This Week in Petroleum History, July 8 – July 14
July 8, 1937 – Gulf of Mexico Drilling Pier
The future Exxon, Humble Oil Company was founded in 1911 in Humble, Texas.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War approves an ambitious plan to build a one-mile pier into the Gulf of Mexico to explore for oil.
War Secretary Harry Hines Woodring approves an application to drill near McFaddin Beach, Texas, by the Humble Oil and Refining Company. The 60-acre lease is about eight miles east of Galveston County’s High Island. Humble Oil builds the pier into the Gulf and erects three drilling rigs to search for oil above what geologist describe as a shallow salt dome.
All three wells are dry holes. A hurricane will destroy the pier in 1938. Visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center on Galveston Island.
July 9, 1815 – Early Natural Gas Discovery
Natural gas is discovered accidentally by Capt. James Wilson during the digging of a salt brine well within the present city limits of Charleston, West Virginia (Virginia in 1815).
The site is near where George Washington noted “burning springs” along the Kanawha River in his 1775 diary. Washington was awarded tracts of the land in Wirt County, which in the 1860s would experience one of America’s earliest oil booms.
Visit the Oil & Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The first commercial discovery of natural gas will be in 1821 in Fredonia, New York.
July 9, 1883 – Finding Oil in the Land of Oz
The father of L. Frank Baum, Benjamin Ward Baum, found great success in the early Pennsylvania oilfields – allowing young “Frankie” to launch a number of ventures before becoming a children’s book author.
The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts a business selling petroleum products in Syracuse, New York. The store offers lubricants, oils, greases - and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”
L. Frank Baum – whose father has found great success in early Pennsylvania oilfields – serves as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which is still in operation. Reporting on the opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper notes that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons.
The grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”
Baum will sell his Castorine business in May 1900 and publish his children’s classic. His connection to the oil and natural gas industry began decades earlier when his father closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the America’s earliest oilfields. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz historian Evan L. Schwartz, after researching company records at its current location in Rome, New York, says the Tin Man can trace his roots to Baum’s Castorine. Read more in “Oil in the Land of Oz.”
July 11, 2008 – World Oil Prices hit Historic High
Many types of crude oil are produced around the world, notes the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “Variations in quality and location result in price differentials, but because oil markets are integrated globally, prices tend to move together.”
U.S. “light sweet crude” rises to $147.27 a barrel, before dropping back to $145.08. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange peaked at $145.29 a barrel eight days earlier.
As supply fears subside (despite speculation and concern about Iran and new demand from China and India competing for world oil supplies) oil prices fall to $36.51 a barrel on January 16, 2009.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), America’s dependence on foreign petroleum has declined since peaking in 2005.
July 12, 1934 – The Start of “Clark Super 100″
Incorporated in 1934, Emory T. Clark’s company will operate almost 1,500 gas stations by 1970.
Two years after paying $14 cash for a closed, one-pump gas station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Emory T. Clark incorporates what will become the Clark Oil & Refining Corporation.
Clark begins building a network of filling stations focused on premium gasoline only – delivering “Super 100 Premium Gasoline.”
Clark’s marketing strategy is to omit many of the common services such as maintenance, engine repair, and tire changing. Sales reach $21.1 million in 1949, notes the Harvard Business School Baker Library.
In 1953 Clark operates 158 service stations in the Midwest under the brand name “Clark Super 100. In September 1967 Clark purchases a 31,000 barrel per day refinery at Wood River, Illinois.
Shell retirees established the Wood River Refinery History Museum in 1986.
By 1970, his company operates almost 1,500 gas stations and two refineries with combined capacity of almost 100,000 barrels a day.
In 1981, the Clark family will sell their company holdings – which began with Emory T. Clark’s $14 purchase – to Missouri-based Apex Oil for $483 million.
The modern Wood River Manufacturing Complex remains a leading refinery serving the Midwest market, notes the Wood River Refinery History Museum in Roxana, Illinois, where exhibits trace the refinery’s history from its beginning in 1917.
July 13, 1921 – Searching for Improved Mileage
“More Miles per Gallon of Petrol” is published by Purdue University professor Otto Carter Berry in the journal Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering. Improved mileage is needed “in view of the shortage of petroleum which is anticipated in the next fifteen years,” notes Berry.
He offers a “means of economizing fuel consumption in motor cars” – including improved spark timing to achieve efficient combustion. His oil shortage prediction will be dispelled by discoveries leading up to the giant East Texas oilfield strike of 1930. Visit the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore. Personal note: There is an exhibit in this museum with my name on it.
July 14, 1863 – A Diamond “Tool for Boring Rock”
Rodolphe Leschot’s cutting-edge technology
French tunnel engineer Rodolphe Leschot patents his “Tool for Boring Rock” – a ring of industrial-grade diamonds fixed on the end of a tubular drill rod and designed to cut a cylindrical core. Water pumped through the drill rod washes away cuttings and cools the bit.
Leschot’s system (patent no. 39235) proves successful in drilling blast holes for tunneling Mount Cenis on the France-Italy border. By 1865, its use in oil well drilling is being examined in the oil regions of western Pennsylvania.
“It is not known if there is any connection between the 1865 experimental diamond core drilling in the Pennsylvania oil region and the Leschot blast hole drilling in France in 1863,” notes oil historian Samuel T. Pees. Learn more about the oil region at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
July 14, 1891 – Rockefeller expands Oil Tank Car Empire
By 1904, Rockefeller’s oil tank car fleet has grown to 10,000.
John D. Rockefeller incorporates Union Tank Line Company in New Jersey and transfers his fleet of several thousand oil tank cars to the Standard Oil Trust. The new company includes a fleet of tank cars from Standard’s purchase of J. J. Vandergrift’s Star Tank Line in 1873.
Rockefeller systematically acquires other oil tank cars and controls all but 200 of America’s 3,200 existing tank cars. By 1904, his fleet has grown to 10,000. Union Tank Line Company ships only Standard Oil products until 1911, when a U. S. Supreme Court decision mandates dissolution of his trust.
The newly independent company changes its name to Union Tank Car Company – and its rolling stock “reporting mark” remains UTL or UTLX to this day. The company, a leading manufacturer of railroad tank cars for the chemical, petrochemical and food industries, manages a U. S. fleet of 61,000 cars. Also read about the “Densmore Brothers Oil Tank Car.”