Historical Markers
Oil-Producing Salt Well Historical Marker
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Oil-Producing Salt Well

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
PA 198, Lawrence Corners, 1 mile East of Ohio line

Dedication Date:
May 17, 1985

Behind the Marker

A head and shoulders portrait of Samuel Kier.
A head and shoulders portrait of Samuel Kier.
Salt wells were drilled frequently throughout northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Laborer James Kennedy worked on salt wells near Tarentum remembering that "[The oil] had never been seen in salt wells [in other regions], and they were afraid that it might ruin the salt works... It just came right up and out of the ground along with the salt water as it was pumped by the engine. It got to be a nuisance, for we were after salt water then, and didn't want anything else." Kennedy and many others didn't yet understand the value of the troublesome crude oil.

By 1845 the salt mining process was refined to better manage the oil problem. Brine was pumped into a large separating tank; the oil would rise to the top, and salty water would be drained from the bottom of the tank. Frequently the oil would overflow the tank and run into nearby waterways. Many residents recall when boys in Tarentum ignited the spilled oil. Local residents like James Kennedy soon realized its potential and began selling oil to local users. Soon, many people living in Tarentum were using rock oil for illumination. Though it would still take time until the resource was expanded to a wider market, other entrepreneurs gradually realized oil's potential. A well owned by Samuel Kier produced one barrel per day, which sold as an illuminant for seven dollars. Along with many others, his enterprising nature helped establish the value of the commodity that they had overlooked.

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