport Gassers go Extra Innings

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Former Olinda Oil Wells pitcher Walter Johnson joined Babe Ruth in a 1924 exhibition game.

As baseball became America’s favorite pastime, the Texas League’s Shreveport Gassers played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was declared a tie. The Gassers were one of many oilfield-related teams in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (today known as Minor League Baseball).

At the time, the leagues’ 96 teams included the Okmulgee Drillers, the Tulsa Oilers, the Independence Producers, the Beaumont Exporters, the Corsicana Oil Citys, the Wichita Falls Spudders, and the Iola Gasbags. In Oklahoma oilfields, the Okmulgee Drillers for the first time in baseball history had two players who combined to hit 100 home runs in a single season of 160 games. Learn more in Oilfields of Dreams.

May 8, 1920 – Burbank Oilfield discovered in Oklahoma

Drilling for natural gas on an lease 20 miles from Ponca City, Oklahoma, the Kay County Gas Company found an oilfield instead. Partner Marland Oil & Refining Company assumed control of the Bertha Hickman No. 1 well, which opened the 20,000-acre Burbank oilfield. With the region already booming since the Red Fork Gusher of 1901, producers agreed to using 10 acre spacing for oil conservation purposes. The Burbank field would annually produce up to 31 million barrels of oil for the next four years.

May 9, 1863 – Confederate Cavalry raids Oilfield

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Rebels attacked the Burning Springs oilfield on the banks of the Little Kanawha River, just a few miles southeast of Parkersburg and the Ohio River.

A brigade of Confederate cavalry attacked a thriving oil town near the Ohio River in what would soon become West Virginia. The raid destroyed equipment and thousands of barrels of oil. The Burning Springs oilfield was attacked by Confederate cavalry led by Gen. William “Grumble” Jones. His attack along the Kanawha River marked the first time an oilfield was targeted in war, according to one West Virginia historian. About 1,300 Confederate troopers raided Burning Springs, destroying cable-tool drilling rigs and 150,000 barrels of oil.

The wealth created by the region’s petroleum industry helped bring statehood for West Virginia in June 1863. Almost a century earlier, George Washington had acquired 250 acres in the region because it contained natural oil seeps. Learn more in Confederates attack Oilfield.

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Recommended Reading: Erle P. Halliburton: Genius with Cement (1959); Textile League Baseball: South Carolina’s Mill Teams, 1880-1955 (2004); The Civil War and Northwestern Virginia (2004); Conoco: 125 years of energy (2000); Phillips The First 66 Years (1983).

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Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. 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. Contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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