6 Things You Probably Don't Know About Oil

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1. A Spoonful of Sugar made the Crude Oil go down

Originally a byproduct of drilling for salt, early encounters with oil were considered a nuisance. It was either scooped up and disposed of, or soaked up in a rag, wrung out, and peddled as medicine. At the time, oil was thought of as a cure all for everything - from headaches to rheumatism to deafness. A bottle of oil-medicine with a picture of a derrick drilling for salt gave George Bissell, the same guy who figured out oil could turn into kerosene, the notion that he could use similar technology to drill for rock oil. (More at An Empire of Wealth)

2. Petroleum means "rock oil" in Latin

Yep. petra: a rock + oleum: oil.

3. Oil isn't actually stored or shipped in barrels

Picture 31.pngThough it's priced and traded in the stock market in barrels, the 42-gallon unit of measurement is just that - a unit of measurement. The introduction of the oil tanker in 1850 quickly replaced the barrel. In 1885, 99% of oil exported from the US was carried in barrels. Ten years later, almost all of it was carried in tankers that could lug the equivalent of 4 million barrels at a time.

4. The first oil was stored in whiskey barrels

So, why exactly are barrels the unit of measurement for oil ? Mainly, because the first oilmen used whisky barrels to collect the oil after striking their first gushers. According to The Prize, oil certainly gushed, and at one point oil was priced down so much (or barrels were in such demand & scarcity) that the wooden barrel was worth twice as much as the oil in it.

5. Oil drink your milkshake

Picture 16.pngThe oil used on screen in There Will Be Blood was actually created using the same industrial material used by McDonald's to thicken their milkshakes. "And I'm not kidding. That's actually true," said cinematographer Robert Elswit on CNN's Oscar Blog.

6. Oil saved the whales from extinction

Oil's first use was to replace whale blubber in lamps. That's right, before oil, as early as 1645, whale oil was used to light lamps and blubber was used to make candle wax. Sperm whales had oil superior to other whales, and had larger heads filled with spermaceti, a waxy substance that made the best candles. By the 1770s, New England was exporting 3-4,000 pounds of spermaceti candles a year. But whales became less and less abundant due to excess whaling, and by the early 1850s the oil became a scarce commodity that demanded a high price.

Other forms of illumination were explored, including a form of turpentine and converting coal tar into kerosene . Finally, a professor named George Bissell conceived that "rock oil" could be turned into kerosene.

Learn more about what Diana learned today, here.

July 15, 2008 - 5:13am
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