History of Petroleum - an early reference to the Flintshire oil industry, 1865
type: Beyond Scotland - Wales
The trade in mineral oil is the hope of North Wales. The discovery of cannel coal near Chester has already given a wonderful impulse to mining enterprise, and the success of the American oil works at Saltney has been so great, that, now that the patent has expired, huge petroleum works are in course of erection in various parts of the Welsh coal mining districts. We have had an eloquent Chancellor of the Exchequer dilating upon the inestimable benefits which may result to Chester and North Wales from the anticipated discovery of cannel coal in regions heretofore unexplored by the miner's pick or boring-rod. We have had a scientific lecturer expressing; the confident expectation that, in a few years more, coal and cannel will be raised from the waste land now scoured every day by the tidal waters of the Dee. We have heard it said that cannel is to coal what gold is to iron, and we find that a substance which a few years ago was put aside as useless, is now looked upon as the most valuable product of Flintshire.
The manufacture of oil from cannel has proved a great success, but Flintshire has an immense competitor in America. By the discovery of the oil-springs of Pennsylvania, a new trade has been suddenly created, and a new source of enterprise opened to capitalists. In two or three years the mineral-oil trade in America has reached enormous proportions, fairly putting into the shade the humble but increasing manufacture of oil in the neighbourhood of Chester. A sketch of the discovery and history of mineral oil cannot fail to be interesting to us who are so intimately connected with the prosperity of the oil manufacture. Hitherto patent rights have trammelled private enterprise, but now that the manufacture is open to all, we are likely to see a great start made. In America vast undertakings have resulted from the discovery of petroleum, and it is not unreasonable to expect that the discovery of cannel coal will benefit the district surrounding Chester in a corresponding degree. We have before us two remarkable pamphlets, reprints of articles which have attracted great attention on the other side of the Atlantic.
The first describes the most wonderful natural phenomenon that has been brought to light in modern times, and its present bearing on an important commercial enterprise. The second of endeavours to foreshadow the probable future of that enterprise, and its development into the largest and most important engineering undertaking the age is likely to produce, Both pamphlets are of a nature to demand notice, and we scarcely know which to consider the more interesting of the two— that which relates to what are now accomplished facts, bringing forth rich fruit, or that which suggests further results to which those facts naturally give birth. The surprise which we are first excited by the discovery in America of the existence of vast quantities of oil in the bosom of the earth, and the manner in which this oil might be procured and turned to the most useful purposes, has now subsided. The world had long been acquainted with mineral oil— so long that history does not go back to a period when its existence was unknown.
Herodotus, the " father of history," mentions that this oil was extensively used in the construction of the walls and towers of Babylon. Traces of it are said to have been found among the ruins of Nineyeh. The oil springs of Is, situated on a tributary of the Euphrates, attracted the attention of Alexander, and are still in existence. On one of the lonian Islands there is an oil spring, which has been flowing for 2,000 years. And the oil springs of Rangoon, in the Burman Empire, have been worked for ages, and now yield annually 400,000 hogsheads. In America, the Indians had long been aware of the existence of mineral oil The Seneca tribe are said to have used it for medicinal purposes, and the remains of the Indian pits or wells are still found in some parts of the country. The white people soon learnt that it was to be found in the soil, but they appear to have considered its existence rather a nuisance than otherwise. We believe that the discovery of the vast quantities in which it might be obtained, and its great utility as an illuminating agent, was entirely due, in the first instance, to what is termed accident— that favourite mode which Heaven adopts to point out to man the resources stored up for him in the world which he inhabits.
Boring for water, a Pennsylvanian struck upon a huge subterranean reservoir of oil, which welled up and flowed so freely that it speedily covered the ground for a considerable distance. A light thoughtlessly applied to the liquid caused a conflagration, which it required the utmost exertions of the people of the neighbourhood to subdue. But when this was extinguished, the oil still flowed, and it continued to bubble forth at the rate of 1000 gallons per day. This discovery was the precursor of many others of a similar nature- A large extent of country was found to be completely saturated with oil, and the earth, when tapped, yielded it in abundance. Speculators and capitalists were drawn in numbers to this wonderful region, and soon began to reap a rich harvest. Such was the origin of the American oil trade, which has now assumed gigantic proportions.
The Cheshire Observer, 28th January 1865