PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY. This industry and the products it makes play an enormous role in our daily lives. Imagine life without gasoline, cosmetics, fertilizers, detergents, synthetic fabrics, asphalt, and plastics. All of these products—and many more—are made from petrochemicals—chemicals derived from petroleum or natural gas.
Crude oil, or petroleum fresh out of the ground, has been used sporadically throughout history. Many hundreds of years ago, Native Americans used crude oil for fuel and medicine. But the start of the oil industry as it is known today can be traced back to 1859. In that year, retired railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake drilled a well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. The well, powered by an old steam engine, soon produced oil and sparked an oil boom. By the 1860s, wooden derricks covered the hills of western Pennsylvania. In 1865, the first successful oil pipeline was built from an oil field near Titusville to a railroad station five miles away. From there, railcars transported oil to refineries on the Atlantic coast.
The business of refining oil was largely the domain of John D. Rockefeller. The New York–born industrialist financed his first refinery in 1862. He then went on to buy out competitors, and, along with his brother, William, and several associates, he created Standard Oil Company. By 1878, Rockefeller controlled 90 percent of the oil refineries in the United States.
Drilling for oil quickly spread beyond Pennsylvania. By 1900, Texas, California, and Oklahoma had taken the lead in oil production, and eleven other states had active oil deposits. Annual U.S. oil production climbed from two thousand barrels in 1859 to 64 million barrels in 1900. Other countries were also getting into the oil business. Russia was producing slightly more than the United States around the beginning of the twentieth century. Smaller producers included Italy, Canada, Poland, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, and Argentina. The first major oil discovery in the Middle East occurred in Iran in 1908. Prospectors struck oil in Iraq in 1927 and in Saudi Arabia in 1938.