Oil and Natural Gas History, Education Resources, Museum News, Exhibits and Events

Archive for the 'Petroleum Products' Category

 

As more Americans took to the road, inventor S.F. Bowser added a hose attachment for dispensing gasoline directly into automobile tanks in 1905. His popular Model 102 “Chief Sentry” with its secure “clamshell” cover followed.

diamond filling station

Manufactured in 1911, an S.F. Bowser Model 102 “Chief Sentry” is pumped by the station attendant  on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., in 1920. Photo courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

diamond filling station

The small “filling station” sold Penn Oil Company’s Lightning Motor Fuel. Four quart of Penn Oil motor oil sold for 80 cents.

The man wearing overalls and a bowler hat pumps gas at the Diamond Filling Station in 1920 at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street near Union Station in Washington, D.C.

The Library of Congress photograph of the scene (with the station’s owner?) includes an S.F. Bowser Pump Company Model 102 “Chief Sentry” with a hand lever that pumped Penn Oil Company lightning Motor Fuel. A quart of Penn Oil motor oil sells for 20 cents.

“This is so cool. So, when you had to pump your gas, you literally had to hand pump the equipment to get the gas to come out?” asks one vintage photographs website blogger. “I’ve honestly never thought about the literal meaning of a phrase that I say all the time. And I feel like a total whippersnapper by asking the question.”

According to the blog Shorpy.com, the photograph and others were taken in the Washington, D.C., area by the National Photo Company, whose archive of thousands of negatives (mostly glass plates) and prints was donated by proprietor Herbert E. French to the Library of Congress in 1947.

The popular Bowser “Chief Sentry” pump included an upper clamshell that closed for security when the filling station was left unattended.

Showing its wear and tear, the nine-years-old pump’s topmost globe (prized by collectors) survived only as a bare bulb.

Sylvanus Freelove Bowser of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in 1885 sold his first accurate pump that could reliably measure and dispense kerosene – a product much in demand.

diamond filling station

S.F. Bowser added a hose attachment for dispensing gasoline directly into automobile tanks in 1905. His popular Model 102 “Chief Sentry” with its secure “clamshell” cover followed.

Later, as America’s enthusiasm for “horseless carriages” soared, so did demand for gasoline. Bowser refocused his business on gasoline pumps to serve increasing numbers of customers driving automobiles. See Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

Bowser’s Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pumps soon became known as “filling stations.”

Penn Oil Company was the exclusive American distributer of Lightning Motor Fuel, a British product that reportedly consisting of “50 percent gasoline and 50 per cent of chemicals, the nature of which is secret.”

Lightning Motor Fuel was promoted as offering up to 35 percent more mileage thanks to its secret ingredient, which was likely alcohol.

Some writers of the day believed alcohol would eventually replace gasoline refined from petroleum.

“The advantage of alcohol over petrol for this purpose lies principally in the fact that whereas the world’s supplies of petroleum, and therefore of petrol, are being gradually exhausted, the supply of Power Alcohol is practically inexhaustible,” proclaims one 1925 trade journal, Romance of the Fungus World.

The journal added that alcohol’s fuel potential was “only limited by the earth’s capacity of producing plant growths whose products are amenable to the fermentative processes which yield alcohol.”

Today, ethanol is a common additive, but neither Bowser Pump Company, Penn Oil Company, nor Lightning Motor Fuel survived. The last vestige of Bowser Pump Company disappeared from Ft. Wayne in 1969. Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.
___________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________

AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships.  © 2017 AOGHS.

 

The world’s first synthetic fiber was the petroleum product “Nylon 6,” discovered by a DuPont chemist who produced the polymer from chemicals found in oil.

petroleum product nylon

“Women show off their nylon pantyhose to a newspaper photographer, circa 1942,” notes historian Jennifer S. Li in “The Story of Nylon – From a Depressed Scientist to Essential Swimwear.” Photo by Dale Rooks.

DuPont Corporation foresaw the future artificial fibers “strong as steel.” The chemical company would become a global giant after its scientists created nylon, rayon and lucite.

The world’s first synthetic fiber – nylon – was discovered on February 28, 1935, by a former Harvard professor working at a DuPont Corporation research laboratory.

Later called Nylon 6 by scientists, the revolutionary carbon-based product came from chemicals found in petroleum.

petroleum product nylon

Chemists called the man-made fiber Nylon 6 because chains of adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contained six carbon atoms per molecule.

Professor Wallace Carothers had experimented with artificial materials for more than six years. He previously discovered neoprene rubber (commonly used in wetsuits) and made major contributions to understanding polymers – large molecules composed in long chains of repeating chemical structures.

Just 32 years old, Carothers created fibers when he combines the chemicals amine, hexamethylene diamine, and adipic acid. He formed a polymer chain using a process in which individual molecules join together with water as a byproduct.

However, the fibers were weak, explains a PBS series, A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries.

“Carothers’ breakthrough came when he realized the water produced by the reaction was dropping back into the mixture and getting in the way of more polymers forming,” notes the PBS website. “He adjusted his equipment so that the water was distilled and removed from the system. It worked!”

DuPont named the petroleum product nylon – although chemists called it Nylon 6 because the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

Each man-made molecule consists of 100 or more repeating units of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, strung in a chain. A single filament of nylon may have a million or more molecules, each taking some of the strain when the filament is stretched.

There’s disagreement about how the product name originated at DuPont. “As to the word nylon, it’s actually quite arbitrary. DuPont itself has stated that originally the name was intended to be No-Run (that’s run as in the sense of the compound chain of the substance unravelling), but at the time there was no real justification for the claim, so it needed to be changed,” notes one website.

Replacing Hog Bristles 

petroleum product nylon

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” notes a 1938 magazine advertisement for “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft.” Johnson & Johnson will introduce a nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939.

The first commercial use of this revolutionary petroleum product was for toothbrushes.

On February 24, 1938, the Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, began selling its new “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” – the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic DuPont nylon bristles.

Americans will soon brush their teeth with nylon – instead of hog bristles, declared an article in the New York Times.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” noted a 1938 Weco Products advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with EXTON, a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”

Pricing its toothbrush at 50 cents, the Weco Products Company guaranteed “no bristle shedding.” Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, New Jersey, will introduce a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939.

Nylon Stockings

petroleum product nylon

Nylon was first used commercially for toothbrush bristles and then used for women’s stockings in the 1940s. Above, a DuPont 1948 advertisement.

During WWII, Nylon was used as a substitute for silk in parachutes.

During WWII, Nylon was used as a substitute for silk in parachutes.

Although DuPont patented nylon in 1935, it was not officially announced to the public until October 27, 1938 in New York City. A DuPont vice president unveiled the synthetic fiber – not to a scientific society or industry association – but to 3,000 Women’s Club members gathered at the site of the upcoming 1939 New York World’s Fair.

“He spoke in a session entitled ‘We Enter the World of Tomorrow,’ which was keyed to the theme of the forthcoming fair, the World of Tomorrow,” explains DuPont historian David A. Hounshell.

The petroleum product was an instant hit, especially as a replacement for silk in hosiery. DuPont built a full-scale nylon plant in Seaford, Delaware, and began commercial production in late 1939.

The company purposefully did not register “nylon” as a trademark – choosing to allow the word to enter the American vocabulary as a synonym for “stockings.”

Nylon became far and away the biggest money-maker in the history of DuPont, and its success proved so powerful that it soon led the company’s executives to derive a new formula for growth, according to David A. Hounshell in The Nylon Drama.

“By putting more money into fundamental research, Du Pont would discover and develop ‘new nylons,’ that is, new proprietary products sold to industrial customers and having the growth potential of nylon,” he explains.

Carothers did not live to see the widespread application of his work – in consumer goods such as toothbrushes, fishing lines, luggage and lingerie, or in special uses such as surgical thread, parachutes, or pipes – nor the powerful effect it had in launching a whole era of synthetics.

“Early in 1937 his favorite sister died suddenly. He never recovered from the loss…and in April of that year he committed suicide. DuPont later named its research station after him.”

The DuPont website notes the Carothers invention “changed the way people dressed worldwide and rendered the term ‘silk stocking’ – once an epithet directed at the wealthy elite – obsolete.

“Its success also encouraged DuPont’s management to adopt a long-term strategy of growth through products developed out of basic research.”

___________________________________________________________________________________

AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships.  © 2017 AOGHS.

 

A 19th century petroleum product made America’s 1969 moon landing possible. On July 16, 1969, kerosene rocket fuel powered the first stage of the Saturn V of the Apollo 11 mission.

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

Powered by five first-stage engines fueled by “rocket grade” kerosene, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever built.

Coal Oil Rocket Fuel

The F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Photo courtesy NASA.

Four days after the Saturn V launched Apollo 11, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” His historic achievement rested on new technologies – and tons of fuel first refined for lamps by a Canadian in 1848.

Petroleum History July 14 - July 20

In 1926, Robert Goddard used gasoline to fuel the first liquid-fuel rocket, seen here in its launch stand.

During launch, five Rocketdyne F-1 engines of the massive Saturn V’s first stage burn “Rocket Grade Kerosene Propellant” at 2,230 gallons per second – generating almost eight million pounds of thrust.

Saturn’s rocket fuel is highly refined kerosene RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or Refined Petroleum-1) which, while conforming to stringent performance specifications, is essentially the same “coal oil” invented in the mid-19th century.

Canadian physician and geologist Abraham Gesner began refining an illuminating fuel from coal in 1846.

“I have invented and discovered a new and useful manufacture or composition of matter, being a new liquid hydrocarbon, which I denominate Kerosene,” he noted in his patent.

By 1850 Gesner had formed a company that installed lighting in the streets in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1854 he established the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company at Long Island, New York.

Although he had coined the term kerosene from the Greek word keros (wax), because his fluid was extracted from coal, U.S. consumers called it “coal oil” as often as they called it kerosene.

By the time of the first commercial U.S. oil well drilled by Edwin Drake in 1859, a Yale scientist (hired by the well’s investors) has reported oil to be an ideal source for making kerosene, far better than refined coal. Demand for kerosene refined from petroleum launched the nation’s exploration and production industry.

Although electricity will replace kerosene lamps and gasoline dominate 20th century demand for a transportation fuel, kerosene’s ease of storage and stable properties attract rocket scientists. Decades of rocket engine research and testing lead to the Saturn V’s five Rocketdyne F-1 engines.

“The F-1 remains the most powerful single-combustion chamber liquid-fueled rocket engine ever developed, according to David Woods, author of How Apollo Flew to the Moon, 2008. The Rocketdyne F-1 engines, 19 feet tall with nozzles about 12 feet wide, include fuel pumps delivering 15,471 gallons of RP-1 per minute to their thrust chambers.

The Saturn V’s upper stages burned highly volatile liquid hydrogen (liquid oxygen was used in all three stages). The five-engine main booster held 203,400 gallon of RP-1. After firing, the engines emptied the giant fuel tank in 165 seconds.

The Apollo 11 landing crowned liquid-rocket fuel research in America dating back to Robert H. Goddard and his 1914 “Rocket Apparatus” powered by gasoline. In March 1926, Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket from his aunt’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. His rocket was powered by liquid oxygen and gasoline.

"Rocket grade" kerosene fueled the Saturn V - and today's rockets.

Kerosene fueled the Saturn V – and today’s latest rocket engines.

Although gasoline will be replaced with other propellants, including the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen used in the space shuttle’s external tank, RP-1 kerosene continues to fuel spaceflight.

Cheaper, easily stored at room temperature, and far less of an explosive hazard, the 19th century petroleum product today fuels first-stage boosters for the Atlas, Delta II, Antares and latest SpaceX rockets. Last launched in 1972, the Saturn V remains the most powerful rocket ever built.
___________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________

AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships.  © 2017 AOGHS.

 

 

When a young New York chemist distills paraffin from booming Pennsylvania oilfields into petroleum jelly – Vaseline – his invention will lead to a popular mascara and Maybelline cosmetics.

vaseline maybelline

Robert Chesebrough will find a way to purify the waxy paraffin-like substance that clogged oil wells in early Pennsylvania petroleum fields. Photo courtesy Unilever.

vaseline

Robert Chesebrough consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96. Photo courtesy the Drake Well Museum, Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Few associate 1860s oil wells with women’s smiling faces, but they are fashionably related.

This is the story of how goop that accumulated around the sucker rods of America’s earliest  oil wells made its way to the eyelashes of American women.

In 1865, a 22-year-old chemist left the prolific oil fields of Titusville, Pennsylvania, to return to his Brooklyn, New York, laboratory and experiment with a waxy substance that clogged well heads.

Even before America’s first commercial oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, young Chesebrough had dabbled in the “coal oil” business. His expertise was distilling cannel coal into kerosene – an illuminant in high demand among consumers.

Chesebrough knew of the process for refining oil into kerosene, so when Edwin L. Drake’s historic oil discovery launched the U.S. petroleum industry, he was one of many who rushed to the Titusville oilfields to make his fortune.

Scientific American reported, “Now commenced a scene of excitement beyond description. The Drake well was immediately thronged with visitors arriving from the surrounding country, and within two or three weeks thousands began to pour in from the neighboring States.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

An 1891 refining patent will lead to carbon black as a pigment. Binney & Smith Company then add oilfield paraffin and colors to create Crayola crayons.

oil field paraffin

Binney & Smith Company received an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black,” which produced a fine, soot-like substance intensely black pigment – better than any other in use.

oil field paraffin

Teachers loved dustless chalk, shown here circa 1904.

America’s oil and natural gas industry supplies an amazing variety of petroleum products that are often “hiding in plain sight.”

For Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith, early Pennsylvania oilfields proved to be the key for success, which began with an 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black.”

Already successfully manufacturing dustless chalk, their carbon black refining process produced a fine, soot-like substance intensely black – a better pigment than any other in use at the time.

The Binney & Smith Company then took common oilfield paraffin and changed the company’s pigment destiny by adding color to children’s imaginations.

Mrs. Binny’s Classroom Read the rest of this entry »

 

Beginning in the 1890s, the Whiting refinery of Standard Oil Company of Indiana first produced kerosene for lamps and later gasoline for autos to meet growing consumer demand.

bp whiting refinery history

In 2013, BP completed a multi-year, multi-billion dollar modernization project at the Whiting refinery. Photo courtesy Hydrocarbon Processing magazine.

Seventeen miles east of Chicago, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey began construction on a massive refinery complex in May 1889.

Using advanced refining processes introduced by John D. Rockefeller, it will become the largest in the United States. Today,  the 1,400-acre complex is owned by BP.

About one month after construction of the then 235-acre refinery began, Rockefeller established a locally based subsidiary by incorporating Standard Oil Company of Indiana on June 18, 1889.

The new company began processing oil at its Whiting refinery within a year. The Indiana refinery processed a sulfurous “sour crude” from the Lima, Ohio, oilfields – transported on Rockefeller controlled railroads.

As Americans gladly put out their candles and lamps fueled with whale oil or camphene, kerosene was needed to meet skyrocketing public demand. Read more in First Oil Well in America.

Rockefeller had earlier purchased considerable amounts of production from the Lima oilfield at bargain prices. Most experts in the new petroleum industry believed the thick oil virtually worthless. It could not be refined for a profit.

The Whiting refinery, using a newly patented method, efficiently processed Ohio sour oil into high-quality kerosene. Although gasoline was a minor by-product, two brothers in Massachusetts were building a gasoline-powered horseless carriage at about the time the refinery produced its first 125 railroad tank cars filled with kerosene. The automobile would soon arrive. See Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

bp whiting refinery history

The Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, became the company’s most productive. Now owned by BP, it remains the largest U.S. refinery. Whiting has been home to the Northwest Indiana Oilmen since 2012.

“By the mid-1890s, the Whiting plant had become the largest refinery in the United States, handling 36,000 barrels of oil per day and accounting for nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. refining capacity” notes historian Mark R. Wilson in the Encyclopedia of ChicagoInitially it consisted of just a single facility, adds a company history on the Amoco website. Crude oil was processed into products that people and business needed: axle grease for industrial machinery, paraffin wax for candles, kerosene for home lighting.

“The company grew. By the early 1900s it was the leading provider of kerosene and gasoline in the Midwest” notes the History of Amoco website. “Kerosene sales would eventually falter. But with car ownership booming across the United States, demand for gasoline would only go up and up.”

By 1910, the refinery is connected by pipeline to oilfields in Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as Ohio and Indiana. The Whiting facility employs 2,400 workers. In 1911, when Rockefeller is forced to break up his oil holdings, Standard of Indiana, with its main offices in downtown Chicago, emerges as an independent company.

Meanwhile, Rockefeller’s Whiting scientists have patented a process they invented called thermal cracking, notes the Amoco website. It doubled the amount of gasoline that could be made from a barrel of oil and also boosted the gasoline’s octane rating.

The process, which became standard practice in the refining industry, helped avert a gasoline shortage during World War I. To find its own oil supplies, Standard Oil of Indiana soon began its own exploration and production business, Stanolind.

In 1922, Standard Oil absorbed the American Oil Company, founded in Baltimore in 1910, and began branding products as Amoco, which later would become its company name. By 1952, Amoco was ranked as the largest domestic oil company.

Building Midwest Refineries

During the second half of the twentieth century, the U.S. refining industry became more concentrated in Texas, Louisiana, and California.

“The Chicago region became somewhat less important as an oil-processing center than it had been during the previous 60 years,” he concludes. “Still, the area remained home to some large refineries. The largest of these plants was the one at Whiting – the same facility that had brought refining to Chicago in 1890.”

Across the border from Indiana, three major Illinois refineries today also process oil in the Chicago area: the Citgo refinery in Lemont processes 167,000 barrels of oil a day; the Joliet refinery owned by ExxonMobil process 238,000 barrels a day; and the Robinson refinery of Marathon Petroleum Company processes 206,000 barrels a day.

A fourth refinery is in southern Illinois – and is almost as historic as Rockefeller’s Whiting plant. Constructed in 1918 – during WW I – the Wood River Refinery is north of St. Louis on the bank of the Mississippi River.

The Wood River Refinery is owned by ConocoPhillips and is the company’s largest. It processes 300,000 barrels of oil daily into more than nine million gallons of gasoline/fuel and 42,000 barrels of asphalt during peak season. It also has its own museum.

“The Wood River Refinery History Museum is located in front of the Conoco-Phillips Refinery on Highway 111 in Wood River, Illinois,” the museum notes on its website. “There are four buildings in our complex, so to see most of our collection, plan on spending some time.”

Whiting fielded a baseball team in 2012. The Northwest Indiana Oilmen is one of eight teams in the Midwest Collegiate League, a pre-minor league. To learn more about other petroleum history related baseball teams, see Oilfields of Dreams.

By 1982, Standard of Indiana refineries produce 1.2 million barrels of gasoline daily and serve 18,000 domestic gasoline retail outlets. Standard’s two largest refineries are located in Whiting and Texas City, Texas. Standard Oil of Indiana officially became Amoco Corporation in 1985 and merged with British Petroleum (now BP) in 1998. It was the world’s largest industrial merger at the time.

___________________________________________________________________________________

AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships.  © 2017 AOGHS.

 

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant directed that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad asphalt.

asphalt

President Ulysses S. Grant first directed that Pennsylvania Avenue be paved with Trinidad bitumen in 1876. Thirty-one years later, asphalt derived from petroleum distillation was used to repave the famed pathway to the Capitol, above.

The president’s paving project covered about 54,000 square yards, according to A Century of Progress: The History of Hot Mix Asphalt, published in 1992 by National Asphalt Pavement Association.

“Brooms, lutes, squeegees and tampers were used in what was a highly labor intensive process. Only after the asphalt was dumped, spread, and smoothed by hand did the relatively sophisticated horse-drawn roller, and later the steam roller, move in to complete the job.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

After General Motors scientists discover the anti-knock properties of tetraethyl lead gasoline in 1921, American motorists will be saying, “Fill ‘er up with Ethyl.”

tetraethyl lead gasoline

Public health concerns will result in the phase-out of tetraethyl lead in gasoline beginning in 1976.

tetraethyl lead gasoline

General Motors chemists Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering.

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder.

The constant shock frequently damaged the engine.

After five years of lab work to find an additive to eliminate pre-ignition “knock” problems of gasoline, General Motors researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discovered the anti-knock properties of tetraethyl lead.

Their early experiments had examined the properties of knock suppressors such as bromine, iodine and tin – and compare these to new additives such as arsenic, sulfur, silicon and lead.

On December 9, 1921, when the two chemists synthesized tetraethyl lead and tried it in their one-cylinder laboratory engine, the knocking abruptly disappeared.

Although being diluted to a ratio of one part per thousand, the lead additive yielded gasoline without the loud, power-robbing knock.

With GM scientists watching, the first car tank filled with leaded gas took place in February 1923 at a filling station in Dayton, Ohio.

“Ethyl,” the world’s first anti-knock gasoline containing a tetraethyl lead compound quickly proved popular with motorists. It’s properties would prove vital for aviation engines during World War II.

tetraethyl lead gasoline

Phillips Petroleum produced tetraethyl leaded aviation fuels from high-quality oil found in Osage County, Oklahoma, oilfields.

Powering Allied Victory in World War II 

Aviation fuel technology was still in its infancy in the 1930s. The properties of tetraethyl lead proved vital to the Allies during World War II.

Advances in aviation fuel increased power and efficiency, resulting in the production of 100-octane aviation gasoline shortly before the war.

Phillips Petroleum – today’s ConocoPhillips – was involved early in aviation fuel research and had already provided high gravity gasoline for some of the first mail-carrying airplanes after World War I.

Phillips Petroleum produced aviation fuels before it produced automotive fuels. The company’s gasoline came from the high-quality oil produced during the Osage County oil boom, which began in 1917.

tetraethyl lead gasoline

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the future of the United Kingdom depended on leaded “avgas,” still used today.

Although today still an ingredient of 100 octane “avgas” for piston-engine aircraft, tetraethyl’s danger to public health was underestimated for decades.

Ethyl’s Dark Side

Leaded gasoline was extremely dangerous from the beginning, according Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer.

“G.M. and Standard Oil had formed a joint company to manufacture leaded gasoline, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation,” she notes in a 2011 article. Research focused solely on improving the formula, not on the danger of the lead additive.

“The companies disliked and frankly avoided the lead issue,” Blum writes in “Looney Gas and Lead Poisoning: A Short, Sad History” at Wire.com. “They’d deliberately left the word out of their new company name to avoid its negative image.”

In 1924, dozens were sickened and five employees of the Standard Oil Refinery in Bayway, New Jersey, died after they handled the new gasoline additive.

In May 1925, the U.S. Surgeon General called a national tetraethyl lead conference, Blum says, and an investigative task force was formed. Researchers concluded there was ”no reason to prohibit the sale of leaded gasoline” as long as workers were well protected during the manufacturing process.

So great was the additive’s potential to improve engine performance, the author notes, by 1926 the federal government approved continued production and sale of leaded gasoline. “It was some fifty years later – in 1986 – that the United States formally banned lead as a gasoline additive,” Blum adds.

In the 1950s, geochemist Clair Patterson discovered the toxicity of tetraethyl lead; phase-out of its use in gasoline began in 1976 and was completed by 1986. In 1996, EPA Administrator Carol Browner declared, “The elimination of lead from gasoline is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.”

Learn more in Flight of the Woolaroc and  Cantankerous Combustion – First U.S. Auto Show.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.

 

"A Christmas Story" features Ralphie, his classmates - and a unusual petroleum product.

“A Christmas Story” features Ralphie, his 4th-grade classmates – and an unusual petroleum product.

When Ralphie Parker and his 4th-grade classmates dejectedly hand over their wax fangs to Mrs. Shields in “A Christmas Story,” a generation may be reminded of what a penny used to buy at the local Woolworth’s store.

But there is far more to these paraffin playthings than a penny’s worth of fun.

Paraffin, a byproduct of petroleum distillation, quickly found its way from refinery to marketplace in the form of candles, sealing waxes – and peculiar American candies.

It’s hard to recall a time when there were no wax lips, moustaches or fangs for kids to smuggle into class-rooms as “Ralphie” and his classmates did in the holiday favorite, “A Christmas Story.”

Many grownups may remember the peculiar disintegrating flavor of Wax Lips from bygone Halloweens and birthday parties, but few know where these enduring icons of American culture actually started.

The answer is in the oil patch.

When the 1859 birth of the oil industry brought kerosene to illuminate America, “This flood of American petroleum poured in upon us by millions of gallons, and giving light at a fifth of the cost of the cheapest candle,” wrote British chandler James Wilson in 1879.

Kerosene lanterns soon replaced candles for illumination and the much-reduced candle business turned from tallow to a versatile byproduct of petroleum distillation – paraffin.

After collecting samples from Pennsylvania oilfields, Robert Chesebrough invented a method for turning paraffin into a balm he called “petroleum jelly,” later “Vaseline.” Chesebrough himself consumed a spoonful of Vaseline each day and lived to be 96 years old. His product is also directly linked to a modern cosmetic giant; read more in Crude History of Maybel’s Eyelashes.

Meanwhile, paraffin quickly found its way from refinery to marketplace in candles, sealing waxes – and even chewing gums. By 1900, ninety percent of all candles used paraffin as the new century brought a host of novel uses. Thomas Edison’s popular new phonographs also needed paraffin for their wax cylinders.

Crayons were introduced by the Binney & Smith Company in 1903 and were instantly successful. Alice Binney provided the historic name by combining the French word for chalk, craie with an English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous – “Crayola.” Read more in Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons.

Concord Confections, a small part of Tootsie-Roll Industries, continues to produce Wax Lips and other paraffin candies for new generations of schoolchildren.

Concord Confections, a small part of Tootsie-Roll Industries, continues to produce Wax Lips and other paraffin candies for new generations of schoolchildren.

Paraffin Candyman

An inspired Buffalo, New York, confectioner soon used fully refined, food-grade paraffin and a sense of humor to find a niche in America’s imagination.

When John W. Glenn introduced children to paraffin “penny chewing gum novelties,” his business boomed.

By 1923, J. W. Glenn Company employed 100 people, including 18 traveling sales representatives.

Glenn Confections later became the wax candy division of Franklin Gurley’s nearby W. & F. Manufacturing Company. There, the ancestors of Wax Lips chattered profitably down the production line. Among the most popular of these novelties at the time were Wax Horse Teeth (said to taste like wintergreen).

By 1939, Gurley was producing a popular series of holiday candles for the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company using paraffin from a nearby refinery at Olean, New York – once home to the world’s largest crude oil storage site.

A field of metal tanks, some holding 20,000 gallons of paraffin, stood next to Gurley’s W. & F. Manufacturing Company in Buffalo.

Decorative and scented paraffin candles soon became the company’s principal products, accounting for 98 percent of W. & F. Manufacturing sales.

Gurley’s “Tavern Candle” Santas, reindeer, elves and other colorful Christmas favorites today are prized by collectors on eBay, as are his elaborately molded Halloween candles.

As W. & F.’s wax candy division, Glenn Confections continued to manufacture Fun Gum Sugar Lips, Wax Fangs, and Nik-L-Nips for many years to come.

Glenn Confections, the candy division of W. & F. Manufacturing Company, produced Fun Gum Sugar Lips, Wax Fangs, and Nik-L-Nips.

Glenn Confections, the candy division of W. & F. Manufacturing Company, produced Fun Gum Sugar Lips, Wax Fangs, and Nik-L-Nips.

In Emlenton, Pennsylvania, a few miles south of Oil City, the Emlenton Refining Company (and later the Quaker State Oil Refining Company) provided the fully refined, food-grade paraffin for these bizarre but beloved treats.

Retired Quaker State employee Barney Lewis remembers selling Emlenton paraffin to W. & F. Manufacturing.

“It was always fun going to the plant…they were very secret about how they did stuff, but you always got a sample to bring home,” he says. “Wax lips, Nik-L-Nips…the little coke bottle-shaped wax, filled with colored syrup.”

Today, Concord Confections, a small part of Tootsie-Roll Industries, continues to produce Wax Lips and other paraffin candies for new generations of schoolchildren. The petroleum industry produces an astonishing range of products for modern consumers, but few are as unique, peculiar, or revered as Wax Lips.

___________________________________________________________________________________

AOGHS.org welcomes sponsors to help us preserve petroleum history. Please support this energy education website with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact bawells@aoghs.org for information on levels and types of available sponsorships.  © 2017 AOGHS.

 

Phillips Petroleum invented high-density polyethylene, Marlex, in 1954. Wham-O toy company will use it to make a petroleum product hoop and flying platter.

petroleum product hoop

To make Hula Hoops and Frisbees, Arthur Melin, right, and his Wham-O Company partner Richard Kerr, left, chose Marlex – the world’s first high-density polyethylene plastic invented by two chemists at Phillips Petroleum Company.

petroleum product hoop

In the 1950s, few companies knew what to do with a revolutionary plastic invented by Phillips Petroleum. Demand for “Marlex” would come from unexpected source – the Hula Hoop – “the great obsession of 1958 – the undisputed granddaddy of American fads.”

Prompted by a post World War II boom in demand for plastics, Phillips Petroleum invested $50 million to bring its own miracle product – Marlex – to market in 1954.

The company gambled that the new plastic would be perfect for all manner of emerging products trying to keep up with consumer demand.

With millions of dollars already committed, investors expected immediate results from the Phillips lab product.

petroleum product hoop

Marlex is a first in plastics.

Marlex, a high-density polyethylene, was developed by Phillips chemists Paul Hogan and Robert Banks – who were researching gasoline additives. In their experiments, Hogan and Banks began to study catalysts.

“In June 1951, they set up an experiment in which they modified their original catalyst (nickel oxide) to include small amounts of chromium oxide,” notes the American Chemical Society. Their work was expected to produce low-molecular-weight hydrocarbons.

“As Paul Hogan recalls it, he was standing outside the laboratory when Banks came out saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got something new coming in our kettle that we’ve never seen before.’

Running inside, they saw that the nickel oxide had produced the expected liquids. But the chromium had produced a white, solid material. Hogan and Banks were looking at a new polymer – crystalline polypropylene.” Read the rest of this entry »