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Kerosine Oil


KEROSINE OIL. Americans knew something of petroleum deposits as early as 1700, but oil rarely entered commerce until 1849 when Samuel M. Kier of Pittsburgh began selling "Kier's Petroleum or Rock Oil, Celebrated for its Wonderful Curative Powers" on a large scale. Meanwhile, other men were taking steps destined to reveal the true value of the oil. James Young of Glasgow, Scotland, began distilling lubricating and illuminating oils from a petroleum spring in Derbyshire, England, in 1847. In Prince Edward Island, Canada, Abram Gessner distilled kerosine from local coal as early as 1846. He patented his process in the United States and sold his rights to the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company of New York, which began commercial manufacture in March 1854. By 1859, the country had between fifty and sixty companies making kerosine from coal, shale, and other carbons. The business grew rapidly, replacing older illuminants such as whale oil and camphine.

Although Kier had begun distilling kerosine from petroleum in 1850, he had made little headway, and the effective pioneer was Col. A. C. Ferris of New York, who obtained most of the output of the Tarentum, Pennsylvania, wells. In 1858 the crude petroleum business of the United States amounted to 1,183 barrels. Then in 1859 E. L. Drake made his momentous oil strike in western Pennsylvania, and the supply of crude oil rapidly grew enormous. By 1860 more than 200 patents had been granted on kerosine lamps, and within years kerosine became the world's principal illuminant. About 1880 the Standard Oil Company perfected a safe kerosine stove. Meanwhile, by-products of kerosine manufacture, such as paraffin, Vaseline, and lubricating oils, had taken an important place in American life.

During the twentieth century, additional uses were found for kerosine—as an ingredient in jet engine fuel, for domestic heating, as a cleaning solvent and insecticide, and, although largely replaced by electricity, for illumination. In 1972 the United States produced approximately 2.3 billion barrels (42 gallons each) of kerosine.


Black, Brian. Petrolia: The Landscape of America's First Oil Boom. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.

AllanNevins/c. w.

See alsoCoal ; Oil Fields ; Petroleum Industry ; Standard Oil Company .

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