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The Petroleum Oil-Fields at Franklin, Pennsylvania

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1270, p. 99.

July 23, 1864


In this Number of our Journal will be found a couple of Illustrations of the locality of the petroleum oil-springs at Franklin, in the State of Pennsylvania, that wonderful natural production which has lately given rise to a most lucrative commerce. The qualities of petroleum, or mineral oil, are, indeed, by no means a modern discovery, and its existence in many parts of the globe, especially in some countries of Asia, has been proved by the instances of spontaneous combustion which many ancient historians have recorded. In the island of Trinidad, in the State of Virginia, and at Enniskillen, in Western Canada, there is abundance of this valuable product; but for a long time no efforts were made to obtain it for the use of mankind. It was not till 1857 that operations were commenced for the distillation of the bitumen at Enniskillen, and the operators then speedily discovered that by sinking wells a similar material might be obtained in a fluid state. Large quantities of oil were thus procured. Two years later a well was sunk to the depth of seventy feet, in Venango County, Pennsylvania. The oil flowed with such force that for many weeks 1000 gallons per day were obtained from this well. Other wells were speedily sunk, many of which yielded large quantities of oil. In some districts the earth is saturated with the oil, and, occasionally, a porous sandstone or limestone will yield considerable quantities. More commonly, however, the oil is collected in fissures in the rocks, at various depths below the surface. In some cases an ample supply of oil is obtained at a depth of 40 ft., while other wells are sunk as low as 120 ft. to 160 ft. deep. At Titusville, Pennsylvania, there are wells of the depth of 590 ft. Usually, when the oil is reached, the pressure of the gas in the fissure forces it up, and it flows for some time to the surface. As soon as the oil has ceased flowing, a pump is employed. Sometimes the oil continues to flow spontaneously, and with such force as to defy every effort to control it. The quantity of oil yielded by the wells varies, however, considerably, some wells producing only ten barrels per day, and others as much as 300 barrels.

The apparatus to be seen at Oil Creek is of a simple description, consisting of large wooden cisterns sunk in the ground to receive the oil which rises through tubes let down into the borings. It is then drawn from the cisterns and put into barrels for exportation. The cisterns are covered, to prevent evaporation, and their leaking is ingeniously prevented by surrounding them with a trench full of water, as the greater specific gravity of the water forbids the oil to escape through it. The casks or barrels of crude oil are conveyed from the Franklin and Titusville stations by the Atlantic and Great Western Railway--a branch of which, fifty-four miles in length, has lately been constructed for this traffic. The Atlantic and Great Western is a line of 400 miles, to Salamanca, on the New York and Erie line, connecting the great town of Cincinnati, and that of St. Louis, still farther west, with the port of Cleveland on Lake Erie and with the railway to New York, by which an immense export trade in grain and salt meat is carried on. This important means of communication between the most productive region of the western continent and the Atlantic seaboard was formed by a company of which Mr. James M'Henry, of London, and Senor Salamanca, the well-known Spanish capitalist, are the chief promoters. They began their work in the spring of 1862, taking five thousand English "navvies" to America for the purpose. They obtained the requisite funds by mortgaging the first section of the line when completed, allowing 7 per cent interest on their debentures, and relying upon the high profits which a railway passing through this district--the gateway of the north-western States--was certain to yield. Their operations have been effected with extraordinary rapidity and success, notwithstanding the civil war. Two hundred miles of railway were constructed in as many days before the end of 1862, and 145 miles were added in the course of 1863. The line is now opened throughout its entire length, traversing the fertile States of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and enabling goods or passengers to travel from New York to St. Louis, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri, without a change of carriage. The corn of the Western States, the coal and iron of Pennsylvania, and probably, when peace shall be restored, some of the cotton of the South, will by this means find its way, along with the petroleum oil from Franklin and other stations, to the main outlet of American maritime commerce. The Oil Creek branch alone has just paid a dividend of 25 per cent on its first year's working. The New York and Erie, and the Ohio and Mississippi lines, by the completion of the Atlantic and Great Western, which links them to each other, have greatly increased their traffic. For the readier conveyance of the petroleum oil to the railway stations in the oil-producing district, the company is now laying down iron pipes, through which the oil will be forced from the tanks at the wells by powerful steam-pumps. These parts of the apparatus cannot, of course, be shown in our Engraving. During the past year the Atlantic and Great Western Railway has carried more than half a million barrels of petroleum oil, which is not one third of the product of this wonderful region.

The petroleum oil is sent from America in a crude state, just as it pours out of the earth. The business of refining and preparing it for use is extensively carried on in England and France. The London Hydrocarbon Oil Company, in their manufacturing establishment at Southall, apply to the American oil a patent process of distillation, by which the pure transparent liquid known as cazeline, giving, a most beautiful light, is disengaged from the grosser elements of the petroleum, as well as from the spirituous part, which yields an explosive gas. The latter substance is largely employed instead of turpentine for various manufacturing purposes, while the cazeline is burned, without the slightest danger, in the lamps on our drawing-room tables, free from smoke and smell. Nor are these the only uses of the petroleum oil. Experiments have lately been made, by order of the French Government, to test its value as fuel for the engines of their steam navy. It has been proved that a given quantity of this substance will generate, in half the time, as much steam as could be produced by burning twice the weight of coal. It seems likely that the introduction of this portable fuel will have a great effect upon the development of steam navigation. The Southall works alone can refine fifty thousand barrels yearly.

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