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History of Oil Use


Oil has been known and used since the most ancient times and has been mentioned by most ancient historians since the time of Herodotus. It was used chiefly as a liniment or medicine, not as a fuel. The Bible refers to pitch being used for building purposes -- cementing walls -- in Babylon.

Oil flows from natural springs in many localities. It was obtained from such springs in what is now Western Pennsylvania by the Seneca Indians, who used it for medicinal purposes. The first oil well was drilled in that region by Edwin Drake in 1859. the well was 69 feet deep and produced 15 barrels a day. The area quickly boomed and the modern oil industry was born. Later Texas and Oklahoma became the centers of US production. Following World War II the Middle East became a major supplier for US use as well.

As a fuel, oil was originally used as kerosene for lighting, replacing animal, vegetable and coal oils. It also came to be used in furnaces. Its biggest use, however, came with the development of the automobile. Today almost all forms of locomotion -- cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships and airplanes -- are fueled by oil, diesel or gasoline. Fuel oil has also been burned to produce electricity, although that has always been mostly coal's job.

Other sources of information:

Oil History is an excellent freelance site by geologist and historian Samuel T. Pees
History of the Standard Oil Company by Ida Tarbell -- a muckraking classic from 1904.
The Drake Well Museum in Pennsylvania even has an electronic gift shop.
History of ExxonMobil Corporation includes good history of their advertising.

Government Information:

Energy Information Administration (home page), plus:

Historical Data and Analysis provides production and consumption statistics.

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