1879: Tidewater Pipe Company-World's 1st Successful Oil Pipeline
Coryville, PA to Williamsport, PA - Backers Foil Standard Oil Monopoly

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Tidewater Pipeline

Mckean County Interests Defeat Powerful Standard Oil Monopoly-
Coryville Makes History
from Timeless Home ©2003 Smethport, PA, Ross Porter Editor
Standard Oil Company, the tool of oil mogul John D. Rockefeller, had a monopoly for transporting oil over its extensive rail lines. To bypass his monopoly, the Tidewater Pipe Company was formed in 1878.
The Tidewater Pipe Company changed the method in which oil was delivered. Oil previously was pumped in three-inch diameter pipes over relatively short distances and across level terrian. Tidewater, however, was the first to build over mountainous terrain. Working secretly, Tidewater craftily bought right-of-ways to cut a 109 mile pipeline swath to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Six-inch pipe was laid on the ground surface in the dead of winter. As soon as the summer sun hit the exposed black pipe, it buckled and expanded but remarkably, the oil line never broke. Crews later buried the pipe under ground to prevent any further problems due to exposure of the pipe to the elements. The construction of the pipeline ranks as one of the all-time great achievements in the annals of oil exploration.

On May 28 1879, the 80-horsepower pumps located in Coryville sent an oil flow of 250 barrels an hour across the mountains and ultimately into Williamsport on June 4th. A week later the Reading Railroad was formed, and oil deliveries by rail became common to the New York City area markets. The Tidewater Pipe Company sucessfully destroyed the Standard Oil Company's monopoly on oil transportation.
Locally, the oil boom prompted the large tank farm in Coleville, and the Quaker State refinery in Farmers Valley. Probably the single largest industrial employer in the Smethport area, the refinery has since become Honeywell, and specializes in the extraction of wax from petroleum.
The oil fields produced jobs for drillers, roustabouts, teamsters, pumpers, contractors and laborers. Supporting indutries like Bovaird and Seyfang, and Dresssers in Bradford, thrived as well.

Birth of Coryville's Tidewater Pipe Line
‘Pump station’ in Black Forest area played important role in oil distribution

By FLOYD L. HARTMAN JR. Management Forester Tiadaghton Forest District February 15, 2009

As an employee of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Bureau of Forestry, I get out to some secluded and historic locations that have some very interesting stories.

One such location is known as "Pump Station" and is in the heart of northwestern Lycoming County's Black Forest. The Bureau of Forestry has a maintenance facility here and I have often wondered where names such as Pump Station came from and what secrets might a bit of research reveal?

As it turns out, Pump Station has a very interesting story.

As you may remember from grade school history class, in 1859 the first commercial oil well was drilled by Edwin Drake in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Within 10 years more than 5,500 wells had been drilled, and 1,200 were producing oil.

By 1880, more than 80 percent of the nation's oil consumption was fed by the Pennsylvania oil fields.

Oil first was transported from the wells to railroad stations by teamsters using spent whiskey barrels - this is why oil is measured in barrels today - and horse-drawn wagons. These teamsters, who enjoyed a monopoly, could charge a considerable amount of money to move a barrel of oil.

Later, the railroad would transport oil to refineries using large tanks mounted on flat cars.

In 1865, a five-mile wooden oil pipeline was built near Titusville to transport oil to the nearest railroad.

This idea did not last very long, as the teamsters felt threatened and used fire to sabotage the pipeline. Wooden pipes, as short-lived and fragile as they were, were replaced by wrought iron pipe and, in the 1860s, technology developed longer and better quality pipe using steel.

Midway through 1876, the oil industry was dominated by the Standard Oil Co. of Ohio. John D. Rockefeller led the company, which controlled more than 90 percent of the United States' oil business and owned refineries in Cleveland, Ohio, the oil regions of Pennsylvania and New York City.

During this time, entrepreneurs were thinking of constructing a long-distance pipeline across Pennsylvania to independent refineries along the east coast.
Three Titusville men - Byron D. Benson, planner; Robert E. Hopkins, engineer, and David McKelvy, attorney - were determined to construct the long-distance pipeline, creating the Tidewater Pipe-Line Co. Ltd. on Nov. 13, 1878, in Titusville.

The name "Tidewater" was used, thinking that the pipeline would terminate at or near the eastern tidewater coastline.

The Tidewater Pipe-Line Co. produced the equipment needed to manufacture its own pipe and threaded pipe joints. More than 5,000 tons of six-inch diameter, 18-foot lengths of wrought iron pipe, each weighing 340 pounds, were produced.

Standard Oil and various railroads heard rumors of a pipeline being constructed and, fearing a loss of business, made things difficult for the Tidewater Pipe-Line Co. Right-of-ways needed to be purchased from landowners to build the pipeline, and Standard Oil strategically purchased a thin strip of land running north and south across Pennsylvania to stop Tidewater. Also, the railroads would not grant Tidewater a right-of-way across their tracks.

Even with all these obstacles, the first 34 sections of pipe were laid Feb. 22, 1879, beginning at Coryville. Tidewater was able to complete the 110-mile pipeline to Williamsport in less than 90 days. At times, the workers laid nearly two miles of pipe per day.

The pipeline, built during the winter, was laid on top of the ground, ran through some of the roughest country in Pennsylvania, scaled mountains and crossed swift streams and rivers.

Tidewater planned to use only two pumping stations along the pipeline to propel the oil up and over the highest mountains. One such pumping station was near Coryville in McKean County and the other was in northwestern Lycoming County.

The pumping station in Lycoming County originally was constructed to use natural gas to operate the pump. A shallow gas well was near the mouth of Little Slate Run along Pine Creek.

A pipeline was constructed from the well, four miles through very mountainous terrain, to the pumping station (now Gas Line Trail).
However, the gas pressure was never enough to operate the pump for long periods of time. Failure was not in Tidewater's vocabulary, so the pumping station was converted to a steam-driven pump. Coal used to fuel the steam boiler was delivered to the pump station by the Cammal & Black Forest logging railroad from Cammal.

Across the Coudersport Pike from Pump Station lies the Baldwin Branch, a headwater stream of Young Woman's Creek. A water well and pump house were constructed here to deliver water to the steam boiler. A stone archway, or tunnel, also was built under the Coudersport Pike to house the water pipes and valves.
Four houses were built - two for the pump station workers and their families and a much larger one, named the Tidewater House, for the management staff. A fourth house was used as a school for the workers' children. Two of the four houses are being used today as hunting camps.

Soon after the pump station was in operation, a thunderstorm moved through the area and lightning struck the huge flywheel portion of the pump, destroying it. A new flywheel was ordered from the manufacturer and was delivered by rail to Slate Run. The flywheel then was placed on a heavy-duty wagon and teams of horses transported it up the Old Mountain Road to the pump station.

With the completion of the pipeline and pumping stations, the valves were opened at Coryville on May 28, 1879, and the oil began to flow toward Williamsport.
The oil flowed at about a half-mile an hour, taking two days to reach Coudersport.

On June 4, one week after the valves were opened at Coryville, the oil flowed into the receiving tanks at Williamsport.

The Williamsport Daily Gazette and Bulletin reported "that the oil had been heard pushing the air ahead of it two or three days prior to the arrival" and "the oil came out of the pipe in strong volume, and has been coming right along at the rate of 250 barrels per hour."

The oil was stored in two 30,000-barrel storage tanks on Thomas' Hill in Williamsport, and the Reading Railroad constructed a half-mile of track to enable the loading of the tank cars. The first shipment of oil was delivered by rail on June 23 to a refinery in Bayonne, N.J.

Shipments were made to refineries in Chester and New York, but some oil also was refined in Williamsport at the Solar Refining Co.

More than one million barrels of oil were pumped through the Tidewater pipeline to Williamsport from the oil fields. During the first year, this cut deeply into the revenues of the Erie and Pennsylvania railroads.

Also during that first year, Tidewater experienced what happens to iron pipe when exposed to the direct heat of the summer. The pipe expanded more than first thought, so it needed to be buried.

By 1880, due to over production, the oil industry began seeing crude prices drop. This created a shortage of barrels, making the wooden barrel actually worth twice as much as the oil inside it. The Reading Railroad experienced troubles of its own, forcing Tidewater to extend its pipeline to Bayonne, N.J.

Feuding escalated between Tidewater and Standard Oil, forcing Standard to construct its own pipelines with the terminus at the refineries in New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Rockefeller made numerous attempts to stop Tidewater from buying out one of the partners that purchased the pipeline oil and also tried to destroy Tidewater's credit and finally attempted to destroy the independent refineries that Tidewater served.

In June 1882, Tidewater agreed to sell a third of its stock to Standard Oil. Tidewater and Standard Oil were prohibited by law to merge, but they came to a market-sharing agreement in October 1883, giving Tidewater 11.5 percent of the oil business. In 1888, the Tidewater Pipe Line Co. became known as the Tidewater Oil Co.

The Tidewater Oil Co. marketed products under the name of Tydol and Veedol. Tydol was the name of the service station that sold Veedol products in the U.S., Europe and South America. Tidewater eventually branched to the western and southern U.S.

A young insurance salesman named J. Paul Getty became impressed by Tidewater's operation in Oklahoma, mainly because the company was making so much money while being managed so poorly.

During the early 1930s, Getty began acquiring stock and by 1951, he took control of Tidewater. The original Tidewater pipeline, constructed in 1879, now houses fiberoptic telephone lines.

In a future article I'll write more about the Pump Station area, post-Tidewater Pipe Line Co.

For more information, call 327-3450 or e-mail fhartman@state.pa.us

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McKean Democrat
Volume 5 (rest unknown)
Editor Russell R. Lindsley
Smethport, Pa., Thursday, May 10, 1934

A full-page advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post this week dramatically revives a fact little known to the younger generation – that at Coryville, now a hamlet near Smethport, 55 years ago occurred an incident as important to the great world oil industry as Fulton’s first steamboat was to human transportation.

It was the opening of the world’s first pipeline, regarded as a crazy experiment, built to carry oil, brought to Coryville from wells of the nearby Bradford field for storage in tanks underground and over the Allegheny mountains to Williamsport, Pa, 100 miles away.

The scheme worked perfectly and from the first experiment launched with colorful ceremony at Coryville grew the pipeline method of conveying oil with thousands of miles of pipeline throughout the United States and in every country of the world where oil is produced.

The Coryville-Williamsport line was eventually extended to the Atlantic seaboard in New Jersey.

The Coryville pump station was soon followed by other pumping plants and pipelines at nearby Colegrove, Rixford, and other points in this area.

The advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post, commemorating an event which revolutionized the oil business, was inserted by Veedol Motor Oil, a Tide Water Associated Product.

Accompanied by a drawing of the gathering which witnessed the turning of the first gate of the line, with a more or less accurate artist’s conception of the hills overlooking Coryville, the ad was captioned, “GAMBLERS LOST THEIR SHIRTS WHEN ‘BENSON’S FOLLY’ WORKED.”
The text of the ad reads:

“On the morning of May 28, 1879, the townsfolk of Coryville, Pa., were in a gay and carnival mood. Byron D. Benson was about to reveal his long promised miracle. A magic pipeline that would whisk petroleum over the mountains to Williamsport-over 100 miles away.

“For months, ‘Benson’s pipe dream’ had been the talk of the town. Oil men called it a harebrained scheme. Gamblers bet 50 to 1 that no pump could be built powerful enough to force a stream of oil across the Alleghenies.

“But Benson and his associates, the founders of the Tide Water Oil Company, had grimly proceeded with their project. They knew they had to win. They knew that the railroads were crushing the Pennsylvania oil producers to death with exorbitant freight rates. They knew that unless a cheaper way could be found for shipping Pennsylvania crude, the public would be forced to buy an inferior petroleum.

“A great crowd was on hand when Benson turned the valve which let the first oil into the pipes. Came a clinking, thumping noise…and a mighty cheer arose. The oil was on its way, moving on and upward over the hills of Coryville.

“Seven days later, the liquid gold poured out of the pipe terminals at Williamsport. And Tide Water knew it had completed the first leg of its pipeline journey to the sea.”

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