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What was it with petroleum?
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What was it with petroleum?   ]

What was it with petroleum?

People and their achievements will vanish from memory, and history will entangle facts and alter them, if older generations do not take care in passing their memories on to descendents. Jan Zeh from Łańcut, Polish genius and inventor remains in the shadows of history though the scale of his scientific work in the industrial field contributed in an outstanding way to the growth of the refining industry. A graduated pharmacist, Jan Zeh wrote a very interesting article with the title “The forgotten pioneer of the refinery industry”. The article was printed for the first time in the national periodical of the national pharmacists association in 1889, i.e., eight years prior to the death of Jan Zeh. The article next appeared in the periodical “Oil industry” in 1935 (volume 13, pages 391-393) under an altered title “The first indications of the oil industry in Galicia”. The content of this article is historically very important.

In order to understand the confused life of I. Łukasiewicz, let us follow his traces. Łukasiewicz, when an 19-year old boy in a pharmaceutical apprenticeship in Łańcut, allowed himself to become involved in a dangerous and hopeless conspiring movement in Rzeszów instead of acquiring knowledge and experience. He was one of thirty one conspirators liked to Edward Dembowski. The conspiracy was soon defeated and Łukasiewicz, together with others were arrested and imprisoned. However, for lack of proof of guilt, he was released but remained under suspicion. This was a negative influence on his life. Remaining under permanent police supervision, he started work as a pharmaceutical assistant in the pharmacy “Under the Golden Star” in Lwów. Here, it became apparent that the former revolutionist had shortcomings in education and that further occupational advancement was required for him to complete his pharmaceutical studies. The nearest high school was in Kraków. Piotr Mikolasch, as a good hearted human being, attempted to gain permission from the local authorities for Łukasiewicz to go to Kraków. Once again, a certain inexactitude appears in the C.V. of Łukasiewicz. How was it possible that Łukasiewicz, after five years of school education (which school?), was admitted to two years of study and obtained the title of graduated pharmacists when while others, for the purpose of acquiring such a title, had to devote about 15 years to study? In the autumn of 1852, the newly graduated 30-years old Łukasiewicz came to the pharmacy of Piotr Mikolasch in Lwów where he worked as an assistant until autumn 1853, i.e., for one year. A question arises as to what type of work was he allowed to do by his chief? Did the settled Jan Zeh, working for over five years in a position acquired in a normal way, and also occupied long since with oil distillation, need Łukasiewicz for collaboration?

The above doubts are cleared for us by the final statement, as Jan Zeh in July 1853, Jan Zeh invented petroleum suitable for use in lamps constructed by whitesmith Adam Bratkowski in Lwów and, thus, Łukasiewicz obtained the privilege to process oil. Others maintain that Jan Zeh out of kindness took into partnership the final phase of the work, enabling him to receive a joint privilege valid for one year. As further collaboration between Jan Zeh and Łukasiewicz did not proceed successfully, the junior and five years younger Łukasiewicz left Lwów in 1853 and went to Gorlice, the cradle of the oil industry. Here, he gained employment as a hireling in the pharmacy of Ludwika Bartkowa. Based on proven sources, Łukasiewicz suffered financial troubles during his stay in Gorlice. This is why Łukasiewicz applied for an additional position of municipal cashier in Gorlice for a small salary in January 1856. The authorities of Gorlice Gubernia declined his request, most probably because of the earlier suspicions about his character.

As multiple sources indicate, the oil industry was developing vigorously. The “Pusty Las (Empty Forrest)” petroleum mine of Duke Stanisław Jabłonowski was opened in the municipality Sękowe. In Kobylanka, in the vicinity of Gorlice, Stanisław Jabłonowski possessed an asphalt plant. In Lipinki, oil exploration began in 1854. In 1853, the newspaper Czas (Time) reported that rich deposits of oil are located in the area of Gorlice and that exploration activities had developed on a large scale simultaneously time at five localities in the Gorlice region. These developments were reported in the national press in a series of articles on the subject of the oil exploration and in a summary written by the Galician mining office. The mining office estimated the size of discovered resource to be on the scale of the monarchy and that the largest resources and the most developed industry were to be found in the region of Gorlice. In acknowledgement of this, the mining office congratulated Duke Stanisław Jabłonowski.

Many local and non-local men found employment in the oil mines. Even women, as the “weak sex”, were involved in drilling and extracting activities, e.g., the already mentioned countess Jadwiga Straszewska in Lipinki, Józefa Szymonowiczowa in S kowa, Walerya Groblewska in Szymbark, Wiktoria Klimontonowiczowa in Siary and Magdalena Miłkowska in Siary and Sękowa, Even the clear priest Jan Kielar and priest Franciszek Her were occupied with oil production. Germans, Belgians, French and members of the Jewish community extracted liquid gold from the earth and made good business in the Gorlice land. Only unpractical Łukasiewicz, as a foreman, failed to find success. He was employed for five years in the pharmacy as a provisional worker and in the end married the 15 years younger Honorate Stacherska (1837-1898). He added to her sorrows, worries and suffering. Most probably, it was due to this that she did not want to inherit anything after the death of her husband in 1882 and, in her old age, lived in Kraków in utmost penury for a period of sixteen years.

Let us trace further Łukasiewicz, who at the end of 1859, moved from Gorlice to Jasło. Here he leased a chemist’s shop in the market place and on the 15th of February 1860, purchased a second chemist’s shop at an auction in Brzostek. It seems that neither drug store yielded a profit, leading to the decision of the family Łukasiewicz to move in with the parents in law living in the kingdom. At this time, Tytus Trzecieski visited Łukasiewicz and encouraged him encouraged to explore for oil in the Bobrzeckie Las (Bobrzeckie Forest).

Oil mine in Bóbrka by Krosno, 1861.

This was the time when manually-drilled wells (kopanka, engl. diggings) began to yield encouraging results in the Bobrzeckie Forest, Klobassa, Trzecieski and Łukasiewicz established a partnership for the purpose of oil exploration and the conducting of mining activities. Klobassa and Trzecieski provided the capital required to begin mining works. Łukasiewicz became Head of the works. This is in clear agreement with those writers who see the beginning of Łukasiewicz’s activities in the foundation of the oil mine in Bóbrka in 1861. This fact is also confirmed by the Head of the C and K District Mining Office in Lwów, engineer Henryk Walter who, In his own hand, writing on the 2nd November 1878 (L.204/78) on the subject of the establishment of the oil school in Bóbrka, fixed the origin of the oil mine in Bóbrka to the year of 1861. Łukasiewicz raised an obelisk on the site of the mine “Bóbrka” with an inscription: “In Commemoration of the oil mine in Bóbrka WR1854 Ignacy Łukasiewicz 04.II.1872. How could Łukasiewicz drill an oil shaft in 1854 (first oil shaft in the world?) in Bóbrka, when, at that time, he was a pharmacist in Gorlice in the pharmacy of Ludwika Bartkowa? is the obvious question for the reader

Oil refinery in Ulaszowice

Some people write that, in 1856, Ignacy Łukasiewicz and Tytus Trzecieski built an oil refinery in Ulaszowice, north of the town of Jasło on the estate of Franciszek Trzecieski, brother of Tytus, and which was later destroyed by fire. Neighboring inhabitants did not permit its rebuilding and complained about it to the local authorities. As noted by dr. Stefan Bartoszewicz, the secretary of the National Petroleum Society at the time, the refinery (distillery) was very primitive and thus burnt soon down. In a postscript, dr. Bartoszewicz recorded that the refinery (distillery) had been built without a license because, at the time, Jan Zeh was the only holder of the prerogative to process petroleum.

Petroleum Partnership Zielińscy- Łukasiewicz in Klęczany

In May 1859, Łukasiewicz reputedly entered a joint petroleum partnership with the brothers Apolinary and Eugeniusz Zieliński, owners of the oil mine in Klęczany near the town of Nowy Sącz. The Zieliński brothers, however, did not accept the commercial expertise of Łukasiewicz. Apolinary Zieliński went without delay to Wien to cancel the agreements and to conclude new ones. This was the reason why the petroleum partnership with Łukasiewicz was dissolved by the Zieliński brothers in July of the same year of 1859. Finally, Eugeniusz Zieliński, a graduate of the Prague Polytechnic undertook the distillation of petroleum alone.

Laudation to Ignacy Łukasiewicz

In order to conclude these reflections on the subject of the “Father of petroleum”, it is useful to ask the authors of many publications if one can become famous for the reward of the Austrian Empire Order of Iron Crown, 3rd Class, or receive the honorary citizenship of the towns of Gorlice and Jasło for a barrel of oil or a generous offering on the collection plate? Further, it is useful to ask the councils of these towns and local governments claiming to be the capitals of the polish petroleum industry whether it is worth distorting history to promote celebrated names though honest intentions. Many famous statesmen and famous scientists struggle for their entire lives without the rewords undoubtedly merited. Many modest and hard-working people did not receive the titles and honors awarded to a pharmacist of questionable record. Any achievements of Łukasiewicz were soon forgotten. A period of silence followed that lasted for over 50 years. In 1928, the citizens of the town of the town of Krosno clearly remembered Łukasiewicz again as, in that year a ceremony took place during which a cornerstone was laid to the memory of the “Father of Petroleum”. During the long period of silence, all of the mining appliances associated with his activities were lost. His house together with all the family furnishings furnishings was also completely destroyed. After the Second World War, only the foundations remained. In 1972, according to a brochure “For the memory of Łukasiewicz” published in Kraków by Prof. Jan Czastka, no trace of the petroleum refinery in Chorówka existed.

It is also puzzling that Łukasiewicz did not leave any notes, curriculum vitae and personal memories. This is perhaps why some historians impute that Łukasiewicz was rich, quite at odds with the situation described by Jan Zeh.

Petroleum Documents

Almost all national publications refer to the Polish pharmacist, Ignacy Łukasiewicz, as having established the Polish petroleum industry. The popular press, radio and television, educational institutions, museums etc., provide lots of unconfirmed information, creating myths about inventors and discoverers. From some time now, it has been claimed that Łukasiewicz patented his invention in the Austrian Patent Office in Wien in 1853. On the basis of this information, a further professional carrier was created although it would have been sufficient to refer to source materials to confirm the sometimes questionable achievements. In fact, the only holder of the privilege to process petroleum was Jan Zeh, as the following document, cited in a reliable translation, testifies.

The Austrian Patent Office: “In the annex we sent you two copies of privileges for Jan Zeh, which are present in the library. With respect to the only privilege of Jan Zeh and Ignacy Łukasiewicz we can send you only the copy from the register of privileges. We do not dispose of the privilege. Referring to your question on the actual distinction between patents and privileges, we were unable to find precise directions or instructions in our documentation. The Austrian Patent Document Nr. 1 dates from 1899. From this year onwards there also exists the Austrian term “privilege”.

On the next side (page 2) you will find scans of the original privileges and their translation to English:

Page 40, pos. 399. Zeh, Jan and Ignacy Łukasiewicz

Invention of manufacturing paraffin candles from bitumen and its different varieties. 23 XI 1853; Validity for 1 year, secret.

Page 40, pos. 400. Zeh, Jan (Present author – note that only one name is given in this privilege)

Invention of rectification of crude oil in course of chemical processing for immediate technical use

2 XII 1853; Validity for 2 years, secret.

Page 102, pos. 640. Zeh, Jan

Invention of a manufacturing method of cheep and good lubricants known as mineral oil lubricant” for carriages and machines.

9 XI 1856; Validity for 1 year, secret.

Page 105, pos. 356, Zeh, Jan

Extension of privilege validity. Text content as in pos. 400. Extension for 4 years, secret.

Based on the above documents, the following results interchangeably///// that Jan Zeh was the only holder of the privilege authorizing him to process petroleum on the territory of Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary until 23 XII 1859.

A question comes to mind. Why did Jan Zeh not extend further the privilege?

Well, on the 12th of February 1858, two young people died in a fire accident set in the shop selling petroleum products, mainly petroleum sourced from his own refinery. The two were his wife, 21 year-old Dorota Zeh and her 7 year-old sister Hermina Obłoczyńska. Two others also died in the accident. This event led to Jan Zeh drawing back from further activities in the field of petroleum. The place of this tragedy in Lwów was named the “square of burnt people”. Only after the expiry of the privilege on 23 XII 1859 did a formal possibility of processing petroleum exist.

The claims of some authors seem to be justifiable as they ascribe the beginning of Łukasiewicz’s activities to the company formed by K. Klobass and T. Trzecieski in 1861.

The lack of sufficient research on the beginning of the oil industry leads to the endless creation of new unfounded manipulations and historical misinterpretations. As a result, myths are born which later transfer to books, even school- and college textbooks. An example of this distortion is the recently published and prize-winning album “In the circle of the Petroleum Lamp”. In the album, on page 34, the privilege documents appear and, underneath, their polish translation. It can be quickly ascertained, by comparing the two documents (pos. 400), that the words “MSc. Fram. Ignacy Łukasiewicz” had been added to the polish translation.

In other publications also, one can encounter similar created falsehoods. Why does someone publish and distort obvious facts, e.g., the addition of an extra name as above to falsely attribute accomplisment? It serves only to create a new false history.

The “Modern Encyclopedia 1938” illustrated by M*Arcta explains the meaning of the words privilege and patent as follows.

Patent – right to exclusive use of an invention in industry or for trade (production, transactions, selling, and usage) extended over the entire national territory for 15 years from the granting date. Privilege – (latin: privilegium) – rationalization; improvement, document bestowing benefits

Tadeusz Pabis

Retired employee in petroleum mining, pilot, writer, poet, publicist, creator of the private Museum of the Petroleum Industry in Libusza (SE Poland), master tailor.

Tadeusz Pabis born in Dominikowice, near the town of Gorlice into a working class family, son of Władysław and Agata neé Gryboś, holds a secondary education with technical specification. He worked in the Jasło Oil and Gas Exploration Company. His rich and turbulent life could be that of three people. At a young age, he was a military- and civil master tailor. From 1950-1953, he served in the Polish Air Force as a aircraft gunner, radio operator on Ił-2, Ił-10 and Ił-28 strike aircraft, and had to parachute 14 times (3 times over the Baltic See). For most of the time, however, he was a petroleum engineer. He spent most of his life in the petroleum industry. He gained from his early teenage years a divine spark to write. His first steps in poetry he made in 1937-1945 as a pupil in the primary school in Dominikowice writing articles for the school magazine. During his military service, he wrote interesting articles for the aircraft magazine “Pinion of Freedom”. After going into the army reserve, he published further articles in the national and regional press and, at later times, as a pensioner, wrote many books. He published over 200 articles in national and regional journals and magazines. “The Memories of a Petroleum Engineer”, Part 1” was his first book written some years earlier and published in 1993 by the printing house “Grafgor” in Gorlice. In the preface to the book, dr. E. Konarski wrote: “There is a lack of professional literature regarding the petroleum industry of Gorlice. There are also only fewer memories and associations of people working in the petroleum industry as hard working people seldom have written on their professional biography. Tadeusz Pabis belongs to the fewer exceptions. He wrote an interesting work on the petroleum mining. In his memories he describes in which labor (hardship) and effort, petroleum and gas were explored. Tadeusz Pabis took the trouble writing in his rich associations on idyllic, humoristic scenes from the lives of locals with whom he met on the trail of petroleum engineer – wanderer. First of such idyll at the time was the “black man”. The “black man” was an old-time custom of petroleum engineers derived from the town of Borysławice. Prior to drilling, a small drinking bout took place for the good happening during the drilling. In the book, the author described colorfully the lives of petroleum engineers, taken as though from the back yard. Therefore, it encloses friendly and secret blandishments of petroleum engineers and local coquettish women. The reader also finds typical regional weddings from Pinczów, the meeting of the author with the prime minister of Republic of Poland Józef Cyrankiewicz in the petroleum mine “Kostki Małe” close to Busko Zdrój as well as many trouble and other blood freezing situations such as blood sport in the woods of Bieszczady and eye to eye meeting of the authors with a wild boar with youngs in the virgin forest of Lublin region, followed by health problems and stays at different health resorts. The book “Memories of the petroleum engineer” can in a near future turn out to be an interesting source for historians of petroleum industry and culture. On these grounds I strongly support the idea of publishing on these memories.”

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