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Lowestoft Archaeological Society

PUBLISHED: 11:17 03 April 2009 | UPDATED: 08:42 06 July 2010

Member Ray Collins spoke on March 26 about the oil industry before 1907. Amazingly, oils from natural sources were used for lighting in prehistory; bitumen could help waterproof and preserve buildings and boats, even Egyptian mummies.

Member Ray Collins spoke on March 26 about the oil industry before 1907. Amazingly, oils from natural sources were used for lighting in prehistory; bitumen could help waterproof and preserve buildings and boats, even Egyptian mummies. In the first half of the 1800s, paraffin used for lighting was scarce, and expensive, so the search began for a better supply. Edwin Drake was asked to look for oil in Pennsylvania. He started with no experience and spent almost two years without result. In 1859 he used a drill but still had no luck and was ordered to halt at 70ft. As if by magic, the hole filled with oil during the weekend break, averaging 25 barrels per day. Within 10 years the company was producing 7,000 barrels daily and by 1908 world output had risen to 37.5 million tons per year. An American ship, the Elizabeth Watts, brought barrels of paraffin to the UK in 1865. At roughly the same time the Samuel family, trading as M Marcus & Co exported mechanical items from Britain to Japan and imported oil on their return. They also sold case-oil to the Middle East, but when crude oil was found at a source near the Caspian Sea and came on line, they switched to this. Trade was on a deferred payment basis and this soon gave the company millionaire status, so a purpose-built tanker, first of many, could be built for them. Marcus Samuel now met ups and downs in trading for several years. His company would later turn into the Shell Oil Co with its classic trademark. Early in the 1900s they tried using oil engines in ships, including naval vessels, but this proved difficult. Many ups and downs followed before their successful business was established. The next meeting will be at South Lowestoft Methodist Church Hall at 7.30pm on Thursday, April 23.

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