Historical Markers
Kier Refinery Historical Marker
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Kier Refinery

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Small park near Bigelow Square (off Bigelow Blvd.), Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
March 3, 1959

Behind the Marker

A poster advertising "rock oil" as a natural remedy for many illnesses.
A poster advertising "rock oil" as a natural remedy for many illnesses.
Most residents viewed the crude oil that seeped into their water and salt wells as little more than a nuisance. But a young canal boat operator named Samuel Kier saw in oil a possibility for a more accessible illuminant.

In the mid-1840s, Kier noticed the similarity between the oil prescribed to his ill wife and the annoying substance invading the salt wells on his family's property outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began collecting the substance and opened a bottling and merchandising house in Pittsburgh in 1849. The mysterious "cure-all", Kier's Rock Oil, soon sold throughout the northeastern U.S. and Kier began experimenting with the excess oil as an illuminant. He sold his illuminating oil, called carbon oil, for $1.50 a gallon from a warehouse in Pittsburgh. Afraid of explosion and fire, residents living near Kier's refinery registered complaints with the authorities, who then ordered Kier to move his operation from the city.

A.C. Ferris, a New York businessman, ordered a supply of oil from Kier and began experimenting with its illumination potential. Ferris sold about 1,000 gallons of illuminating oil in 1858, cultivating markets that quickly made petroleum the nation's most popular illuminant.

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