The 1859 Project: How The Birth Of The Oil Industry Saved Whales And Propelled Today’s Prosperity

By Helen Raleigh at The Federalist nicely tweaks the NYTimes with “the 1859 Project”:

Without early Americans’ entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity, today’s Americans may not be able to enjoy the kind of prosperity and comfort we often have taken for granted.

[On August 28th was] the 160-year anniversary of the birth of the oil industry, not in Saudi Arabia, but in western Pennsylvania, right here in the United States. Don’t let this day slip by without giving thanks toward an industry that has done so much, including to save the whales, to improve the quality of life for many and transform our society for the better.

Way before the birth of the oil industry in 1859, knowledge of oil had been around for centuries. Archaeologists discovered that the Mesopotamians and the Babylonians used oil in construction and medicines.

Since oil often bubbled up to the surface, for hundreds of years the Seneca Indian tribe in Pennsylvania had collected some from creeks and water wells and used it as an insect repellent and as a medicine to treat stiff joints and ailments. By the 1850s, however, numerous salt miners in western Pennsylvania began to regard oil as a nuisance because it often emerged at the surface of their salt wells, and they didn’t know how to tackle the issue until Samuel Kier came along.

Finding New Uses For Oil

Kier and his father were owners of several salt wells at Tarentum, Pennsylvania. Initially, Kier was just as irritated as everyone else that oil kept contaminating his salt well. But unlike the rest, Kier initiated a chemical analysis of the oil and discovered that some of its components were identical to the “American Medicinal Oil” his wife used for joint pain.

A good entrepreneur never wastes new opportunities. In 1852, Kier began to sell oil from his salt well as “Kier’s Rock Oil” in 8-ounce jars for 50 cents each, marketing it a “medicine” for burns, asthma, and many more ailments.

Read more: The Federalist

Image credit: