Post-Civil War oilfield discoveries created an Allegheny petroleum boom.
Soon after the Civil War ended and demand for kerosene for lamps soared, the young U.S. petroleum industry found oil at a small hill west of Tidioute, Pennsylvania. Wooden derricks soon replaced trees on Triumph Hill.
Formerly quiet Pennsylvania hillsides of hemlock woods vanished in early October 1866 when oil fever came to Triumph Hill. The oil industry was barely seven years old. Just 15 miles east of the 1859 first American oil well along Oil Creek well at Titusville, an 1866 oil discovery at Triumph Hill sparked a rush of uncontrolled development.
The oil drilling craze would not last long, but notorious boom towns sprang up at Gordon Run and Daniels Run west of Tidioute on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River. Like the earlier discoveries at Titusville, Rouseville, and Pithole Creek, wooden derricks replaced hillside trees. News about a deadly Rouseville oil well fire in April 1861 had been overshadowed by the start of the Civil War.
An 1870s photograph of the east side of Triumph Hill, near Tidioute, Pennsylvania, by Frank Robbins of Oil City. Image is right half of a stereo card rendered black and white for clarity from original sepia tone. Photo courtesy Biblioteca Nacional Digital Brazil.
The excitement at Tidioute (pronounced tiddy-oot) was joined by the roughneck-filled towns of Triumph and Babylon, where “sports, strumpets and plug-uglies, who stole, gambled, caroused and did their best to break all the commandments at once.”
Fresh from the oilfields at boom town Pithole 25 miles to the southwest, the infamous Ben Hogan, self proclaimed “Wickedest Man in the World,” operated a bawdy house on the Triumph hillside.
Latest Pennsylvania Oil Boom
Despite growing recognition that crowded drilling reduced reservoir pressures and production, the exploration and production bonanza, which began with the first well on October 4, 1866, prompted a frenzy of drilling as investors tried to cash in before the oil ran out.
By the summer of 1867, Triumph Hill was producing 2,000 barrels of oil a day. The flood of oil bought lower prices — an early example of the petroleum industry’s boom and bust cycles.
Photographer Frank Robbins of Oil City published stereographic images of Triumph Hill, declaring it to be “the most magnificent oil belt (as oil men call a strip of producing land) ever yet discovered. On this belt which is but two miles long, and less than one mile wide — were over 180 producing wells, nearly every one of which was in operation at once.”
Robbins, who moved his studio to Bradford 1879 when that region was on its way to becoming “America’s first billion dollar oilfield,” also printed postcards for sale to tourists.
An image from the 1903 edition of “Sketches in Crude-Oil; some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe” by James McLaurin.
“Triumph Hill turned out as much money to the acre as any spot in Oildom,” noted James McLaurin in his 1896 book Sketches in Crude-Oil (some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe).
Many of the hill’s wells averaged 25 barrels of oil a day, McLaurin reported, adding that “the sand was the thickest – often ninety to one hundred and ten feet – and the purest the oil region afforded.” Eventually the tempo of oil exploration around Tidioute and boom town debauchery slowed as the region’s daily production fell.
Drilling discipline and well spacing, reservoir engineering and other oilfield management skills would evolve, but Triumph Hill’s glory dissipated within five years as overproduction drained the field.
Today, Triumph Hill remains as one of the many quietly beautiful and forest-covered sites along the Allegheny River Valley that has earned a special place in America’s petroleum history. Tidioute also is among the earliest panoramic maps of America’s earliest petroleum communities by a skilled bird’s-eye view cartographer.
Learn more about the maps of Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler in Oil Town “Aero Views.”
Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas at the turn of the century, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler created oil town “aero views” – panoramic maps of many of America’s earliest petroleum communities. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Frank Robbins, Early Oilfield Photographer
Pioneer oil industry photographers like “Oil Creek Artist” John A. Mather documented Northwestern Pennsylvania boom towns. He and other photographers like Frank Robbins captured many views of North American oil booms, according to geologist and oil patch historian Jeff Spencer. “Common scenes included oil gushers, oilfield fires, teamsters, and boom towns.”
“Frank Robbins documented the emerging Pennsylvania petroleum industry of the 1860s through 1880s,” Spencer noted in a 2011 article in the journal Oil-Industry History. “He was one of the most prolific producers of stereoscopic views of oilfields in the Oil City and Bradford, Pennsylvania and Olean, New York area. His many oilfield views include scenes of Triumph Hill, Tidioute, Petrolia, and Pithole. Many of his photographs also were used in early twentieth century postcards.”
Spencer in 2003 published a book featuring historic Texas postcards (see Postcards from the Texas Oil Patch).
A stereoscopic view by Frank Robbins described simply as “Drake Well, the first oil well.” Courtesy the New York Public Library
For more resources of oilfield imagery, visit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s petroleum photography websites.
Recommended Reading: Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2000); Around Titusville, Pa., Images of America (2004); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Derricks of Triumph Hill.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/triumph-hill-oil. Last Updated: September 26, 2021. Original Published Date: July 3, 2015.
Acadia Parish oil seeps inspired 1901 Jennings oilfield discovery.
The first Louisiana oil well discovered the giant Jennings field in 1901 and launched the Pelican State’s petroleum industry. Almost a quarter million wells would be drilled by 2014.
Nine months after the 1901 headline-making oil discovery at Spindletop, Texas, oil erupted 90 miles to the east. W. Scott Heywood – already successful wildcatter at Spindletop – drilled a well that revealed the Jennings oilfield.
Heywood’s September 21, 1901, Louisiana oil gusher initially produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day.
Mrs. Scott Heywood, “the widow of Louisiana’s oil discoverer, the late W. Scott Heywood,” unveiled an historical marker on September 23, 1951, as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.
Louisiana’s first commercial oil well came in on the Jules Clements farm about seven miles northeast of Jennings. Local investors earlier had formed the Jennings Oil Company and hired Scott, who recognized that natural gas seeps found nearby were nearly identical to the conditions observed at Spindletop.
Scott would insist on drilling deeper than many investors thought wise.
The Jennings Oil Company No. 1 well, which discovered the first commercial oilfield in Louisiana on September 21, 1901. Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.
“At the age 29, W. Scott Haywood was already a seasoned, experienced and successful explorer,” noted Scott Smiley, a Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS) historian. “He had gone to Alaska in 1897 during the great Yukon gold rush, sinking a shaft and mining a profitable gold deposit.”
Haywood, who also had drilled several successful oil wells in California, was one of the first to reach Spindletop following news of the “Lucas Gusher” of January 10, 1901. Haywood eventually convinced the reluctant Clements to allow drilling in the farmer’s rice field. The Clements farm was at the small, unincorporated community of Evangeline in Acadia Parish, northeast of Jennings.
W. Scott Heywood
However, after drilling to 1,000 feet without finding oil or natural gas, the Jennings Oil Company’s investors wanted to abandon the first attempt.
“After all, 1,000 feet had been deep enough to discover the tremendous oil gushers at Spindletop field,” explained Smiley in a 2001 history of the Jennings field. “Instead of drilling two wells to a depth of 1,000 feet each, Heywood persuaded the investors to change the contract to accept a single well drilled to a depth of 1,500 feet.”
More drilling pipe was brought in and the well deepened.
Deeper Drilling Pays Off
Heywood found signs of oil at a depth of 1,700 feet – after some discouraged investors had sold their stock when drilling reached 1,000 feet. By 1,500 feet, shares of the Jennings Oil Company still sold for as little as 25 cents each. Patient investors were rewarded when 7,000 barrels of oil per day suddenly erupted from the well.
“The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” reported the Jennings Daily News.
W. Scott Heywood (5) and Elmer Dobbins (3) — “one of the drillers of the original Spindletop discovery in Texas.” Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.
Although the Jules Clements No. 1 well is on only a 1/32 of an acre lease, it marked the state’s first oil production and launched the Louisiana petroleum industry. It opened the prolific Jennings field, which Heywood developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks.
The Jennings oilfield reached its peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906. Meanwhile, an October 1905 discovery in northern Louisiana further expanded the state’s young petroleum industry (visit the Louisiana Oil Museum in aptly named Oil City).
Haywood returned to Alaska in 1908 on a big-game hunting trip. He retraced much of his travels to the Klondike gold fields, notes Smiley. “After a brief retirement in California, he returned to Jennings and drilled several wells at Jennings and elsewhere in Louisiana,” Smiley reports, adding the he also found success at the Borger and Panhandle oilfields in Texas.
“Heywood returned to Jennings in 1927 and assisted Gov. Huey P. Long in passing legislation to provide schoolbooks for children,” concluded the LGS geologist in Jennings Field – The Birthplace of Louisiana’s Oil Industry, September 2001.
Photo courtesy Louisiana Geological Survey.
Among the petroleum producing states in 2014, Louisiana ranked fourth in natural gas production and tenth in oil production. Cumulative number of wells drilled in Louisiana from the first year of production (1902 for oil, 1905 for natural gas) up to 2014 was 230,647, according to the IPAA 2014 Oil & Gas Producing Industry in Your State. Of those wells, 35 percent (80,907) were dry holes.
Editor’s Note – A retired professor challenged the date of Louisiana’s first commercial oil well during a 2011 presentation at Carnegie Library in Sulphur. Thomas Watson, PhD, “has uncovered evidence that the first producing oil well in Louisiana was at the Sulphur Mines in 1886,” noted an article in the Sulphur Daily News. “This information could alter the history of oil production in Louisiana.”
Recommended Reading: Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012). 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 today. 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: “First Louisiana Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-louisiana-oil-well. Last Updated: September 19, 2021. Original Published Date: September 1, 2005.
Humble Oil found oil in 1943, after desperate lawmakers offered a $50,000 bounty.
Among its petroleum history records, Florida’s first — but certainly not last — unsuccessful attempt to find commercially viable oil reserves began in 1901, not far from the Gulf Coast panhandle town of Pensacola. Two test wells, the first drilled to 1,620 feet and the second reaching 100 feet deeper, were abandoned.
Whether the wildcatter had followed science or intuition, contemporary accounts of his efforts reveal only a small footnote: Florida’s first two dry holes. Twenty years later, as U.S. petroleum demand soared, oil still had not been found in Florida. The state’s panhandle still looked promising, despite a growing number of failed drilling ventures.
Florida’s first oil well’s site is by present day Big Cypress Preserve in southwest Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the resort city of Naples.
Indian legends and a petroleum company’s stock promoter’s claim of oil inspired another attempt near what would later become Falling Waters Park, about 100 miles east of Pensacola. A steam-powered cable-tool rig with a wooden derrick drilled to a depth of 3,900 feet.
Brief signs of natural gas at the well excited area residents with a false report of a possible gusher. Undeterred, the exploration company continued to drill to 4,912 feet before finally giving up. No commercial amount of oil was found and the well was capped in 1921. Another Florida dry hole. (more…)
Abundant alternative to coal attracted late 19th century manufacturers.
Natural gas discoveries of the 1880s revealed the giant Trenton Field in Indiana, which extended into Ohio. New pipelines and abundant gas supplies would attract manufacturing industries to the Midwest — where small towns competed with cities to attract new industries. It was an Indiana natural gas boom too good to last.
Discoveries of natural gas in Eaton and Portland quickly ignited Indiana’s historic gas boom. New exploration and production will dramatically change the state’s economy. In 1859, the same year that “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake drilled the country’s first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, there already were almost 300 “manufactured gas” (known as coal gas) companies in the 33 United States.
Coal gas was produced in a distillation process that extracted it from wood or coal. After further purification, coal gas was distributed via low-pressure street mains to consumers. America’s first public street lamp used it to illuminate Market Street in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1817. Coal gas, also called manufactured gas, eventually would provide home illumination to almost five million U.S. customers.
Indiana lawmakers banned “flambeaux” lights in 1891, becoming one of the first states to legislate conservation. Photo of Findlay during its 1888 Gas Jubilee courtesy Hancock Historical Museum.
Although natural gas was known to burn much cleaner, hotter, and more efficiently than coal gas, pre-Civil War technology made handling it far too dangerous for commercial applications. When drilling for oil, natural gas was often found — a colorless, odorless, highly flammable and unwelcome hazard.
Drillers sought oil to send to refiners for distilling into kerosene, a safe and affordable lamp fuel. But while demand for kerosene built wooden derricks up and down the Allegheny River, and the coal gas business still prospered, natural gas was just an impediment.
Determination and deeper wells launched state’s petroleum industry in 1948.
After decades of expensive failed exploration attempts (a few small producers but mostly dry holes), the first significant Utah oil well was competed on September 18, 1948, in the Uinta Basin. The Ashley Valley No. 1 well, about 10 miles southeast of Vernal, produced about 300 barrels a day from a depth of 4,152 feet.
“The honor of bringing in the state’s first commercial oil well went not to the ‘Majors’ but to an ‘Independent’ — the Equity Oil Company,” noted a Utah historian in 1962.
The Uinta Basin witnessed Utah’s first drilling boom following a 1948 oil discovery. A modern boom would return thanks to coalbed methane gas. Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society.