This Week in Petroleum History August 26 – September 1
August 27, 1859 – Birth of U.S. Petroleum Industry
Visitors to the Drake Well Museum along Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania, can tour a replica of the Edwin Drake’s cable-tool derrick and steam-engine house among many other indoor and outdoor exhibits..
The modern American petroleum industry is born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The Seneca Oil Company’s highly speculative pursuit of oil is rewarded when Edwin L. Drake and his blacksmith driller, William “Uncle Billy” Smith, bring in the first commercial oil well at 69.5 feet near Oil Creek in Venango County.
For many Americans, western Pennsylvania in the 1850s was considered wilderness. When a group of New Haven, Connecticut, investors sought someone to drill in a region known for its oil seeps, they turned to a former railroad conductor already familiar with the area. It also helped that Drake was allowed free passage on trains.
Although earlier cable-tool drillers of brine wells had found small amounts of oil – an unwanted byproduct – “Colonel” Drake’s 1859 discovery well along Oil Creek and launched the modern petroleum industry. An innovator, he created new technologies to drill his well. As a result of his perseverance, many products, including newly invented kerosene, would create a demand for oil that continues to this day.
Ceiling paintings display scenes of the industry’s earliest stories in the Titusville Trust Building, which opened in 1919. The Drake portrait by artist Alfred Valiant depicts the pioneer oilman flanked by two men holding five-foot cable tools – symbols of early oilfield technology.
Drake’s drilling site, now home of the Drake Well Museum, includes a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark that records:
The drilling of this oil well, by Edwin L. Drake in 1859, is the event recognized as marking the modern phase of the petroleum industry. A series of revolutionary technological changes, unforeseen even by the most prophetic, followed. An emerging source of concentrated energy and abundant chemical compounds, petroleum supported sweeping changes in our modes of illumination, power development, transportation, and industrial chemistry. Few events in history have so transformed the face of civilization.
August 27, 1959 – Centennial Stamp Issue
The commemorative stamp serves “as a reminder of what can be achieved by the combination of free enterprise and the vision and courage and effort of dedicated men,” declares U.S. Postmaster Arthur Summerfield.
“No official act could give me greater pleasure than to dedicate this stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the petroleum industry,” declares the keynote speaker.
U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield on this day in 1959 addresses a large crowd at “Oil Centennial Day” in Titusville, Pennsylvania..
During his introduction of the four-cent commemorative postage stamp, he describes the vital role of petroleum in the 1940s and 1950s.
“”The American people have great reason to be indebted to this industry,” Summerfield proclaims. “It has supplied most of the power that has made the American standard of living possible.”
Fifty years later, after granting commemorative status to Kermit the Frog, the U.S. Postal Service Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee twice rejects attempts to create a sesquicentennial stamp recognizing the 150th anniversary of the U.S. petroleum industry.
Aug 27, 2009 – Communities celebrate 150th Anniversary of Petroleum Industry
Titusville, Pennsylvania, celebrities participated in the 2011 parade during America’s oldest annual oil festival.
Week-long festivities take place in Oil City, Titusville, Bradford and many other northwestern Pennsylvania communities honor the sesquicentennial of Edwin Drake’s historic oil discovery.
Thousands attend the annual Titusville Oil Festival parade on Saturday – part of a 2009 Drake Day Extravaganza with the theme Oil 150: America’s Energy Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. The parade includes 75 floats and 10 marching bands. Seven queens from seven area cities participate.
Titusville annually hosts an Oil Festival, as do other communities in the region, including nearby Oil City.
August 28, 1927 – Tool Company founded
Brothers Arthur and Kirby Penick establish the Oil Center Tool Company in Houston to supply drilling equipment to East Texas oilmen. Within six months, they file their first patent for improvement in well performance and safety.
In 1931, Oil Center Tool Company supplies the East Texas Oilfield boom. The company introduces the first factory-assembled and tested completion systems of assembly of valves, spools, and fittings – today known as “Christmas trees.”
By 1957, when Oil Center Tool is acquired by FMC Corporation, it has more than 50 patents.
August 31, 1850 – “Town Gas” company forms in San Francisco
The San Francisco Gas Company is incorporated to produce and distribute manufactured gas extracted from coal tar. Irish immigrant Peter Donahue, his brother James, and engineer Joseph Eastland build their coal gasification plant on San Francisco Bay.
Within two years the company illuminates “town gas” street lamps; by 1915 there are almost 8,500 lamps — each hand lit and shut off every day. The last gas lamp is extinguished in 1930. San Francisco Gas Company is now part of Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation.
August 31, 1859 – The Petroleum Industry’s First Dry Hole
Although Edwin Drake used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to find oil at 69.5 feet, John Grandin used the simpler, time-honored spring-pole “kick down” method. He drilled deeper — but found no oil. This photograph comes from “The World Struggle for Oil,” a 1924 film by the Department of the Interior.
Just four days after America’s first commercial oil discovery at Titusville, Pennsylvania, a series of far less known “firsts” are achieved by local entrepreneur John Livingston Grandin.
Although Edwin Drake used a steam-powered cable-tool rig to find oil at 69.5 feet, Grandin, assisted by blacksmith H.H. Dennis, uses the simpler, time-honored spring-pole “kick down” method for his well at nearby Gordon Run Creek. The well reaches a depth of 134 feet – but produces no oil, despite many attempts.
Instead of being remembered as America’s second commercial oil discovery, the Grandin exploratory well results in the petroleum industry’s first “dry hole.” Grandin’s drilling attempt might also be credited with the first stuck tool, the first shooting of a well with black powder (and first well ruined by a failed shooting attempt).
Travelers on U.S. 62 south of the Allegheny River Bridge at Tidioute, Pennsylvania, will find an historic marker erected in 1959. The marker reads: “At oil spring across river at this point J. L. Grandin began second well drilled specifically for oil, August 1859, after Drake’s success. It was dry, showing risks involved in oil drilling.”
September 1, 1862 – Union taxes Manufactured Gas
Paying for the Civil War brings new energy taxes.
To help fund the Civil War, new federal taxes take effect – up to 15 cents tax per thousand cubic feet of manufactured gas (coal gasified by heating).
Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorials accuse the local gas company of passing on the tax, which “shifts from its shoulders its share of the burdens the war imposes and places it directly on their customers.”
“Not so,” replies the Brooklyn Gas Light Company. “(We) do not contemplate anything of the kind.” The gas company pays the tax without adding to customers’ bills.