Home >> History Of Standard Oil >> A Modern War For to An Unholy Alliance >> The Birth of an_P1

The Birth of an Industry

oil, petroleum, substance, salt, found, pennsylvania, streams and surface

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 | Next

THE BIRTH OF AN INDUSTRY the busiest corners of the globe at the open ing of the year 1872 was a strip of Northwestern Pennsylvania, not over fifty miles long, known the world over as the Oil Regions. Twelve years before • this strip of land had been but little better than a wilderness; its chief inhabitants the lumbermen, who every season cut great swaths of primeval pine and hemlock from its hills, and in the spring floated them down the Allegheny River to Pittsburg. The great tides of Western emigration had shunned the spot for years as too rugged and unfriendly for settlement, and yet in twelve years this region avoided by men had been transformed into a bustling trade centre, where towns elbowed each other for place, into which three great trunk railroads had built branches, and every foot of whose soil was fought for by capitalists. It was the discovery and development of a new raw product, petroleum, which had made this change from wilderness to market-place. This product in twelve years had not only peopled a waste place of the earth, it had revolutionised the world's methods of illumination and added millions upon millions of dollars to the wealth of the United States.

Petroleum as a curiosity, and indeed in a small way as an article of commerce, was no new thing when its discovery in quantities called the attention of the world to this corner of Northwestern Pennsylvania. The journals of many an early explorer of the valleys of the Allegheny and its tributaries tell of springs and streams the surfaces of which were found cov ered with a thick oily substance which burned fiercely when ignited and which the Indians believed to have curative prop erties. As the country was opened, more and more was heard of these oil springs. Certain streams came to be named from the quantities of the substance found on the surface of the water, as "Oil Creek" in Northwestern Pennsylvania, "Old Greasy" or Kanawha in West Virginia. The belief in the substance as a cure-all increased as time went on and in various parts of the country it was regularly skimmed from the surface of the water as cream from a pan, or soaked up by woollen blankets, bottled, and peddled as a medicine for man and beast.

Up to the beginning of the igth century no oil seems to have been obtained except from the surfaces of springs and streams. That it was to be found far below the surface of the earth was discovered independently at various points in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania by per sons drilling for salt-water to be used-in manufacturing salt.

Not infrequently the water they found was mixed with a dark-green, evil-smelling substance which was recognised as identical with the well-known "rock-oil." It was necessary to rid the water of this before it could be used for salt, and in many places cisterns were devised in which the brine was allowed to stand until the oil had risen to the surface. It was then run into the streams or on the ground. This practice was soon discovered to be dangerous, so easily did the oil ignite.

In several places, particularly in Kentucky, so much oil was obtained with the salt-water that the wells had to be aban doned. Certain of these deserted salt wells were opened years after, when it was found that the troublesome substance which had made them useless was far more valuable than the brine the original drillers sought.

Naturally the first use made of the oil obtained in quanti ties from the salt wells was medicinal. By the middle of the century it was without doubt the great American medicine. "Seneca Oil" seems to have been the earliest name under which petroleum appeared in the East. It was followed by a large output of Kentucky petroleum sold under the name "American Medicinal Oil." Several hundred thousand bot tles of this oil are said to have been put up in Burkesville, Kentucky, and to have been shipped to the East and to Europe. The point at which the business of bottling petro leum for medicine was carried on most systematically and extensively was Pittsburg. Near that town, at Tarentum in Alleghany County, were located salt wells owned and oper ated in the forties by Samuel M. Kier. The oil which came up with the salt-water was sufficient to be a nuisance, and Mr. Kier sought a way to use it. Believing it had curative quali ties he began to bottle it. By 185o he had worked up this business until "Kier's Petroleum, or Rock-Oil" was sold all over the United States. The crude petroleum was put up in eight-ounce bottles wrapped in a circular setting forth in good patent-medicine style its virtues as a cure-all, and giv ing directions about its use. While it was admitted to be chiefly a liniment it was recommended for cholera morbus, liver complaint, bronchitis and consumption, and the dose I prescribed was three teaspoonfuls three times a day! Mr.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 | Next