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Titanic Change for the Petroleum Industry

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Shields Harper & Co. is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. To commemorate our long history, we look back at the state of the industry as it stood in 1917.

Reginald Fessenden filed another patent on January 15, 1917. Just one more of the over 500 radio-related patents by the "father" of radio. Patent 1.240.328 didn't change the way we enjoy music- it changed how we got fuel.

A century ago, in 1917, the same year Shields Harper was established, Fessenden was working on his latest major patent. For decades he had worked on radio waves that traveled through air, yet this patent would send them under our feet.

Fessenden had been working on communication systems for the U.S. Military, a way for submarines to communicate with one another by sending up to 20 Morse code words a minute as far as 80 km away. From this project, he realized that the oscillator he was using would not only transmit pulses under water, but could receive them as well. This fresh knowledge, coupled with a strong motivation to ensure that collisions with icebergs like the RMS Titanic tragedy never be repeated, would spark a significant discovery for Fessenden. In 1914, Fessenden took a transceiver out to sea on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Miami. Through his seasickness, he discovered that his transceiver could detect an iceberg from 20 km away. This method of call-and-response would eventually be known as “reflection method.” And with some modification over the next few years this method became the genesis for patent 1.240.328, "A method and apparatus for locating ore bodies."

“It consisted of an electro-acoustic transducer that applied a short burst of relatively high-frequency elastic wave energy to the earth and of a receiver and recorder that subsequently recorded the energy reflected, refracted, and scattered from within the subsurface.”
~ Former President of the Society of Exploration Geophysicist, William Rust

Until the advent of powerful low-frequency earth vibrators, it would be the 1930’s before this idea became the “go-to” for fuel prospecting. But since the patent was approved it has been referenced in 20 other patents made by companies like Sun Oil Co., Mobil Oil Corp., Dresser Industries, Haliburton, and Exxon. These companies have relied on Fessenden’s work to become the industry titans they are recognized as today.

Fessenden’s tenacious spirit and drive, his ability to look beyond the needs of the present and create for the needs of the future, are respected and appreciated by Shields Harper. We look towards that spirit and believe it mirrors our determination to bring you the highest quality and unsurpassed customer care. As we celebrate a century of service, Shields, Harper and Co. embraces Reginald Fessenden’s example, for the last 100 years and the next 100.

Geophysics in the Affairs of Man: A Personalized History of Exploration ...
By Charles C. Bates, Thomas F. Gaskell, Robert B. Rice
Historical Dictionary of the Petroleum Industry
By M. S. Vassiliou
Wiki for Society of Exploration Geophysicist