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GESNER, WILLIAMS AND THE BIRTH OF THE OIL INDUSTRY

Earle Gray, 17 Lang Court, Lindsay, ON, K9VM 6E5
Email; earle.gray@cogeco

This paper will explore the links between the work of Abraham Gesner and James Miller Williams in the founding of the oil industry. Gesner, Nova Scotian physician, geologist and chemist, has been called “The father of the modern petroleum industry” (U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration ). Gesner’s development of kerosene in the 1840s led to the development of the U.S. coal oil refining industry. As a result, the oil industry was said to be “an industry waiting to happen,” ie waiting for a supply of crude oil. Williams was the first to provide that supply with the 1858 discovery of the Oil Springs field. He also established the first integrated oil company, with crude oil production, refining and marketing, no later than early 1859. This paper will discuss unconfirmed reports that Williams was guided by Gesner in establishing his refining operations. It will also examine the work of Gesner’s Scottish coal oil refining rival, James Young, and how Young beat Gesner in obtaining a U.S. patent for his process despite the fact that Gesner was first in the field, and the consequences of this.

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