First Louisiana Oil Wells

Acadia Parish oil seeps inspired 1901 Jennings oilfield discovery.

 

The first Louisiana oil well discovered the giant Jennings field in 1901 and launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. Almost a quarter million wells would be drilled by 2014.

Nine months after the 1901 headline-making oil discovery at Spindletop, Texas, oil erupted 90 miles to the east. W. Scott Heywood – already successful wildcatter at Spindletop – drilled a well that revealed the Jennings oilfield. The September 21, 1901, Louisiana gusher initially produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day.

The widow of Louisiana's oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood," unveiled an historical marker in 1961.

Mrs. Scott Heywood, “the widow of Louisiana’s oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood,” unveiled an historical marker on September 23, 1951, as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Louisiana’s first commercial oil well came in on the Jules Clements farm about seven miles northeast of Jennings. Local investors earlier had formed the Jennings Oil Company and hired Scott, who recognized that natural gas seeps found nearby were nearly identical to the conditions observed at Spindletop.

Scott would insist on drilling deeper than many investors thought wise.

Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana.

The Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana on September 21, 1901. Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

“At the age 29, W. Scott Haywood was already a seasoned, experienced and successful explorer,” notes the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS). “He had gone to Alaska in 1897 during the great Yukon gold rush, sinking a shaft and mining a profitable gold deposit.”

Haywood, who also had drilled several successful oil wells in California, was one of the first to reach Spindletop following news of the “Lucas Gusher” of January 10, 1901. Haywood eventually convinced the reluctant Clements to allow drilling in the farmer’s rice field. The Clements farm was at the small, unincorporated community of Evangeline in Acadia Parish, northeast of Jennings.

W. Scott Heywood, who drilled the first Louisiana oil well.

W. Scott Heywood

However, after drilling to 1,000 feet without finding oil or natural gas, the Jennings Oil Company’s investors wanted to abandon the first attempt. “After all, 1,000 feet had been deep enough to discover the tremendous oil gushers at Spindletop field,” explains Scott Smiley of the LGS. “Instead of drilling two wells to a depth of 1,000 feet each, Heywood persuaded the investors to change the contract to accept a single well drilled to a depth of 1,500 feet.”

More drilling pipe was brought in and the well deepened.

Heywood finally found oil at 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors had sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, stock in the Jennings Oil Company even sold for as little as 25 cents per share. Patient investors were rewarded with the gusher of 7,000 barrels of oil per day. According to the Jennings Daily News, “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice.”

Scott Haywood and his oil well drilling crew circa early 1900s

Scott Haywood and his Louisiana roughnecks. Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Although the Jules Clements No. 1 well is on only a 1/32 of an acre lease, it marked the state’s first oil production and launched the Louisiana petroleum industry. It opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks. The Jennings oilfield reached its peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906. Meanwhile, an October 1905 discovery in northern Louisiana further expanded the state’s young petroleum industry. Visit the Louisiana Oil City Museum.

Haywood returned to Alaska in 1908 on a big-game hunting trip. He retraced much of his travels to the Klondike gold fields, notes Smiley. “After a brief retirement in California, he returned to Jennings and drilled several wells at Jennings and elsewhere in Louisiana,” Smiley reports, adding the he also found success at the Borger and Panhandle oilfields in Texas.

“Heywood returned to Jennings in 1927 and assisted Gov. Huey P. Long in passing legislation to provide schoolbooks for children,” concludes the LGS geologist in Jennings Field – The Birthplace of Louisiana’s Oil Industry, September 2001. Among all petroleum producing states in 2014, Louisiana ranked fourth in natural gas production and tenth in oil production.

Early 1900s scene of the Jennings oilfield of Louisiana.

Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.

Editor’s Note – A retired professor challenged the date of Louisiana’s first commercial oil well during a 2011 presentation at Carnegie Library in Sulphur. Thomas Watson, PhD, “has uncovered evidence that the first producing oil well in Louisiana was at the Sulphur Mines in 1886,” notes an article in the Sulphur Daily News. “This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana.”

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In 2014, the cumulative number of wells drilled in Louisiana from the first year of production (1902 for oil, 1905 for natural gas) was 230,647, according to the IPAA Oil & Gas Producing Industry in Your State. Of those wells, 35 percent (80,907) were dry holes.

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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.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Louisiana Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-louisiana-oil-well. Last Updated: September 21, 2020. Original Published Date: September 1, 2005.

 

First New Mexico Oil Wells

Hobbs oilfield discovery came in 1928, six years after state’s first petroleum production.

 

“It was desolate country – sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits. Hobbs was a store, a small school, a windmill, and a couple of trees.” – New Mexico roughneck.

Although it arrived six years after the state’s first oil well, many soon called it the most important single oil discovery in New Mexico history. (more…)

First Florida Oil Well

Humble Oil found oil in 1943 — after desperate lawmakers offered a $50,000 bounty.

 

Among its petroleum history records, Florida’s first – but certainly not last – unsuccessful attempt to find commercially viable oil reserves began in 1901, not far from the Gulf Coast panhandle town of Pensacola. Two test wells were drilled, the first to 1,620 feet and the second 100 feet deeper. Both were abandoned. Whether that wildcatter followed science or intuition, contemporary accounts of his efforts reveal only a small footnote: Florida’s first two dry holes. Twenty years later, as America’s oil demand soared, oil still had not been found in Florida. The state’s panhandle still looked promising – despite a growing list of failed drilling ventures.

first florida oil well oil pumps at Collier County Museum

Florida’s first oil well’s site is by present day Big Cypress Preserve in southwest Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the resort city of Naples.

Indian legends and a wildcat stock promoter’s claim of oil inspired yet another attempt near today’s Falling Waters Park, about 100 miles east of Pensacola. A tall, wooden derrick and steam-driven rig were used to drill. At a depth 3,900 feet, a brief showing of natural gas excited area residents with a false report of a possible gusher. Undeterred, the oilmen continued to drill to a depth of 4,912 feet before finally giving up. No oil of commercial quantity was found and the well was capped in 1921. Another dry hole. (more…)

First Utah Oil Wells

Deeper drilling launched state’s petroleum industry in 1948.

 

After decades of expensive failed exploration attempts (a few small producers but mostly dry holes), the first significant Utah oil well was competed on September 18, 1948, in the Uinta Basin. “The honor of bringing in the state’s first commercial oil well went not to the ‘Majors’ but to an ‘Independent’ — the Equity Oil Company,” noted Osmond Harline in a 1963 article.

 The Uinta Basin drilling courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

The Uinta Basin witnessed Utah’s first drilling boom following a 1948 oil discovery. A modern boom would return thanks to coalbed methane gas. Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society.

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Indiana Natural Gas Boom

Turn-of-the-century alternative fuel for manufacturers.

 

A series of major Indiana natural gas discoveries in the late 1880s revealed the Trenton Field, which extended across the state into Ohio. New pipelines and abundant gas supplies soon attracted manufacturing industries to the Midwest.

Discoveries of natural gas in Eaton and Portland quickly ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom. New exploration and production will dramatically change the state’s economy.  In 1859, the same year that “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake drilled the country’s first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, there already were almost 300 “manufactured gas” (known as coal gas) companies in the 33 United States.

Replacing Coal Gas

Coal gas was produced in a distillation process that extracted it from wood or coal. After further purification, coal gas was distributed via low-pressure street mains to consumers. America’s first public street lamp used it to illuminate Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1817. Coal gas, also called manufactured gas, eventually would provide home illumination to almost five million U.S. customers.

Natural gas flambeaux light streets in Indiana, wasting the gas.

Indiana lawmakers banned “flambeaux” lights in 1891, becoming one of the first states to legislate conservation. Photo of Findlay during its 1888 Gas Jubilee courtesy Hancock Historical Museum.

Although natural gas was known to burn much cleaner, hotter, and more efficiently than coal gas, pre-Civil War technology made handling it far too dangerous for commercial applications. When drilling for oil, natural gas was often found — a colorless, odorless, highly flammable and unwelcome hazard. Drillers sought oil to send to refiners for distilling into kerosene, a safe and affordable lamp fuel. But while demand for kerosene built wooden derricks up and down the Allegheny River, and the coal gas business still prospered, natural gas was just an impediment.

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Governor Hogg’s Texas Oil Wells

In 1917, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company’s No. 1 Hogg well discovered oil south of Houston and ended a streak of dry holes dating back to 1901 – when former Texas Governor James S. “Big Jim” Hogg first thought oil might be there and leased the land. Hogg, the Lone Star State’s 20th governor, would die in 1906 and not see the latest Texas drilling boom he helped launch. But the Hogg family would benefit from his unwavering belief in finding oil in region with a geology similar to the already famous “Lucas Gusher.”

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