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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

Refining Seep Oil

Simple distillation of seep and salt well oil was being carried out in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by Samuel Kier who built a one-barrel still. He was buying crude by the gallon. Later Kier made a still of five-barrel capacity. These two stills for treating crude oil constituted the first commercial refinery in America. The five-barrel apparatus of Kier has survived and is in the Drake Well Museum.

Although immeasurably important to the American oil industry, Kier's refining enterprise at Pittsburgh was not the first petroleum refining venture. James Young patented a process in England in 1850 that carried out fractional distillation of petroleum from a seep at a coal mine and later from oil shale. Young can be considered the principal founder of the world's oil refinery industry (Dickey, 1958).

More than for any other purpose, crude oil at first was refined to improve its use as an illuminant. Lighting, in itself, created the great demand for oil that led to the frantic drilling of the pioneer oil wells along Oil Creek and elsewhere. Other uses soon increased the overall demand.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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