Volume 10, Number 1, 2009
Postage Stamp Attempt — Unsuccessful,
A Crude Lesson,
Drake Well 150th Anniversary – Commemorative Painting,
Was Colonel Drake A Hero?,
Yankee Doodle Drake,
Abstracts — 2009 International Symposium, Titusville, Pennsylvania
Petroleum History Institute 2009 Awards
Meeting Information — 2010 Oil Symposium & Field Trip April 29th – May 1st – Lafayette, Louisiana
Volume 10, 2009 Abstracts
ABSTRACT: On August 27, 1859, “Uncle Billy” Smith decided to break his rule of not working on Sunday in order to check a well he was drilling under the supervision of Mr. Edwin Drake, formerly of New Haven, Connecticut, and a retired railroad conductor. No one, neither Smith nor Drake, not even the New Haven investors, could have imagined or predicted how that simple act of checking the well would change the world. But Smith found that at a depth of 69 ½ feet, oil was rising up the well pipe. In 2009 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of that discovery and the creation of the modern oil and gas industry that followed. Certainly there were other discoveries of oil in wells that were dug and in salt water wells that were drilled, but none of those discoveries captured the imagination of entrepreneurs and the public alike as did this simple act of dropping a small can down a well pipe and bringing up oil. If this retired conductor, with no engineering background, and a simple blacksmith and salt well driller could find oil, then that opportunity was open to anyone, and literally thousands of these anyones flooded into the Titusville region. One of our field trip stops, Pithole, showed how quickly towns could develop, and then die just as quickly. The papers in our symposia told the story of Drake and “Uncle Billy,” and the stories of others who followed, who were responsible for the idea of drilling, and who convinced Drake to go to Titusville to manage the drilling project. Our field trips took us to the site of the Drake Well and other places that played a role in the development of the modern petroleum industry.
ABSTRACT: Edwin Drake was not among those who reaped great rewards from the early oil industry, even though his actions provided the spark that started that very industry which has benefitted so many people around the world. Instead, he ended his life in poverty and illness. Drake was a 39 year old retired railroad conductor when he was hired by a fledgling Connecticut oil company to supervise the drilling of a well in search for oil on the banks of Oil Creek in 1858. With little formal education, he was, however, a practical and tenacious person who was a good problem solver. Unfortunately, even with these qualities, he was not successful in his various business ventures after he left the oil fields. But 150 years ago, he applied those attributes to his position as the overseer of field operations; in modern terms he was a project manager for the company. As the manager of that project, in the face of repeated failures and difficulties, Drake persisted, until, literally in the last hours of the operation, the work was successful and oil was discovered in the well pipe. For what is believed to be the first time in history, a well had been successfully drilled specifically in search of oil, and Drake was the man behind the project. Because of his actions, today that well is known as The Drake Well. Who this man was and how he came to be on the banks of Oil Creek on the 27th of August in 1859 is the subject of this article.
* Excerpts modified from: Myth, Legend, Reality; Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry, by William R. Brice; Oil Region Alliance, Oil City, Pennsylvania, 2009 – used with permission. www.oilregion.org. Portions of this material were also published in the Oilfield Journal, 2008/2009, p. 29-59.
ABSTRACT: As the United States oil industry burst into life within weeks of the oil-drilling discovery of Drake, Bissell and Townsend, its structure was determined by techniques often as hit-and-miss as the wildcatters’ hunches on the sites of the wells themselves. Nearly everything about the nascent industry had to be invented, almost on the spot, if not borrowed from somewhere else. From living conditions to financial arrangements to technical innovations, each sprang up, was tested and just as quickly modified or discarded. The only rule was simple: if it worked it stuck. Two of the more fascinating, if transient, jobs that were born in the thunderclap of energy of the early oil industry were oil teamsters and oil scouts. One disappeared instantly and utterly, slugged out of existence by the one-two punch of technology and commercial advantage. The other went away, but only for a while, ultimately returning in a new guise to meet new needs – and still of importance today.
* Adapted from his upcoming book, Pennsylvania Crude: Boomtowns and Oil Barons.
ABSTRACT: Natural gas wells, or gassers, of the late 1800s and early 1900s often resulted in impressive displays of roaring gas that owners would ignite to impress investors or attract new industries to an area. During the gas boom days of the Lima-Indiana trend of northwest Ohio and eastern Indiana, excursion trains transported thousands of tourists and businessmen to the nearby towns to witness the towering flames. Uncontrolled gas flows, with or without accompanying fire, were a more serious matter, although they also often became tourist attractions. These include the 1906 Caney gas well of Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and the 1906 Kane well, of McKean County, Pennsylvania. The Keelor Chemical Company drilled this well a few miles northwest of the town of Kane, near the village of Wetmore. In September of 1906, the upper portion of the derrick was blown to pieces as the escaping gas threw tools out of the hole. The flow of gas was estimated between 40,000,000 and 100,000,000 cubic feet per day. Newspaper articles and postcard captions of the Kane well include similar phrases to those used in other early gas well tourist attractions; the greatest well ever drilled, the monster gas well, and the well whose roar could be heard for miles. This gas gusher flowed for approximately two months, apparently never catching fire, before being brought under control. A pipeline transported the gas to Buffalo, New York and the well produced for four or five years.
ABSTRACT: It is common knowledge that the world’s first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, by Edwin Drake in 1859. But it is a little known fact that the nation’s first oil refinery was built in Pittsburgh. Even before Drake’s oil well was drilled, petroleum was gathered at natural seeps, and it was an unwelcome by-product of salt recovered from wells drilled throughout the region. Enterprising settlers burned the crude oil in lamps, thickened it with flour to grease wagon wheels and machinery, and even used it for medicinal purposes. However, there were no major applications for oil until it was refined, and that began with the work of Samuel Kier in Pittsburgh where he built and operated the Western Hemisphere’s first refinery to produce lamp fuel. Kier, as well as several others from Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, including Michael Benedum, Charles Lockhart, John Galey, James Guffey, William Larimer Mellon, and George Westinghouse, greatly expanded the scope and magnitude of the early energy industry.
ABSTRACT: Most people are familiar with the image of very large supertankers plying the world’s oceans delivering oil to shores far from the oil’s source. But few would image this product being delivered by sailing vessel, yet for the first 50 or so years of the modern industry those ships were indeed the major international carriers of bulk oil. Although the first major commercial shipment after Drake’s discovery was 3000 barrels of oil carried across the Atlantic on the Elizabeth Watts in 1861, as early as 1863 sailing ships were being re-fitted or designed to carry oil in bulk, not in actual barrels. Thus from the 1860s until the early 20th century, sailing ships were used to transport oil in bulk across the world. But by the second decade, the fickle nature of wind and currents had given way to the reliability of steam and the era of oil tankers under sail came to an end.
* Originally published in the British Journal Archive.
ABSTRACT: 150 years ago, when the 1859 Drake well in Pennsylvania provided the spark that launched the modern petroleum industry, Oklahoma already had oil production from a hand dug well in Mayes County, and at least nine publications had mentioned oil seeps in southern Oklahoma. By the time Oklahoma became a state and a major oil producer in the early 20th century, these reports had been largely forgotten, and have been overlooked in the modern geological literature. The Dragoon Expedition (Wheelock 1834) first reported rock oil in Oklahoma at seeps probably located near the Loco and Healdton oil fields. Lt. Johnston of Fort Washita next reported a steeply dipping sandstone seeping oil in the northern Arbuckle Mountains at an 1845 geological convention. Lt. Johnston’s report was summarized in multiple commercial books related to coal and oil from 1848 to 1865. Chickasaw Indian Agents stated in several annual reports (Upshaw 1845; 1846; 1848; Smith, 1853) that two or more oil springs in southern Oklahoma were used by the local population for medicinal purposes. Michler (1850) mentioned these medicinal springs in a military expedition report and showed Oil Spring road leading west from Fort Washita on what is probably the first published map to depict oil in Oklahoma. Randolph Marcy, returning from his 1852 expedition to find the source of the Red River, traveled through the Wichita Mountains to the area of future Fort Sill and found oil within igneous outcrops in the immediate vicinity of Medicine Bluffs.
ABSTRACT: The use of Geophysics allows one to explore beyond the featureless plain or beneath the sea. As such, it drives down the cost of exploration. Dominant people involved in the creation of the Geophysical Exploration Industry include Everette Lee De Golyer, Lugar Mintrop, Clarence Karcher, and Frank Rieber. While the first was primarily an oil man and the others scientists, all were superb salesmen. Events of the 1920s led to the 1930 formation of The Society of Exploration Geophysicists in Houston. Research material for this pictorial history, includes observations of historian George Elliott Sweet, The History of Geophysical Prospecting, and other sources as well as artifacts of the Geophysical Society of Houston. The latter include Pure Oil prospect reports of the Geophysical Research Corporation founded by De Golyer and Karcher as part of Amerada Corporation and pictures taken by John R. Schander, VP of the German firm North American Exploration Company. By the end of 1929 De Golyer and Karcher reported that 44 salt domes had been located with refraction seismic and 11 by the Torsion Balance. These discoveries, coupled with other discoveries in Texas and elsewhere from 1894 to 1930, produced a glut of oil. This, combined with the stock market crash in 1929, resulted in the departure of the German Companies (NAMEX in 1930 and Seismos in 1931). Schander’s photos document the work with both Torsion Balance and Seismic as well as many oil fields in the US and Europe http:// www.gshtx.org/en/photos/albums/v/22. The Geophysical Society of Houston and the SEG have instruments like those used in the Dawning of Geophysical Exploration.
ABSTRACT: The humorist with his or her pen is never very far behind the scientist, as nicely demonstrated in a cartoon that appeared in the April 1865 issue of Yankee Notions, a middle-brow regional humor magazine published in New York City from 1852 to 1875. The cheap pulp pages have deteriorated over the years, and few libraries saved copies of the journal. The most extensive set of issues is in the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts; the image is from their copy. The AAS is renowned among historians for its holdings of American newspapers and periodicals.
ABSTRACT: Trading cards, trade cards, and comic books have included the petroleum industry in their advertising and storylines. Victorian trade cards were an inexpensive way for merchants to advertise their products in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These cards immediately became popular collectibles and were often mounted in albums and traded with friends. During this period, most households and businesses depended on kerosene for lighting. Early trade cards advertised kerosene, as well as the various types of kerosene containers. In addition to illuminating oil, other early trade cards advertised lubricating and heating oils. In the late 1880s, plain pieces of cardboard were used as stiffeners in cigarette packages. Advertising was soon added and the popular cigarette card was born. These cards were collected and traded, and by the 1930s, millions of cigarette cards had been issued. Popular themes included sports, aviation, animals, military, and industries. The first British company to issue the cards was W. D. and H. O. Wills (1887), and they included a cigarette card of the Summerland, California offshore pier oil wells in a 1916 series. Two other notable British cigarette card advertisers, John Player and Sons, and Godfrey Phillips, Limited, also issued cards with petroleum themes in the 1920s and 1930s.
Goudy Gum Company of Boston introduced a 1933 series of Indian Gum cards that included one with the caption, Osage oil wells. Two Superman cards from a very popular 1940-41 Gum Inc. series, depicted oil field fires and explosions with Superman saving the day! Many collectors consider this trading card set the top non-sport card set of the time. Coca-Cola issued twenty card-size stickers and an associated album in a 1942 set, “Oil – a modern necessity”. Oil Well Willie, one of the many Howdy Doody television show characters, was included in a 1951 series of 15 trading cards from the back of Royal Dessert packages. Comic books with oil field story lines include a 1951 Dale Evans issue, The Oil Rustlers, where Dale exhibits her skill with a lariat to capture the villains. Jerry Lewis discovers oil in a 1969 issue of the comic book, The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. Richie Rich , the poor little rich boy, comic books exhibited several covers with creative oil well gushers, as did an issue of Casper, the friendly ghost.
ABSTRACT: In the nineteenth century the science of geology, through stratigraphic analysis, was slowly clarifying the structure of the subsoil and the deployment of its resources. By the middle of that century in the oil research there is a gradual improvements process, motivated by the need to reduce the risk of unsuccessful drilling. The aim of this article is to examine the application of the evidences offered by geology to the nascent oil industry through the work of the young Italian geologist Giovanni Capellini (1833-1922) in the southern Carpathians in 1864.
ABSTRACT: At a turning point in my life in 1974, I veered in the direction of seismic oil exploration, for that seemed to afford a better opportunity than tending bar. That turn has taken me to many places in the world that, at the time, I never even dreamed existed. As a result I have worked in jungles, deserts, cold weather, rainy weather, and just plain awful weather, but I don’t regret a minute of it. Not only was life in the field never boring, but I managed to find time, also, to get my writing career started while I dragged jugs, looked at seismic traces, survived helicopter crashes, and out ran several very large snakes. So here are a few stories and photos of 30 years or so of living in and around the Dog House.
ABSTRACT: Hello Dolly, a delightful Broadway musical from the 1960s, tells the fictional story of Dolly Levi, a gregarious woman who brings young people together for happy marriages. But Dolly never made a marriage as portentous as the one petroleum journalist Wanda Jablonski brought about when her introduction of a Venezuelan and a Saudi led to the formation of perhaps the most powerful economic cartel in world history. To understand WHY the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) came to be requires some understanding of the biggest political and ideological forces of the 1950s – Communism, Capitalism and the Cold War. To understand how OPEC came to be requires some understanding of two men, the woman who introduced them, and the attitudes and assumptions of the biggest oil companies in the world.
ABSTRACT: The gas and oil industry spread west throughout the United States following the success of Drake’s well in 1859. One of the most significantly-impacted areas was East Central Indiana. Delaware County, Indiana, particularly benefited from its location in the Trenton Field and was successful in attracting major industries to the area, including Ball Brothers Glass from New York.