Historical Markers
Humboldt Refinery Historical Marker
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Humboldt Refinery

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
Masonic Hall, Plumer Village along SR 227 outside Oil City

Dedication Date:
August 3, 2001

Behind the Marker

Drake's discovery was not very useful until it could be made into a product useful for everyday life. Crude oil requires refinement, a chemical treatment that adds and detracts properties, in order to create the desired finished product: gasoline, heating oil, jet fuel, etc. In its crude form, petroleum could be used as a lubricant and for other industrial uses; however, when burned as an illuminant it gave off a dark smoke and a foul odor. If treated with heat and other chemicals, petroleum could be turned into kerosene for use in lamps all around the world.

When Drake discovered his well, the refining capital of the world was New Bedford, Massachusetts, home to the world's greatest whaling fleet. Barrels of crude whale and sperm oil required refinement so that they would burn properly. This process had made whale oil the major illuminant worldwide, despite its expense. For this reason, the first barrels of Pennsylvania crude were refined in a re-fabricated whale oil refinery on Fish Island, just off the coast of New Bedford.
A view of several two-story buildings with several smokestacks. Visible in the foreground are railroad tracks.
A view of several two-story buildings with several smokestacks. Visible in the...

Once it had been established that kerosene could be produced from crude, efforts commenced to create refineries in the Pennsylvania oil region. Pittsburgh had the largest concentration of refineries. In the oil region, the Humboldt refinery in Plumer had a capacity of about 1,000 barrels per week.

By 1863, Humboldt was the cutting-edge of petroleum technology with a 2.5 mile pipeline that linked the refinery to the Tarr Farm on Oil Creek. A New Jersey inventor, J.L. Hutchings, constructed the pipeline using a patented rotary pump. He successfully used his own pumps in the line, but the cast iron pipes were not up to the task. Each of the joints leaked, and the pipeline was eventually abandoned.

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