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An Early History of American Oil

Written By: Tim George  |  Posted: Saturday, October 8th, 2011

            In 1818, a salt well suddenly began to fill with oil, making it the first well to produce crude oil in America. People had known about such oil seeps in western Pennsylvania for centuries. Native Americans, as far back as 1410, had been harvesting oil for medicinal purposes by digging small pits around active seeps and lining them with wood. For years European settlers had been skimming the oil from the seeps and using the petroleum as a source of lamp fuel and machinery lubrication.

            The Seneca Indians and Revolutionary soldiers serving under General Benjamin Lincoln had found similar pools and determined it to have use as a medicinal compound. But no commercial use for the black goo could be determined, and salt wells like the one of 1818 in eastern Kentucky were deemed useless and promptly abandoned.

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