Petroleum Discovered by Campus Entrepreneur?

georgebissell.png  sillimanreport.pngLast week, while traveling, I had the opportunity to read John Steele Gordon’s, An Empire of Wealth. The book is a sweeping economic history of the US, from pre-colonial times through the internet. Really a great read.

Turns out the entire petroleum industry was created by a group of campus entrepreneurs in and around Darmouth and Yale. These are old skool campus entrepreneurs!

From p. 169 of An Empire of Wealth; An Epic History of American Economic Power,

In 1853 a Dartmouth College graduate named George Bisell (picture above) happened to be visiting his old school when he saw in a professor’s office a bottle of rock oil that had come from western Pennsylvania. He knew that the stuff was flammable and suddenly conceived of the idea that it could be turned into an illuminant. He organized a small group of investors and asked one of the country’s leading chemists, Professor Benjamin Silliman, Jr., of Yale, to look into the possibilities. Silliman reported that the rock oil could easily be fractioned into various substances, including kerosene, by heating it.

The book goes on to discuss the ephinany that lead to Bissell’s employment of a derrick for drilling and eventually (27 August 1859) to the world’s first oil well in Titusville, PA.

Here are the wikipedia links to Bissell, Silliman, and Edwin Drake (the man hired by Bissell to drill for oil in Titusville and thus the first human to strike oil).


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