This week is the 155TH anniversary of the discovery of oil in Titusville, PA. Edwin Drake drilled the first oil well on August 27, 1857 and launched what would become the modern petroleum industry.
Are you interested in learning more about the history of petroleum? American Heritage Center holdings include more than 200 collections related to various aspect of the industry. The collections include Wyoming, the West, the U.S., and even elsewhere in the world, individuals and corporations, and variety of time periods with the strongest emphasis on 20th century. A few highlights of this collecting area can be found at https://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/collections/by-subject/geology.html.
With so many petroleum collections to choose from, here are just a few examples.
Frank J. Meyers (1890-1973) was a photographer who lived in Rawlins, Wyoming where he ran a photography business for 50 years until his death. The collection contains photographs and negatives, some postcards, and photograph albums. More than 900 images from his photo albums, including images of petroleum work in WY are digitized and available online, https://digitalcollections.uwyo.edu/luna/servlet/uwydbuwy~17~17.
AHC collections go beyond Wyoming’s borders, too. Geophysicist M. King Hubbert, is best-known for being the first scientist to articulate a model for depletion of energy resources, a theory that came to be known as “peak oil,” or “Hubbert’s curve.” He taught at Columbia University primarily in the 1930s, served as senior analyst of world mineral resources on the Board of Economic Warfare during World War II, worked for Shell Oil, and as a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Hubbert’s papers contain 61 boxes of correspondence with colleagues on his research interests and teaching; lectures and class notes on physics and geology; publications; research notes and subject files; glass negatives; maps and charts. You’ll find the collection guide here: https://rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=wyu-ah01238.xml.
And, just for fun, let’s provide just one example of corporate records from the collections.
The Ethyl Corporation originated from the research efforts of scientists and chemical engineers Kettering and Midgley who discovered an anti-knock agent for automobile engines which they named “Ethyl” gasoline. Midgley and Kettering founded the General Motors Chemical Company to provide distribution of the new product. Standard Oil Company of New Jersey joined General Motors Chemical in its manufacturing to create Ethyl Corporation in 1924.
The 25 box collection, 1823-1983, contains mainly historical materials for the history of the petroleum industry and gathered by James Boudreau, who served as vice-president and director of public relations. The collection includes account books, stock certificates, newspapers and maps, advertisements, and other materials. Also included in the collection is a set of Thomas Midgley’s papers.
With hundreds of collections to choose from, these examples are just a start!
-Ginny Kilander, Reference Department Head and Acquisitions Archivist for Economic Geology