The Petroleum Industry

(Adapted from the Warren Times Observer’s Special Edition, “Warren’s First 200 Years”)

               Native Americans had long been aware of the petroleum in the area. They found it bubbling up in creek beds and skimmed it from the surface of the water, possibly using it for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. When they settled in the area, European Americans began to make use of this unique substance as a medicine and a lubricant.

               By the early 1790s, a man named Nathaniel Carey was living in Northwestern Pennsylvania gathering and selling the crude oil, which came to be called Seneca Oil. By 1792, crude oil was being sold in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and elsewhere. Although crude oil could be used as a lighting fuel, the light is gave was poor and smoky, and the oil smelled as it burned. It was not until later that a method for refining crude oil to create kerosene, an efficient lighting source, was developed. Even before Drake's well was drilled in 1859, oil was being pumped from the ground and sold as a by-product of salt wells.

               It was not until Drake successfully drilled for oil that the oil boom began throughout the area. Shortly after the discovery of oil at Titusville in August of 1859, the world's second oil well was drilled at Tidioute in Warren County. The Tidioute area rapidly became an oil boom center with excellent wells. Sensational oil finds occurred in many locations in the county, with operations at Clarendon, Cherry Grove, and Glade being the most important. By the early 1900s, oil refining was a major industry with thirteen refineries within a six mile radius of Warren Borough. Oil production and refining still hold an important position in the county, with the United Refining Company now producing 45,000 barrels a day.

               Oil has been used for lighting, lubricating, as fuel, and its by-products have been used in dyes, paints, plastics, and medicines.

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Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society