Early California Oil Industry

by Bruce Petty

This web page is about California Oil history, it is done as a pictorial because web pages are really great for photographs but not for reading long boring text. If you really like oil history, there are a number of great books that can be checked out of a library.

These photographs are from my collection of Oil, Mining and Stationary Power Plants (to name a few), started during my teenage years. That was forty sum years ago when very few people were collecting industrial photographs, at the time a real photograph could be purchased for ten cents. I had also photographed many of the old oilfields in Southern California that will also be seen here. Please enjoy your visit.

Back in the good old days when pioneers would go search for oil, they would form a company and hire a well driller and begin the slow task of cable drilling.

These men have formed the Williamson-LaFortuna Oil Company to drill their first well, called Well No. 1. They have to hire a Head Driller (far left), well drillers know better than to invest or work for a percent of the profit.

Here is the well in all its glory. Oil wells of these days were shallow, maybe only 400 feet deep. Sometimes an above ground oil seep may be an indicator where to drill.

Soon as oil is found, it sparks a black-gold rush, so to say. Then folks from other oil companies, selling stock and drilling. This field is around Santa Margarita near the California Coast.

This is a typical oil drilling well built about 1915. The walking beam is seen disconnected while work is being done at the well such as bailing out the well.

This is a Boiler that was used to run the stationary steam engine that runs the walking beam. The Boiler was manufactured by OIL WELL SUPPLY CO. Pittsburgh, Pa. At the left of the stack is the Steam Gauge on top of the Water Column, the Safety Valve is at the top of the piping on the boilers steam dome, and oil was used for fuel.

The best business to be in was to supply the pipe for well casing. This was not cheap, mostly due to the high freight cost to come from the steel mills back east.

This would be what I would have done for an oil business in those days. The the Pipe Line Companies are the ones that really made the dollars in this early industry, moving the producers product to the railhead or the refinery.

This is what started it all, the first Union Oll Refinery at Newhall, Ca. Nearby is where the first shallow oil producing wells were first drilled.

Near Taft, CA, a small boiler house supplies steam and compressed air to an oil field.

The Ingersol-Rand air-compressing engine was later housed in the shed seen at the end of the boiler house photo.

This was the best part of the business plan, striking oil! Here is seen the first oil splashing on the deck of the well rig. Nowadays this would be an enviromental spill.

This is how the oil industry dealt with a strike, usually a gusher out of control, and if it somehow cought on fire, things just went from bad to worse.

This is Lakeview No.1 and the hole left after the near disaster, the well produced so much oil that the oil price was driven down to almost nothing in California for the nine months that it gushed.

If you like oil history, then may I suggest this fine book "Drilling Through Time" by William Rintoul. Published by the California Department of Conservation, Divison of Oil and Gas. ISBN 0-9627124-0-X


I photographed this field near Taft in 1967. These are the California design for wooden derricks built for shallow fields of several thousand feet deep. The derricks were removed a few years later.


NEW California Oil Fields in Color

New Guest Page: Manley Oilfield Photos, by Albert Novak

Jack Line Oil Field at Kern River

Jack Line Oil Field at Simi Valley

Downtown Los Angeles Oil Bulk Plant.


The Chevron Oil Pipeline Pumping Plant

1/87 Scale Jack Line Oil Field Model

For those in High School and may be looking for a career in geology. Montana Tech has one of the few Petroleum Engineering programs left in the US, as well as Mining Engineering. Montana Tech's website is www.mtech.edu and this direct link to Professor Diane Wolfgram PHD, Mining Engineering department's web page.


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