In Harris' "Voyages," published in 1764, an article on the empire of Persia thus refers to petroleum:
"In several parts of Persia we meet with naphtha, both white and black; it is used in painting and varnish, and sometimes in physic, and there is an oil extracted from it which is applied to several uses. The most famous springs of naphtha are in the neighborhood of Baku, which furnish vast quantities, and there are also upward of thirty springs about Shamasky, both in the province of Schirwan. The Persians use it as oil for their lamps and in making fireworks, of which they are extremely fond, and in which they are great proficients."
Petroleum has long been known to exist also in the northern part of Italy, the cities of Parma and Genoa having been for many years lighted with it.
In the province of Szechuen, China, natural gas is obtained from beds of rock-salt at a depth of fifteen to sixteen hundred feet. Being brought to the surface, it is conveyed in bamboo tubes and used for lighting as well as for evaporating water in the manufacture of salt. It is asserted that the Chinese used this natural gas for illuminating purposes long before gas-lighting was known to the Europeans. Remembering the unprogressive character of Chinese arts and industries, there is ground for the belief that they may have been using this natural gas as an illuminant these hundreds of years.
In the United States the existence of petroleum was known to the Pilgrim Fathers, who doubtless obtained their first information of it from the Indians, from whom, in New York and western Pennsylvania, it was called Seneka oil. It was otherwise known as "British" oil and oil of naphtha, and was considered "a sovereign remedy for an inward bruise."
The record of natural gas in this country is not so complete as that of petroleum, but we learn that an important gas spring was known in West Bloomfleld, N.Y., seventy years ago. In 1864 a well was sunk to a depth of three hundred feet upon that vein, from which a sufficient supply of gas was obtained to illuminate and heat the city of Rochester (twenty-five miles distant), it was supposed. But the pipes which were laid for that purpose, being of wood, were unfitted to withstand the pressure, in consequence of which the scheme was abandoned; but gas from that well is now in use as an illuminant and as fuel both in the town of West Bloomfield and at Honeoye Falls. The village of Fredonia, N.Y., has been using natural gas in lighting the streets for thirty years or there about. On Big Sewickley Creek, in Westmoreland County, Pa., natural gas was used for evaporating water in the manufacture of salt thirty years ago, and gas is still issuing at the same place. Natural gas has been in use in several localities in eastern Ohio for twenty-five years, and the wells are flowing as vigorously as when first known.
It has also been in use in West Virginia for a quarter of a century, as well as in the petroleum region of western Pennsylvania, where it has long been utilized in generating steam for drilling oil wells.
In 1826 the American Journal of Science contained a letter from Dr. S.P. Hildreth, who, in writing of the products of the Muskingum (Ohio) Valley, said: "They have sunk two wells, which are now more than four hundred feet in depth; one of them affords a very strong and pure salt water, but not in great quantity; the other discharges such vast quantities of petroleum, or, as it is vulgarly called, 'Seneka oil,' and besides is so subject to such tremendous explosions of gas, as to force out all the water and afford nothing but gas for several days, that they make little or no salt."
The value of the foregoing references is to be found in the testimony they offer as to the duration of the supply of natural gas. Whether we look to the eternal flaming fissures of the Caucasus, or to New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, there is much to encourage the belief that the flow of natural gas may be, like the production of petroleum, increased rather than diminished by the draughts made upon it. Petroleum, instead of diminishing in quantity by the millions of barrels drawn from western Pennsylvania in the last quarter of a century, seems to increase, greater wells being known in 1884 than in any previous year, and prices having fallen from two dollars per bottle for "Seneka oil" to sixty cents per barrel for the same article under the name of crude petroleum. Hence we may assume that, as new pipe-lines are laid, the supply of natural gas available for use in the great manufacturing district of Pittsburg and vicinity will be increased, and the price of this fuel diminished in a corresponding ratio.
Natural gas is now supplied in Pittsburg at a small discount on the actual cost of coal used last year in the large manufacturing establishments, an additional saving being made in dispensing with firemen and avoidance of hauling ashes from the boiler-room. It is supplied, for domestic purposes, at twenty cents per thousand cubic feet, which is not cheaper than coal in Pittsburg, but it is a thousand per cent cleaner, and in that respect it promises to prove a great blessing, not only to those who can afford to use it, but to the community at large, in the hope held out that the smoke and soot nuisance may be abated in part, if not wholly subdued, and that gleams of sunshine there may become less phenomenal in the future than they are at the present time. Twenty cents per thousand feet is too high a price to bring gas into general use for domestic purposes in a city where coal is cheap. Ten cents would be too much, and no doubt five cents per thousand would pay a profit. The fact is, the dealers in natural gas appear to be somewhat doubtful of the continuity of supply, and anxious to get back the cost of wells and pipes in one year, which, if successful, would be an enormous return on the investment.
There are objections to the use of natural gas by mill operators--that it costs too much, and that the continuity of the supply is uncertain; by heads of families, that it is odorless, and, in case of leakage from the pipes, may fill a room and be ready to explode without giving the fragrant warning offered by common gas. Both of these objections will probably disappear under the experience that time must furnish. More wells and tributary lines will lessen the cost and tend to regulate the pressure for manufacturers. Cut-offs and escape pipes outside of the house will reduce the risk of explosions within. The danger in the house may also be lessened by providing healthful ventilation in all apartments wherein gas shall be consumed.