“The Pole who changed the face of the world”. Ignacy Łukasiewicz and the first oil mine

"The Pole who changed the face of the world".  Ignacy Łukasiewicz and the first oil mine

Oil extraction in the Bóbrka mine has been going on continuously since 1854. It is the world’s oldest oil mine, co-founded by Ignacy Łukasiewicz – the inventor of the kerosene lamp and the pioneer of the oil industry, as well as a social worker and Polish patriot. We visited this place as part of the series “Science is a Polish specialty”.

The mine in Bóbrka is the first oil mine operating on an industrial scale, and currently the oldest oil mine in the world. It was founded by Ignacy Łukasiewicz, Tytus Trzecieski and Karol Klobassa in 1854 and has been operating to this day. Located in this place, the Museum of the Oil and Gas Industry. Ignacy Łukasiewicz not only presents the history of the mine itself and the oil industry, but also the achievements of its patron.

Mine in Bóbrka

– This is an extraordinary place, because it is not only a museum, but also the site of the oldest oil mine in the world. This black, liquid Carpathian gold has been mined here continuously since 1854, and in an industrial way, emphasizes Barbara Olejarz, director of the museum.

– The contemporary museum operates on two pillars. On the one hand, it is the past and the protection of places that are associated with our patron Ignacy Łukasiewicz, i.e. primarily the 19th-century oil wells. Looking inside them, we can still see the bubbling oil, which is something absolutely unusual and unprecedented in the whole world, points out the director of the museum. – The second pillar are museum exhibitions prepared in such a way that the modern tourist can learn about the history of the oil industry in a modern way – he adds.

Michał Górecki took us to the oldest, 19th-century diggings “Franka” and “Janina”, from which crude oil is still being extracted. An employee of the museum told us about the figure of a great Polish inventor and industrialist, whose discovery contributed to changing the world.

– Ignacy Łukasiewicz is a multidimensional character. First of all, the creator of the oil industry, but he started his career as a pharmacist, then an industrialist, social worker and, of course, a great patriot, an insurgent – says Górecki. – Łukasiewicz was a man who distilled kerosene from crude oil. He was the first to start extracting crude oil on an industrial scale, he was the first to establish an oil mine and began to introduce various extraction methods, drilling methods and began to process this oil – he adds.

Ignacy Łukasiewicz as the inventor of the kerosene lamp

During our visit to the museum, we also visited a modern, multi-media, but full of original exhibits exhibition in the former administration building of the mine from 1865, i.e. in the so-called Łukasiewicz House.

– In this building there are exhibition rooms related to Ignacy Łukasiewicz. There is a pharmacy in which we have a multimedia exhibition, in which there is a pharmacist Antoś who talks to customers – points out the museologist. Marcin Górecki points out that the 19th-century pharmacist is a kind of chemist who himself created drugs based on prescriptions. One of the rooms of the former administration building has been transformed into a former laboratory where we will listen to stories about the kerosene lamp and kerosene.

– Pharmacies in the 19th century were equipped with laboratories. And it was in such a laboratory that Ignacy Łukasiewicz began experimenting with crude oil. He started to heat it, then cooled some of its fractions, and in this way distilled a liquid from crude oil that burned with a very bright flame, was not explosive and produced little smoke. This liquid is today called kerosene, explains Górecki, adding that even before Łukasiewicz, kerosene was distilled, but Łukasiewicz perfected this process.

The exhibition also includes 19th-century advertisements for medicines, prescriptions, a portrait of Ignacy Łukasiewicz painted in 1884, a replica of a kerosene lamp designed by Adam Bratkowski and a whole collection of later kerosene lamps.

– Łukasiewicz actually designed the first kerosene lamp, and commissioned the structure itself to the Lviv tinsmith Adam Bratkowski, who made it of sheet metal and mica according to the inventor’s design. For the first time such a lamp was lit on July 31, 1850 in a hospital in Lviv during a night operation of the appendix, said the museologist.

The first oil mine

Believing in the great future of oil, Łukasiewicz bet on industrial oil extraction, establishing a mine in Bóbrka.

– The first mining installations were ordinary trenches about a hundred meters long, dug to a depth of about one meter. Water collected in these ditches, and oil flowed to the surface. When Ignacy Łukasiewicz came here, he began to wonder how to start extracting crude oil on a larger scale. And they began to dig kopankas, i.e. oil wells dug by hand, said Górecki. – Initially, these were shallow diggings of about 15-20 meters. Then they got deeper. To this day, the Janina pit, which is 95 meters deep, has been preserved in our museum. It was dug by hand, so it’s easy to imagine how hard it was to slide down in a bucket or on a special saddle to a depth of 95 meters into a hole that was one meter twenty by twenty meters – he added.

A simple distillery in Ulaszowice was also built nearby, followed by a much more complex refinery in Chorkówka. “Ignacy Łukasiewicz was an innovator,” emphasized a museum employee. – Many people, including Americans, were interested in his excellent products. And they came here to the Polish inventor. It is said that even John D. Rockefeller was here. It is unlikely that he himself was here, but perhaps he sent his colleagues who wanted to see the methods used by the Pole – he added.

“A character we should be proud of”

Łukasiewicz was a social worker who cared about his employees. In the mine, he introduced very modern solutions at that time, i.e. fraternity funds, a kind of social security system, which were very much needed in such a dangerous work as oil extraction.

He also cared about the local people. He created credit unions, built schools,” Górecki mentioned. He was also a great patriot. From his youth, when he tried to start an uprising together with his friends, until his death. In the mine in Bóbrka, he employed former January insurgents who were escaping from Russian captivity, pointed out an employee of the museum. – He was also a member of the national parliament, a councilor of the city of Krosno – he added.

Barbara Olejarz emphasizes that the figure of Ignacy Łukasiewicz is “absolutely extraordinary”.

– On the one hand, a romantic, on the other, a positivist. A man who, through his discoveries, completely changed the face of this world – points out the director of the Museum of the Oil and Gas Industry I. Ignacy Łukasiewicz. – He is not only the inventor of the kerosene lamp, but above all the creator of the Polish oil industry. He is a man from whom we can draw today, as he was full of ideals and, above all, enthusiasm for work. It was he who wanted to change the face of these lands through work at the grassroots, organic work. And he lived in very difficult times, when Poland was not on the maps of the world. He is a character we should remember and be proud of.

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