Oil Boom: Pittsburgh Was Nation’s First Petroleum Capital

Kier watched as the lamp burned, and hoped the gas he was testing would give off a brilliant light with no smoke.

The Pittsburgh businessman already had sold petroleum sopped from around his father’s salt wells as drugs. With gross sales declining, he was on the lookout for a new use for the greasy, greenish liquid.

Kier examined a whole bunch of lamps made to burn coal, whale and different oils before fashioning a burner for his fuel. He constructed a refinery along Downtown’s Seventh Avenue that was the primary in the Western Hemisphere, and his achievements in the late 1840s and early 1850s helped to develop the worldwide petroleum trade.

Edwin Drake’s well would focus nationwide consideration on the Titusville area a few years later. But Kier and different Pittsburghers offered the technology, enterprise know-how and financing to make their city America’s first oil capital, a middle for petroleum refining, buying and selling and gear-making till the late nineteenth century.

“Pittsburgh all the time has had an entrepreneurial spirit. That is one example of it,” said Alfred N. Mann, a retired chemical engineer who has studied the region’s oil history.

But “total luck” also ushered in the city’s oil boom, in the type of an affordable transportation route, he added. Oil Creek, in the guts of the primary petroleum fields, flowed into the Allegheny River about one hundred miles north of Pittsburgh, and the river took flatboats crammed with crude to a city that had the labor and assets to refine and promote it.

Only a waste product

Petroleum was a nuisance to early settlers in Western Pennsylvania.

Native Americans of the Seneca nation had taught them to use it as a salve, and to swallow it to relieve a variety of ailments. Small portions were on the bottom’s floor. However when the settlers dug wells to deliver up brine they might boil down into salt, petroleum typically came up, too.

Some managed to sell it. Nathaniel Carey, who lived alongside Oil Creek, collected oil from a spring, loaded it onto his horse in two 5-gallon barrels and traveled to Pittsburgh to sell it to get supplies. By the early 1800s, rafts from the oil region were carrying small quantities to the town, together with the much more vital lumber shipments.

Lewis Peterson Jr. of Allegheny City, now the North Side, owned an interest in a salt nicely in Tarentum and, at one level, provided a reward for anyone who might use the surplus oil.

Later, he solved the problem himself. Peterson had owned a cotton-spinning enterprise that was destroyed in Pittsburgh’s great fire of 1845. Later that yr, he took petroleum to the Hope Cotton Manufacturing facility off Lacock Avenue, close to where Allegheny Center is now, and the managers there discovered it labored higher for lubricating cotton spindles than the generally used whale oil.

The corporate ordered two barrels per week from Peterson, however petroleum’s use as a lubricant would not be broadly known till years later.

Kier ran several businesses throughout his lifetime. Within the mid-1840s, he and his father, Thomas, have been busy with two salt wells they owned close to Tarentum, they usually often dumped the useless petroleum by-product into the close by Pennsylvania Canal.

A mishap one night signaled its prospects. A gaggle of boys, according to at least one account, threw a hot branding iron into the canal close to the Kiers’ property, igniting a superb fire that they had to let burn itself out.

Progressively, Kier turned more intrigued with petroleum.

His spouse was taking medicinal oil similar to what his wells produced. So, Kier began selling half-pints of what he called “rock oil” for 50 cents by gross sales brokers who traveled in gilded wagons that featured photos of the Bible’s Good Samaritan.

“He was the primary one to offer any worth to petroleum products,” said Neil McElwee, a historian who research Pennsylvania’s oil areas. “Prior to that, it was simply waste. Farmers would use it on their animals and burn lard oil for light.”

‘The magic elixir’

Kier, working from an workplace on Liberty Road, now Liberty Avenue, offered his petroleum as a treatment for health problems starting from blotchy pores and skin to diarrhea, however he soon turned to experiments with lighting.

By purifying the oil, Kier figured, he might make a cheaper, simpler-to-get illuminant than the whale oil in common use then.

He constructed a simple one-barrel still at Seventh and Grant streets, the place the U.S. Steel Tower is now. By 1850, he was distilling petroleum and selling it for $1.50 per gallon.

4 years later, Kier enlarged the operation to a five-barrel nonetheless that is considered to be the first refinery. The oil he used came from the Tarentum salt wells, transported through a Pennsylvania Canal extension that went into Downtown, from what now is 11th Avenue to a point near Kier’s enterprise.

The product, which Kier referred to as carbon oil, was successful.

“He made an illuminant from petroleum, which was necessary,” mentioned William Brice, a professor on the College of Pittsburgh at Johnstown who studies oil history.

That’s as a result of petroleum was simpler to obtain and transport than shale or coal oil. “It was the magic elixir, in that regard. You did not need to dig a giant hole to get it — you simply needed to drill a hole in the bottom and pump it out,” Brice said.

Petroleum use as a lighting fuel and lubricant, flourished through the 1850s.

William McKeown of Nevins McKeown & Co., a Liberty Road drug store, constructed a second refinery, in Allegheny City. And Kier, beneath pressure from Pittsburgh leaders who feared an explosion in densely populated Downtown, ultimately moved his refinery to Lawrenceville, around where 43rd Street now is.

Ironically, Kier’s earlier venture would play a component in the trade’s next massive growth.

Moving underground

New York businessman George Bissell, in 1856, observed a flier for Kier’s medicinal oil in a drug retailer window on Broadway. The petroleum came from a well, 400 ft deep, the advert said, and Bissell thought of drilling for illuminating oil.

Bissell was involved in a company that owned a farm close to oil-wealthy Titusville, Crawford County. He hired Drake and William A. “Uncle Billy” Smith, who had labored for Kier as a salt-nicely driller.

On Aug. 27, 1859, they struck petroleum after drilling 69.5 feet down and casing their properly with pipe — proving that considerable supplies of oil could be pulled from underground. Inside a month, financiers were snapping up farms and oil leases, and thousands of prospectors began to pour into the Oil Creek Valley.

Flatboats crammed with oil have been floated down the Allegheny River, then returned to the oil areas pulled by towboats or horses. Refineries were constructed along the Allegheny River, lifting Pittsburgh out of the doldrums of an industrial depression that was rooted within the over expansion of railroads a couple of years earlier, and uncertainty in the early years of the Civil War.

A handful of present refineries in the town, built to make kerosene from coal or shale, switched to processing petroleum. By the late 1860s, the Pittsburgh area had fifty eight refineries.

Drake sold petroleum to Kier, McKeown and different Pittsburgh businessmen. And Charles Lockhart, after earlier oil ventures, constructed the primary commercial-scale refinery in 1861, at the bottom of Negley Run in Highland Park, near the place Washington Boulevard meets Butler Road.

Lockhart finally operated the biggest oil-refining enterprise in Pittsburgh, with seven locations, and with partners together with William Frew and William Warden, built the Atlantic Refinery in Philadelphia in 1872.

While forging relationships with different producers, Lockhart also was energetic in the oil fields. He and Frew, William Phillips and other companions drilled the Albion effectively close to the mouth of Oil Creek that was a champion producer, turning out four,000 barrels of crude per day.

Phillips, a Westmoreland County native, had a keelboat operation that was the first to run massive quantities of petroleum from the oil area to Pittsburgh.

Fuel prices in Ghana reduce again - Ghana News Agency (GNA)Other key figures emerged. Andrew Carnegie was certainly one of the most important stockholders in the Columbia Oil Co., with interests around Oil Metropolis, and his dividends helped him increase capital for his steel mills.

Lockhart spurred overseas commerce, traveling to Liverpool in 1860 with samples of crude and refined oil.

“This was the first that crossed the Atlantic,” he wrote in an autobiography. “By the latter part of the identical year, we were transport crude in large quantities” to Scottish and English coal oil refineries.

The trade flourished by the Civil Conflict years, influencing the war’s consequence.

“Oil’s significance in the struggle was strategic,” McElwee mentioned. “The European market throughout the mid-1860s and beyond was absorbing 70 percent of the refined crude from the United States. That gave us a lot-needed currency and allowed the Union to remain solvent to combat the warfare,” and stability the capital that Southern states raised by selling cotton overseas.

Tens of millions were made during this time. Lockhart, who constructed a stately mansion in Highland Park, the place the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary now stands, recalled shopping for out three partners in an oil-producing enterprise in 1863. Phillips was one, and while he dealt with the cash, he by no means kept books.

“His financial institution of deposit was an previous boot,” Lockhart wrote. “He brought it down with him simply as he had caught it in,” and when the cash readily available was counted, there was sufficient to pay every of the exiting partners the tens of 1000’s of dollars they were owed.

Pittsburgh also was dwelling to the world’s first oil change, the place producers, refiners and shippers met.

The wharf near Duquesne Approach was the terminal for oil visitors, and whereas refiners arrange workplaces nearby, their business often was conducted proper alongside the curb. The dealings usually took in this area between Seventh and Ninth streets, often tying up visitors at the curbs before conferences at the Dalzell Building began in the mid-1860s. Just a few other oil exchanges followed, primarily in the same area of Downtown.

The city’s glow as the middle of oil trade lasted only a few years.

Boom begins to bust

Petroleum shipments ultimately vanished from the river. The Allegheny Valley Railroad between Pittsburgh and Oil City was completed in 1868, offering a less expensive transportation mode.

Pipelines have been built to carry oil from wells to the rail cars, and by the late 1870s, bigger traces to carry petroleum longer distances to distant markets had been beneath building.

Too many refineries had been built, they usually outpaced consumption of lighting gas. Many refineries began to move west to the Cleveland area. “We speak about excess capability within the auto industry in the present day, however by 1872, these refineries had been killing each other off,” McElwee stated.

Lockhart recalled a meeting with J.D. Rockefeller and different oil producers within the summer season of 1874 in Saratoga, N.Y. “We agreed to type an organization to be named the standard Oil Co.” that may combine several of their refineries, barrel factories and different resources, he wrote.

He became the primary president of Customary Oil, which managed ninety % of the refining capability nationwide by 1878. The company turned considered one of the first multinational companies, and made Rockefeller a billionaire, however was broken up by the U.S. Supreme Court docket in 1911 for violations of antitrust legal guidelines.

Widespread drilling for petroleum didn’t reach the Pittsburgh region till later, in 1890, when a nicely drilled on William Whitesell’s farm within the Wildwood part of what now’s Hampton went into production.

Pine and McCandless had been other manufacturing areas. The McDonald Area that stretched from Neville Island to Midway, Washington County, pumped 80,000 barrels per day in 1892, and Allegheny, at that time, led all different Pennsylvania counties for manufacturing.

Pittsburgh oil wildcatter James M. Guffey and associate John Galey, who opened oil fields in Armstrong and Butler counties within the 1870s, led the bonanza in McDonald and later headed for the Gulf Coast in Texas.

Guffey bought out his companions in an oil enterprise in 1901, by selling shares to Andrew and Richard Mellon and other traders in a deal that led to the creation of Gulf Oil Corp. in 1907, a time when consumers were buying the first automobiles.

Pittsburgh-based Gulf, by 1970, was one of the world’s-greatest producers, refiners and sellers of oil, however in 1984, the corporate was absorbed by Chevron Corp. in a $13 billion deal that was the most important corporate merger up to now. Gulf’s offices in the city disappeared, marking the top of an period, though the brand endures.

Mann, who worked for Gulf and for the U.S. Division of Energy during his career, convinced the American Chemical Society this summer to honor Pittsburgh’s earliest oil pioneer.

Officials with the professional group dedicated a plaque to Kier on Aug. 26 that later shall be put in on the U.S. Steel Tower, near one other historic marker for Kier’s business. One other ceremony passed off the following day in Titusville, marking 150 years after Drake’s discovery.

Still, Pittsburgh’s petroleum history stays little-recognized today.

“All of it predates residing memory now,” Brice said, “and it was overshadowed by steel, when (Henry Clay) Frick and Carnegie had been of their heyday. The refinery business was massive, but there have been 58 completely different ones whereas Carnegie Steel was an enormous, single company.”

The names of many of the entrepreneurs concerned in Pittsburgh’s historical past because the nation’s petroleum capital stay acquainted today. Listed below are a number of:

Michael Benedum and J.C. Trees — Effectively-identified wildcatters, or experimental drillers beginning in the 1890s, formed the Benedum-Trees Oil Co.


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