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The Drake Chapters
Introduction to the Drake Chapters
The Beginning of the Petroleum Industry
Oil Creek Before Drake's Well
Refining Seep Oil
Chemical Report of Seep Oil
Pinched Noses
Other Predicaments
Drake's First Visit to Titusville
Drake Commences Work at the Seep
Drake's Well
First Production
Petroleum Geology of the Drake Sand
Drake's Other Wells
Dismantling of the Derrick
The Deepening of the Drake Well
Among the First Players
Drake's Tomb

Pinched Noses

or, Crude Oil Was Not For The Fastidious Dandy At First

While stock companies and other oil matters were being formulated in New York, the crude didn't cooperate as fully as the promoters and businessmen wished. For one thing, it didn't travel well. A shipment from Titusville of three barrels for demonstration purposes arrived in New York City in 1854 and was deposited on the street in front of the very elegant and new building of D. Appleton and Company where art works, fine books, and other fancy treasures were sold. The offices of Eveleth and Bissell, lawyers and oil promoters, were upstairs. Those with sensitive and citified noses, particularly noses that had never scented raw petroleum, declared "whatever it was" to be vile, and veered away from the Appleton Building. Not picked up immediately and "cooking" in the sun, the leaky oil barrels were finally taken away from this princely spot. Strangely, this happened before the promoters were aware of the oil's presence. Giddens (1938) writes that even the paving stones (Broadway) on which the barrels stood were dug up and replaced by the bookstore.

When Eveleth and Bissell learned that their oil had arrived but had been hauled away by a junk man, they went on a mad search to find it. These three barrels were to be the basis of chemical experimentation and promotion. It took several weeks to find the barrels. Enough oil remained to fiddle with. However, the oil was still to be a problem. They took a portion of it to their upstairs office (probably in stealth) where it accidentally was spilled and oozed into the floor, even marking the ceiling below. Plans to form an oil company appropriately took place in this office with its oily floor. It seems to me, that Appleton and Co. should have a place in the history of oil, their magnificent building of that time being the site of an early spill (1854) of Pennsylvania crude oil in New York City, and it was the site of the preliminary drafting of plans for the first oil company.

Appleton's wasn't the only early spill in New York City because, in 1857, A.C. Ferris, a businessman, had brought in a can and later shipped in a number of barrels of poorly distilled oil. All of the containers leaked in spite of the barrels being sealed with glue! Complaints about the "nauseous" odor multiplied causing Ferris to move his oil twice to different warehouses. This wasn't the only problem that Ferris unwittingly brought about. In 1857 he also purchased 100 kegs of poorly rendered "grease" from the La Brea tar pits in California and had them shipped to Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the kegs were too heavy for the mules to carry over the Isthmus of Panama. They were dumped in the jungle.


© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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