by George E. Totten, Ph.D

This is a timeline of the history of Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants and key moments in the history of the petroleum and related industries. For an abridged, designed version from the June 2004 issue of ASTM Standardization News magazine, click here.

To 1899 1900-1919 1920-1939
1940-1959 1960-1979 1980-2004
Print Version
ca. 4000 BC On the banks of the Euphrates River in an area that will become known as Iraq, archeological exploration finds the site of an oil seep known locally as “the fountains of pitch,” where asphalt is quarried for use as mortar between building stones. Asphalt is also used as a waterproofing agent for baths, pottery and boats. The term “petroleum” comes from “petros” (Greek for stone or rock) and “oleum” (Latin for oil). An ancient term for petroleum is “rock oil.”

347 AD Oil wells are drilled in China up to 800 feet [240 m] deep using bits attached to bamboo poles.

1594 Oil wells are hand dug at Baku, Persia, up to 115 feet [35 metres] deep.

1815 Oil is produced in the United States as an undesirable byproduct from brine wells in Pennsylvania.

1848 The first modern oil well is drilled in Asia, on the Aspheron Peninsula northeast of Baku.

1849 Canadian Abraham Gesner develops a process to distill kerosine (coal oil) from cannel coal and bituminous shale; he will become known as the “father of the petroleum industry.” Kerosine is easy to produce, cheap, smells better than animal-based fuels when burned, and does not spoil on the shelf as does whale oil.

1853 Kerosine is extracted from petroleum.

1854 The first oil wells in Europe are drilled 30 to 50 metres deep at Bobrka, Poland.

1854 The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first oil company in the United States, is formed.

1857 Michael Dietz patents a clean-burning lamp that utilizes the first practical flat-wick burner to be especially designed for the new fuel oil, kerosine. Kerosine rapidly replaces whale oil and creates a new market for crude oil. When whale oil goes on to drop to 40 cents a gallon in 1895, refined petroleum sells for less than 7 cents a gallon. The new Dietz kerosine lanterns force whale oil lamps off the market.

1858 The first oil well in North America is drilled in Oil Springs, Ontario, Canada.

1859 Edwin L. Drake opens the first commercially successful oil well in the United States drilled for the sole purpose of finding oil. The Drake Well is a 70-foot [21 m] well located on the edge of the town of Titusville, Pa. Oil is shipped in 42-gallon [159 L] barrels. The 42-gallon barrel was established in 1482 by King Edward IV as the standard for the packing of fish. The drilling of the Drake Well begins an international search for petroleum.

1862 Early problems disposing of the gasoline fraction lead to the contamination of kerosine resulting in subsequent fires, and this leads to the development and standardization of flash-point methods. The United Kingdom enacts the Petroleum Act, which defines a “flammable liquid” as one having a flash point below 100°F [38°C].

1865 Titusville is slow to react to the building of pipelines. However, a six-inch gravity pipeline (no pumps) is completed this year by the Pennsylvania Tubing and Transportation Company. This line delivers 7,000 barrels of oil per day to its terminus at the mouth of the Pithole Creek and is expedited by a gradient of 52 feet [10 meters per kilometer] per mile. The town of Oleopolis, located at the mouth of Pithole Creek on the property of the Baltimore Petroleum Company, erects a 15,000-barrel iron petroleum storage tank. Within two decades, more than 80 percent of the world’s petroleum consumption will be supplied by Pennsylvania oil fields.

1872 The Petroleum Producers Association endorses the 42-gallon [159 L] barrel as the shipping standard, one of the first “consensus standards” in the petroleum industry. One of the problems in the petroleum shipping industry had been the standard volume of a barrel of oil. In 1866, an Oil City newspaper had published the following: “The oil producers have issued the following circular: ‘Whereas, It is conceded by all producers of crude petroleum on Oil Creek that the present system of selling crude oil by the barrel, without regard to the size, is injurious to the oil trade, alike to the buyer and seller, as buyers, with an ordinary sized barrel cannot compete with those with large ones. We, therefore, mutually agree and bind ourselves that from this date we will sell no crude by the barrel or package, but by the gallon only. An allowance of two gallons will be made on the gauge of each and every 40 gallons in favor of the buyer.’” M.C. Egbert, an oilman in Oil Creek Valley, headed a group of about 30 oil producers who created and endorsed this proclamation.

1873 Berthold Pensky, a mechanic at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin-Dahlem (later known as the Bundesanstalt für Materialprüfung (German Federal Institution for Materials Testing)), founds his own company and produces Pensky-Martens flash point testers, Abel-Pensky flash point testers, and other oil testing equipment.

1876 Nicolaus Otto invents the first four-stroke internal combustion engine, the Otto Cycle Engine, which he uses to build a motorcycle.

1878 Karl Benz develops a two-cycle spark ignition engine, which is followed by the development of a four-cycle engine. In 1885, he will build a gasoline-engine-powered “motorized tricycle.” The following year, he patents the first “carriage with a gasoline engine.” Until now, gasoline was an unwanted fraction of petroleum that caused many house fires because of its tendency to explode when used in kerosine lamps. This is why flash-point characterization methods such as the Pensky-Martens and the Abel-Pensky methods (see 1873) were developed and deemed among the most important characterization tests for liquid fuels.

1882 American industry is booming in many sectors, including steel, railroads and banking and the nation’s fledgling petroleum industry is growing to meet increasing demand for kerosine, lubricants and greases. John D. Rockefeller has acquired a diversity of petroleum interests and organizes them under the Standard Oil Trust this year. International expansion will occur during the remainder of the century, enabled by bulk shipments using large “kerosine clippers.”

1885 The first gasoline pump is manufactured by Sylvanus F. Bowser of Ft. Wayne, Ind., and delivered to Jake D. Gumper, also of Ft. Wayne. The gasoline pump tank had marble valves and wooden plungers and had a capacity of one barrel.

1886 The first modern oil tanker, the Gluckauf, is built for Germany by England but her career will be short lived. In 1893 she will run aground on Fire Island, N.Y., and will not be refloated. In this year, 99 percent of the oil exported from the United States is carried in barrels. By 1906, 99 percent of it will be carried in bulk.

1892 The demand for oil is encouraged by Rudolf Diesel’s development of his internal compression ignition engine at the Augsburg Machine Works in Augsburg, Germany. A patent will be issued in the following year.

1893 The Duryea brothers build the first internal combustion vehicle in the United States.

1896 Henry Ford builds his “quadricycle.”

1898 Louis Renault builds his first automobile. It has a De Dion engine but Renault designed and built the chassis.

1898 ASTM International, originally known as the American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials, and later as the American Society of Testing and Materials, is formed.


To 1899 1900-1919 1920-1939
1940-1959 1960-1979 1980-2004

Until recently, George E. TOTTEN, Ph.D., was a senior research scientist at Union Carbide Corporation, where he was responsible for its R&D programs in metalworking quenchants, hydraulic fluids, and exploratory research programs in lubrication fundamentals. Currently, Totten is president of G.E. Totten and Associates LLC, a research and consulting firm specializing in thermal processing and industrial lubrication problems and related equipment supply. Totten has approximately 400 publications to his name, including several ASTM publications.


The author wishes to thank David Smith, Ed White and Paul Strigner for their invaluable guidance and editorial assistance and members of ASTM Committee D02, as well as other experts in the field of petroleum products and lubricants, for their assistance with the development of this timeline.

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