University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

Bishop, J. Leander (John Leander), 1820-1868 / A history of American manufactures from 1608 to 1860 : exhibiting the origin and growth of the principal mechanic arts and manufactures, from the earliest colonial period to the adoption of the Constitution ; and comprising annals of the industry of the United States in machinery, manufactures and useful arts, with a notice of the important inventions, tariffs, and the results of each decennial census
Volume 3 (1868)

Manufactures of Boston,   pp. 276-312 ff.

Page 310

The Downer Kerosene Oil Company-Samuel Downer, President,
Is notable for the extent of its Works in South Boston, and at Corry,
Pennsylvania; and especially for the fact, that its products were the
first that became extensively known to the public, and performed an
important part in popularizing Coal Oil as an illuminator. A brief
history of the introduction of this remarkable material may not be in-
appropriate in this connection.
As early as 1850, a Mr. Luther Atwood, a natural chemist, and self-
educated, and then in the employ of the late Dr. Samuel R. Philbrick,
discovered a lubricating principle in the coal tars of the gas-houses,
for which he obtained a patent, under the name of Coup Oil. Like
many other new discoveries, although possessing merit as a lubri-
cator, it was only partially successful, and large sums of money were
lost in the costly efforts made to bring it to perfection. After the
failure of these efforts, the parties in interest next proceeded to the
manufacture of the asphaltum of the celebrated Pitch Lake, in the
Island of Trinidad; and although that article had very decided merit,
still, from the unhealthiness of the climate, and other difficulties, the
project was abandoned, and with great pecuniary loss. It was at this
time, 1857, that Messrs. Luther Atwood and Joshua Merrill, who were
at that time engaged in the erection of a Coal Oil Factory at Glasgow,
in Scotland, had their attention turned to the light oils of coal as an
illuminator.  Mr. James Young, of Bathgate, Scotland, had in 1850
obtained a patent for their manufacture from coal, but his attention had
been principally directed to their heavy ends as a lubricator, and for
its paraffine. The light ends as an illuminator had been offered for
sale both in Europe and America, but they were of such an ordinary
appearance, and had such an intolerable odor, as to prevent their use
in families. It was at that time, and in Scotland, that Mr. Atwood
purified those oils light and sweet, and they were the first ever so
purified that were offered to the public. Their success was immediate,
and their extension all over the world very rapid. These experiments
on the hydro carbons of the coal series had now been continued for *
over five years ; their manufacture then was intricate and dangerous,
and accompanied with severe destruction of machinery, and loss by
frequent conflagrations ; and with the exception of the Boston Works
of Mr. Downer, all had been abandoned from these causes. Illumination
had became the principal idea, and lubrication and paraffine secondary;
but as the whole manufacture was entirely new, with no help from
books or experience, the task of creating works to meet the now

Go up to Top of Page