New Energy Source (02:03)
In 1852, Canadian inventor Abraham Gesner discovered how to make kerosene from crude petroleum using a still system. It burned longer than whale oil and was cheaper to produce. Learn about the petroleum formation process and its applications throughout history.
First Oil Well (03:20)
The discovery of kerosene increased petroleum demand. George Bissell hired Edwin L. Drake to search for oil near Pennsylvania salt mines. Drake hired William Smith to drill a well using primitive methods; they hit petroleum at 69 feet.
Black Gold Rush (02:31)
Prospectors flocked to the oil field near Drake's well, constructing Pithole City that grew to 15,000 residents in 1865. The next year, wells began drying up; Pithole became a ghost town. Drake died in poverty in 1880.
John Davison Rockefeller (02:56)
Rockefeller's produce firm prospered during the Civil War. When railways linked Cleveland to Pennsylvania, he purchased an oil refinery in 1864. Soon after, he bought out his partner Maurice Clark and focused the company exclusively on oil.
Rockefeller and Flagler (02:37)
Demand for kerosene grew as America became more industrialized and urbanized. Despite soaring profits, Rockefeller wanted to control his petroleum supply. He became partners with Henry Flagler in 1867; they aimed to stabilize the oil industry.
Consolidating Cleveland Refineries (02:21)
Industrial growth in 1870s America depended on railroad transportation. Flagler negotiated lower shipping rates from a bargaining position of controlling oil supplies. Rockefeller's competitors were forced to sell out to Standard Oil.
Robber Baron (02:10)
By the 1880s, Rockefeller was among America's wealthiest men; historians compare him to Bill Gates.
Standard Oil Trust (03:06)
By 1879, Rockefeller controlled 90% of refinery operations; progressives saw him as a threat to free enterprise. In 1882, he organized a legal monopoly and focused on production—buying petroleum rich properties and producing 25% of crude oil by 1891.
Thomas Edison's electric light bulb put the oil industry at risk, but the automobile brought a new market for petroleum products.
Texas Oil Industry (01:29)
The automobile transformed the oil industry in the 20th century, prompting searches for new oil fields. A 1901 gusher marked the beginning of the end of Standard Oil's domination.
Spindletop Gusher (04:02)
Wildcatter Patillo Higgins was convinced an oil field lay near Beaumont, Texas. He hired Anthony F. Lucas, who borrowed money from Guffey and Galey to finance drilling operations. In 1901, they struck oil—doubling total U.S. production.
Developing Gulf Oil (02:44)
Spindletop made Beaumont a boom town, attracting violence and gambling. Andrew Mellon offered to sell his share to Standard Oil; Rockefeller declined. The Mellons built a 450 mile pipeline to their Gulf Coast refinery—becoming a competitor.
After hearing about Spindletop, former Standard Oil employee Joe Culligan bought Beaumont wells and oil tankers. By 1910, Texas oil companies began competing with Standard Oil. In 1911, anti-trust legislation forced its dissolution—making oil a competitive industry.
Love Affair with the Automobile (02:02)
Petroleum dependency increased after Standard Oil's breakup. Oil consumption reached its apex in the 1950s; cars doubled within 5 years and facilitated suburban development.
Oil Competition (02:07)
Corporate giants battled for consumer dollars; image and service became industry hallmarks. View a Texaco advertisement. By the late 1960s, demand outpaced supply and America began importing oil.
OPEC Embargo and the Gulf War (03:14)
In 1973, Middle East oil producing nations placed an embargo on the U.S—negatively impacting the economy. American forces protected Saudi oil fields in 1990. Today, companies use computer technology to drill for deposits and manage operations.
Credits: Black Gold: The Story of Oil (01:03)
Credits: Black Gold: The Story of Oil
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