Oil In Antiquity
Petroleum, in some form or other, is not a substance new in the world’s history. More than four thousand years ago, according to Herodotus and confirmed by Diodorus Siculus, asphalt was employed in the construction of the walls and towers of Babylon. There were oil pits near Ardericca (near Babylon) and a pitch spring on Zacynthus. Great quantities of it were found on the banks of the river Issus, one of the tributaries of the Euphrates. Ancient Persian tablets indicate the medicinal and lighting uses of petroleum in the upper levels of their society.
The first oil wells were drilled in China in the 4th century or earlier. They had depths of up to 243 meters (about 800 feet) and were drilled using bits attached to bamboo poles. The oil was burned to evaporate brine and produce salt. By the 10th century, extensive bamboo pipelines connected oil wells with salt springs. The ancient records of China and Japan are said to contain many allusions to the use of natural gas for lighting and heating. Petroleum was known as burning water in Japan in the 7th century.
In the 8th century, the streets of the newly constructed Baghdad were paved with tar, derived from easily accessible petroleum from natural fields in the region. In the 9th century, oil fields were exploited in the area around modern Baku, Azerbaijan, to produce naphtha. These fields were described by the geographer Masudi in the 10th century, and by Marco Polo in the 13th century, who described the output of those wells as hundreds of shiploads. Petroleum was first distilled by chemists in the 9th century, producing chemicals such as kerosene.
The earliest mention of American petroleum occurs in Sir Walter Raleigh’s account of the Trinidad Pitch Lake in 1595; whilst thirty-seven years later, the account of a visit of a Franciscan, Joseph de la Roche d’Allion, to the oil springs of New York was published in Sagard’s Histoire du Canada. A Russian traveller, Peter Kalm, in his work on America published in 1748 showed on a map the oil springs of Pennsylvania.
The modern history of petroleum began in 1846 with the discovery of the process of refining kerosene from coal by Atlantic Canada’s Abraham Pineo Gesner.
The petroleum era in America was heralded by Edwin Drake’s drilling of a shallow oil well in Titusville 1859.
Modern History of Petroleum
An American Beginning
In 1857, a small group investors formed the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company to drill a liquid flammable substance that seeped from the earth around the hills in certain parts of Pennsylvania. The investors had valid interests. Household fuel supplies were dwindling due to large scale killing of whales.
The crude technique employed by the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company to extract first crude was the same that had been used in salt wells in America. When the ‘board’ was staying in a hotel, they spotted a fellow called Edwin Drake who posed himself as one of the go-getter types. The company zeored in on Drake to go ahead with drilling in Pennsylvania, a task that would change United States and the world and alter the course of history.
To make Drake appear more than he really was, the company referred to him as ‘Colonel Drake’ in correspondence and he came to be known as such. In 1858, he started drilling near a place called Titusville. After a frustrating six months search and after having all the money blown up, despondent investors mailed him to shut the shop down. But the letter arrived late and in the meantime the ‘Colonel’ tried his luck for one last time and there appeared this seamless flow of oil. This marked the birth of oil industry and an industrial civilization based thereupon.