Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields – American Oil & Gas Historical Society
“Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption.”
When struggling prospector Edward L. Doheny and his mining partner Charles A. Canfield decided to dig a well in 1892, they wisely chose a site with “tar seeps” – where natural asphalt bubbled to the surface.
Local lore says Doheny was downtown when he noticed a cart with a black substance on its wheels. He asked the driver where he had come from.
On April 20, 1892, they struck oil near present-day Dodger Stadium – and revealed the Los Angeles City oil field, which still produces tar seeps, notably at the La Brea “tar pits.” Actually comprised of asphalt, the animal-trapping pools were discovered in 1769 by a Spanish explorer, remain among the many onshore and offshore natural seeps of southern California.
The Los Angeles City oil field discovery well, completed in 1893 between Beverly Boulevard and Colton Avenue, set off California’s first oil boom by producing about 45 barrels a day.
Within two years, 80 wells were producing oil and by 1897 more than 500 wells were pumping
Los Angeles Oil Fields Boom
Doheny and Canfield became millionaires by drilling wells – using steam boilers and cable-tool technology – and selling oil to the city’s fast-growing number of industries.
Doheny also found success in Mexico, where his company in 1916 made the world’s largest oil discovery at the time. Charged with bribery in the 1920s during Wyoming’s Teapot Dome scandal, he was acquitted in 1930.
In later years Doheny became well known for his donations to foundations, churches and California universities.
Excitement surrounding the Los Angeles oil fields would also lead to the oil career of Emma A. Summers, a graduate from the New England Conservatory of Music, who moved to Los Angeles in 1893.
Caught up in the “oil fever” of the new petroleum industry, the former piano teacher would become known as California’s “Oil Queen.”
A 1901 newspaper article noted – “If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets.”
Read about her in Oil Queen of California.