A visionary Pittsburgh resident’s innovative spirit led him to create an invention that would revolutionize the way people and commercial companies heat their spaces. In 1847, Samuel Keir discovered that petroleum could be distilled into a lamp fuel. The prized kerosene lamp came into being during the 1850s and augured the establishment of America’s first oil company in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859.
First Oil Well in Titusville, Pennsylvania: It was in Titusville that Edwin Drake later drilled America’s first commercial oil well. The first major oil company though was the Standard Oil Company, which was founded by John D. Rockefeller whose name is forever linked with oil riches. Standard Oil established its first oil refinery in Pennsylvania, but later the Rockefeller family extended its oil operations nationwide.
Oil Technology Met Bumps and Twists: There was an abundant amount of oil back then, and the product was cheap to come by. Attempts were made to use oil fuel instead of coal, but the technology was a long time in coming. It was thought that oil would be better for production of steam. Oil required smaller storage space and was less weighty. There would be no contending with disposal of ashes or raking duties to be performed. Of course, it would eliminate the hard labor that human beings manually performed. People with different mindsets harped about how easily coal could be loaded into open cars in heaps while oil required storage and transportation in vessels that were fitted with air-tight seals. Combustibility was another fear since oil vapors could become combustible. Coal, they argued, was not easily ignited.
America Researches Fuel While the Russians Use Fuel Oil: The year 1880 was fast approaching and America was still unable to find a practical way to effectively burn petroleum as fuel while maximizing useable heat. Adding knowledge heat to this conundrum was a rumored claim that the Russians had indeed jumped ahead of America and was already using petroleum as a fuel application. That did not sit well with America whose technology eminence was now being challenged by Russia.
The Russians in fact were using petroleum for driving locomotives in their railway programs and did so by employing crude naphtha as it was pulled directly from the oil wells. Heating effect of the fuel was above what wood or coal could supply as the Russian vessels plied the waters of the Caspian Sea with their fuel heat credentials and product.
Italians Join in the Hustle and Fuel its Torpedo Boats with Fuel Oil: The Italian Navy began using fuel oil in 1890, and most of the country’s torpedo boats were utilizing fuel oil by 1900. The fact that oil could be loaded at sea as liquid fuel while coal not load under a similar scenario did make a positive case for the use of fuel oil more tangible.
America Stirs the Pot of Fuel Oil and Never Looks Back: So how was America doing with its fuel oil experiments? The United States Navy had never stopped pursuing the use of fuel oil, and fuel experiments continued after 1864. Commodore George Wallace Melville, First Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Steam Engineering, was later appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy in 1900. He tirelessly but successfully worked on the creation of an oil-burning fleet of ships.
Liquid Fuel Board Rules in Favor of Fuel Oil: The Liquid Fuel Board in 1904 recommended using oil as a standalone fuel operation and issued its recommendation to the entire naval and commercial world. The USS Paulding was commissioned as the first oil-burning American destroyer in 1910. Remaining American battleships embraced the use of fuel oil as their primary fuel while the Navy established fuel oil depots in Virginia and South Carolina to supply oil to both destroyers and submarines. Fuel oil had finally arrived unchained from bureaucratic hindrances.