Canada Post stamp issued to commemorate Abraham Gesner considered the father of the modern petroleum industry. A 46 cent stamp was issued in 2000 as part of the ’millenium series’

Canada Post stamp issued to commemorate Abraham Gesner considered the father of the modern petroleum industry. A 46 cent stamp was issued in 2000 as part of the ’milenium series’
Photo Credit: Canada Post

History: June 27, 1854-The Canadian inventor who saved the whales

Share

 Some 160 years ago, whales were being actively slaughtered by the thousands in the quest for things like their baleen, used in women’s garments, and for things like fishing rods, umbrella stays, buggy whips, etc. but especially sought after was their “oil”.  Around 1850, there were over 700 whaling ships in  the US alone.

The blubber would be boiled down to be used mostly as lamp fuel, but also for machinery lubrication, and in soaps, paints and varnish manufacture, processing of textiles and rope and more.

Especially sought was “spermacetic” found in the head of sperm whales only. When exposed to air, it congealed and was used to make ‘smokeless’ candles, considered the highest quality of candle.

Whale bones were ground up as fertilizer, and whale meat was often sold to Asian buyers.

Had this continued, most species of whales would be extinct by now, but for Abraham Gesner.

In the 16 and 17th century, whalers would row after whales while the man in front would harpoon the creature, eventually the dead animal would be cut up alongside the mother ship and the blubber would be melted into oil.
In the 16th and 17th century, whalers would row after whales while the man in front would harpoon the creature, eventually the dead animal would be cut up alongside the mother ship and the blubber would be melted into oil. © Library and Archives Canada/C-32708

Gesner saves the whales, June 27, 1854

Born in Nova Scotia, he originally was interested in geology, but became a medical doctor.

While practicing medicine he continued his geological interests and experiments with ‘hydrocarbons’.

Using pitch, he devised a method to distill different qualities of oil including a paraffin-like product  which burned evenly giving off a good light.  Using the Greek words for wax and oil, he came up with words which he simplified into “kerosene”.

In 1988, Canada Post issued a 37-cent stamp featuring the invention of kerosene with a lamp burner over a blueprint design of Gesner’s distillation invention which was easily modified fro crude and gave birth to the petroleum industry.
In 1988, Canada Post issued a 37-cent stamp featuring the invention of kerosene with a lamp burner over a blueprint design of Gesner’s distillation invention which was easily modified fro crude and gave birth to the petroleum industry. © Canada Post

While ‘coal-gas’ was known in lighting, it was expensive, whereas, Gesner’s new product, kerosene, was vastly less expensive than either coal-gas or whale oil, and far easier to produce.

In 1850, he used his product to light homes and streets in Halifax.

Thinking the U.S was a bigger market, he moved there and on 27 June 1854 Gesner obtained U.S. patents nos. 11,203, 11,204, and 11,205 for “Improvement in kerosene burning fluids.”

A company was set up and kerosene began being marketed as a far cheaper and better alternative lighting fuel.

However, unbeknownst to Gesner, a similar product from a coal-like substance had been created by a Scots chemist who had obtained an American patent in 1852 and an ensuing patent lawsuit saw Gesner required to pay a royalty to the Scot.

In 1859 there was sudden growth of oil discoveries and refining in Canada and the U.S. Gesner’s process was easily converted from pitch and bitumen as primary sources, and replaced with crude oil making kerosene production even cheaper.

Monument to Abraham Gesner in Camp Hill Cemetery erected by Imperial Oil in 1933 to honour the man considered the father of the petroleum industry. It was cleaned by member of Dalhousie Univeristy in 2015.
Monument to Abraham Gesner in Camp Hill Cemetery, Halifax, placed there by Imperial Oil in 1933 to honour the man considered the father of the petroleum industry. It was cleaned by member of Dalhousie Univeristy in 2015. © Basin and Reservoir Lab, Dalhousie University

The result of cheap and efficient kerosene meant a rapid decline in the whaling fleet and wholesale slaughter of the huge mammals. In twenty years the whaling fleet had been reduced from the hundreds to less than 40 in the US by 1876.

While whaling did not and still has not completely died out, notably in countries like Japan, Russia, and Norway, Gesner’s invention can certainly be said to have saved whales from outright extinction.

However, Gesner himself did not profit greatly, and was replaced as chemist at the ‘Kerosene Company”.

He returned to Nova Scotia in 1863, where he was appointed  professor of Natural History at Dalhousie University, but died a year later on April 29, 1864.

Although kerosene had and has many other uses and is still used for light in undeveloped regions, as a lighting source it too began to be replaced in the late 1800s as the electric light bulb became more common.

additional information-sources

Share
Categories: Economy, International, Internet, Science and Technology, Society
Tags: , , , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish or in one of the two official languages, English or French. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

*