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Kerosene Coal Oil and the Shell Oil Company
Guest Column by GeoT

Dateline: 06/26/00

Kerosene, Kerosene,
The greatest stuff I've ever seen
Just gotta like that Kerosene
Go ahead and use it - to get things clean!
I'd like a barrel of Kerosene!
Follow along -- see what I mean.

The oil industry started long before the invention of the automobile. To a certain degree, we might say the oil industry allowed the auto to be invented ­ not the other way around.

The Petroleum Industry in the United States began in 1859 when E.L. Drake drilled a successful oil well at Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. Later, it became known as Titusvillle. Oil was "refined" back in those days in little more than a closed metal tank with some collecting trays in it and a fire underneath. Pipes leading away from those shelves collected the distilled product in smaller tanks to the side. The product of importance was ­ Kerosene! (Gasoline was produced as a by-product. Good fuel for those early experiments with internal combustion engines though!) All this sounds just a little dangerous. It was - and still is.

Kerosene was also produced from coal. Coal was heated in a retort and among the condensates was kerosene. Called "coal oil" back then. I recall Gramma referring to the "coal oil" lamps she used for lighting in her not-yet-electrified southern Illinois farmhouse. "Go out to the shed and bring in some coal oil," she'd say.

Kerosene lamps replaced lamps lit with whale oil ­ the petroleum was much easier to deal with than trips to sea with the hope of finding whales. Candles lit homes back in those days too ­ people stayed busy making more and more candles. Nice family activity I suppose.

Today, kerosene is a product of the fractional distillation of petroleum into its various factions. It is commonly used as a carrier in insect sprays and as - -a jet engine fuel!! It's wonderful stuff!

I have spent many hours under a car cleaning the chassis of its grease, grime, and road tar with kerosene at car shows that pays off ­ everyone has a great paint job, interior, engine room, and trunk but not everyone has a spotless undercarriage ­ that’s where the winning points are! Thanks to kerosene you’ll get 'em! Kind of stinky work though.

On the way to the car show, we get fuel at the local Shell station. In 1833 a gentleman named Marcus Samuel sold sea shells in London. Trade in sea shells became a large import-export business for him! His son, Marcus Junior made a trip to the Caspian Sea in order to obtain more shells. This is where he discovered the oil export business ­ at Baku. He found a huge developing market for kerosene in Japan ­ where it would be used for cooking and lighting. He ultimately had a tanker built to haul Russian kerosene through the Suez Canal to the Asian markets, and in the process created the Shell Oil Company.

Most modern folks seldom come in contact with kerosene ­ there's really no need today but, here was just a bit of its geography and history ­ and an explanation of how that Shell station got out on the corner, because of kerosene!

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