Edwin Drake and the First Oil Well

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Edwin Drake and his Oil Well

From Dailyhistory.org:

Even though there was no one “first discover” of oil. Oil was known in antiquity when it was used to heal wounds. But by the middle of the 19th-century methods for collecting oil from the ground had not changed for thousands of years. Edwin Drake’s oil fundamentally changed this process and dramatically increased oil production around the world. Instead of harvesting oil in a pail or sopping it up with rags and wrung it out by hand over barrels, oil wells produced thousands of barrels of oil. The creation of the oil well fundamentally altered the course of the 20th century. [1]

The future of oil changed in 1846. Abraham Gessner, who was trained as a physician in England but spent his life in geological work in his native Canada instead, was performing public lectures in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. During one demonstration Gessner showed how oil distilled from bituminous coal could be used to light a lamp. He called the distillate “kerosene” and those in attendance that day were on hand for the birth of the oil refining industry.[2]

Indoor illuminants at the time relied on whale oil which was, of course, difficult and dangerous to obtain and expensive – $2.50 a gallon at a time when a good day’s wage was less than one dollar.[3] Kerosene burned smokily and smelled awful but tinkerers soon discovered that a lamp with a glass chimney solved both problems. Finding petroleum for these proliferating cheap “kerosene lamps” stoked the fire of the day’s entrepreneurs.

Read more at DailyHistory.org. 



Categories: History of Science, United States History

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