On The Deposits Of Earth Wax (Ozokerite) In Europe And America

[Footnote: Abstract from a paper read before the New York Academy of Sciences.]

There exists a large mining and manufacturing industry in Austria, that of ozokerite, or earth-wax, which has nothing like it in any other part of the known world, an industry that supplies Europe with a part of its beeswax, without the aid of the bees. It may not be generally known that the mining of petroleum was a profitable industry in Austria long before it was in this country. In 1852, a druggist near Tarnow distilled the oil and had an exhibit of it in the first World's Fair in London. In America, the first borings were made in 1859. Indeed, the use of petroleum as an illuminator was common at a very early age in the world's history. In Persia at Baku, in India on the Irawada, also in the Crimea, and on the river Kuban in Russia, petroleum has been used in lamps for thousands of years. At Baku the fire worshipers have a never-ceasing flame, which has burned from time immemorial. The mines of ozokerite are located in Austrian Poland, now known as Galicia. Near the city of Drohabich, on the railway line running from Cracow to Lemberg, is a town of six thousand inhabitants, called Borislau, which is entirely supported by the ozokerite industry. It lies at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. About the year 1862, a shaft was sunk for petroleum at that place.

After descending about one hundred and eighty feet, the miners found all the cracks in the clay or rock filled with a brown substance, resembling beeswax. At first, the layers were not thicker than writing paper; but they grew thicker gradually below, until at a depth of three hundred feet they attained a thickness of three or four inches. Upon examination, it was found that a yellow wax could be made of a portion of this substance, and at once a substitute for wax was manufactured.

The discovery caused an excitement like the oil fever of 1865 in America. A large number of leases were made. When I saw the wells of Pennsylvania, in 1879, there were more than two thousand. The owner of the land received one-fourth of the product, and the miners three-fourths. In the petroleum region, the leases at first were whole farms, then they were reduced to 20, then 10, then 5, and at last to 1 acre, which is a square of 209 feet.

But in the ozokerite region of Poland, where everything is done on a small scale, when compared with like enterprises in this country, the leases were on tracts thirty-two feet square. These were so small that the surface was not large enough to contain the earth that had to be raised to sink the shaft; consequently the earth had to be transported to a distance, and, when I saw it, there was a mound sixty or seventy feet high. Its weight had become so great that it caused a sinking of the earth, and endangered the shafts to such an extent that the government ordered its removal to a distance and its deposit on ground that was not undermined. The shafts are four feet square, and the sides are supported by timbers six inches through, which leaves a shaft three feet square. The miner digs the well or shaft just as we dig our water wells, and the dirt and rock are hoisted up in a bucket by a rope and windlass. But one man can work in the shaft at a time. For many years no water was found; but, as there is a deposit of petroleum under the ozokerite, at a depth of six hundred feet from the surface, the miners were troubled with gas. This is got rid of by blowing a current of fresh air from a rotary fan through a pipe extending down the shaft as fast as the curbing of timber is put in place.

The ozokerite is embedded in a very stiff blue clay for a depth of several hundred feet; below, it is interlaid with rock. [Specimens of crude and manufactured ozokerite were on exhibition, through the kindness of Dr. J. S. Newberry.]

That part of the earth's surface has more miners' shafts to the acre than any other part of the globe. As wages are very low in Poland, averaging not more than forty cents a day for men and ten cents for children, a very small quantity of ozokerite pays for the working. If thirty or forty pounds a day is obtained, it remunerates the two men and one or two children required to work each lease. When the bucket, containing the earth, rock, and wax, is dumped in the little shed covering the shaft, it is picked over by the children, who detach the wax from the clay or rock with knives. The miners use galvanized wire ropes and wooden buckets. When preparing to descend, they invariably cross themselves and utter a short prayer. The business is not free from danger, carelessness on the part of the boy supplying the fresh air, or the caving in of the unsupported roof, causing a large number of deaths. One of the government inspectors of the mines informed me that in one week there had been eight deaths from accidents.

The ozokerite is taken to a crude furnace, and put into a common cast iron kettle, and melted. This allows the dirt to sink to the bottom, and the ozokerite, freed from all other solids, is skimmed off with a ladle, poured into conical moulds, and allowed to cool, in which form it is sold to the refiners, for about six cents per pound. The quantity produced is uncertain, as the miners take care to understate it, for the reason that the government lays a tax upon all incomes, and the landowner demands his one-fourth of the quantity mined. The best authority is Leo Strippelman, who states the quantity produced in fifteen years at from 375,000,000 to 400,000,000 pounds, worth twenty-four millions of dollars. As the owners of the land get one-fourth of the sum, they received six millions. This is at the rate of four hundred thousand a year, a rather valuable crop from some two hundred acres of land.

The miners do not support the earth by timber or pillars, as they should; the result is that the whole plot of about two hundred acres is gradually sinking, and this will eventually ruin the industry in that part of the deposit. In another part of the same field, a French company has purchased forty acres, and it is mining the whole tract and hoisting through one shaft by steam power. In that shaft they have sunk to a depth of six hundred feet, and are troubled with water and petroleum. These they pump out very much the same way as in coal and other mines, worked in a scientific manner. The thickest layer of ozokerite found is about eighteen inches, and this layer or pocket was a great curiosity. When first removed at the bottom of the shaft, it was found to be so soft that it was shoveled out like putty. During the night it oozed into the space that had been emptied the day before; this continued for weeks, or until the pressure of the gas had become too weak to force it out.