This Week Jan. 30 to Feb. 5
January 30, 1916 – Standard Oil promotes Petroleum Product “Nujol”
Standard Oil Company of New Jersey takes out a full-page advertisement in the New York Sun extolling the virtues of “Nujol,” one of the company’s many petroleum-based products.
Nujol offers “Internal Lubrication As A Means To Health,” the ad proclaims. One historian will later note that “physicians disagree with the sales department of Standard Oil on this point.”
Standard promises to send a pint of Nujol anywhere in the United States for 75 cents in stamps or coin.
Since primitive people first found medicinal solutions in natural oil seeps, petroleum has been used with greater or lesser success to heal a variety of ailments. By the 19th century, patent medicines and their “miraculous” curative claims have become part of American culture. In the 1840s, one such cure-all was American Medicinal Oil. It came from naturally occurring petroleum seeps in Kentucky.
Nancy Kier of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will treat her consumption (tuberculosis) with oil. Her enterprising husband Samuel then begins packaging eight-ounce bottles and selling them for 50 cents through traveling salesmen and pharmacies.
He proclaims: ”KIER’S GENUINE PETROLEUM! OR ROCK OIL! A NATURAL REMEDY, Procured from a Well 400 feet deep, and possessing wonderful Curative Powers in diseases…”
Kier’s patent medicine advertisement featuring brine-well wooden derricks is remembered for inspiring industrialist George Bissell to wonder if the same apparatus could be adapted to extract quantities of rock oil — from which highly prized kerosene could be distilled.
Bissell’s insight will ultimately lead to formation of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company — and birth of the American petroleum industry on August 27, 1859.
New products like “petroleum jelly” patented in 1872 as “Vaseline” — will prove superior in preventing infections for common abrasions. Its inventor, Robert Chesebrough, consumed a spoonful of Vaseline every day and lived to be 96 years old. Read “A Crude Story: Mabel’s Eyelashes.”
January 31, 1888 – Famous Oil Scout and Publisher dies
Famed 37-year-old oil scout Justus C. McMullen succumbs to pneumonia contracted while scouting an oil well’s production.
During an era when information and misinformation from oil speculators pushed oil exchange prices erratically, oilfield detectives like McMullen debunked rumors, “demystified” reports about oil wells and secured accurate information on production — or lack thereof – sometimes despite armed guards at drilling sites.
McMullen, who also published Bradford, Pennsylvania’s “Petroleum Age” newspaper, caught pneumonia while investigating the Pittsburgh Manufacturers Gas Company’s well near Cannonsburg. Even with such hard-earned information as McMullen’s, speculation in oil certificates destabilizes early oil markets — creating a burden for both oil producers and refiners. Standard Oil Company will put an end to the era on January 23, 1895, when it directs subordinate National Transit Company in Oil City to cease issuing oil certificates.
Standard will set oil prices based on its view of supply and demand – ending the wildly fluctuating speculation at oil exchanges. Read “Oil Scouts — Oil Patch Detectives.”
February 1, 1868 – Oil Prices Weighed
For the first time, oil price quotations are based on specific gravity – the heaviness of a substance compared to that of water – in Titusville, Pennsylvania. In the new oil regions, independent producers frequently meet to discuss business, sell shares of stock, argue prices, and enter into refining contracts.
Before the Titusville Oil Exchange is established in 1871, producers would gather in convenient establishments, such as Titusville’s American Hotel or along Centre Street in Oil City — known as the “Curbside Exchange.”
A permanent three-story brick building is built in Titusville in 1881.
February 2, 1923 – First Anti-Knock Gas goes on Sale
Discovered just two years earlier by General Motors scientists, “Ethyl,” the world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetra-ethyl lead compound, goes on sale at the Refiners Oil Company service station on South Main Street in Dayton, Ohio.
In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” was the name applied to the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. This shock was called a ping or a knock and caused damage to the engine.
In the 1950s, geochemist Clair Patterson will discover the toxicity of tetra-ethyl lead. Phase out of its use in gasoline begins in 1976. EPA Administrator Carol Browner in 1996 declares, “The elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.”
See the related article, “Cantankerous Combustion — First U.S. Auto Show.”
February 3, 1868 – Oil Producers seek End of Civil War Tax
Oil Creek refiners meet in Petroleum Center, Pennsylvania, where they pass a resolution demanding that the Civil War’s one dollar a barrel “war tax” on refined petroleum products be repealed.
As early as 1862, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase advocated a $10.50 per barrel tax on refined petroleum products, the equivalent in 2010 dollars of $145. Chase, responsible for the introduction of federal paper money — printed on green paper – during the Civil War, will not succeed, despite the need for revenue. Instead, a one-dollar excise tax is imposed in 1864.
In 1868, with the war over and Pennsylvania’s oil region production greatly in excess of demand, the price refiners get for kerosene falls to new lows. The Civil War tax further reduces profits. Oil Creek refiners will achieve their goal within six months after the Petroleum Center meeting when Congress passes a bill exempting petroleum and its products from taxation.
Today, the federal excise tax on a 42-gallon barrel “refined petroleum product” – is about $8. Chase is pictured on the $10,000 bill.
February 5, 1873 – Moonlighter shoots Last Well
Andrew J. Dalrymple is killed with his wife in a nitroglycerin explosion at his home on Dennis Run, Pennsylvania. He is alleged to have been “moonlighting” — an illegal oil well shooter — in the Tidioute oilfield.
“The Dalrymple torpedo accident at Tidioute brings to light the fact that nitroglycerine, or other dangerous explosives, are used, stored and manipulated secretly in places little suspected by the general public,” reports the Titusville Morning Herald.
“A large amount of this dangerous material has lately been stolen from the various magazines throughout the country, ” the newspaper adds. “This species of theft is winked at by some parties, who are opposed to the Roberts torpedo patent.”
The modern term moonlighting comes from this practice of surreptitious avoidance of licensing fees imposed on the use of Civil War veteran Col. E.A.L. Roberts’ patented fracking technique to increase production. Read the “Shooters — A Fracking History.”