Appendices - Hirohito's War
APPENDIX N: THE ROLE OF OIL IN THE PACIFIC WAR
Development of the Oil Industry in the United States: In the United States Edwin Drake, a farmer’s son whose career started on America’s burgeoning mid-19th Century railroads, who founded Seneca Oil Company and drilled the first well producing 25 barrels a day at Oil Creek in Pennsylvania in 1859. It sparked the first American oil rush. George Bissel, the original promoter of Seneca Oil wrote, “The whole population are crazy almost… I never saw such excitement.”1 With the rapid global depletion of sperm whale stocks by the middle of the 19th Century, the arrival of a new source of premium illumination oil was well timed. A year after Drake’s discovery the first handbook on oil noted, ‘As an illuminator the oil is without a figure: it is the light of the age.’2 In addition the increasing mechanization of manufacture was creating a demand for a more hard-wearing lubricant than lard. The civil war barely interrupted the scramble for oil and indeed encouraged it in the north, which found itself cut off from supply of camphene, a cheap illuminating oil derived from turpentine (a distillation from pine trees).
In the next great oil rush in Ohio, the twenty one year old J.D. Rockefeller, established the Standard Oil Company in 1861. He went on to develop a multi-state business, which became the dominant name in the industry – by the mid-1980s his three refineries in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Bayonne (New Jersey) produced 25 percent of the world supply of kerosene. Rockefeller’s dominance was such that Congress ordered Standard Oil’s breakup in 1911.
The increase in demand for kerosene for lighting had brought rapid growth. Annual production in 1861 had amounted to 2,000 barrels, and expanded to 4.2m barrels ten years later. By the end of the century US production had grown to 57m barrels and still demand was not satisfied. More oil discoveries led to the rapid development of the industry in Oklahoma, Texas and California. The discovery of a major field at Beaumont in Texas in 1901 sparked an oil boom. Within a few years it spawned the Texas Oil Company (later Texaco) and Gulf Oil - names that were to become synonymous with the industry. In 1911 the Humble Oil Company (later Exxon) was established.
In the early part of the 20th Century, as news of the liquid gold spread, fields were developed with American finance and entrepreneurial knowhow in Persia and Venezuela. Europeans also jumped onto the new bandwagon, and Royal Dutch Shell began to develop oilfields in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Iraq), South America, California and the Dutch East Indies. By the late 1920 Shell had become the world’s largest oil company. By the first decade of the 20th Century oil had developed into one of America’s major industrial concerns.
If the growth of the oil industry was spectacular up to World War II, its ascent was even more dramatic thereafter. Three major technological innovations would spur its growth. The development of the internal combustion engine for motorized transportation, the development of aviation and the development of diesel engines would transform the outlook for the oil industry. World War I served as a catalyst for change for all three technologies.