Drake's Rock Oil

No one knew that oil could come from the ground until a bankrupt group of speculators hit pay dirt in northwestern Pennsylvania

By August 1859,   “Colonel” E. L. Drake and his small crew were disheartened. Few if any of the locals believed that oil—liquid called rock oil—could come out of the ground. In fact, they thought Drake was crazy. A small group of Connecticut investors had set Drake up in the small lumber town of Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania to try this “lunatic” scheme. The work was slow, difficult, and continually dogged by disappointment and the specter of failure.Read more »

Running Out Of Oil

The problem is as old as the industry itself


Until hurricanes blew it off the front pages, the biggest economic story of the year was the rising price of oil. The media have been proclaiming gas prices to be the highest in history. In constant dollars, however, oil was more expensive as recently as 1980, when the price (in today’s money) reached almost $97 a barrel. Even Hurricane Katrina barely pushed the price above $70, and then only briefly.

Modern Times From 1974

This is a journalist’s list. My reading (and knowledge) is greatly influenced by the events of the day, the time, the era. My reading and my work are often one and the same. That is one of the best things about being a writer, but it may not be ideal for list making. This list is, I emphasize, not of the best books of the past 30 years, though many of these volumes might be considered for such a list. Some of these works were selected because of their immediate impact.Read more »

Primal Pump


Reighard’s Gas and Oil, which stands at 3205 Sixth Avenue in Altoona, Pennsylvania, looks pretty much like a thousand—or twenty thousand—other service stations across the country. You can buy a tankful of gasoline there, of course, and put air in your tires once you’ve fed a quarter into the machine (because nobody gives away free air anymore). What sets it apart from many of its fellows is the fact that the employees there still check your oil and water and clean your windshield.Read more »

How The Seventies Changed America

The “loser decade” that at first seemed nothing more than a breathing space between the high drama of the 1960s and whatever was coming next is beginning to reveal itself as a bigger time than we thought

That’s it,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then U.S. ambassador to India, wrote to a colleague on the White House staff in 1973 on the subject of some issue of the moment. “Nothing will happen. But then nothing much is going to happen in the 1970s anyway.” Read more »

Sorry No Gas

How Americans Met the First Great Gasoline Crisis—Nearly Forty Years Ago

According to the members of the blueribbon committee, the situation was desperate. Their report, released to the Washington press corps, had been blunt, unsparing, and apocalyptic. “We find the existing situation to be so dangerous,” it warned, “that unless corrective measures are taken immediately this country will face both a military and civilian collapse.” The committee proposed to counter the dire threat by the imposition of nationwide gasoline rationing. Read more »

Texas Became Texas

The twentieth century blew into Texas one year and nine days late. On January 10, 1991, two veteran oilmen named Patillo Higgins and Anthony F. Lucas brought in a towering gusher of oil at Spindletop, a scrubby mound just outside the sleepy rice-market town of Beaumont. Until that day, the Texas economy had prospered on cotton and cattle; although pioneer oilmen had tapped a field near Corsicana in 1894, all but a trickle of America’s oil was still being produced east of the Mississippi. Read more »

“full Speed Ahead And Damn The Tomorrows”

Our Frontier Heritage of Waste

Historians of the future, looking back on the twilight years of the twentieth century, may designate the mid-1970’s as worthy of that supreme accolade accorded only the most significant dates in history: to serve as a dividing point between chapters in their textbooks.Read more »

The Tyranny Of Oil


In October, 1973, Arab states clapped an embargo on oil shipments to the United States. All at once the nation had to go on daylight-saving time, throttle back on the highways, and turn down thermostats. Millions of baffled Americans found themselves lining up, sometimes for hours, at filling-station pumps. Up to that moment Americans had paid little heed to the quarrels of the Middle East. Until the Second World War that part of the globe had been strictly a British problem.Read more »

Our Last Great Wilderness

America’s greed for oil has drastically upset the ecological balance of Alaska’s North Slope, and the end is not in sight

On August 16, 1826, after long weeks of frustrating and perilous travel along the north coast of Alaska, the British explorer Sir John Franklin decided to abandon his bold ambition—completing the exploration of the North American coastline. The cluster of gravel banks where a conspiracy of storm, fog, drifting ice, and approaching winter forced him to turn back—still shown on maps as the Return Islands— lay off an indentation that he named Prudhoe Bay.

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