SEED Science

Who discovered oil, and when?

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Who discovered oil, and when?

Who discovered oil, and when?


Oil has been present on the Earth’s surface since at least 200 million years ago, in the form of seeps and tar pits. Although it's difficult to say who first discovered it, prehistoric people used this naturally-occurring oil since the beginning of recorded human history. But many others used it as well.

  • Ancient Greek texts describe how they would pour oil onto the sea to set fire to their enemies’ fleets.
  • The Bible refers to a thick form of oil called pitch, which was used to waterproof Noah's ark and the baby Moses' basket.
  • The Native Americans also used pitch to waterproof canoes.
  • In his travels, Marco Polo observed oil from natural oil seeps being used in Persia in 1264.

Oil drilling history

The first record of oil being pumped from the ground is in Sichuan, China, 2500 years ago. Oil wells were hand-dug in Persia, in 1594, to depths as much at 35 meters (115 feet). In 1735 oil sands were mined and oil extracted at Pechelbronn field in Alsace, France. Oil was produced in United States in 1815, as an undesirable by-product from brine wells in Pennsylvania.

Modern oil wells

In 1848, the first modern oil well was drilled by Russian engineer F.N. Semyenov, located in what is now Azerbaijan. There are several other claims for the first oil well. The first oil wells in Europe were drilled in 1854 to depths of 30 to 50 meters (98 to 164 feet) at Bóbrka, Poland by Ignacy Lukasiewicz. A well was drilled in 1858 in Wietze, Germany. In the United States, Colonel Edwin L. Drake is credited with the first modern commercial oil well, located at Titusville, Pennsylvania. Drilled to a depth of 22 meters (72 feet), it started producing oil on August 28, 1859.

Read more about the making of oil on the PlanetSEED Web site.