Who discovered oil? Oil is a naturally occurring substance that is in high demand for petroleum products. Evidence of oil has been linked to prehistoric times, and its uses appear in the earliest writings. While there is no single person or culture credited for discovering oil, many milestones in history have represented the usefulness of oil to mankind.
Ancient Uses For Oil
Evidence of quarried asphalt at an oil seep appears in Iraq, and this evidence dates to more than 6,000 years ago. Tar and pitch were used to construct walls and caulk ships in ancient Babylon around 4,000 years ago, and Egyptian tablets record the embalming properties of crude oil. The Chinese used crude oil and its byproducts for light and heat starting about 2,000 years ago.
Herodotus (484 BC to 425 BC) wrote about the endless supply of Persian oil, and Aristotle (384 BC to 322 BC) mentioned great quantities of petroleum commodities coming from the Balkan Peninsula. Distillation was already used as a method to separate impurities from crude oil in Cleopatra's day, according to writings dating from around 100 AD.
Knowledge about the uses of oil was not limited to the ancients. Archaeological evidence shows that Native Americans used crude oil as fuel for torches and lamps, as well as for waterproofing boats and baskets. Several Native American tribes used asphalt to affix arrowheads to shafts.
Until the mid-1800s, crude oil was simply gathered when it was encountered through natural seeps. Drilling for oil did not come about in large scale until the 19th century, although there is evidence of oil wells in China dating from around 350 AD, as well as hand-dug wells in Persia in the 1500s. Until there was a massive demand for petroleum, there was little incentive to spend the money, time and resources to bring it up from the ground.
During the mid-1800s, the demand for kerosene to fill lamps changed how people retrieved oil. In 1848, Russian engineer F. N. Semyenov drilled what is considered the first modern oil well on the Apsheron Peninsula in modern-day Azerbaijan?, and several more oil wells followed throughout Poland within a decade. In 1859, Edwin Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in the United States, in Pennsylvania. Eventually, the more oil was needed as a fuel, the more oil wells sprang up.