These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Crude oil—or petroleum—has been used since ancient times for several purposes, mostly for dimly lighting up buildings and streets. Only after inventing the fractional distillation of oil and discovering vast mineral oil fields under the ground and sea in the 19th and 20th centuries, petroleum became the most important material for the modern nations, who could fuel all their cars, airplanes, boats—and, of course, tanks, bombers, and warships that helped make the world safe for more oil consumption.

Oil surely has changed our civilization forever, just like oil-drilling facilities changed nature and the landscape, even in the very hearts of our cities. These images from the beginning of the 20th century are shocking examples of how brutally the human race can transform natural scenery into something un-earthly and almost totally alien.

Oil wells of the Petroleum Production Company Nobel Brothers Ltd., a.k.a. Branobel, in Baku, Azerbaijan, c. 1875-1920. Branobel was one of the largest oil companies in the world at that time.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Unknown/Tekniska museet

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Unknown/Tekniska museet

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Unknown/Tekniska museet

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: A.W. Cronquist/Tekniska museet

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: A.W. Cronquist/Tekniska museet

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Unknown/Tekniska museet

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images


Oil wells, Spindletop Field, Beaumont, Texas, c. 1901.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Library Of Congress

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Library Of Congress

A section of the Spindletop Field, c. 1901, when wells were drilled so close together above a huge underground oil pool that a man could walk a mile stepping from one derrick floor to another.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: AP


Oil derricks in a Los Angeles oil field at Court Street and Toluca Street, 1904. These wells had been producing for over 40 years when this photo was taken (1904).

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: USC Libraries


Dozens of oil derricks rising out of the coastal Pacific Ocean at Summerland, Santa Barbara, California, as viewed from the north, c. 1904.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Charles C. Pierce/USC Libraries


Monte Cristo Oil Company, Kern County, California, c. 1910.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: West Coast Art Co./Library Of Congress


California's great gusher, c. 1910.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: West Coast Art Co./Library Of Congress


Petroleum Development Co., Kern River, c. 1910.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: West Coast Art Co./Library Of Congress


Santa Fe Lease, c. 1910.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: West Coast Art Co./Library Of Congress


"The world's wonder oil field" with over 850 producing wells. Burkburnett, Texas, c. 1919.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Almeron Newman Photographic Co./Library Of Congress

A panoramic view of Burkburnett, Texas, 1919, with amazing details.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: W.H. Raymond/Library Of Congress


Goose Creek, Texas, 1917 and 1919.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Frank J. Schlueter/Library Of Congress

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Frank J. Schlueter/Library Of Congress


Pumping oil out of the Pacific Ocean at Summerland, c. 1920.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Library Of Congress


Oilfield at Venice, California, c. 1920.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Keystone/Getty Images


1922: Panoramic view of a residential neighborhood in Long Beach, Los Angeles, facing north and east, with the Signal Hill oil field in the background.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: WPA


Long Beach oil field, California, May 1923.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Mining Oil Bulletin/Library Of Congress


Oil wells in Signal Hill, at Long Beach, c. 1925.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: USC Libraries


The former British owned Bibi Eibat oil wells, Azerbaijan, Aug. 10, 1927, by the Soviet Government at the time of the Revolution.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: AP


View of Long Beach Boulevard passing through the Signal Hill oil district, Los Angeles, 1930.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: USC Libraries


A view of oil wells in California, near Los Angeles, c. 1935.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Keystone/Getty Images


Oil well boilers with church and oil derricks in the background, Kilgore, Texas, 1939.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Russell Lee/Library Of Congress


A field of oil wells in Baicoi, Romania, c. 1945.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images


Undated photograph of Venice, California, oil wells.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: USC Libraries


And a bonus GIF created from a stereo image of Spindletop, Beaumont, Texas, c. 1915.

These Landscapes Covered In Oil Wells Are Like Huge Alien Cities

Photo: Keystone View Company/NYPL