This week in the oil patch
May 27, 1933 – Sinclair’s Original Dinosaur debuts in Chicago
Updated in the 1960s and today known more correctly as Apatosaurus, a 70-foot “Dino” travels more 10,000 miles through 25 states and 38 major cities.
“Dino” will become an icon of successful marketing. It again draws crowds at the 1936 Texas Centennial and the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
The Sinclair Oil Corporation trademark Brontosaurus (more correctly, Apatosaurus) debuts at Chicago’s Century of Progress International Exposition.
This giant, soon known as “Dino,” and his prehistoric dinosaur companions are favorites with thousands of world’s fair visitors.
Sinclair’s exhibit draws crowds again at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and the 1939 New York World’s Fair as Dino becomes a marketing icon. Refurbished, the green giant and his companions will return to New York for yet another world’s fair in 1964.
The oil company records its “most successful single promotion was the issuance in 1935 of a dinosaur stamp album which could be filled only with colored dinosaur stamps issued one at a time weekly at service stations.”
The first printing of Sinclair’s dinosaur stamp albums – distributed through its dealers within 48 hours after a single network radio broadcast of the offer – astounds marketing professionals.
In Kansas, the Independence Historical Museum and Art Center exhibits Sinclair Oil’s Mid-Continent oilfield production and refining heritage.
A nearby park displays Corythosaurus – one of the dinosaurs from “Dinoland” at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Read “Dinosaur Fever — Sinclair’s Icon.”
May 28, 1923 – “Well of the Century” reveals Permian Basin
The 2002 movie “The Rookie” opens with nuns christening the drilling of a lonely West Texas well for the patron saint of the impossible. In fact, in 1922 one of the well’s owners climbed to the top of the derrick and threw out rose petals given to him by a group of Catholic investors.
It takes 646 days of difficult cable-tool drilling before U.S. petroleum history is made in West Texas.
In 1958, the University of Texas moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus, where it stands today. The student newspaper once described the well “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.”
Near Big Lake, on the surrounding arid land once thought to be worthless, the Santa Rita No. 1 well strikes oil, discovers an oilfield – and reveals the vast Permian Basin.
Until now, experts have considered West Texas barren of oil.
Discovered after 21 months of cable-tool drilling that averaged less than five feet a day, the Santa Rita – named for the patron saint of the impossible - will produce for seven decades.
Within three years of the discovery by Texon Oil and Land Company, petroleum royalties endow the University of Texas with $4 million (legislators had given the land to the university when it opened in 1883). The Texas board of regents will move Santa Rita’s drilling equipment to the campus in 1958, “In order that it may stand as a symbol of a great era in the history of the university.”
Santa Rita No. 1, named the ‘Oil Well of the Century’ by Texas Monthly, was productive until 1990. Read “Santa Rita reveals Permian Basin.”
Nebraska’s annual oil production peaked at about 25 million barrels in 1962. Production in 2009 was 2,238,846 barrels or 6,134 barrels per day.
May 29, 1940 – Nebraska’s First Oil Well
After more than a half century of dry holes, Nebraska’s first commercial oil well is brought in by the Pawnee Royalty Company near Falls City in Richardson County.
The first publicized report of oil in Nebraska had been an 1883 newspaper account of a “vein of petroleum” discovered in the same county. Eager to become an oil-producing state, the Nebraska legislature had offered a $15,000 bonus for the first well to produce 50 barrels daily for 60 days.
The Bucholz No. 1 discovery well produces an average of more than 169 barrels a day in its first 60 days. Richardson County enjoys an oil boom for three years.
Today’s Nebraska petroleum production is largely in the southwestern panhandle – where a discovery well came in for 225 barrels of oil per day at a depth of 4,429 feet in 1949.
Marathon Oil Company completed the well, the Mary Egging No. 1, five miles southeast of the town of Gurley. “The pioneer efforts in this area have resulted in a major contribution to the economy of the state,” notes the Nebraska State Historical Society.
New technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, are bringing new exploration and production activity to the region. Independent oil and gas companies are showing great interest in the potential of the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, Wyoming – and southwestern Nebraska.
May 30, 1911 – First Indianapolis 500 Winner
By 1912, the Indianapolis 500 is the highest-paying sporting event in the world.
The first Indianapolis 500-mile race begins with a 40-car field; only a dozen will finish the grueling test of automotive technology. The winner averages almost 75 mph.
All the cars – except the No. 32 Marmon “Wasp” – have two seats. Drivers travel with “riding mechanics,” who manually pump oil. Created to showcase the new sport of automobile racing, early contests are all about engine endurance.
Ray Harroun, driver of the winning Marmon Wasp, is more engineer and inventor than professional driver. He later develops a kerosene carburetor declaring, “Let the fuel people fight it out amongst themselves, I’ll have a car soon that will burn anything they send.”
Of the 4,200 automobiles sold in the United States in 1900 – just a decade before the first Indy 500 – gasoline powered less than 1,000. Learn more at “Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.” A record-setting motor is described in “The Blue Flame – Natural Gas Rocket Car.”
May 30, 1987 – Million Barrel Museum Opens
The West Texas community of Monahans boasts of an oil museum like no other.
The Million Barrel Museum opens on a 14.5-acre site in Monahans, Texas. The museum’s main attraction is a large elliptical oil storage tank built in 1928 by Shell Oil Company to store Permian Basin oil.
The experimental concrete tank – 522 feet by 426 feet – was designed to hold more than a million barrels of oil. The highly productive West Texas region lacked oil pipelines at the time.
The tank’s concrete covered, 30-foot earthen walls slope at a 45-degree angle and once included a domed roof made of California redwood. Unfortunately, repeated efforts could not prevent oil leaking from seams. Shell abandoned the structure, which stood idle for decades. It briefly became a water park in the 1950s…but leaked again.
With the help of local teachers and historians, construction of the Million Barrel Museum began in 1986 – as part of the Ward County sesquicentennial. Today, the museum is the setting for barbecues, dances, cowboy poetry readings and fajita cook-offs.
June 1, 1860 – First U.S. Petroleum Book published
Reprinted in 2006, “Rock Oil” is available from the Oil Region Alliance in Oil City, Pennsylvania.
Less than a year after Edwin Drake’s historic discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Thomas Gale publishes an 80-page pamphlet many regard as the first book about petroleum. His Rock Oil, The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere describes the new, revolutionary resource.
“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 writes. “In other words, rock oil emits a dainty light; the brightest and yet the cheapest in the world; a light fit for Kings and Royalists, and not unsuitable for Republicans and Democrats.”
In 1952, the Ethyl Corporation of New York republishes the book, noting “this first book about petroleum following the Drake well was written to satisfy public desire for more information about rock oil, its origin, geology, production, costs, uses, history, prospects; invaluable eyewitness descriptions of early oil wells.”
June 1, 1940 – Dallas Artist exhibits West Texas
Artist Jerry Bywaters – a member of the Dallas Nine – exhibits his newly completed Oil Field Girls in the Fine Arts Palace of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. His image of two enigmatic young women framed in a West Texas oilfield becomes one of Bywaters’ best known works.
Dallas artist Jerry Bywaters painted Oil Field Girls in 1940 for the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition. He titled its companion piece Oil Rig Workers (Roughnecks).
Almost 70 artists, including famed Mexican painter Diego Rivera, participate in the International Exposition’s four-month “Art in Action” exhibition. Oil Field Girls will move on to the Dallas Museum of Art and eventually into the collection of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas.
“A canny mixture of reportage and editorial commentary, Oil Field Girls is a history painting that captures a surprisingly humane narrative of a specific time and place,” notes the museum.
The oil-on-board painting’s companion piece, Oil Rig Workers (Roughnecks), also painted in 1940, is in a private collection.