What Do You Know About the History of Oil?


John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: FredJackson2828

About This Quiz

Our modern world is made of oil. Every day of the year, the United States consumes about 18.9 million barrels of the slippery black stuff. Oil is not only a vital fuel supply, but also an important ingredient in many products such as plastics. If this murky substance suddenly disappeared, our very civilization would crumble. In this quiz, what do you really know about the history of oil and its production?

Oil is a naturally occurring liquid that’s found in deposits all over the world. In some places, like the Middle East, the goo is practically bursting out of the ground. In fact, the Middle East is home to about 80% of the Earth’s known oil reserves, one reason some of the countries there are so wealthy. But oil is found in a lot of other places, too, like Venezuela, where disruptive politics have impoverished the country in spite of its natural wealth. What do you really know about oil and the way people wield its power?

Businessmen only really understood the energy potential of oil in fairly recent times. Before the late 1800s, oil was used only for a random assortment of products. Settlers used it to grease their wagon axles. Some people used it to make torches burn brighter and longer. Do you know which inventions really created a demand for oil?

Once oil became more valuable, men had to figure out how to get it out of the ground. Then, they needed ways to transport and refine the oil. In short, the stuff spawned countless industrial innovations and wound up in a mind-boggling array of products.

Dive into this fathomless oil quiz now! Let’s see how much you really know about this incredibly useful substance.

What's another name for oil?

Oil is petroleum. Whatever you call it, it's one of the world's most common -- and controversial -- energy sources.


Which invention made oil a very valuable commodity?

At the end of the 1800s, engineers began creating internal combustion engine technology. These engines relied, of course, on fossil fuels like gasoline … and the oil industry took off.


What is "crude" oil?

Crude oil is unprocessed petroleum, which must be refined -- typically by a distillation process -- before it can be used for various fuel purposes.


Oil is a liquid that forms from what material?

It's called "fossil fuel" because oil forms from decaying lifeforms of all kinds. Over the course of million and milions of years, huge ponds of oil collected in areas all around the Earth.


Early North American explorers observed oil. Where?

When Europeans first began exploring the New World, they saw oil slicks in the sea. Other saw oil seeping from the ground. But no one had much use for it back then.


Petroleum became more popular for lanterns, in part due to a reduced population of which animal, whose fat had been used as an illuminant?

In the late 1800s, whalers were drastically reducing the whale population, which made whale oil -- a widespread lantern fuel -- more expensive. Petroleum was a superior alternative.


In 1901, a new oil geyser in ____ began gushing crude oil, bringing the United States firmly into the oil age.

Texas has deep roots in America's oil culture. In 1901, it was home to the first major oil wells in the country, all thanks to a discovery of crude in Beaumont.


What was the name of the famous oil geyser that started the Texas oil boom in 1901?

In 1901, locals discovered the Spindletop geyser in Texas. It spewed more than 100,000 barrels of oil for nine straight days … and it created a mad rush from investors hoping to profit from the precious substance.


Within a year of the Spindletop oil geyser discovery, how many new oil companies had been chartered in America?

American investors knew the oil boom was going to be huge. Within a year of the Texas oil discovery, more than 1,500 new oil companies were formed.


Of the 1,500 companies to emerge from the Spindletop oil discovery, how many survived?

The oil business was (and is) a vicious place. Of the 1,500 companies formed the wake of the Spindletop oil geyser, just 12 made it for any length of time.


In 1973, what major event caused turmoil in the petroleum industry?

In 1973, Middle East oil producers initiated an oil embargo, and the price of oil sharply spiked. Of course, then gas prices shot sky-high, and Americans bolted to gas stations, often waiting in long lines for a fuel that often ran short on supply.


During the 1973 embargo, the price of one barrel of oil went from $3 to _____.

The OPEC embargo quadrupled the price of oil, from $3 to $12. Gas prices rose accordingly. It was a tough time for anyone who drove a car for a living.


What's a common nickname for crude oil?

For decades now, oil has made people many people very, very rich. There's reason it's called "black gold."


Where was the first American oil company formed?

In the 1850s, investors formed the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. It was the first -- but certainly not the last -- oil company in America.


In response to the '70s oil crisis, which president created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

President Ford knew that unless America stockpiled its own reserves of oil, it would always be held hostage by foreign producers. So he created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to make sure the U.S. had a long-term supply.


Edwin Drake was the first American to use this technique to reach oil deposits.

In 1858, in Pennsylvania, Drake stumbled up the idea of driving pipes -- and steam-powered drill bits -- into the ground to reach oil deposits. His idea worked, making him the first American to drill for oil.


How did Edwin Drake collect the first fruits of his oil drilling operation?

After months of hard, fruitless drilling, Drake finally drew oil out of his well in Pennsylvania. Then, the men collected their glorious liquid in a bathtub.


Upon learning about the first Pennsylvania oil well, which famous businessman began investing heavily in petroleum?

John Rockefeller knew how to sniff out good business opportunities, and his instincts regarding oil were dead on. He invested heavily in petroleum … and reaped vast riches.


John Rockefeller formed which famous oil company?

John Rockefeller formed Standard Oil Company in 1870, and it became the world's biggest oil producer. The joyride lasted until 1911, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the company an illegal monopoly.


In 1865, Samuel Van Syckel became the first successful businessman to transport oil through which means?

Samuel Van Syckel was the first man to create a working pipeline. His 1865 pipeline was about five miles long, moving the oil from rugged terrain to the nearest railway station.


Before pipelines, how did many oil producers move their product from well to train depots?

In many places, oil drillers relied on wagons to transport their product to market, but wagons were slow and expensive. Pipelines proved to be much more efficient.


Why was it so expensive to move oil using wagons?

Pulling oil by wagon was hard work … but local unions made the task very lucrative. So lucrative, in fact, that the wagon transport made up most of the price of oil. It's no wonder that pipelines were desirable to oil drillers.


The Bakken Formation is a huge reserve of oil deposits found in which state?

In the 1950s, engineers found vast oil deposits in the Bakken Formation of North Dakota. In recent years, many thousands of workers have flooded the area as oil companies finally tap into the supply, which may be around 18 billion barrels.


Every day, on average, how much oil do Americans use per person?

The U.S. loves to pig out on oil. Each day, on average, each person uses about 2.5 gallons of petroleum.


Samuel Van Syckel built the country's first oil pipeline. What was the pipe's diameter?

Samuel Van Syckel's groundbreaking pipeline was just two inches in diameter, tiny compared to today's pipelines, which may be several feet across. But that early pipeline signaled a paradigm shift in the way the petroleum industry moved its black gold.


What factor was a major challenge for early oil pipelines?

In order to push oil through pipelines, engineers applied a lot of pressure … pressure that caused leaks through the pipeline system. Van Syckel's pipeline was the first to successfully combat pressure problems.


In the 1880s, Herman Frasch was an inventor who figured out how to remove sulfur from oil. How did this affect the end product?

Some types of oil contained so much sulfur that they made a terrible smell when used with products like lanterns. Frasch found a way to "desulfurize" oil, making it much more usable for household purposes.


During the Great Depression, the price of oil plunged to ____ per barrel.

The Depression ravaged every business in the land, including the oil industry. Oil prices dove to 10 cents per barrel, leaving many companies in shambles.


In 2013, a train carrying highly volatile crude oil derailed. It exploded, destroying half of a downtown area in which country?

The Lac-Mégantic town rail disaster was a terrifying rail accident in Quebec, Canada, in which multiple oil tank cars crashed and exploded. The explosion killed 42 people and leveled or damaged half of the town's downtown areas.


Which country consumes about two-thirds of the world's oil production?

The U.S. has always resisted oil conservation legislation, preferring to burn through oil at incredible rates. The nation uses about two-thirds of all of the world's annual oil production.


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