This Week in Petroleum History, June 1 – 7

June 1, 1860 – First Book about Oil published

Less than 10 months after Edwin L. Drake completed the first commercial U.S. oil well at Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, an 80-page pamphlet was published that some historians regard as the first book about America’s petroleum resources.

The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century: Rock Oil in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere by Thomas A. Gale described the advantages of Drake’s radical new fuel source for kerosene lamps.

“Those who have not seen it burn, may rest assured its light is no moonshine; but something nearer the clear, strong, brilliant light of day,” Gale declared in his pamphlet, which sold for 25 cents. Only three copies were known to exist in 1952, when it republished by Etthy Corporation of New York.

Learn more in First Oil Book of 1860.

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This Week in Petroleum History, May 25- 31

May 26, 1891 – Patent will lead to Crayola Crayons

Today’s Crayola crayons began when Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith received a patent for their “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

The refining process used petroleum to produce a fine, intensely black soot-like substance – a pigment far better than any other at the time.

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Petroleum products like carbon-black and paraffin will lead to Crayola crayons in 1903.

The thriving Pennsylvania oil industry supplied the feedstock for the Easton-based Binney & Smith Company’s carbon black, which won an award for its quality at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

More innovations followed as the company mixed carbon black with oilfield paraffin to introduce a black crayon marker. The useful marker was promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named “Staonal,” which is still sold.

In 1903, Binney & Smith’s more colorful petroleum product got its name from the French word for chalk, craie, combined with an English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous.

The first Crayola crayons were manufactured in small batches of hand-mixed pigments and paraffin. Paper labels were rolled by hand and pasted onto each crayon. The box included eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black.

Learn more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, May 18 – 24


May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield discovered in Northwestern Ohio

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began when Benjamin C. Faurot – drilling for natural gas – found oil instead in the Trenton Rock Limestone formation at a depth of 1,252 feet. “The oil find has caused much excitement and those who are working at the well have been compelled to build a high fence around it to keep curiosity seekers from bothering them,” Lima’s Daily Republican newspaper reported the next day. “If the well turns out, as it looks now that it will, look out for the biggest boom Lima ever had.”

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A circa 1909 post card promoting the petroleum prosperity of Lima, Ohio.

Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company, and by 1886, Lima was the most productive oilfield in America after producing more than 20 million barrels of oil. By the following year it was the largest in the world. After developing a new method for refining the heavy Lima oil, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey began construction on its Whiting refinery in 1889.

“In May of 1885, Lima was a bustling community of some 8,000 people with a new courthouse and, thanks to leading businessman Benjamin C. Faurot, an opera house. It claimed a soon-to-be-electrified city street car system, railroad connections in all directions and a handful of newspapers,” noted a 2019 article in the Lima News. Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Learn more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.

In 2006, the Allen County Historical Society placed an Ohio historical marker near Faurot’s discovery well site at the North Street crossing of the Ottawa River in Lima. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, May 11 – 17

May 12, 2007 – New Petroleum Museums open in Oklahoma

ConocoPhillips opened two oil and natural gas museums on the same day in Ponca City and Bartlesville, Oklahoma, as part of the state’s 2007 statehood centennial celebrations.

The Conoco Museum In Ponca City today educates visitors about the exploration and production history of the company, which began in Utah as a small distributor of coal, grease, and kerosene. Conoco merged with Oklahoma’s Marland Oil Company in 1929. Phillips Petroleum incorporated in 1917 and merged with Conoco in 2002.

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Conoco, founded in 1875 as the Continental Oil and Transportation Company, delivered kerosene to retail stores in Ogden, Utah. A circa 1880s horse-drawn tank wagon today welcomes visitors to the Conoco Museum. Photo by Bruce Wells.

The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum in Bartlesville includes exhibits describing the development of high-octane gasoline and revolutionary plastic products like Marlex (learn more in Petroleum Product Hoopla). The museum tells the story of brothers Frank and L.E. Phillips. Beginning in 1905, they drilled 81 wells without a single “dry hole.” Frank Phillips served as president of the company until 1938. Learn more in ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

May 14, 1953 – Golden Driller Statue debuts at Petroleum Exposition

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The original Golden Driller of 1953, left, proved so popular that a more permanent version (supported with steel rods) returned for the 1966 Petroleum Expo. Photos courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

The “Golden Driller” first appeared at the International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sponsored by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, the giant was temporarily erected again for the 1959 petroleum expo. The statue attracted so much attention the company refurbished and donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority. The giant roughneck was rebuilt in 1966 and fully refurbished in the late 1970s.



The current mustard shaded Golden Driller (76-feet tall and weighing 43,500 pounds) is a popular Tulsa tourist attraction and among the largest freestanding statues in the world, according to city officials. Learn more in Golden Driller of Tulsa.

May 14, 2004 – Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum Opens in Oil City

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Chevron donated the drilling rig at the Louisiana State Oil Museum in Oil City.

Louisiana’s first publicly funded museum dedicated to the petroleum industry opened 20 miles north of Shreveport. The Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum, originally the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, includes the historic depot of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

The museum preserves the Caddo Parish discoveries, which began in 1905, and the economic prosperity brought by the North Louisiana petroleum boom. Exhibits reveal the technologies behind a 1911 well – the Ferry No. 1 – one of the nation’s earliest “offshore” oil wells completed on nearby Caddo Lake, where production continues today. Learn more in Louisiana Oil City Museum.

May 15, 1911 – Supreme Court orders Standard Oil Breakup

After reviewing 12,000 pages of court documents, Chief Justice Edward White issued the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion that mandated dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. The ruling, which broke Standard Oil into 34 separate companies, upheld an earlier Circuit Court decision that the John D. Rockefeller company’s practices violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Five years earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Justice Department had launched 44 anti-trust suits against railroad, beef, tobacco, and other trusts.

May 16, 1961 – Kansas Museum opens Above Giant Natural Gas Field 

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Stevens County’s natural gas museum in Hugoton, Kansas.

In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened in 1961 above a giant natural gas producing area that extended 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

The small museum in Hugoton today educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America – the Hugoton field. A natural gas well drilled in 1945 is still producing at the museum. Learn more in Natural Gas Museum.

May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well shocks Pennsylvania Oil Prices

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In 2007, a group of Cherry Grove volunteers rebuilt a derrick for their 646 Mystery Well, notes historian Walt Atwood.

A small Pennsylvania township discovered an oilfield in 1882. When word spread about the discovery well’s true daily production, U.S. oil prices collapsed (the industry was less than 25 years old).

The “Mystery Well” flowed at 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Once a closely guarded secret, news of  the Jamestown Oil Company’s well sent shock waves through early oil trading markets.

Certificates for more than 4.5 million barrels of oil were sold in one day at Pennsylvania’s three oil exchanges.

“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explained local historian Walt Atwood. The town annually celebrates its Cherry Grove Mystery Well.



May 17, 1901 – Future Gulf Oil Company founded

J.M. Guffey organized Guffey Petroleum Company to buy the “Lucas Gusher” well drilled the previous January at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas. Guffey purchased about half of the well’s high-volume oil production. The Mellon family of Pittsburgh owned the remainder. Guffey created Gulf Refining Company to refine and market the oil produced by Guffey Petroleum. Andrew Mellon bought out Guffey in 1907 and reorganized the ventures as Gulf Oil Company.

May 17, 1973 – Last Nuclear fracking of Natural Gas Well

Atomic Energy Commission scientists completed the last experiment of the Plowshare Program with a nearly simultaneous detonation of three 33-kiloton devices in a Colorado natural gas well. Project Rio Blanco was the third (and final) underground nuclear detonation to test fracturing of wells. The first had been Project Gasbuggy in 1967, a 29-kiloton nuclear device lowered into a gas well in New Mexico. The second, Project Rulison, detonated a 40-kiloton device in a Garfield County, Colorado, well in 1969.

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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.

This Week in Petroleum History, May 4 – May 10

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. (more…)

This Week in Petroleum History, April 27 – May 3

April 27, 1966 – Ariel Corporation founded

After receiving a degree in mechanical engineering in 1954, former eighth-grade teacher Jim Buchwald founded Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

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Jim Buchwald with Ariel’s prototype compressor after it has completed a 10-hour run test. Photo courtesy Ariel.

“With little money to pay for a facility to house the tools, a room in the basement of the Buchwald family home is cleaned up,” explains the Ariel website. “This room becomes the first Ariel machine shop, with an adjoining room functioning as Ariel’s first official engineering department.”

Buchwald bought a lathe, a small hand-cranked rotary table and a vertical drill for manufacturing valves. By 1968, he built a prototype gas compressor that ran at the unprecedented speed of 1,800 RPM. His Ohio machine shop soon transitioned into a manufacturing facility,

Buchwald named his company after his beloved 1948 Ariel motorcycle. Today, the company is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of reciprocating gas compressors,

April 30, 1929 – Marland Oil and Continental Oil become Conoco

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Conoco used this logo until 1970.

After discovering several prolific Oklahoma oilfields, Marland Oil Company acquired Continental Oil Company to create a network of service stations in 30 states. Future Oklahoma Governor Ernest W. Marland had founded Marland Oil in 1921; Continental Oil Company was founded in 1875 in Utah.

Headquartered in Ponca City, the new company retained the name of Continental Oil, but adopted the well-known Marland red triangle trademark, replacing the “Marland Oils” text with “Conoco.” In 2002, the company merged with Phillips Petroleum, which had incorporated in 1917, to become today’s ConocoPhillips. Learn more by visiting the ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums.

April 30, 1955 – “Landmen” form Trade Association

Today’s American Association of Professional Landmen with about 15,000 members nationwide was organized as a petroleum landmen trade association in Fort Worth, Texas. Landmen research records to determine ownership, locate mineral and land owners and negotiate oil and natural gas leases, trades and contracts. They also help ensure compliance with governmental regulations, according to AAPL.



May 1, 1860 – First West Virginia Oil Well

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Following the 1860 oil discovery at Burning Springs, Appalachian drillers applied cable-tool technologies to drill deeper. Photo courtesy West Virginia Humanities Council.

Virginia’s petroleum industry began about one year before the Civil War when John Castelli ”Cass” Rathbone found oil after drilling near Burning Springs Run in what today is West Virginia.

The well reached 300 feet and began producing 100 barrels of oil a day. Rathbone partnered with his brother John Valleau ”Val” Rathbone as the area experienced a drilling boom – the first to take place outside the Pennsylvania oil region. By the end of 1860, more than 600 oil leases were registered in the Wirt County court-house. Warehouses were built along the Little Kanawha River, which reached the Ohio River at Parkersburg.

“These events truly mark the beginnings of the oil and gas industry in the United States,” noted West Virginia historian David McKain in 1994, adding that the region’s sudden oil wealth helped lead to statehood in June 1863. Many of the new state’s early politicians “were oil men – governor, senator and congressman – who had made their fortunes at Burning Springs.” Visit the West Virginia oil and gas museum in downtown Parkersburg.

May 1, 1916 – Harry Sinclair founds Sinclair Oil & Refining

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Sinclair’s first “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago during the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

Harry Ford Sinclair brought together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases – all acquired at bargain prices. He began with $50 million in assets and borrowed another $20 million to form Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produced six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million. The company’s petroleum refining capacity grew to 150,000 barrels of oil a day in 1932.

Destined to become one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. petroleum industry, in 1930 the company began using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels. Millions of visitors marveled at the green Jurassic giant in Sinclair’s “Dinoland” New York World’s Fair pavilion in 1934 – and again in 1964. Learn more in Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.

May 1, 2001 – Oklahoma Plaza honors Oil Pioneers

The Conoco Oil Pioneers of Oklahoma Plaza – an outdoor educational exhibit area – was dedicated at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. “The history of the state of Oklahoma is inextricably linked with the remarkable history of the oil industry,” proclaimed then Conoco Chairman Archie Dunham.

“The individuals identified here are true Oklahoma oil pioneers in that their endeavors were most significant in the development of the oil and gas industry in this very young state.” Tom Slick, Oklahoma’s King of the Wildcatters, is among those honored in the Conoco Plaza. Slick, a self-taught geologist and former landman, discovered the giant Cushing-Drumright oilfield in 1912.



May 2 1921 – Oil discovered in Texas Panhandle

Following a series of natural gas discoveries revealing the extent of the giant Hugoton field in the Texas Panhandle, a well near Borger found oil. Gulf Oil Company completed the Carson County well on the 6666 (the “Four Sixes”) Ranch of S.B. Burnett several miles east of the gas wells. The discovery well, which initially produced 175 barrels of oil a day, attracted major oil companies to the region around Amarillio, launching a leasing and drilling frenzy. Five years later, an oilfield would be discovered in Hutchinson County, where independent producer “Ace Borger” laid out the boom town of Borger. Visit the Hutchinson County Historical Museum.

May 3, 1870 – “Yellow Dog” Safety Lantern with Two Spouts patented

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An 1870 derrick lamp” will become the “yellow dog.”

Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, received a patent for his “safety derrick lamp” – a two-wicked lantern that became known in America’s early oilfields as the “yellow dog.”

Dillen’s lamp was designed “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places.”

How the once popular lamp got its name has remained a mystery, but some say the two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night. Learn more in Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.

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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 petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member today. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.