The History of Oil One of the most important relationships was influenced the most by these 10 influential figures.
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The most important resource in contemporary history has been oil, which has fueled industry, created nations, and determined the outcome of conflicts. Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty as a result of it, and entire cities have been levelled. Few, if any, sectors have had such a significant impact on the planet, whether through technological achievements or environmental catastrophes.
While bitumen was first used by Mesopotamian architects to reinforce bricks as early as 3000 BC, the modern oil industry’s true origins actually began in the 1850s. Since then, the sector has seen attempts to be shaped by explorers, financiers, kings, journalists, spies, and scientists. This is a list of the ten people who, for better or worse, are responsible for shaping the oil industry as we know it today.
10. Winston Churchill
Churchill may be best known for leading Britain through the Second World War with obstinacy, but it was his position as First Lord of the Admiralty that forever changed the oil business. Churchill made the crucial choice to switch the British fleet from coal to oil power in 1911 as tensions between Germany and Britain grew ahead of the First World War. While such a choice may seem clear to us now, it was viewed as foolish and wasteful at the time.
The switch rendered the British fleet vulnerable because it would now have to rely on oil from Persia instead of domestically produced coal, in addition to being costly and experimental. Churchill persuaded the British Government to buy 51% of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1914 in order to guarantee the navy’s steady oil supply (which would later become BP).
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Churchill’s choice was vindicated when the First World War started in July 1914 because the new British navy outperformed its competitors in speed and effectiveness. Oil was now widely acknowledged to be the fuel of the future, making its security a concern of national security. Churchill made it so that foreign policy and the global oil market would always be interwoven. Even now, there is a conflict over who will control the trade routes and the production of this vital resource.
9. T Boone Pickens
The 1980s saw a lot of change in the oil industry. Ronald Regan extensively deregulated the oil business during the oil crisis of 1979, which boosted competition and prompted industry consolidation. The New York Mercantile Exchange first offered a crude oil futures contract in 1983. Prior to the establishment of a futures market, the price of oil was determined by OPEC, oil firms like Standard Oil, and government bodies like the Texas Railroad Commission. Now, dealers on the open market set the price of oil. These occurrences meant that efficiency and value were the two key characteristics for oil corporations, and one guy would benefit the most from this new era in Oil.
T Boone Pickens set up shop at the nexus of Wall Street and the oil industry, portraying himself as a steward of shareholder value. He was an expert in the field of mergers and acquisitions and would be crucial in making the sector leaner and more productive. His plan entailed selecting a firm whose stock price did not accurately reflect the value of its oil and gas reserves, buying a sizable portion of its stock, and then pressuring the management to take action to raise the stock price. His most well-known business partnerships were with Gulf Oil, Phillips Petroleum, and Unocal.
8. Harry St John Bridger Philby
Harry Philby, who isn’t even the most well-known member of his family (his son Kim was the notorious British intelligence officer who served as a double agent for the Soviet Union), made significant contributions to the growth of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry by helping to create Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company.
Philby, who was born in modern-day Sri Lanka and attended the University of Cambridge, joined the Indian Civil Service in 1915 and played a key role in coordinating the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. His long-lasting adoration for Arabic culture and languages began with this very first posting. He was selected to lead a trip to the Arabian Peninsula in 1917, where he would meet Ibn Saud, a tribal chieftain who would later become the founder of Saudi Arabia. After meeting Ibn Saud, Philpy eventually left the Indian Civil Service, became a Muslim, and was instrumental in negotiating what is arguably the largest oil sale in history.
However, the King was more interested in drilling for water than oil by 1930, and Philby was persuaded that Ibn Saud and his government were sitting on a huge undiscovered natural resource. The King didn’t start thinking about Bahrain’s oil potential until Standard Oil of California made a discovery there in 1932. Standard Oil of California had already contacted Philby in an effort to get a meeting with the King, but Philby contacted Anglo-Persian and sparked a bidding war in an effort to raise the price. Ultimately, Standard Oil of California outbid Anglo-Persion in May 1933, establishing American entry into Saudi Arabia. This choice would have significant ramifications for both the oil business and the geopolitical dynamics in the region.
7. Mohammad Mosaddegh
Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s first prime minister from 1951 to 1953, was the first head of a Middle Eastern oil state to use the “nuclear option” to nationalise its oil leases. Britain imposed an embargo on Iranian oil in response to this nationalisation, which caused the nation’s production to fall sharply from 660,000 barrels per day in 1950 to just 20,000 barrels per day in 1952.
Mosaddegh’s refusal to budge in the face of mounting economic pressure infuriated American and British negotiators. Operation Ajax, a plan by the CIA and MI6 to topple Mosaddegh in a coup, was launched in August 1953. Although the operation was successful, the nature of the oil sector has already undergone a permanent transformation.
The U.S. administration was concerned during the Cold War that Iran would join the Russian sphere of influence if Western corporations didn’t revive the country’s oil industry. In the end, seven businesses decided to join an Iranian consortium with the cooperation of the American and British governments. The consortium was compelled, in a significant way, to admit that the National Iranian Oil Company now possessed the nation’s oil resources and facilities. Although Mosaddegh was deposed and would live the rest of his life under house arrest, he nonetheless achieved an important win for oil-producing countries. The Middle East would never be the same and the idea of outsiders controlling an oil concession has now changed forever.
6. Wanda Jablonski
Wanda Jablonski started Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, the publication that became known as “the bible of the oil industry,” and was referred to as “the most influential oil journalist of her time in Daniel Yergin’s The Prize. However, what places her on our list is not her outstanding journalism or her reputation as a trailblazer for women in the field. In the creation of OPEC, one of the most important oil organisations in the world, “Wanda,” as she was known in the industry, was a key player.
In 1959, conflicts between international oil companies and nations that exported oil were on the rise. Russia had only recently made a comeback to the world oil markets, and supply was growing more quickly than demand. This sparked a pricing war in which oil firms unilaterally reduced the quoted price of oil, decreasing the national earnings of oil-exporting countries. With 400 attendees, including Wanda of course, the inaugural Arab Oil Congress was also happening at the same time in Cairo. She requested a meeting in her room at the conference from two of the most fervently anti-oil business people in the world. The meeting between Venezuela’s Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso and Saudi Oil Minister Abdullah Tariki was their first. Just as Wanda had foreseen, the two men immediately established a rapport and went on to organise a secret meeting with other oil ministers on the side of the Cairo conference. It was at this meeting that the concept of an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was first established.
5. Nick Steinsberger
This might cause some controversy. One of the most important issues in the history of oil—how to cheaply extract oil and gas from shale rock—is frequently attributed to George P. Mitchell. The slickwater fracturing method that finally resulted in the U.S. shale boom was first successfully used in 1997 by Nick Steinsberger, an engineer with Mitchell’s company. Since Mitchell is already known as the “father of fracking,” it only makes sense that Steinsberger should be included on this list.
Technically, the first torpedo was created in 1864 by Edward A. L. Roberts as a means of increasing production. This marks the beginning of the fracture of rock to stimulate oil wells. An experiment conducted in 1947 served as the foundation for hydraulic fracturing, which fractures rocks using a pressurised liquid. But it wasn’t demonstrated to be economically viable until Steinsberger’s well in 1997. On the strength of this technological advancement, U.S. oil production, which had been in a state of terminal decline, started to climb. The United States overtook Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer in 2018, in large part because to the shale revolution. Environmental organisations started to pay attention to fracking around the same time since it was thought to be contaminating groundwater, causing earthquakes, and emitting massive amounts of methane. It’s still debatable today; some nations outright forbid fracking, while others regard it as a means of achieving economic independence. Whatever your opinion, hydraulic fracturing has had a greater geopolitical, environmental, and economic impact than few other technological advancements.
4. Ida Tarbell
Without the woman who challenged John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest American of all time, no history of the oil industry would be complete. Ida Tarbell was a muckraker, or investigative journalist, who was committed to holding the oil business accountable. Since her time, the oil sector has been the target of numerous antitrust lawsuits and environmental complaints.
She said that Rockefeller had “systematically played with loaded dice” and characterised him as a “amoral predator” in the words of Daniel Yergen. In the end, Tarbell’s work resulted in the demise of the largest oil business in the world and, eventually, the creation of the modern U.S. oil majors.
3. John D. Rockefeller
Beginning in 1865 when he bought his business partner out of their produce-shipping company and gradually refocused it on oil refining, John D. Rockefeller’s career in the oil industry began. He teamed up with four other oilmen to start Standard Oil, which would go on to become the most powerful oil firm in history, five years later in an effort to consolidate the industry after a price slump. Rockefeller utilised his gains to purchase up more and more of the industry over the ensuing years, purportedly controlling 90% of U.S. oil by 1880 as kerosene and gasoline became essential components of daily life in America.
The nascent and unruly oil sector needed to be controlled in order for it to be as effective and healthy as possible. This was Rockefeller’s principal objective. In pursuing that goal, Rockefeller created the first-ever integrated oil company, initiated price wars to crush competitors, and, as Tarbell uncovered, ultimately built an oil monopoly.
When Standard Oil was divided into its component sections in 1911, the value of the firm as a whole was exceeded, making Rockefeller even wealthier. Rockefeller’s influence still looms big over the oil sector even though he devoted most of his attention to philanthropy in the 20th century. In reality, the 1911 dissolution of Standard Oil is where the current oil goliaths Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Marathon Petroleum all got their start.
2. Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo
The list of Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo’s accomplishments in the oil business is extensive and significant. One of the two founders of OPEC, which he subsequently referred to as “my little idea that has changed the history of the world,” is possibly the most well-known aspect of him. But OPEC was just the natural outcome of the effort he had begun years before.
After President Rómulo Gallegos was overthrown in a coup in 1948, Perez Alfonzo was granted political asylum in the US and spent years researching the Texas Railroad Commission’s response to the 1930s oil crash. Many of his initial ideas about how OPEC should function were created during this time, and he later shared these ideas with Abdullah Tariki when Wanda introduced them in Cairo.
Some people might be surprised to learn that a man who played such a significant role in influencing the oil business considered himself an ecology and was primarily concerned with energy conservation. He thought that OPEC will eventually reduce global energy use.
1. George Bissell
George Bissell, who is frequently referred to as the “father of the American oil industry,” was the catalyst for the oil industry’s inevitable rise from a somewhat inconsequential liquid that seeped from rocks to the most vital resource on earth.
When Bissell observed “rock oil” being gathered with rags to manufacture medicine, he realised that it could also be used as an illuminant. It might compete with the whale fat and “coal oils” that were then used in lamps, if he and his business partner James Townsend could only extract the liquid in large amounts. The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first oil company ever, was established by Bissel and his business partners after it was determined that this “rock oil” had the needed chemical property.
The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company believed that drilling for the oil using the method that had been established to bore for salt would be the best way to go about doing so. In order to complete the project, the corporation hired Edwin L. Drake, an unemployed railway conductor who was staying in the same hotel as James Townsend. Drake travelled to the tiny settlement of Titusville, obtained the land’s title, and hired William A. Smith to assist with the drilling. The two men struck oil for the first time in history on August 27, 1859. Bissell arrived in Titusville almost once to acquire and lease as many farms as he could, becoming the first of many people who would go on to become extremely wealthy from an industry that was about to change the world forever.