The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘1854 Kerosene

demon beckoned

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1854, lords and ladies, 1854.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Kerosene was “invented” by a Canadian named Abraham Gesner. He received the patents for the stuff, and coined the name (like a lot of 19th century industrial product names, we use the trademarked nomen as the descriptor for the entire category. It’s the same shorthand we use for facial tissue as being “Kleenex” or photocopying as “Xerox”) for a distillation of coal oil. Gesner was looking for a way to get an angle on the lamp oil trade. In 1854, lamp oil was produced from animals, in particular from fish and especially whales. When the time came to set up shop and build a factory to produce his coal oil, it was along the Newtown Creek that Abraham Gesner built the first large scale Kerosene works in North America – in what we call Queens.

from wikipedia

Gesner’s research in minerals resulted in his 1846 development of a process to refine a liquid fuel from coal, bitumen and oil shale. His new discovery, which he named kerosene, burned more cleanly and was less expensive than competing products, such as whale oil. In 1850, Gesner created the Kerosene Gaslight Company and began installing lighting in the streets in Halifax and other cities. By 1854, he had expanded to the United States where he created the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company at Long Island, New York. Demand grew to where his company’s capacity to produce became a problem, but the discovery of petroleum, from which kerosene could be more easily produced, solved the supply problem.

Abraham Gesner continued his research on fuels and wrote a number of scientific studies concerning the industry including an 1861 publication titled, “A Practical Treatise on Coal, Petroleum and Other Distilled Oils,” which became a standard reference in the field. Eventually, Gesner’s company was absorbed into the petroleum monopoly, Standard Oil and he returned to Halifax, where he was appointed a Professor of Natural History at Dalhousie University.

via Wikipedia

This was Gesner, who kind of looked a bit like General Zod in my opinion.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

The North American Kerosene Gas Light Company, later the New York Kerosene Company, would eventually be acquired by Charles Pratt and folded into his growing Astral Oil empire (Pratt’s own Kerosene refinery was centered at Bushwick Inlet at the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg) and would became a part of Standard Oil when Pratt joined forces with John D Rockefeller. The Gesner works are often mentioned by environmental officials, but no one ever gets specific about where they were. You’d think the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States would have left behind a plaque or something, but welcome to Queens.

from 1909’s “The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Volume 1”, courtesy google books

During the year 1859 the North American Kerosene Gaslight Company imported upwards of 20,000 tons of Boghead coal for the supply of their works at Newtown Creek Long Island at an average cost of $18.00 per ton It was found that a ton of this mineral run in common retorts yielded 120 gallons of crude oil per ton which gave 65 gallons of lamp oil 7 gallons of paraffin oil and 12 pounds of paraffin wax The cost of the oil was estimated at 63 cents per gallon 5


– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit of work has gone into screwing down the exact location of the facility around Newtown Pentacle HQ in recent days, and I can tell you that the footprint of the North American Kerosene Gaslight Company was incorporated into what we now refer to as Pratt’s Queens County Oil Works – which is in Blissville and across the street from Calvary Cemetery. Equidistant from the Greenpoint Avenue and long demolished Penny Bridges, this is the site of the Blissville Seep, which I’ve been rattling on about for a few years now.

from a December 2011 posting at this, your newtown pentacle

Sadly, oil is seeping out of a bulkhead on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek.

Famously, the Greenpoint Oil Spill (click here for a link to for more) occurred just across the water from this spot, but every indication points to this as being a separate event. The former site of Charles Pratt’s Queens County Oil Works, which was an approximately 18 acre parcel which would later be called the “Standard Oil Blissville works”, the sites occupation in modernity has little or nothing to do with petroleum.

also, from 1921′s Welding engineer, Volume 6, courtesy google books


There are two public Newtown Creek walking tours coming up,
one in LIC, Queens and one in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Glittering Realms: Brooklyn’s Greenpoint with Atlas Obscura, on Saturday May 17th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Modern Corridor: Queen’s LIC with Brooklyn Brainery, on Sunday May 18th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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