Original Document
Original Document
1857 Letter to the Rochester (NY) Democrat

The search for new illuminants was well known to most Americans. Northwestern Pennsylvania was a hotbed of activity.

In March, 1857, the following letter appeared in the Rochester (NY) Democrat: "I have just seen specimens of benzole, camphene oil and tallow from coal up in the vicinity of Smethport, McKean county, superior to anything ever known. One ton of coal makes eighty gallons of benzole, forty gallons of fluid, twenty gallons of lubricating oil and fifteen pounds of tallow or sperm. The actual cost of benzole, etc., will not exceed fifteen cents per gallon. * * * There is a machine (for manufacturing purposes) now on the way to Bradford. Depend upon it, this is no humbug." Nor was it, for buildings were erected opposite the present Riddell House, and coal oil manufactured there. In November 1859, a New York and Boston company erected a coal-oil mill at the Hermit opening between Marsh's Corners and Kinzua, where they hoped to mine sufficient coal for obtaining this oil. Gilbert, one of the projectors, did not then dream that oil existed here in oceans, although the Drake well, at Titusville, was completed August 28, 1859, and even before this, in 1858, J. M. Williams' well in Canada, and other wells in Enniskillen township, in the county of Lambton, same country, were in operation. The coal oil manufacturers had before them the efforts of S. Kier and Nevin, McKeown & Co., of March 1857; the latter company's well at Greensburg, Penn., in 1858; the offer of $1000.00 for a lamp that would burn petroleum made by S. Kier in 1857, and also the shipments made to New York in November, 1857, by A. C. Ferris, and the introduction of a lamp in which the odorous oil would burn. Col. Drake's well soon shadowed the coal-oil extract works out of existence, and nothing was heard throughout Pennsylvania but stories of wells and drills and oils.

Credit: Michael A Leeson, History of the Counties of McKean, Elk, Cameron, and Potter, Pennsylvania (J. H. Beers Publishing, 1890).
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