Texas cattle ranch signed largest lease U.S. oil lease ever negotiated in 1933, helped launch major oil company.
The largest U.S. private oil lease ever negotiated was signed in Texas during the Great Depression. The 825,000 acre King Ranch oil deal with Humble Oil and Refining helped establish a major petroleum company. The 1933 agreement has been extended ever since.
Despite dry holes drilled more than a decade earlier, a geologist convinced his petroleum company to further explore a big ranch in South Texas. At one point covering one million acres, King Ranch today is still bigger than the state of Rhode Island (776,960 acres).
Well known in 1957, Robert Kleberg, the grandson of ranch founder, Richard King, made hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from his grandfather’s 1933 lease deal.
The King Ranch began in 1852, when Richard King and Gideon Lewis established a cattle camp on Santa Gertrudis Creek southwest of Corpus Christi, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The ranch expanded into Nueces, Kenedy, Kleberg, and Willacy counties.
The King Ranch’s distinctive “Running W” brand, registered in 1869, is said to represent a moving rattlesnake or the curves of Santa Gertrudis Creek.
As King Ranch became famous for its Texas longhorn cattle, petroleum exploration there began as early as 1919. Exploratory wells drilled by a future major oil company — the largest in America — were dry holes.
Humble Oil and Refining Company, a Houston company founded in 1917, drilled early unsuccessful wells on the King Ranch. With no oil discoveries by 1926, the company let its lease expire. Years would pass as new exploration and production terms were negotiated.
“Agreement was not reached until 1933 because Humble’s top management was uncertain about the oil potential of this part of Texas,” explained a 1976 article by John Ashton and Edgar Sneed. Company geologist Wallace E. Pratt finally convinced Humble Oil and Refining President W.S. Parrish to lease the King Ranch for $127,824 per year, plus a one-eighth royalty.
Humble Oil and Refining Company’s first home office was built in 1920 at Main and Polk streets in downtown Houston.
The petroleum lease, signed on September 26, 1933, would bring wealth to both the ranch and the young petroleum company. Subsequent leases from neighboring ranches gave Humble Oil and Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River.
Although King Ranch completed a successful oil well in 1939, drilling new wells lagged until 1945 and discovery of the Borregas oilfield. “After that, several major oil and gas discoveries were made on the ranch, where in 1947 Humble operated 390 producing oil wells,” noted Ashton and Sneed in their Handbook of Texas Online King Ranch article.
Humble Oil constructed a refinery in Kingsville to process growing oil production in South Texas.
Destined for Greatness
King Ranch had 650 producing oil and natural gas wells in 1953. In 1980, a subsidiary — King Ranch Oil and Gas — was formed to conduct exploration and production in five states and the Gulf of Mexico. Eight years later, the company sold its Louisiana and Oklahoma holdings to Presidio Oil Company for more than $40 million.
“In 1992 King Ranch Oil and Gas was one among several companies to discover natural gas off the coast of Louisiana,” concluded Ashton and Sneed. By 1994, the King Ranch had received oil and natural gas royalties amounting to more than $1 billion since World War II, they estimated.
In Kingsville, Texas, the tiered Mediterranean-style main house of King Ranch headquarters, “looms like a palace over the kingdom.”
Humble Oil and Refining Company will consolidate operations with Standard Oil of New Jersey. By the 1950s it merges operations with Esso, leading to Exxon.
Today, as ExxonMobil, the company continues to extend the King Ranch lease agreement that has been in effect since September 1933. “
The King family became the closest thing to royalty in Texas,” Nanette Watson proclaimed in her April 2012 article in Houses with History. “Admired for their hard work and generosity, the family is expressly private and protective of their land,” she reported. “The ruling family’s tiered Mediterranean-style main house at the headquarters looms like a palace over the kingdom.”
Watson claimed the family’s “destined for greatness” legacy inspired the family portrayed in the 1956 Hollywood epic “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson. Despite the rancher (Hudson) and the oil driller (Dean) in conflict prior to a oil gusher, by the time the movie was made, well control had been around more than 30 years (see Ending Oil Gushers – BOP).
Recommended Reading: Kings of Texas: The 150-Year Saga of an American Ranching Empire (2003). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Reigns at King Ranch.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/king-ranch-oil. Last Updated: September 20, 2021. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.
August 18, 2021 – Oil & Gas History News, Vol. 2, No. 8
Oil & Gas History News
Welcome to our August newsletter, the latest summertime chronology of notable petroleum history events. This month includes an 1861 Pennsylvania oil well that is still producing; an Oklahoma geophysicist’s 1921 seismic technology breakthrough; the 1956 beginning of America’s interstate highways; and the launch of a concrete oil tanker in 1918. Thank you again for subscribing — and for sharing this newsletter and AOGHS website articles!
This Week in Petroleum History Monthly Update
Links to summaries from four weeks of U.S. oil and natural gas history, including new technologies, oilfield discoveries, petroleum products, and pioneers.
August 16, 1861 – Oldest Producing Oil Well drilled in Pennsylvania
What would become the world’s oldest continuously producing oil well was completed on Oil Creek near Oil City, Pennsylvania. The McClintock No. 1 well, reaching 620 feet deep into the Venango Third Sand, initially produced 50 barrels of oil a day. The well was drilled 14 miles from Titusville…MORE
August 9, 1921 – Reflection Seismography reveals Geological Structure
A team led by University of Oklahoma geophysicist John C. Karcher conducted the world’s first reflection seismograph measurement of a geologic formation, pioneering the use of reflection seismic technology in petroleum exploration. Seismography would lead to discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields…MORE
August 2, 1956 – Missouri builds First U.S. Interstate Highway
Missouri became the first state to award a contract with interstate construction funding authorized two months earlier by the Federal-Aid Highway Act. The Missouri highway commission began work on part of Route 66 – now Interstate 44. “There is no question that the creation of the interstate highway system has been the most significant development in the history of transportation in the United States”…MORE
July 27, 1918 – Standard Oil of New York launches Concrete Oil Tanker
America’s first concrete vessel designed to carry oil, the Socony, left its shipyard at Flushing Bay, New York. Built for the Standard Oil Company of New York, the barge was 98-feet long with a 32-foot beam and carried oil in six center and two wing compartments, “oil-proofed by a special process,” according to Cement and Engineering News…MORE
Construction began in August 1942 on two petroleum pipelines that would prove vital during World War II. The “Big Inch” and the “Little Big Inch” lines were part of “the most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved.” Map courtesy Texas Eastern Transmission Corp.
World War II brings “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” Pipelines
Conceived to supply wartime fuel demand and in response to U-boat attacks on oil tankers along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, War Emergency Pipelines Inc. began construction on the “Big Inch” pipeline on August 3, 1942. The $95 million project laid a 1,254-mile, 24-inch pipeline (Big Inch) from East Texas oilfields to Illinois. An accompanying 20-inch-wide line (Little Big Inch) carried gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and kerosene as far as New Jersey. The final weld on the Big Inch was made in July 1943, just 350 days after construction began. Learn more in Big Inch Pipelines of WW II.
Bertha Benz makes World’s First Auto Road Trip
Thirty-nine-year-old Bertha Benz made history when she became the first person to make a long-distance trip by automobile. Her August 12, 1888, excursion also included, “the first road repairs, the first automotive marketing stunt, the first case of a wife borrowing her husband’s car without asking, and the first violation of intercity highway laws in a motor vehicle,” proclaimed Wired magazine in 2012. Learn more in First Car, First Road Trip.
Discovery of Oklahoma’s “Poor Man’s Field”
The Crystal Oil Company on August 4, 1913, completed its Wirt Franklin No. 1 well 20 miles northwest of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The well revealed the giant Healdton oilfield, which became known as the “poor man’s field,” because of its shallow depth and low cost of drilling. The area attracted independent producers with limited financial backing. Erle P. Halliburton perfected his method of cementing oil wells in the Healdton field. Learn more in Halliburton and the Healdton Oilfield.
Permian Basin inspires “Alley Oop” Comic Strip
The comic strip “Alley Oop” first appeared on August 7, 1933, but the cartoon caveman began earlier in the imagination of a young cartographer working for a West Texas oil company. The town of Iraan would later proclaim its oilfield as the inspiration for cartoonist Victor Hamlin’s popular prehistoric character. Learn more in Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.
Thanks again for subscribing to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s monthly email newsletter. And special thanks to our new and renewing supporting members, who understand lessons of the past are relevant to modern energy challenges. With your continued support of AOGHS, there is much to look forward to.
— Bruce Wells
“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize
© American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 3204 18th Street NW, No. 3, Washington, District of Columbia 20010, United States, (202) 387-6996
Oilfield service provider Zero Hour Bomb Company produced “cannot backlash” fishing reels in 1949 — and became Zebco.
When Jasper R. Dell Hull walked into the Tulsa offices of the Zero Hour Bomb Company in 1947, he carried a piece of plywood with a few nails in a circle wrapped in line. Attached was a coffee-can lid that could spin. Hull, known by his friends as “R.D.,” was an amateur inventor from Rotan, Texas. He had an appointment with executives at the Oklahoma oilfield service company.
Since its incorporation in 1932, the Zero Hour Bomb Company had become well known for manufacturing dependable electric timer bombs for fracturing geologic formations. It had designed and patented technologies for “shooting” wells to increase oil and natural gas production. The company’s timer controlled a mechanism with a detonator in a watertight casing. The downhole device could be pre-set to detonate a series of blasting caps, which set off the well’s main charge, shattering rock formations.
The Zero Hour Bomb Company was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1932. Photos courtesy Zebco.
Hull’s 1947 visit was timely for Zero Hour Bomb Company, because post World War II demand for its electrically triggered devices had declined. With the military no longer needing oil to fuel the war, the U.S. petroleum industry was in recession. The company and other once booming Oklahoma service companies were reeling, and the future did not look good.
“Vast fossil fuel reserves beneath other Middle Eastern nations were being unlocked,” noted journalist Joe Sills in a 2014 article. “OPEC was beginning to take shape, and Texas and Oklahoma-based domestic oil in the U.S. was about to take a decades-long backseat to foreign oil.”
Further, with company patents expiring in 1948, “the Zero Hour Bomb Company needed a solution,” explained Sills, an editor for Fishing Tackle Retailer. After examining Hull’s contraption, a prototype fishing reel, the company hired him for $500 a month. Hull later received a patent that would transform Zero Hour Bomb Company – and sport fishing in America.
Downhole Patents and a Fishing Reel
Beginning in the early 1930s, Zero Hour Bomb engineers patented many innovative oilfield products. A 1939 design for an “Oil Well Bomb Closure” facilitated assembly of an explosive device capable of withstanding extreme pressures submerged deep in a well. A 1940 invention provided a hook mechanism for safely lowering torpedoes into wells. The locking method was to “positively prevent premature release of the torpedo while it is being lowered into the well.”
Two patents in July 1953 for a well bridge would be among the last the Zero Hour Bomb Company received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer, thanks to a fishing reel designed by R.D. Hull in the late 1940s and patented on February 2, 1954.
A 1941 patent improved positioning blasting cartridges with a canvas plugging device that looked like an upside-down umbrella. The “well bridge” automatically opened “when the time bomb or weight reached a position at the bottom of the well.”
A 1953 design that took this concept even further would be the last patent Zero Hour Bomb received as an oilfield equipment manufacturer. By then, the earliest model of Hull’s new “cannot backlash” reel was attracting crowds at sports shows.
“After trying to design ‘brakes’ for bait-casting reels, and even failing at launching one fishing reel company, Hull hit on a better way one day as he watched a grocery store clerk pull string from a large fixed spool to wrap a package,” reported Lee Leschper in a 1999 Amarillo Globe-News article.
Zero Hour Bomb Company’s first “cannot backlash” reel made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June 1949.
Hull realized he needed a cover to keep the line from spinning off the reel itself and soon developed a prototype, Leschper noted. “Zero Hour officials asked two company employees who were avid fishermen for their opinions on the reel. One tied his set of car keys to the end of the line and sent a cast flying through one of the windows in the plant. The other sent a cast high over the building. All were impressed.”
Given his own Hull-deigned fishing reel at about age six, Leschper recalled, the “tiny black pushbutton reel” came with 6 lb. monofilament line (a petroleum-based polymer), a four-foot white hollow fiberglass rod, and a hard yellow plastic practice plug. It is possible the plug was made from Marlex, a revolutionary plastic invented at Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (see Petroleum Product Hoopla). Leschper added, “I wore it down to a nub pitching it across the hard-baked grass in our front yard.”
A Zero Hour Bomb Company package addressed to President Eisenhower was submerged in water by White House security in 1956. Photo courtesy Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine.
Earlier, Hull, had tested several designs before developing a production process; the first reel was produced on May 13, 1949. Called the Standard, it made its public debut at a Tulsa sports expo in June. By 1954, the reel’s simple push-button system used today was introduced.
Panic at White House
The regional marketing name – Zebco – became popular, but the bottom of each reel’s foot was stamped with the the name of the manufacturer, Zero Hour Bomb Company. The official name change to Zebco came in 1956, soon after a friend of President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked the company to send a reel to the president.
According to a Zebco company history, when White House security officers saw the package labeled “Zero Hour Bomb Company,” they plunged it into a tub of water and called the bomb squad. After changing its name to Zebco, the company left the oilfield for good.
In 1961, Zebco was acquired by Brunswick Corporation and introduced the 202 ZeeBee spincast, “an instant classic.” After shifting reel assembly production to China in 2000, Brunswick a year later sold Zebco to the W.C. Bradley Company. Zebco headquarters today remains in Tulsa, where it leases a 200,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center.
Jasper R. Dell “R.D.” Hull was inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame in 1975 after receiving more than 35 patents. At the time of his induction, 70 million Zebco reels had been sold. He retired from the former oilfield time-bomb company in January 1977 after being diagnosed with cancer and died in December at age 64.
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. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Zebco Reel Oilfield History.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/zebco-reel-oilfield-history. Last Updated: July 24, 2021. Original Published Date: February 20, 2018.
Son preserves magazine advertisement with father operating “Caterpillar” D4 Diesel Tractor in New York oilfield.
While working as a foreman in the oilfield service industry in Pennsylvania and New York, Charles Gerringer’s father operated an innovative diesel-fueled tractor. The family kept a circa 1950 trade magazine advertisement featuring Harold Gerringer as he worked at a well using the “Caterpillar” D4.
“My Dad worked for N.V.V. Franchot and was a foreman in the oil and gas fields around Allegany, New York,” Charles noted in a 2019 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “I have an advertisement of him using one of the first modern Caterpillar tractors to pull a well.”
Thanks to his son Charles, this image of Allegany lease tractor operator Harold Gerringer (at right) in a Caterpllar advertisement has been preserved. This partially restored image of a well workover is from the ad, which appeared in Producers Monthly Magazine.
The trade magazine advertisement featured Harold Gerringer with a “Caterpillar” D4 at a workover site (replacing production equipment to extend the life of a well). The promotion came from an prominent machine company in the region that sold the “Caterpiller” D4, whose virtue was its low diesel fuel consumption.
Franchot oil lease
“Never was there a cheaper power on a lease,” the ad proclaimed. Originally designed for farm use, the 41-horsepower tractor proved popular in oilfields. Its ads appeared in Producers Monthly magazine, published by the Bradford District of the Pennsylvania Oil Producers Association from 1936 to 1969.
The “Caterpiller” D4 ad began with a simple description of the oilfield photo. “Four men and a tractor are putting new economy into their work on the N.V.V. Franchot lease at Four Mile, New York, lease pictured above. Credit is due to the N.V.V. F. Munson, the general superintendent, Lawrence Gallets, the foreman, Harold Gerringer the tractor operator, and Norbert Karl, the able helper,” the text noted.
“For more than three months now this ‘Caterpillar’ Diesel D4 Tractor has been operating at the amazingly low fuel consumption of only four gallons of Diesel fuel in an eight-hour day,” the ad continued.
The Caterpillar Company ad, promoting the region’s supplier, Beckwith Machine Company, proclaimed: “Never was there a cheaper power on a lease, never so much work for so little fuel cost, and never greater satisfaction for the owner built into a Tractor.”
Beckwith Machine provided contact information for sales at field offices in Pittsburgh, Bradford, Wilkes-Barre, and Harrisburg. Bradford today is home to the Penn-Brad Oil Museum. Not far away in New York, the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar also preserves the region’s considerable petroleum history.
Special thanks to Charles Gerringer, a supporting member of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, for sharing a brief part of his father’s oilfield history. Learn about other families’ efforts to preserve their petroleum heritage in American Oil & Gas Families.
Recommended Reading: Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State (1949) by John P Herrick. “If you are doing business in the oil and gas industry in New York State this is a must read. The level of historical research is excellent,” noted one reviewer in 2014 after reading the 474-page history. Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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. For more information, contact email@example.com. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad. Last Updated: July 2, 2021. Original Published Date: June 14, 2020.
Milestones of American Petroleum History (in progress)
Although some early pioneers who drilled brine wells sometimes found oil instead, the U.S. petroleum industry began with an 1859 Pennsylvania well drilled specifically for oil for refining into kerosene lamp fuel. This oil and natural gas history chronology is a limited sample of the industry’s milestones — exploration, production, technologies, products, transportation, etc.
The petroleum industry history timeline is part of an on-going project of the American Oil & Gas historical Society’s Energy Education Committee (you are invited to join the research effort). Importantly, fossil fuel history provides a context for understanding modern energy challenges. Comments, suggestions — and additions — are welcomed.
The U.S. petroleum industry began on August 27, 1859, with a Pennsylvania well drilled specifically for oil.
“Any survey of the natural resources used as sources of energy must include a discussion about the importance of oil, the lifeblood of all industrialized nations.” — Daniel Yergin, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
1817 America’s first public street lamp (fueled by manufactured gas) lit in Baltimore, Maryland. Illuminating gaslight brought dazzling “gems of light” to Rembrandt Peale’s art museum.
1821 First U.S. natural gas well dug near Fredonia, New York.
1829 A spring-poled well seeking brine found oil instead (bottled for medicine) from Kentucky’s Great American Oil Well.
1836 Manufactured “coal gas” street lighted Philadelphia streets.
1846 Canadian Abraham Gesner refined illuminating fuel from coal and named it kerosene (trademarked in 1855).
1850 Samuel Kier distilled oil into “carbon oil” for medicine in Pittsburgh.
1855 George Bissell studied oil seeps, organized Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company.
1859 Edwin L. Drake completed first U.S. oil well on August 27, at Titusville, Pennsylvania, launching the U.S. petroleum industry.
1859 On August 30, John Grandin drills first “dry hole” exploring for oil.
1863 Confederates raided oilfield in western Virginia, burning derricks and storage tanks.
1863 First oilfield pipeline (2.5 miles, 2-inch cast iron) operated in Pennsylvania.
1864 Union Col. E.A.L. Roberts uses down-hole explosives to fracture oil-bearing sands, “shooting” the well.
1866 First Texas oil well drilled in Nacogdoches County by Lyne Taliaferro Barret.
1876 First major California oil well competed in Pico Canyon after limited production in 1850s.
1878 Haymaker brothers well discovered massive natural gas field, making headlines, “Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh.”
1882 John D. Rockefeller established Standard Oil Trust.
1885 Lima Oilfield discovered in Ohio.
1886 Indiana’s Trenton natural gas field proved to be 5,000 square miles (13,000 km).
1886 “Great Karg Well” natural gas discovery made in Findlay, Ohio.
1892 First Kansas oil well drilled at Neodesha.
1894 New rotary method used for drilling discovered first major Texas oilfield at Corsicana, Texas.
1896 Piers used for offshore drilling on California beaches.
1897 First Oklahoma oil well drilled at Bartlesville, Indian Territory.
1900 New York City hosted first U.S. auto show.
1901 Giant Spindletop oilfield revealed by “Lucas Gusher.”
1901 First Louisiana oil well revealed giant Jennings oilfield.
1902 First Alaska oil well drilled in rugged territory known for oil seeps.
1905 Glenn Pool oilfield discovered in Oklahoma, helping Tulsa to become “Oil Capital of the World.”
1908 First Model T “Tin Lizzy” produced by Ford Motor Company in Detroit.
1909 Sharp-Hughes dual-cone drill bit patented, soon nicknamed the “rock eater.”
1911 Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil broken up into 34 companies.
1911 Lakewood oil gusher in California (uncapped for 18 months).
1911 667,000 automobiles registered in United States (8.5 million by 1920).
1912 USS Texas launched, last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers.
1913 First gas station opened by Gulf Oil in Pittsburgh.
1913 Carl Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company in California.
1917 “Roaring Ranger” oil discovery in North Texas.
1917 American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) founded; 38,000 members in 2018.
1920 Permian Basin oilfield discovered in West Texas.
1920 Huntington Beach oilfield discovered in California.
1921 El Dorado, Arkansas, oilfield discovered, boosting career of H.L. Hunt.
1921 First seismograph geologic experiments made near Oklahoma City.
1922 First New Mexico oil well brought more discoveries.
1923 Permian Basin Big Lake oilfield revealed by Santa Rita No. 1.
1923 Anti-knock leaded gasoline patented.
1923 First Tulsa International Petroleum Exposition (last in 1979).
1923 Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey first used Esso trademark.
1926 Armais Arutunoff patented electric submersible pump; soon founded Reda service company.
1926 Greater Seminole oilfield discovered in Oklahoma.
1927 Schlumberger brothers invent down-hole electronic “logging tool” in France.
1927 Phillips Petroleum high-octane aviation powers Woolaroc, winner of air race from California to Hawaii.
1929 Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
1929 First recorded true horizontal oil well, drilled near Texon, Texas.
1930 Headline-making “Wild Mary Suddik” oil well erupted in Oklahoma City oilfield.
1930 East Texas oilfield discovered, proved to be 43 miles long and 12.5 miles wide.
1930 George E. Failing invented first portable rotary rig (used at Conroe, Texas).
1930 Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) founded; 14,000 members in 2018.
1931 Ram-type blow-out preventer patent by James Abercrombie.
1933 Sinclair Oil’s popular “Dino” debuted at the Chicago Century of Progress Fair.
1933 Hughes Tool Company patents tri-cone bit patent.
1937 Tragic New London school explosion in East Texas.
1938 DuPont Corp. introduces “Nylon.”
1939 Young geologist helps discover first Mississippi oil well.
1940 First Nebraska oil well completed after 57 years of dry holes.
1941 Frank Christensen and George Christensen developed diamond bit.
1943 First Florida oil well completed after state offers $50,000 bounty.
1943 World War II top-secret mission sent Oklahoma roughnecks to drill in Sherwood Forest.
1944 First Alabama oil well completed by wildcatter H.L. Hunt.
1947 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil industry began.
1949 First commercial hydraulic fracturing of oil well (Oklahoma).
1951 The first North Dakota oil well endured blizzards on Cliff Iverson’s farm northeast of Williston.
1951 Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America organized.
1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act became law.
1954 Shell Oil Company completed the first Nevada oil well.
1954 “Mr. Charlie” launched, world’s first practical mobile offshore drilling unit.
1955 American Association of Petroleum Landmen (AAPL) founded in Fort Worth, Texas.
1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act created “system of interstate and defense highways.”
1957 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) founded (164,000 members in 2018).
1958 First down-hole drilling motors used.
1960 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) founded in Baghdad, Iraq.
1960 Shell Oil and Hughes Aircraft modified a Manipulator Operated Robot (MOBOT) for offshore.
1967 Hall of Petroleum opened at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology.
1967 U.S. government tests nuclear “fracking” of natural gas wells.
1968 Prudhoe Bay oilfield discovered.
1969 Massive oil spill occurred six miles off Santa Barbara, California.
1970 Environmental Protection Agency established.
1974 Construction began on 800-mile Alaska pipeline system.
1975 Petroleum Museum opened in Midland, Texas.
1977 Improved diamond-tungsten carbide drilling bits.
1979 Exxon experimental subsea structure led to “Rigs to Reefs” program.
1980 Hydraulic fracturing used in horizontal wells in the Barnett Shale, Ft. Worth, Texas.
1988 Deadly fire at Piper Alpha platform in North Sea; 167 workers died.
1989 Exxon Valdez super tanker ran aground, creating massive oil spill.
1999 Exxon and Mobil corporations merged.
2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster began 41 miles off the Louisiana coast.
2013 Average time to drill 21,000-foot-deep well falls to 18 days or less.
2016 Energy companies agreed to reduce methane emissions from natural gas operations.
2018 Shale oil and natural gas production made U.S. energy independent.
2019 United States became top petroleum producer in world.
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. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Milestones of American Petroleum History.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/oil-riches-of-merriman-baptist-church. Last Updated: June 6, 2021. Original Published Date: October 15, 2019.
Founders of oilfield service company giants Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools.
As the U.S. petroleum expanded following the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop in Texas, service company pioneers like Carl Baker and Howard Hughes brought new technologies to oilfields. Baker Oil Tools and Hughes Tools specialized in maximizing oil and natural gas production (competitors would include Schlumberger, a French company founded in 1926 and Halliburton, which began in 1919 as a well-cementing company.
Baker Oil Tool Company, later Baker International, was founded by Reuben Carlton “Carl” Baker Sr. of Coalinga, California, who among other inventions patented an innovative cable-tool drill bit in 1903 after founding the Coalinga Oil Company.
Baker Tools Company founder R.C. “Carl” Baker in 1919.
R.C. “Carl” Baker Sr.
“While drilling around Coalinga, Baker encountered hard rock layers that made it difficult to get casing down a freshly drilled hole,” notes a Coalinga historian. “To solve the problem, he developed an offset bit for cable-tool drilling that enabled him to drill a hole larger than the casing.”
Baker also patented a “Gas Trap for Oil Wells” in 1908, a “Pump-Plunger” in 1914, and a “Shoe Guide for Well Casings” in 1920.
Coalinga was “every inch a boom town and Mr. Baker would become a major player in the town’s growth,” reports the Baker Museum. Baker organized small oil companies, a bank and the local power company.
After drilling wells in the Kern River oilfield, Baker added another technological innovation in 1907 when he patented the Baker Casing Shoe, a device ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil through a well. By 1913 Baker organized the Baker Casing Shoe Company (renamed Baker Tools two years later). He opened his first manufacturing plant in Coalinga.
The R.C. Baker Memorial Museum was the 1917 machine shop and office of Baker Casing Shoe. When Baker Tools headquarters moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, the building remained a company machine shop. It was donated by Baker to Coalinga in 1959 and opened as a museum in 1961. Carl Baker Sr. died in 1957 at age 85 – after receiving more than 150 U.S. patents in his lifetime.
“Though Mr. Baker never advanced beyond the third grade, he possessed an incredible understanding of mechanical and hydraulic systems,” reported the Coalinga museum.
Baker Tools became Baker International in 1976 and Baker Hughes after the 1987 merger with Hughes Tool Company.
The Houston manufacturing operations of Sharp-Hughes Tool at 2nd and Girard Streets in 1915. Today, the site is on the campus of University of Houston–Downtown. Photo courtesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
Howard R. Hughes Sr.
The Hughes Tool Company began in 1908 as the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company founded by Walter B. Sharp and Howard R. Hughes, Sr.
“Fishtail” rotary drill bits became obsolete in 1909 when the two inventors introduced a dual-cone roller bit. They created a bit “designed to enable rotary drilling in harder, deeper formations than was possible with earlier fishtail bits,” according to a Hughes historian. Secret tests took place on a drilling rig at Goose Creek, south of Houston.
“In the early morning hours of June 1, 1909, Howard Hughes Sr. packed a secret invention into the trunk of his car and drove off into the Texas plains,” noted Gwen Wright of History Detectives in 2006. The drilling site was near Galveston Bay. Rotary drilling “fishtail ” bits of the time were “nearly worthless when they hit hard rock.”
The new technology would soon bring faster and deeper drilling worldwide, helping to find previously unreachable oil and natural gas reserves. The dual-cone bit also created many Texas millionaires, explained Don Clutterbuck, one of the PBS show’s sources.
“When the Hughes twin-cones hit hard rock, they kept turning, their dozens of sharp teeth (166 on each cone) grinding through the hard stone,” he added.
Although several inventors tried to develop better rotary drill bit technologies, Sharp-Hughes Tool Company was the first to bring it to American oilfields. Drilling times fell dramatically, saving petroleum companies huge amounts of money.
Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, received a 1901 patent for a dual-cone drill bit.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers has noted that about the same time Hughes developed his bit, Granville A. Humason of Shreveport, Louisiana, patented the first cross-roller rock bit, the forerunner of the Reed cross-roller bit.
Biographers note that Hughes met Granville Humason in a Shreveport bar, where Humason sold his roller bit rights to Hughes for $150. The University of Texas’ Center for American History has a rare 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that chance meeting. Humason recalls he spent $50 of his sale proceeds at the bar during the balance of the evening.
After Sharp died in 1912, his widow Estelle Sharp sold her 50 percent share in the company to Hughes. It became Hughes Tool in 1915. Despite legal action between Hughes Tool and the Reed Roller Bit Company that occurred in the late 1920s, Hughes prevailed – and his oilfield service company prospered.
By 1934, Hughes Tool engineers design and patented the three-cone roller bit, an enduring design that remains much the same today. Hughes’ exclusive patent lasted until 1951, which allowed his Texas company to grow worldwide. More innovations (and mergers) would follow.
A February 1914 advertisement for the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company in Fuel Oil Journal.
Frank Christensen and George Christensen had developed the earliest diamond bit in the 1941 and introduced diamond bits to oilfields in 1946, beginning with the Rangley field of Colorado. The long-lasting tungsten carbide tooth came into use in the early 1950s.
After Baker International acquired Hughes Tool Company in 1987, Baker Hughes acquired the Eastman Christensen Company three years later. Eastman was a world leader in directional drilling.
When Howard Hughes Sr. died in 1924, he left three-quarters of his company to Howard Hughes Jr., then a student at Rice University. The younger Hughes added to the success of Hughes Tool while becoming one of the richest men in the world. His many legacies include founding Hughes Aircraft Company and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Learn more oilfield history in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.
Oilfield Service Company Competition
A major competitor for any energy service company, today’s Schlumberger Limited can trace its roots to Caen, France. In 1912, brothers Conrad and Marcel began making geophysical measurements that recorded a map of equipotential curves (similar to contour lines on a map). Using very basic equipment, their field experiments led to invention of a downhole electronic “logging tool” in 1927.
After successfully developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers lowered another electric tool into a well. They recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating first electric well log of geologic formations.
Meanwhile another service company in Oklahoma, the Reda Pump Company had been founded by Armais Arutunoff, a close friend of Frank Phllips. By 1938, an estimated two percent of all the oil produced in the United States with artifical lift, was lifted by an Arutunoff pump. Learn more in Inventing the Electric Submersible Pump (also see All Pumped Up – Oilfield Technology).
Recommended Reading: History Of Oil Well Drilling (2007); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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. For more information, contact email@example.com. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Carl Baker and Howard Hughes.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/carl-baker-howard-hughes. Last Updated: May 28, 2021. Original Published Date: December 17, 2017.