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1800’s: Oil Boom


The volume entitled “Findlay Illustrated,” published in 1889 by H.R. Page, tells the story of Findlay’s great boom in a most fascinating manner…

“The year 1884 proved an eventful one in Findlay,” says author Page. “Tales of the finding of natural gas in Pennsylvania and its adaptation to manufacturing purposes, as well as its adaptability to lighting and heating, had its effect of recalling to mind the old gas well of Mr. (Jacob) Carr (on South Main Street, in which gas was found in drilling for water) ….

“Dr. Charles Oesterlin, a homeopathic physician, a German by birth and a man of great culture, had always maintained that there were illimitable quantities of gas underlying this locality. He was anxious to experiment, and at last succeeded in getting enough persons to interest themselves in the matter to make a trial.

“As a consequence, the first well was sunk at a location selected by the doctor, and on the 5th of December 1884, gas was struck at a depth of 1,092 feet in sufficient quantity to make a flame 30 feet high when ignited. (The well site is on the Hancock County Fairgrounds.)

It proved the beginning of a new era for Findlay. That well was followed by others, until at the beginning of the year 1886 there were 17 wells contributing to the supply of the city. January 20th of this year, the great Karg well was drilled in, and the wonder of the age was proclaimed to the world.

“During all this time there had been practically no change in the status of Findlay, but all the while people had flocked to see the wonderful wells, to make inquiries, and to talk about its applicability to manufacturing purposes. But after the great Karg well had been struck and its frightful capacity advertised to the world, the matter began to crystallize. People flocked to the city, and excursion trains were run on all the roads to see the great monster.

“H.W. Briggs, then located at New Lisbon (near East Liverpool in eastern Ohio), and engaged in the manufacture of edged tools, was the first to locate here. A large factory was built and two others have since been added, one for the manufacture of chains and the other to be used as a rolling mill.

“Then came to Findlay the Findlay Window Glass Company, the Buckeye Glass Company, the Columbia Glass Works, the Findlay Table Company; all of which prospered and induced the location of other works. This occurred in 1886, and in this year also came the wonderful finding of oil.

“The fourth well sunk by the Findlay Gaslight Company, on the land of Adams Bros. & Co., developed the fact that there was oil in this field. The well had a fine flow of gas, but having been drilled below the cautionary line, had shown with the gas a spray of oil; this increased to such an extent that a separator had to be used. The next well, the Matthias, proved to be a first-class oiler, and when subjected to a shot of nitro-glycerine flowed a constant stream for days.

“This was the signal for the oil men, who began to come in to investigate and ended by leasing territory and going to work to develop what there was in it, and this led to the discovery of the largest oil-field yet brought into the market.

“The oil was rank in smell, and was pronounced good only for fuel purposes — the standard maintained it could not be refined, but it is a satisfaction to announce that for the past two years that result has been accomplished by the Peerless Refining Company whose works are located at Findlay …. (The Peerless later became the National Refining, and then the property of Ashland Oil.)

“Today (1889), the refined (Findlay) oil is selling in the market along with Pennsylvania oil, and even an expert cannot tell which of the two is Ohio oil. The latter find added largely to the wealth and population of Findlay, but until the fall of 1886 scarcely a change had been reached in the price of real property, at least south of the river.”

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