Black Gold

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Black gold is an informal term for oil or petroleumblack because of its appearance when it comes out of the ground, and gold because it made everyone involved in the oil industry rich. The oil industry in the United States began in 1859 when retired railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake (18191880) drilled a well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. His drill was powered by an old steam engine. Oil from animal tallow and whales were used as lubricants since colonial times. A process for deriving kerosene from coal oil was not patented until 1854. (Kerosene is a clean-burning and easy-lighting fuel.)

After Drake's Titusville well produced shale oil the substance was analyzed for its properties and it was determined to be an excellent source of kerosene. Soon others began prospecting for "rock oil" and western Pennsylvania became an important oil-producing region. Wagons and river barges transported barrels to market, though later the railroad reached into the region and, by 1875, a pipeline was built to carry the oil directly to Pittsburgh. Petroleum soon replaced whale oil as a fluid for illumination. During the 1880s the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana also produced oil. In 1901 the famous Spindletop field in eastern Texas provided the nation's first "gusher" (a site where oil literally shoots out of the earth.) During the next decade California and Oklahoma joined Texas as leaders of the nation's oil industry. U.S. oil production boomed: while only 2000 barrels of oil were produced in 1859, more than 64 million barrels were produced annually by the turn of the century.

The second half of the 1800s saw an increase in the use of oil. The fuel was being used for lighting, heating, and lubrication (principally of machinery and tools). The advent of the automobile with its central role in the life of the twentieth-century United States made the oil industry even richer. Demand soon exceeded the nation's supply of petroleum, prompting the United States to increasingly rely on imported oil for fuel.

See also: Andrew Mellon, Kerosene, Petroleum Industry