MasterResource focuses on the political economy of the energy industries. But there is also the unheralded, underappreciated progress of market entrepreneurship in free societies to make modern energies affordable and available for myriad uses.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS), under the direction of Bruce Wells, is dedicated to the preservation of such history. With permission, a number of data points for September are reproduced below (see here, here, and here).
September 1, 1862: Union Taxes Manufactured Gas
To help fund the Civil War, a new federal tax was placed on manufactured gas, a popular fuel for street and residential lighting. Manufactured gas companies provided street and residential lighting.
Manufactured gas (produced by heating coal) was taxed up to 15 cents per thousand cubic feet. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle quickly accused 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.”
September 4, 1850: Illuminating Chicago Streets
The Chicago Gas Light & Coke Company delivered its first manufactured gas (gasified coal). “The gas pipes were filled, and the humming noise made by the escaping gas at the tops of the lamp-posts indicated that everything was all right,” reported The Gem of the Prairie.
“Shortly afterward the fire was applied and brilliant torches flamed on both sides of Lake Street as far as the eye could see and wherever the posts were set.” By 1855, almost 80 miles of pipe would be installed for about 2,000 manufactured-gas consumers in Chicago. Learn more about early gaslight in Illuminating Gaslight.
September 5, 1885: Birth of the “Filling Station” Pump
The modern gasoline-pump design was invented by Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to a grocery store owner in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” the pump’s container held 42 gallons. The pump included marble valves, a wooden plunger, and a simple, upright faucet.
The 1916 Bowser gas pump included a “clock face” dial to measure pumped gas. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution.
With the pump’s popular success at Jake Gumper’s grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. Within a decade – as the automobile’s popularity grew – Bowser’s company adapted and became hugely successful. By 1905 (the same year many claim the first gasoline station was built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a filling station.
The Bowser gas pump included a hand-levered suction pump and a hose attachment for dispensing gas. As other pump manufacturers arrived, Fort Wayne became known as the “Gas Pump Capital of the World.” Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.
September 7, 1917: Oilfield Legacy of Texas Governor Hogg
After drilling 20 dry holes, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company completed the No. 1 Hogg well 50 miles south of Houston. Four months later, a second well produced about 600 barrels a day. The discoveries ended a succession of dry holes dating back to 1901 — when former Texas Governor James “Big Jim” Hogg paid $30,000 for the lease (he also help launch the Texas Company, predecessor to Texaco).
Hogg died 11 years before the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company wells found oil, but fortunately for his family, he stipulated in his will that the mineral rights should not be sold for at least 15 years after his death. Learn more in Governor Hogg’s Texas Oil Wells.
September 7, 1923: California Oilfield discovered at Dominguez Hills
Maj. Frederick Russell Burnham discovered oil in Dominguez Hills, an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, California, in 1923. His well produced about 1,200 barrels of oil a day from about a depth of about 4,000 feet. Maj. Burnham, a decorated soldier in both the U.S. and British armies, was once known as “King of the Scouts.” His Burnham Exploration Company and partner Union Oil Company of California opened the Dominguez Hills oilfield, “a two-square mile, two-mile deep stack of eight producing zones.”
The region was named for a Spanish soldier who in 1784 received a land grant for grazing cattle. “But family fortunes truly took off with discovery of oil in the 1920s, first in the Torrance area and then, most resoundingly, on Dominguez Hill itself,” noted California State University, Dominguez Hills, in 2007.
By 1933, Maj. Burnham’s exploration company and Union Oil had paid more than $10 million to stockholders. Learn more California history in First California Oil Wells and Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.
September 9, 1855: Birthday of Discoverer of Spindletop Oilfield
Anthony Francis Lucas, who in 1901 discovered prolific salt dome structures in the Texas, was born (named Antun Lučić) in Split, Croatia, After receiving an 1875 engineering degree at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria, he served as a captain in the Austrian navy before immigrating to America. He became a U.S. citizen in 1885, changed his name to Lucas, and worked as a mining engineer and geologist in Washington, D.C.
While developing salt mines in Louisiana, Lucas learned of Pattillo Higgins and an unlikely search for oil at Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas (see Prophet of Spindletop). Lucas took charge of drilling effort and discovered the massive oilfield in January 1901. The headline-making “Lucas gusher” led to the founding of hundreds of petroleum companies. Learn more in Spindletop launches Modern Petroleum Industry.
September 10, 1879: Merger of Two California Companies will lead to Chevron
Today headquartered in in San Ramon, California, Chevron Corporation began in 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquired California Star Oil Works, which a few months earlier had made the first major California oil discovery.
The Pacific Coast Oil Company’s logo included derricks at Pico Canyon, site of California’s first commercial oil discovery. Photo courtesy of Chevron.
As the future major U.S. oil company grew, its retail outlets added dozens of service station logos — including Standard Oil Company of California’s chevron, the Texaco red star, the orange disc of Gulf Oil, and the Unocal “76” logo. “We trace our beginnings to an 1876 oil discovery at Pico Canyon, north of Los Angeles, which led to the formation of the Pacific Coast Oil Company,” notes Chevron, which acquired Gulf Oil in 1984 and merged with Texaco in 2001.
September 13, 1957: First Hawaiian Refinery
Standard Oil of California announced it would build the Territory of Hawaii’s first oil refinery, eight miles west of Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. According to a September 1959 Popular Mechanics article, Standard Oil originally planned to import oil “by means of an unusual undersea submarine cable.”
September 14, 1871 – President Grant visits Pennsylvania Oil Region –
During a tour of northwestern Pennsylvania, President Ulysses S. Grant visited Titusville, Petroleum Center, and Oil City to learn more about the nation’s growing petroleum industry. Consumer demand for kerosene for lamps had led to drilling the first commercial U.S. oil well at Titusville in 1859. The 18th U.S. president would help improve Washington City’s streets, directing in 1876 that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad asphalt (Learn more in Asphalt Paves the Way).
September 14, 1929: West Texas Well sets Record
A West Texas well struck oil at a depth of 1,070 feet and produced an astounding 204,672 barrels of oil a day — the nation’s most productive single well up until that time. The Yates 30-A initially produced 8,528 barrels of oil per hour, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. The Pecos County well was drilled just a few hundred yards from the 1926 discovery well of the giant Yates field, the Ira G. Yates 1-A.
The Yates field has been producing continuously since the 1920s. Pecos County alone covers more than 4,700 square miles.
First discovered in 1920, the Permian Basin’s massive size had been revealed in 1923 by the Santa Rita No. 1 well in Reagan County. The Yates 30-A well, operated by Transcontinental Oil and the Mid-Kansas Oil and Gas Company (then a subsidiary of Ohio Oil Company) and many that followed brought prosperity to Midland, Odessa, and new oil towns like Iraan (see Alley Oop’s Oil Roots).
Extending under the Pecos River, the Yates field produced its one-billionth barrel of oil in 1985. “The Yates field, among the largest ever found in the United States, has been in continuous production for 85 years and has been exploited by a list of oil companies, some of them no longer in existence,” noted the Houston Chronicle in 2011.
September 14, 1960: OPEC founded in Baghdad
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was created at the Baghdad Conference by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (later joined by nine other countries).
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, before moving to Vienna, Austria, in 1965, OPEC’s objective is to “coordinate and unify petroleum policies among member countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers; an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry.”