Petroleum in Days Before Drake
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Petroleum in Days Before Drake

The average person, whose knowledge of the history of petroleum is decidedly sketchy, would be astounded to discover one of Kier's Petroleum Labels which appeared on bottles of crude oil sold throughout eastern United States eleven years before Drake began drilling on Oil Creek. Kier's label, bearing the dates 1848-1849 displays a picture of two derricks and a cluster of large storage tanks. Long rows of barrels are shown on the ground and in the background is a river full of steamboats from whose funnels float proud plumes of smoke. The diligent schoolboy, reading that "The first oil well was drilled by Col. E. L. Drake in 1859" might wonder if the historians hadn't been a little careless. For here is a fancy, lithographed label from a bottle of crude oil, sold commercially in 1848, the label bearing pictures of oil wells.

But a closer lock at the old label would discover the fact that the derricks and tanks are those of a salt well, and the oil is a by-product, "discovered in boring for salt water." The alluring label goes on to say the oil came from "The bank of the Allegheny River, in Allegheny County, Penn'a., about four hundred feet below the surface. Is pumped up with salt water, flows into the cystern, floats on top, when a quantity accumulates, is drawn off in Barrels, is bottled in its natural state without any preparation or admixture. L. M. Kier, Pittsburgh. For particulars, get a circular."

Samuel M. Kier was a Pittsburgh druggist, alive to possibilities. His father worked at a salt well where "grease" which infested the workings was allowed to run to waste. Kier bottled the oil, just as it was, produced a label which was a work of art and put the stuff on the market at fifty cents a half-pint. Each bottle of Kier's medical discovery was done up in a fancy wrapper, inside which was a four-page circular setting forth the remarkable qualities of the specific in no hesitant terms. When the drug business claimed Samuel M. Kier the world lost a wonderful ad writer. His circular says, "Kier's Petroleum or Rock Oil, Celebrated for its Wonderful Curative Powers. A Natural Remedy! Procured from a Well in Allegheny Co., Pa. Four Hundred Feet below the Earth's Surface. Put up and Sold by Samuel M. Kier, 363 Liberty Street, Pittsburgh, Pa.

"The healthful balm, from Nature's secret spring, The bloom of health and life to man will bring: As from her depths this magic liquid flows, To calm our sufferings and assuage our woes.

"The Petroleum has been full tested! It was placed before the public as A Remedy of Wonderful Efficacy. Everyone not acquainted with its virtues doubted its healing qualities. The cry of humbug was raised against it. It had some friends-those who were cured through its wonderful agency. They spoke in its favor. The lame through its instrumentality were made to walk-the blind to see. Those who had suffered for years under the torturing pains of RHEUMATISM, GOUT AND NEURALGIA were restored to health and usefulness. Several who were blind were made to see. If you still have doubts, go and ask those who have been cured! We have the witnesses, crowds of them, who will testify in terms stronger than we can write them to the efficacy of this remedy; cases abandoned by physiclans of unquestionable celebrity have been made t~ exclaim, "This is The Most Wonderful Remedy Yet Discovered !" Its transcendent power to heal must and WILL become known and appreciated. The Petroleum is a Natural Remedy; it is put up as it flows from the bosom of the earth, without anything being added to or taken from it. It gets its ingredients from the beds of substances which it passes over in its secret channel. They are blended together in such a way as to defy all human competition. Petroleum will continue to be used and applied as long as man continues to be afflicted with disease. Its discovery is a new era in medicine."

A bale of testimonials from persons cured of every ailment from blindness to consumption to rheumatism accompanied Kier's circular, as reproduced above. His magic oil was transported about the country by salesmen in high wheeled spring wagons, glorious in gilt paint and bearing pictures of the Good Samaritan ministering to a wounded man lying under a palm tree. Thus petroleum, in its natural state, was used as a lubricant for the human machine, inside and out, long before it began providing viscosity for cylinders and bearings.

Mr. Kier's modest little circular in which he sets forth the merits of his oil may have been written in sublime faith and confidence in its ability to cure all the ills that human flesh is heir to. That thousands used the oil and were helped by using it is probable. After reading the circular a man could grow a new leg by the use of Kier's remedy. There is nothing niggardly or mean about the circular, it is all embracing, it doesn't discourage any poor sufferer by leaving him out. The only class of patients Kier forgot was the bald headed men, it was doubtless an oversight, he'd have doubled his receipts and could have got a dollar a half pint if he'd only thought of the bald headed men and included them in his circular.

Kier's arguments are full or irrefutable logic. Note how he harps on depth. "Four hundred feet below the earth's surface !" It was a prodidgious depth in those days, it was impressive, anything coming from so far down was just naturally bound to cure almost every thing. With a little petroleum from a modern well, half a mile deep, Kier could have sold an oil equal to the magic liquid used in "Dr. Heidger's Experiment", a fluid which instantly restored rosy youth to withered age.

Kier resembled the famous Smith Brothers in the matter of whiskers, without which no purveyor of a patent medicine could hope to succeed in early days. His Petroleum, bearing the famous label, and with testimonials enclosed was sold in Warren County. Another brand of petroleum put up for medicinal use was called Seneca Oil and bore a red label showing an Indian in full regalia of headdress. Many a rheumatic joint in Warren County was rubbed with these oils. Many a pioneer mother got up in the night and with a tallow candle found the bottle of magic oil which relieved pain. And very old residents who well recall having a bottle of the oil in the house declare it did relieve pain, when applied with heat and plenty of rubbing.

Kier's famous petroleum was sold by G. W. Hazeltine and S. P. Johnson, dealers in drugs, books, stationery, etc., at Variety Hall, in Warren. Kier's Petroleum was sold in Youngsville, at Kinnear's and there is no record that anyone ever brought a bottle back with the complaint that it failed to work.

After betraying the fact that Samuel M. Kier wore bushy whiskers it is only fair to state that the man was possessed of counterbalancing qualities which weighed strongly in his favor. It was Kier who first experimented in refining oil, racking his productive brain for some means of getting rid of the offensive smoke and odor. Fitting a kettle with a cover and worm he created the first still, producing an oil with the color of cider and an odor which no one has even attempted to describe. He knew nothing of the treatment with acids. Kier also invented a lamp with a four-pronged burner, arranged to admit air. It gave a steady light and was a valuable invention. tiihoso creates a better light bestows a priceless blessing upon his fellow man. The light from Kier's lamp helped illuminate the path of progress. With the first oil refinery and the first improved lamp to his credit, Samuel M. Kier well deserves to be remembered as a benefactor of mankind.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 29-33: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


Return to Warren County Homepage

© Warren County Genealogy Project