So far in our Top Engineering Achievements blog series, we have looked at the Trans-Siberian Railway, the International Space Station, and the Blackbird SR-71.

This week, we wanted to highlight a mechanical engineering achievement along with something related to the oil and gas industry: The Mr. Charlie Oil Rig.

Before Mr Charlie

Although offshore oil wells were first developed in 1890, it was only in 1947 that the oil industry started to work the Gulf of Mexico far out at sea. Companies would use vessels such as old navy ships to carry equipment to the site and they would build a derrick and drilled their well. When they were finished, they would dismantle the whole operation and start the process again. It was costly and time consuming.

The invention of Mr Charlie

Invented by Alden Laborde, a young naval architect who worked for an oil company. He suggested putting all the operations on a transportable barge that can be floated to any location. Water would then be pumped into the barge which would cause it to sink and become a stable platform to drill. When they were finished, the barge would be re-floated, and it would transport everything to the next location.

Alden struggled to find investment but eventually found it and construction was started in 1952 and finished in 1953.

Although people were at first cynical whether it would work, Shell Oil Company took the risk and used the floating rig in 1954 for a new field where it wasn’t cost effective to use the conventional methods of the time. The new field was in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Mr Charlie’s success

The rig was a resounding success and went on to drill more than 200 wells in the Gulf of Mexico from 1954 to 1986. The rig was capable of drilling wells at depths of up to 40 feet, and in its lifetime drilled a cumulative total depth of 2.3m feet.

The platform could accommodate a crew of 58 and once on location, the rig was nearly completely self-sufficient. The rig stored food and water, generated its own electricity, used its own communications system, and disposed of its own waste. The rig also featured a full firefighting system and medical equipment for any emergencies.

Today the rig sits in Morgan City, Louisiana, at the International Petroleum Museum, teaching others about its role in the oil and gas industry. It is recognised by ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) as one of their historical mechanical engineering landmarks.

The rig revolutionised the offshore industry and lead to the technology that is currently used around the world, and that’s why it definitely deserves a place in our top engineering achievements list! #EngineersRule!

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