Downhole Bazooka

WWII anti-tank weapon improves technology for perforating well casings.

Swiss inventor Henry Mohaupt used his experience from creating a World War II anti-tank weapon to develop a new technology for improving production of oil and natural gas wells. He used conically hollowed-out explosive charges to focus each detonation’s energy.

Word War II bazooka and shaped charge patent image

In 1951, Henry Mohaupt applied for a U.S. patent for his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun,” based on anti-tank technology he had patented a decade earlier – a conically hollowed out explosive fired from bazookas.

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First Dry Hole

An unsuccessful 1859 Pennsylvania oil well achieved many industry “firsts.”

 

Modern petroleum exploration and production technologies began with the earliest wells of the mid-19th century in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Just four days after America’s first commercial oil well of August 27, 1859, a second attempt nearby resulted in the first “dry hole” for the new U.S. petroleum industry.

 

Edwin L. Drake drilled the first U.S. oil well specifically seeking oil at a creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania. His historic feat included inventing of a method of driving a pipe down to protect the integrity of the well bore. The former railroad conductor borrowed a kitchen water pump to produce the first barrel of oil.

Although Drake’s headline-making discovery at Oil Creek launched an industry, an August 31 well would achieve far lesser known milestones. It was on that day that 22-year-old John Livingston Grandin began drilling America’s second well to be drilled for petroleum.

Historic marker for first U.S. oil well "dry hole."

Visitors to the scenic Allegheny National Forest Region on U.S. 62 near Tidioute, Pennsylvania, will discover this Warren County roadside marker.

Despite not finding the oil-producing formation (later called the Vanango Sands), the Grandin well produced technology firsts for the young exploration and production industry, including:

♦ First dry hole,
♦ first well in which tools stuck,
♦ first well “shot” with an explosive charge. (more…)

Coin-Operated Gas Pumps

“Drop the coin in the slot…Mr. Robot delivers the correct amount of gasoline.”

 

Almost as soon as the first gasoline filling stations appeared, inventors began experimenting with ways to make user-friendly pumps for consumers. The revenue possibilities of self-service gasoline pumps prompted a number of innovators to develop coin-operated systems in the early 20th Century.

Scientific American featured a “Gasoline Slot Machine” in its October 1913 issue. The article looked at the mechanics of the device, which took its cue “from the fortunes that have resulted from the harvest of pennies dropped into chewing gum slot machines.”

Garage Dealer and Motor Age magazine ad for Coin-Operated Gas Pumps

Trade magazines like Garage Dealer and Motor Age featured advertisements for coin-operated gas pump technologies of the 1920s.

But a coin-operated pump had risks, the publication noted. “On the other hand, it is evident that a vending machine liable to hold fifty or a hundred half-dollars would be a magnet for thieves,” the article explained.

In Minnesota, the Anthony Liquid Vending Machine Company designed its Anthony Automatic Salesman, which was extensively marketed to garage owners. The company promised a savings of $5 in overhead costs for every dollar invested in its new pumps.

Several other companies experimented with coin-operated gasoline dispensing, and some of their “gas pump slot machines” survive today in museums. But what seemed like a good idea then lacked the technology to make it work. Commercial names like Beacon, Gas-O-Mat, and others disappeared in a flurry of patents that could not overcome the challenges of coin-operated pumps.

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“You can sell gasoline 24-hours a day and 365-days a year, without effort on your part,” the company proclaimed, adding that paying was a simple process for consumers. “Drop the coin in the slot – a quarter, half-dollar, or a silver dollar, and Mr. Robot delivers the correct amount of gasoline.”

A 1915 article in National Petroleum News reported a key drawback of unattended, coin-operated pumps. “One gasoline vending outfit tried out recently in a middle western city returned about $2 in real currency and $37 in lead slugs, buttons and counterfeit coins for its first 500 gallons of gasoline.”

Nonetheless, as a system for numbered highways was established, and U.S. 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles approved in 1926 (learn more in America On the Move), some coin-operated machines survived into the 1930s.

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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: “Coin Operated Gas Pumps.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/coin-operated-gasoline-pumps. Last Updated: August 30, 2020. Original Published Date: July 11, 2018.

 

Making Hole – Drilling Technology

Answering the necessity and opportunity for finding oil and natural gas at greater depths.

 

“A good cable-tool man is just about the most highly skilled worker you’ll find,” one historian noted. “Besides having a feel for the job, knowing what’s going on thousands of feet under the ground just from the movement of the cable, he’s got to be something of a carpenter, a steam-fitter, an electrician, and a damned good mechanic.” – A 1939 interview in “Voices from the Oil Fields” by Paul Lambert and Kenny Franks.

Petroleum exploration technologies have evolved from ancient “spring poles,” to steam-powered percussion cable-tools, to modern rotary rigs with diamond bits that can drill miles into the earth.

making hole image from World Struggle for Oil 1924 movie

Often used for drilling brine wells, a “spring-pole” well discovered oil in Appalachia. Photo from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“A cable tool driller knows more knots and splices than any six sailors you can find,” noted historians Lambert and Franks in their 1984 book, a collection of 1930s Federal Writers Project interviews  about oilfield life. The stories — featuring cable-tool rigs with giant “bull wheels” spinning off manila rope — reported firsthand accounts of the “grueling toil, primitive living and working conditions, and ever-present danger in a time when life was cheap and oil was gold.”

oil well drilling technology

Standard cable-tool derricks stood 82 feet tall and were powered by a steam boiler and engine using a “walking beam” to raise and lower drilling tools. Image from The Oil-Well Driller, 1905.

Drilling or “making hole” began long before crude oil or natural gas were anything more than flammable curiosities found seeping from the ground.

For centuries, digging by hand or shovel was the best technologies that existed to pry into the earth’s secrets. Oil seeps provided a balm for injuries. Natural gas seeps – when ignited – created folklore and places called “burning springs.” (more…)

Exploring Seismic Waves

Oklahoma scientists first used reflection and refraction technologies in the 1920s.

 

Exploring seismic waves is all about a vital earth science technology – reflection seismography – which first revolutionized petroleum exploration in the 1920s. Seismic waves have led to oilfield discoveries worldwide and billions of barrels of oil. 

Seismic technologies evolved from efforts to locate enemy artillery during World War I.

seismic waves

A tourist site for geologists, a sign and historic marker on I-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, commemorates the August 9, 1921, test of seismic technology.

(more…)

Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump

Armais Arutunoff manufactures efficient down-hole centrifugal pump, founds Reda.

 

Today’s petroleum industry owes a lot to Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff, son of an Armenian soap maker. 

 

Armais Arutunoff will obtain 90 patents. Above, a 1934, patent for an improved submersible well pump – and “submersible electric cable and method for making same.” At right, a 1951 Reda Pump advertisement.

With the help of a prominent Oklahoma oil company president, Arutunoff built the first practical electric submersible pumps (ESPs). His revolutionary concept would enhanced oil production in wells throughout the world.

A 1936 Tulsa World article described his downhole pump as “An electric motor with the proportions of a slim fence post which stands on its head at the bottom of a well and kicks oil to the surface with its feet.”

By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artificial lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump.

According to an October 2014 article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology, the first patent for an oil-related electric pump was issued in 1894 to Harry Pickett. His invention used a downhole rotary electric motor with “a Yankee screwdriver device to drive a plunger pump.”

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

Armais Arutunoff, inventor of the modern electric submersible pump.

More than two decades later, Robert Newcomb received a 1918 patent for his “electro-magnetic engine” driving a reciprocating plunger pump.

“Heretofore, in very deep wells the rod that is connected to the piston, and generally known as the ‘sucker’ rod, very often breaks on account of its great length and strains imposed thereon in operating the piston,” noted Newcomb in his patent application.

Although several patents followed those of Picket and Newcomb, the Journal reports, “it was not until 1926 that the first patent for a commercial, operatable ESP was issued – to ESP pioneer Armais Arutunoff. The cable used to supply power to the bottomhole unit was also invented by Arutunoff.”

Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff (Reda)

Arutunoff built his first ESP in 1916 in Germany, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Suspended by steel cables, it was dropped down the well casing into oil or water and turned on, creating a suction that would lift the liquid to the surface formation through pipes,” reported OHS historian Dianna Everett.

After immigrating to the United States in 1923, in California Arutunoff could not find financial support for manufacturing his pump design. He moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1928 at the urging of a new friend – Frank Phillips, head of Phillips Petroleum Company.

“With Phillips’s backing, he refined his pump for use in oil wells and first successfully demonstrated it in a well in Kansas,” noted Everett. The device was manufactured by a small company that soon became Reda Pump.

The name Reda – Russian Electrical Dynamo of Arutunoff – was the cable address of the company that Arutunoff originally started in Germany. The inventor would move his family into a Bartlesville home just across the street from Frank Phillips’ mansion.

 The founder and president of the REDA Pump Company, Armais Arutunoff, once lived in this house at 1200 Cherokee Avenue - across from the home of Phillips Petroleum founder Frank Phillips, whose home today is a Bartlesville museum. Courtesy Kathryn Mann, Only in Bartlesville.

The founder and president of the Reda Pump Company, Armais Arutunoff, once lived in this house at 1200 Cherokee Avenue – across from Phillips Petroleum founder Frank Phillips, whose home today is a Bartlesville, Oklahoma, museum. Photo courtesy Kathryn Mann, Only in Bartlesville.

A holder of more than 90 patents in the United States, Arutunoff was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1974. “Try as I may, I cannot perform services of such value to repay this wonderful country for granting me sanctuary and the blessings of freedom and citizenship,” Arutunoff said at the time.

A modern ESP applies artificial lift by spinning the impellers on the pump shaft, putting pressure on the surrounding fluids and forcing them to the surface. It can lift more than 25,000 barrels of fluids per day. Courtesy Schlumberger.

A modern ESP applies artificial lift by spinning the impellers on the pump shaft, putting pressure on the surrounding fluids and forcing them to the surface. It can lift more than 25,000 barrels of fluids per day. Courtesy Schlumberger.

Arutunoff died in February 1978 in Bartlesville. At the end of the twentieth century, Reda was the world’s largest manufacturer of ESP systems. It is now part of Schlumberger.

Son of a Soap Maker

Armais Sergeevich Arutunoff was born to Armenian parents in Tiflis, part of the Russian Empire, on June 21, 1893. His home town, in the Caucasus Mountains between the Caspian and Black Sea, dated back to the 5th Century.

According to an online electrical submersible pump history at ESP Pump, his father was a soap manufacturer and his grandfather a fur trader. In his youth, Arutunoff lived in Erivan (now Yerevan) the capital of Armenia.

The ESP Pump website, which includes a profile of his extensive scientific career, described how Arutunoff’s research convinced him that electrical transmission of power could be efficiently applied to oil drilling and improve the antiquated methods he saw in use in the early 1900s in Russia.

“To do this, a small, yet high horsepower electric motor was needed,” ESP Pump explained. “The limitation imposed by available casing sizes made it necessary that the motor be relatively small.”

However, a motor of small diameter would necessarily be too low in horsepower. “Such a motor would be inadequate for the job he had in mind so he studied the fundamental laws of electricity to find the basis for the answer to the question of how to build a higher horsepower motor exceedingly small in diameter,” according to ESP Power.

By 1916, Arutunoff was designing a centrifugal pump to be coupled to the motor for de-watering mines and ships. To develop enough power it was necessary the motor run at very high speeds. He successfully designed a centrifugal pump, small in diameter and with stages to achieve high discharge pressure.

“In his design, the motor was ingeniously installed below the pump to cool the motor with flow moving up the oil well casing, and the entire unit was suspended in the well on the discharge pipe,” ESP Pump noted. “The motor, sealed from the well fluid, operated at high speed in an oil bath.”

An Upside Down Well Motor

Although Arutunoff built the first centrifugal pump while living in Germany, he built the first submersible pump and motor in the United States while living in Los Angeles.

“Before coming to the U.S. he had formed a small company of his own, called Reda, to manufacture his idea for electric submersible motors,” noted ESP Pump. “He later settled in Germany and then came with his wife and one-year-old daughter to the United States to settle in Michigan, then Los Angeles.”

However, after emigrating to America in 1923, Arutunoff could not find financial support for his down-hole production technology. Everyone he approached turned him down, saying the unit was “impossible under the laws of electronics.” No one would consider his inventions until friends at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville encouraged him to form his own company there.

The Reda Company manufacturing plant in Bartlesville will cover nine acres and employ hundreds.

Arutunoff’s manufacturing plant in Bartlesville will cover nine acres, employing hundreds during the Great Depression.

In 1928 Arutunoff moved to Bartlesville, where formed Bart Manufacturing Company, which changed its same to the Reda Pump Company in 1930. He soon demonstrated a working model of an oilfield electric submersible pump.

One of his pump-and-motor devices was installed in an oil well in the El Dorado field near Burns, Kansas – the first equipment of its kinds to be used in a well. One reporter telegraphed his editor, “Please rush good pictures showing oil well motors that are upside down.”

By end of the 1930s Arutunoff’s company held dozens of patents for industrial equipment, leading to decades of success and even more patents. His “Electrodrill” aided scientists in penetrating the Antarctic ice cap for the first time in 1967. “Arutunoff’s ESP oilfield technology quickly had a significant impact on the oil business,” concluded the ESP Pump article. “His pump was crucial to the successful production over the years of hundreds of thousands of oil wells.”

Also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology and Conoco & Phillips Petroleum Museums.

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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. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/electric-submersible-pump-inventor. Last Updated: June 10, 2020. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.