Since the first oil well in North America was sunk in Ontario, petroleum producing has been a romantic Canadian industry
A. RAYMOND MULLENS
WERE a very amateur historian such as I to sit down and try to conjure up a bird’s-eye view of the whole progress of civilization, he might well come to the conclusion that all the epochmaking changes in the life of man have been the result of some individual’s preoccupation with some certain subject; of a hobby, in short.
As I am not writing an essay I am not going to attempt proof of this belief by advancing some dozens of examples, but shall content myself with one.
J. H. Williams, of Hamilton, Ontario, was, for some reason or other, very much interested in the discovery of oil in the Old World. Whether this Mr. Williams had been abroad, whether he had penetrated to the oil regions of Baku, for instance, I don’t know-—and I don’t know anyone who does. The fact remains that the Hamiltonian was interested in petroleum and that, in consequence, he found himself one day poking around the gum beds of Enniskillen Township, Lambton County.
These gum beds had probably been a familiar sight to everyone who had ever visited that remote and unattractive township. Very likely they had been there from the time the earth cooled off sufficiently to make its surface habitable. But Mr. Williams was the first man to consider them worthy of attention. At least I suppose he was, for he certainly was the first man to do anything about them.
Mr. Williams had reason, or thought he had, to believe that these gum beds were of the material from which naphtha might be distilled. Being an enthusiast, he proceeded to test his theory. Accordingly he built up a crude retort and proceeded to boil the gum. The boiling process produced a light, amber-colored, iridescent
liquid. “Fine,” Mr. Williams can be imagined as exclaiming, and he started digging beneath the surface of the beds. He found out that the deeper he dug the greater quantity of liquid he obtained.
He didn’t pierce the limestone, but the interesting fact remains that Mr. Williams’ travail with a shovel resulted in the first oil well ever to be discovered in North America.
And so the gentleman from Hamilton with the curious hobby of messing around sticky, smellysubstances, really" made Canada the starting point for the Oil Age. It is a great temptation to attempt some lofty rhetoric concerning this same Oil Age, but the place is* not here. For, after all, this first little well of Williams only achieved its priority by a nose.
In 1859, Colonel Drake—the patron saint of the United States oil industrydug or drilled a well at Titusville, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t much of a well but it produced some 2,000 barrels of crude oil a day, and thisg. liquid sold at the gratifying price of twenty dollars a barrel.
It is not astonishing, perhaps, that when James Shaw drilled a real well at Beaver Creek, Ontario, the event caused some stir in the community. Again I must mention the curious significance of hobbies. James Shaw was a photographer who had lived for years in the vicinity of Bear Creek, or Oil Springs, as it is now called. Several writers on the subject of the Oil Springs discovery have stated that Mr. Shaw was not only a photographer but a poor one. It isn’t at all hard to believe them. I don’t suppose they mean that, for his day, he was a notoriously poor portrait maker, but that he was not overburdened by this world’s goods. Unless the inhabitants of the forlorn hamlets surrounding Oil Springs were inordinately vain, he can hardly have been a man of substance. How he got together enough money to start oil drilling, and how he had the courage to so expend it when it was obtained, there are no records to show. The important fact remains that he did drill a well, reaching rock at a depth of 165 feet and going on down to 240 feet, when his well became what is now known as a gusher. It gushed to some tune, too.
Poor Shaw, whose previous concern was with fastening men’s and women’s heads into steel cramps or bidding
little ones “look at the pretty birdie” had, quite naturally, made no preparations for storing the oil which flung itself out of the bowels of the earth. Neither had he— nor anyone else for that matter—learned the secret of capping a well. The result was that millions of gallons of precious crude oil covered the countryside and nonchalantly took to its heels by way of Black Creek, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and Lake Erie.
This was a minor tragedy but Shaw didn’t realize it. He supposed that his obstreperous gusher would gush forever. He refused an offer of $25,000 for his property. Alas and alack! Presently his furiously spouting protégé started to give out and soon yielded only a few barrels a day, even when pumping was resorted to. What James Shaw did after that nobody seems to know. Probably he went back to the practice of his neglected art. Anyhow he died in poverty, as many an enterprising soul had done before him.
But he had started something with a vengeance, and before I attempt to give any picture of what this something was I want to make one point clear. Messrs. Williams and Shaw were not the first men to discover the presence of oil in North America. Petroleum was refined by Pizarro and his Spanish invaders. Incidentally, the Imperial Oil Company has in its possession a most interesting photograph showing in the background modern derricks for oil drilling. In the foreground are shown the iron cauldrons and blankets which were the main implements in the Spanish-American oil-refining industry of 1531 A. D.
In, 1632 Joseph de la Roche D’Allion described some oil springs he had come across in what is now New York State^and this record was published in Sagard’s Histoire du Canada. Also there is abundant evidence that the Indians fid a thriving business with the hated Paleface by selling him oil for medicinal purposes. The oil was supposed to be, and probably was, a sovereign remedy for cuts and burns and, taken internally, a pleasant lubricant for the intestines. We all know the name of a preparation widely advertised and sold whose virtue lies in the latter property. I would very much like to know the Indian name for “a gentle and soothing intestinal lubricant.” Also, the idea of the ancient “medicine man” selling his physic in exchange for a spirit which is anything but gentle and soothing, is enough to cause one no little amusement.
So much for the early history of oil. Let us skip on to the days following the extraordinary performance of Mr. Shaw’s gusher.
A Pioneer Oil Field
T HAVE said that Colonel Drake’s well at Titusville
produced 2,000 barrels a day, and that the oil sold at twenty dollars a barrel. Can you imagine how stimulating this news must have been to the dwellers in the thick woods around Oil Springs? Forty thousand dollars a day for just sitting around and watching a hole in the earth spout petroleum. No wonder Lambton County became the scene of an invasion beside which the rushes
to California and the Klondike were comparatively devoid of incident and excitement.
The fevered hunters after gold in Alaska had the fearful Chilcoot Pass to climb. The seekers after oil in Lambton County had no obstacle quite as fearsome as the famous pass, but they did their work under anything but pleasant conditions.
To begin with, much of Lambton County was heavily wooded. Elms covered thousands of acres, and, although only the hardiest axemen attempted to fell them, it is a fact that a good many years later elm was selling at twoand-a-half dollars a thousand. Today this lumber would certainly be worth forty dollars a thousand.
The oil field was situated some thirteen miles from Wyoming, a little station on the Great Western Railway. But what a thirteen miles! A correspondent for the Toronto Globe paid a visit to Black Creek and Oil Springs in 1861 and what he wrote of his journey is worth quoting:
“To the ‘City of Grease’ there are more ways than one, but whichever way you may select you will wish you had taken the other. To be compelled either to walk or ride the twelve and one-half miles between Wyoming and Oil Springs is a dreadful calamity of which no one can appreciate the extent except those who have suffered by it. The number of mud holes is something wonderful. Some of the holes bury horses to their shoulders and retain wagons firmly in their grasp. Wagons pushed aside into the bush or still sticking in the mud, and piles of lumber on the road, tell where attempts to reach Wyoming or Oil Springs have been abandoned in despair. But a contract for making a plank road has been taken, and men are vigorously at work digging the necessary ditches and eradicating the stumps.
“A few miles to the westward is Sarnia, to which place it is proposed to continue the planks from a point nearly midway between Oil Springs and Wyoming, near Petrolia. For this,
$40,000 is required. Sarnia has subscribed $20,000, and there is little doubt that the remaining half will soon be taken up. The object is to secure a portion of the Oil Springs trade, the whole of which is now monopolized by Wyoming and the Great Western Railway.”
The Globe’s correspondent, however, does not mention that despite the great hardships of transportation there is no record of anyone ever getting lost on the journey from Wyoming. If such a one there was, it must have been some poor sufferer whose olfactory sense was completely paralyzed.
Writer after writer alludes to the “awful smell” which was wafted from the oil fields, and this pungent odor of sulphur must have been sufficient to serve as map, log, sextant and compass for the intrepid oncomer.
There was, of course, an acute
housing problem. By 1861 there were 1,600 people at Oil Springs alone. Before Shaw’s strike there could scarcely have been but a few dozen. The “chief house of entertainment in the village,” was the American House. Its landlord seems to have been a singularly honest soul.
He flatly refused to dispossess any of his permanent tenants in favor of wealthy visitors, no matter what inducements were offered. The latter were delightfully summed up by a ch ambermaid employed at the caravavanserai: “They are ile men, sir, nice men, sir, and rich men, sir.”
Even were a bed secured in the “hotel,” a comfortable sleep was by no means assured. At any time of the night a newcomer might offer himself as bedmate, and physical force was the only means by which privacy might successfully be secured.
Also it was customary to use a bed at least twice in one night, one man sleeping in it till midnight and another using it from midnight on.
With the countryside ¡L morass of mud and oil and with practically no facilities for washing, the state of the beds may be imagined. There is a story that one Yankee boarder insisted on retiring to slumber with his boots on. The landlord, quite naturally, protested that this was a habit he found it his duty to discourage. When the protest had been launched the tenant amiably remarked
that he didn’t mind sleeping with his boots on. “My boots are old and can't get any hurt.”
Not until some months after oil had been discovered was a water well dug, and then the water was so unpleasant that to drink it was impossible. The main source of water supply was a small, sluggish stream which flowed near the principal hotel. In this ditch the oil-smeared diggers performed their ablutions after the day’s work was done. They swilled the mud off their boots and quenched the thirst of their horses. The savory water was used also for making tea and coffee and for boiling salt pork—the staple food of the community.
The seekers after liquid gold were all sorts and conditions of men. Doctors, lawyers, writers— who ever heard of a spot where the going was hard and the life unlovely that did not attract the weaver of words?—artists, photographers, most certainly a fiddler or two, all representatives of that kind of man who wants wealth and doesn’t want to wait long for
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it. At first Americans formed a large portion of this jumbled community, but very soon the influx of Canadians increased.
As might have been expected, not many women adventured themselves in such uncouth surroundings. On the other hand, liquor was sold and drunk freely. Work was cruelly hard. One of the executives of Imperial Oil—I wish I could name him, but these leaders in the Canadian oil industry are curiously shy where publicity is concerned—told me that years after the time of which I am writing, an oil driller went out to drill a well and stuck on the job, snatching an odd hour of sleep when he could, until the well came in. The process usually took not less than fourteen days.
Here you have all the elements for a boisterous, quick-on-the-trigger community. But it is a curious fact that both Black Creek and Oil Springs were orderly places. I don’t say that the odd ugly customer did not make his appearance, but he didn’t stay long. Quietly but impressively, he was given to understand that other places and climates were more suited to one of his peculiar health and temperament. In passing, it is worth mentioning that this same orderliness has been a striking feature of every Canadian pioneer camp. Even Canadian Alaska was a decorous Sunday school compared to its American brother.
Oil Springs grew apace. At one time it had a population of over 4,000. Stores and houses sprang up like mushrooms. An omnibus ran up and down the length of the main street every five minutes. In the United States the Civil War was raging and this no doubt had a stimulating effect on the demand for coal oil, the only use for refined petroleum then known. A plank road to Sarnia was completed, and those who travel today over a smooth highway are probably unaware that underneath the surface lie the old white-oak planks of which it was first constructed.
By 1864, alas, the Oil Springs boom was over. In 1865 twenty-five wells stopped flowing in one week. By 1866 the population had shrunk from more than 4,000 to less than 300.
Early Drilling Methods
"DUT with oil selling at ten dollars a barrel it would have been strange, indeed, if another boom had not manifested itself. In this case the centre of the world of oil was shifted from Oil Springs to Petrolia, a hamlet eight miles away. As in the case of Oil Springs, a handful of huts in a wilderness soon became a seething, prosperous community. In 1866, the Great Western Railway was continued from Wyoming to Sarnia. This extension was built by the conductors, brakemen and baggagemen of the Great Western out of their savings. These hardworking railroad men leased the line to their employer, but afterward were forced to sell their interests outright. An economist trying to make out a case for either capital or labor might find this example of working men’s initiative instructive. Perhaps he would find that he would be obliged to take refuge in a paradox.
Very soon Petrolia’s population had reached 5,000. Its main street was
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planked, and the roads between Sarnia and Wyoming were in marked contrast to those swamps described by the Globe’s correspondent, and which must have made transportation a shade more difficult than it was in the area of the Somme. Once more it should be noted that, although all the inhabitants of Petrolia were not temperance advocates and not a few of them were inclined to settle argument by a resort to fisticuffs, the town was orderly. At any rate everyone appears to have been honest. Doors were never locked and, though gold watches might be left lying around, nothing was stolen.
Two things have contributed to give Petrolia a conspicuous place in the history of the world’s oil industry. The first was the type of operator who came to it, and the second, the fact that the technique of drilling and refining was developed there.
With regard to the operators, they had one property in common—very few of them had any money to speak of. J. H. Fairbank, for instance, one of the most successful of them and later to become manager of the Crude Oil Association, was often in difficulties. His first operations were far from successful, and so impoverished was the magnate-to-be that when his driller complained that his bit was too blunt to work with and Fairb'ank took it to the blacksmith for sharpening he could not pay the twenty-five cents demanded for the job. Miles Coleman, a derrick builder, pulled the badly needed quarter from his pocket, and the bit was released. With it Fairbank struck his first good oil shortly afterward.
Other men who later became big operators were Colonel Thompson, Dow Elwood, Frank Smith, Colonel Parsons, Major Vantuyl and H. W. Lancey. Many of these men were Americans. Of all of them it might be said that “those who went away with money had always come without any, and that those who came with money went away without it.”
At first, methods of drilling in Petrolia were extremely primitive. As a matter of fact, they didn’t differ very much from methods employed by the Chinese centuries before the Christian era. The drilling device employed by the Celestial consisted of an auger attached to a pole that was held in a vertical position from a cross-pole supported on a post. The end of the cross-pole was fastened under a springboard while a driller guided the vertical pole, or sometimes a cable, to which an auger or boring tool was attached. One coolie after another jumped from a platform and jarred the board so that the tool would plunge down and deepen the hole with each stroke. The deeper the hole became the heavier the coolie had to be.
Well, jumping men were not employed at Petrolia, but foot power was employed to drive the drilling tool into the ground. This crude device was soon superseded by what was known as the “pole tool rig.” In this outfit the drill and other tools were attached to poles whose drive was furnished by a steam engine. The pole tool rig has been superseded by the Canadian Wire Line System, which substitutes a wire cable for the pole. Inasmuch as the wire has a stretch and rebound of not less than six feet, very considerable addition is given to the force of the walking beam’s two-ton stroke.
When pumping had to be done, Petrolia used one engine to each well. Soon this expensive operation was replaced by the “jerker” method, a single engine pumping scores of wells in a row by means of a series of poles joined together and operating a walking-beam pump on each well. ’ Now the poles have vanished, having been supplanted by cables, and one small engine pump hundreds of wells.
As early as the sixties nitro-glycerin
was being used to break up rock and release oil. Wherever nitro-glycerin is used there are bound to be any number of stories about its playful disposition. Selwyn Griffin, Canadian writer, has dragged out a lot of them from Mr. William McCuteheon, one of the oldtime drillers and refiners at Petrolia. One of them is that McCuteheon used a tiny amount to remove a stump. He then promptly made off to a considerable distance from the explosive and crouched behind a sturdy tree. From that vantage ground he detonated the nitro. He never could find even a sliver of that stump afterward.
Then there is the story of the man who got hold of an old wooden trough in which drillers formerly had prepared nitro-glycerin. He used it for several months until one day he found the boards slightly sprung. He proceeded to knock them into place with an axehead. Not enough of him was ever found to fill a small basket.
I have mentioned these developments in the technique of oil production for one very good reason: The men who knew about them were naturally in demand wherever oil was to be found; and from Petrolia there went out to the four corners of the world men who profoundly influenced the oil industry in every way.
The World’s Oil Centre
HPHE first man to carry Petrolia methods abroad was R. A. Townsend. He hadn’t a great deal of luck as an oil operator, but British interests induced him to take out a number of drillers to Java. Among them were Alvin and Malcolm Scott, Richard Wade, B. McCarron, B. Covert, a man named Anderson, and our old friend, Miles Coleman, whose twentyfive cents saved Fairbank’s fortune. These men stayed only a couple of years, but they were the first of a great number of followers.
A very successful operator and one who took many Petrolia men with him was William McGarvey. His story and that of his brother, James, ought to furnish material enough for a thrilling novel. Here it is. The version of it which I obtained from one of Imperial Oil’s executives varies slightly from another which has been published, but in view of the narrator’s close association with McGarvey I believe it to be correct.
McGarvey ran a small general store in Petrolia. It is not on record that the store was a huge financial success; nevertheless its proprietor was sufficiently prominent in Lambton County to have held the office of mayor of Wyoming. Anyhow, McGarvey got bitten by the oil bug, as did nearly all of his neighbors, and at one time was part owner of the famous “Deluge” well. In 1879 he formed a partnership with Burgheim, an English Jew. Burgheim had capital and the pair went to Oelheim, near Hanover, Germany. With McGarvey went most of his own drillers. The German oil field was never very successful and McGarvey transferred his activities to Uherca, Galicia. There was sunk a well which flowed ¡10,000 barrels a day and couldn’t be shut oft' despite the frantic efforts of everyone on the field for four days. Galicia made McGarvey a multi-millionaire. He married a Polish lady whom he had met in Canada and their daughter married a son of Count Zeppelin of dirigible fame. Then the Great War broke out. McGarvey moved to Vienna to be out of the war zone and died in an Austrian internment camp. The Russian advance laid McGarvey’s huge refineries at Maryanpole in ruins, and the owner of them died practically penniless.
His partner, Burgheim, was killed in a taxicab accident in London at about the same time.
McGarvey had taken his two brothers, Albert and James, with him to Germany. James had an immensely profitable oil
property at Grosney in the Russian Caucasus. At the conclusion of the RussoJapanese war the peasants of the Caucasus were in open revolt. James McGarvey, while on a visit to his office, was murdered by the Caucasians, as was his partner, an Englishman I believe his name was Ellis. Mrs. McGarvey wras lucky enough to make her way out of Grosney unharmed.
So far this story of the petroleum industry in Canada has concerned itself with the colorful business of oil booms, adventures of drillers and operators, and such imagination-quickening matters. It can be said with no small measure of truth that at one time Petrolia was the oil centre of the world. Petrolia was doing something far more important than merely producing crude oil and refining it. It was teaching the world new processes, sending its native sons hither and yon all over the globe, and busily digging its own grave in so doing. By that I mean that, as great strides were made in oil refining, very soon the crude oil supply greatly exceeded the Dominion’s requirements. Lest any reader may find this statement puzzling, perhaps I had better mention that at the time of which I am writing there was, roughly speaking, but one use for petroleum productskerosene. This spirit was used for illuminating purposes and had practically driven the gently romantic but very bothersome tallow candle into that dim seclusion from which it has never emerged.
TET us take a rapid glance over the
' interesting history of oil refining. In 1862, J. H. Williams—the gentleman who had amused himself by poking around the gum beds of Enniskillen Township—had built a refinery at Hamilton, known as the Cedar Creek Oil Works, while William Spencer purchased lots fifteen and sixteen, Second Concession, Plympton; surveyed them, and founded the town of Wyoming. Spencer and Williams joined forces, and crude oil was shipped from Oil Springs to Wyoming in barrels and thence transported by the Great Western Railway to Woodstock and Hamilton for refining.
At this early stage in the history of petroleum the presumed secret of refining crude petroleum was anything but un secret de Polichinelle, but one to be guarded with an extreme vigilance which in these days of pooling of knowledge regarding industry may seem a little absurd. Refineries were heavily fenced, and guards of marked pugnacity of disposition were posted within the huge fences with instructions to shoo off by whatever means seemed best to them earnest enquirers after information about the process of refining.
Let us lift the veil surrounding this awful “secret.” I quote from an article by an author whose name is yet another secret even unto this day:
“The stills were made of cast iron of fifteen to twenty barrel capacity and had a solitary gooseneck leading to the condenser. The treating process consisted of agitation by an agitator with a revolving paddle at the bottom. The washing with acid and water followed. Caustic soda was used to remove the acid. This agitation and acid wash completed the process, and the refined oil was barrelled direct from the agitator. The finished product was a fine amber-colored oil that would make any lamp chimney the same color in about twenty minutes, but it com-
manded the attractive price of one dollar per gallon.”
With refined petroleum selling at this price, it is not surprising to learn that Mr. Spencer moved to London and in that city set up a, for that time, large and greatly improved refinery. A Mr. Herman Waterman was taken in as partner. At the London refinery the discovery was made that litharge—the scum from silver —would sweeten it from some of the sulphur, thus greatly improving the quality of the oil.
Very shortly, London, Ontario, became the home of a number of refineries. For purposes of record it may be noted that the largest were W. Spencer & Sons, F. A. Fitzgerald & Co., Waterman Bros., Duffield Bros., T. D. & E. Godgins, Geary Moncrieff & Co. These firms were eventually amalgamated and operated under the name of the London Refining Company.
In 1870 the magic word “export business” was heard in the land and many more refineries were built, among them the Silver Star Works of Englehart & Co. which cost $200,000 and which was considered an immense plant. This valued export business, however, soon waned, and the majestic Silver Star Works was bought by the London Refinery Company along with a good many others—John McMillan, John McDonald of Petrolia; Frank Ward, Wyoming; Woodward & Co., J. H. Fairbank & Sons, Home Oil, Perkins & Gleeson, McMillan Mittridge & Co. of Petrolia; Millar Bros, of London; Sir Melville Parker, of Oakville; J. W. Sifton of Paris; W. & C. Oil Land & Works, Producers’ Oil Company, Alex. Depper, Marthaville; Mutual Oil Company, Black Star Oil, Sarnia; Geo. Taylor, McKenzie & Sons of Wyoming; John Davis, of Port Edward; John Baily, J. Robinson, Winnett Bros., Baltic Refining Company, Hamilton; Petrolia Crude Oil, Consumers Oil Co., Carbon Oil Co., of Petrolia.
Quite an imposing little list. Rather too imposing, perhaps, for in 1886 the production of Canadian crude oil reached the million-barrel mark, with the result that the refineries were leased, closed, or given a fixed quota of oil to supply the market. All this was the work of a syndicate which, alas, was soon dissolved. The result can easily be imagined. The price of refined oil dropped from thirty-five cents a gallon to twelve cents, and from then on the petroleum industry took on something of the nature of a battle royal, with only the very sturdiest surviving the conflict.
As a result of this fierce battle with unremunerative manufacturing, Imperial Oil, now the largest of all the Canadian oil companies, was formed. It v'as composed of the following firms: J. S. Englehart & Co., F. A. Fitzgerald & Co., W. Spencer & Sons, Waterman Bros., Geary, Minhennick & Co., T. D. Hodgins, Walker & Smallman. The paid up capital was $500,000, and the officers were F. A. Fitzgerald, president, J. S. Englehart, vice-president, and W. M. Spencer, secretary.
The corporate name, Imperial Oil Company, has a fine, sonorous ring, but as a matter of fact it wras an amalgamation of what would now be regarded as tiny companies. What makes this pigmy merger occupy so important a place in the history of the petroleum industry in Canada is that it immediately engaged itself in every process involved in the refining of petroleum. Quoting from its Letters Patent and By-Laws, these activi-
ties were: "... the purchase of refineries, plant and machinery; the carrying on of the business of buying, leasing, letting and selling petroleum oil lands and other lands; buying, selling and producing salt and crude petroleum oil and other products thereof; sinking and putting down salt and oil wells and otherwise developing salt and petroleum oil lands; erecting, leasing, buying and selling oil refineries-and salt works; manufacturing buying and selling oil refineries and oil producers’ supplies of all kinds; manufacturing, buying and selling salt and petroleum oil and other products thereof; storing, tanking and warehousing refined and crude petroleum oil and other products thereof and granting warehouse receipts for the same; constructing and operating pipe lines for the transportation of oil; and the doing of all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of the objects aforesaid throughout the Dominion of Canada.”
Certainly the infant company had drawn up an ambitious and comprehensive programme. More, Imperial Oil proceeded to carry out this programme to the letter and is today the only oil company in Canada which does so. Nor was this programme to be performed in a leisurely, easy-going manner. One year after its formation, Imperial Oil took note of the great Western trek of settlement, and, by means of a wholesale and distributing business with headquarters in Winnipeg, firmly established itself in the West five years before the completion of the transcontinental railway.
Striding ahead in the seven-league-boot style which any such brief history as this demands, one of the most notable steps in the development of the company was taken in 1897. A refinery at Sarnia, Ontario, was purchased. Its erecting and equipment were supervised by C. O. Stillman, the present president of Imperial Oil of whom I hope to say a few words a little later.
Sarnia was an admirable “strategic point” for an oil refinery. It was close to the Petrolia fields and the Mid-continent fields in the United States, and was accessible to the great inland waterways system, a mighty highway for commerce both east and west. Today the refinery at Sarnia still is Imperial Oil’s largest refinery, having a daily output of 22,000 barrels, and is one of the largest industrial plants in the Dominion of Canada.
More and yet more uses were being found for refined petroleum. The year 1870 saw the development of a gasoline lamp, to be shortly followed by a gasoline stove. Also the use of petroleum products for lubricating purposes was becoming general. Refiners soon recognized the fact that a satisfactory lubricant must be free from its natural wax content. A few words as to the means by which this ticklish operation was performed may not be out of place.
At first experiments were made by pouring into a strong canvas bag a quantity of chilled lubricating distillate, afterward known as “paraffine distillate.” The chilling process had been accomplished by exposing the distillate to the biting cold of a winter atmosphere, artificial refrigeration being quite unknown at that time. The bag and its contents were placed in an old cider press, and it was found that the crystals remained in the bag and the oil obligingly filtered out. In 1880 this practical but primitive method of manufacturing a wax-free lubricant was supplanted by what was known as a “knuckle press.” Five years later artificial refrigeration made its welcome appearance, and with it a “pressure filter” not unlike the filter press in use today with its numerous canvas-covered plates for wax extraction.
Then came the great discovery.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles by Mr. Mullens on the oil industry in Canada. The second will appear in an early issue.