Tuesday, December 06, 2016
Black Gold: Back to Start
People Foreign Drillers Equiptment Oil Heritage Oil Museum Fun Stuff



Where the Oil Industry Began:

Few travellers passing the village of Oil Springs southeast of Sarnia, Ontario, are aware of the significance of the quiet hamlet in launching
one of the world's great industries.

Back in 1862, Oil Springs was an oil boom town. Black gold flowed from a thousand wells and flooded the Black Creek basin, to a depth of three feet. Oil sold for $10 a barrel then, and the village prospered along with the drillers and speculators.

The population of three thousand was served by a dozen general stores, nine hotels, and horse drawn buses. It was a thriving place - the location of many firsts. The village boasted the first paved street in Canada; it had a gas-lighted main thoroughfare before larger centres in Europe or America; and it was here that many oil production and refining techniques evolved. This was the pinnacle of the oil era for Oil Springs.

Old oil supply store
Oil Well Supply 1865

Post Office
Post Office
Oxford house tavern license
Oxford House Tavern License

Oxford house
The Oxford House was one of nine hotels in the wild and wooly days of early Oil Springs.

Williams had acquired the acreage from Charles and Henry Tripp. The two brothers had learned of the oil gum beds from the Geological Survey of Canada, and as early as 1853, they were distilling the substance to make asphalt, paints, and resins. By 1854, they had formed the world's first oil firm, the International Mining and Manufacturing Company.

Technologically, their products were innovative - the Tripps received recognition for their achievements at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, France in 1855. However, economically the venture was a failure. As there were no roads or railways out of Enniskillen swamp, it was difficult to ship the products to market.

Community hall Main Street
Oil Springs Community Hall Main Street
Keating & Perry newspaper 1865 Dewar block
Keating & Perry Newspaper 1865 Dewar Block
United church Methodist chruch and highschool
United Church
Methodist Church
and High School
The Beginning of the Oil Industry:

The North American oil industry began in Oil Springs in 1858 in less spectacular fashion. James Miller Williams, a coachmaker from Hamilton, dug into the tar-like gum beds of Enniskillen Township to find their source. At a depth of fourteen feet he struck oil. Williams immediately built a small refinery and began to produce illuminating oil for lamps - kerosene.

It was Williams who was able to take full advantage of the ancient resource. Not only was he astute enough to look below the surface of the gum beds to find oil and to realize its commercial potential, but the timing of his discovery was perfect.

The Great Western Railway completed a line from London to Sarnia, through nearby Wyoming in 1858, so transportation was finally within reach. As well, the kerosene lamp had recently been invented so the demand for lamp oil was increasing and whale oil was becoming scarce. There was also little competition from outside. In fact, Williams' first successful well and the subsequent refinery were commercially viable a full year before Colonel Drake drilled his oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
Prospectors from all parts of the U.S. and Canada streamed into Oil Springs, and the value of land escalated. Williams became rich, not only from oil, but also because of his land holdings.
Oil wells were dug deeper, and by 1861, 400 wells were producing at rates varying from 50 to 800 barrels per day.

Oil wells were also drilled into bedrock with primitive spring pole rigs. A long ash tree trunk was placed parallel to the ground over a y-shaped fulcrum. A heavy drill bit was suspended from the end of the pole. By jumping on a treadle, drillers jerked the bit up and down, allowing it to break through the rock on the downward stroke.

Spring pole rig
Spring Pole Rig

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