Friday Flashback: Jan 8th 2016

January 8, 2016

My favorites from the American Oil and Gas Historical Society‘s This week in Oil and Gas History:  America’s First Oil Exports (1862), Rockefeller incorporates Standard Oil Company (1870), Standard Oil of California discovers Elk Hills Field (1919).


January 9, 1862 – America exports Oil for the First Time


Barrels of vinegar – “Vinegar Bitters” – at New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1870 would be similar to the 1861 loading of oil and kerosene barrels aboard the Elizabeth Watts at the Port of Philadelphia. Photo courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum.

America exports oil for the first time in 1862 when the brig Elizabeth Watts arrives at London’s Victoria dock after a six-week voyage from Philadelphia. The vessel carries 901 barrels of oil and 428 barrels of kerosene from northwestern Pennsylvania oilfields.

No ship has ever crossed the Atlantic bearing such a cargo. In America, anxious sailors had feared the vessel would explode before casting off on November 19, 1861. Within a year Philadelphia will export 239,000 barrels of oil – without the technology of railroad tank cars or “tanker” ships.

America becomes a net importer of oil in 1948 – increasingly dependent on supplies from the Middle East. U.S. oil exports will resume on December 31, 2015, when a tanker leaves Corpus Christi, Texas, bound for Italy. Read more about theElizabeth Watts in America exports Oil.


January 10, 1870 – Rockefeller incorporates Standard Oil Company


Thirty-one years old, John D. Rockefeller and five partners form the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio.

Standard Oil immediately focuses on efficiency and growth. Instead of buying oil barrels, it buys tracts of oak timber, hauls the dried timber to Cleveland on its own wagons, and builds the barrels in its own cooperage. Standard’s cost per wooden barrel drops from $3 to less than $1.50. Also see History of the 42-Gallon Oil Barrel.

The company’s increasingly efficient refineries extract more kerosene per barrel of oil (there is no market for gasoline at the time). He begins building the giant Standard Oil Whiting Refinery near Chicago in 1889.

Along with adding new technologies, the company purchases properties through subsidiaries and uses local price-cutting to capture 90 percent of America’s refining capacity.

Rockefeller will continue his control over the domestic petroleum industry by reorganizing his assets into the Standard Oil Trust on January 2, 1882. More legal maneuvering will preserve his empire until 1911.


Rockefeller will create the Standard Oil Trust in 1882 to preserve his petroleum empire.

January 10, 1919 – Standard Oil of California discovers Elk Hills Field

The Elk Hills field in Kern County, California, is discovered by Standard Oil of California’s No. 1 Hay well at 2,500 feet on faulted anticlines.

“Elk Hills Oilfield in California’s San Joaquin Valley ranks among the most productive oilfields in the United States,” notes an earth observatory website of NASA.

The oilfield was embroiled in the early 1920s lease scandals  during the administration of President Warren Harding – Teapot Dome – and returned to the government management. Privatized again in the 1990s, Elk Hills yielded its billionth barrel of oil in 1992 – becoming the thirteenth oilfield in U.S. history to pass that milestone. The field continues to serve as a contingency source of oil for the U.S. Navy (Naval Petroleum Reserve One). Visit the “Black Gold” exhibit of the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield and at the West Kern Oil Museum in Taft.


Elk Hills in California’s San Joaquin Valley ranks among the most productive oilfields in the United States. Photo courtesy NASA.



For more moments from this week in Oil and Gas history, check out the American Oil and Gas Historical Society’s weekly post here.

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