Oil creek as industrial apparatus: re-creating the industrial process through the landscape of Pennsylvania's oil boom

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While the Oil Creek valley may not be the first or last site of massive extraction, it appears to be the first such landscape so scrupulously recorded for posterity. Such an artifactual record presents a unique opportunity to reconstitute the scene of a nineteenth-century industrial boom. The matieral inadvertently included in such scenes, particularly the landscape itself, presents the contemporary viewer with the opportunity to measure industrial change through practices and processes suspended in time, similar to acts on a stage. Through this medium, the locale serves as a gauge of humans's changing relationshp with nature, revealing both continuity and change.On conclusion immediately emerges: Oil Creek, this region's most prominent feature before the commodification of oil, remained the vital core of the industrial process. Its instrumentalization strikingly demonstrated the cultural ethics and values of the industrial age, as well as nature's role in regional life before, during, and after the boom. The events of this region's boom period, from 1859 to 1873, helped to define national resource use for years to come. Combining the individual opportunity of the 1850s California gold rush with the production of a stable energy commodity, the oil boom presented incredible opportunitites for developemnt and investment in the post-Civil War years. By 1865, Pennsylvania had already gross $17 m. from the sale of crude oil, and the industry had not yet hit its stride; five yrs later, petroleum trailed only anthracite and bituminous coal in the annual value of mined resources. Of the $19.3 m. of oil produced in 19870, 94% came from Pennsylvania, and 72% of that came from Venango County, home of Oil Creek.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-229
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironmental History
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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