See when Scotland’s shale energy industry led the world

Scottish Shale Museum archive: Managers at the Addiewell works, Central Scotland, c1885
Scottish Shale Museum archive: Managers at the Addiewell works, Central Scotland, c1885

The Scottish shale oil industry has a remarkable and important history.

Bathgate Chemical Works, established in 1851, was the first site in the world where mineral oils were processed on an industrial scale.

From this blossomed an extensive oil industry that competed successfully against cheaper imported petroleum for many years, and continued in operation until 1962.

Such fierce competition bred innovation, progress, and a body of Scots know-how that contributed greatly towards the development of the oil industry throughout the world.

During the 1850’s James Young and his partners developed many of the technical processes that became the foundations of the shale oil industry. He also established a market for new oil products and built a sophisticated business with an international influence.

Young’s patent had given him a virtual monopoly, and as 1864 and the expiry of the patent approached, many adventurous Victorians sought to emulate Young’s success and make their fortune in the oil business.

During the “oil mania” that followed, an unlikely mix of landowners, businessmen, professionals and trades people promoted and invested in a wild proliferation of oil works. Most were ill conceived, and very few grew into viable businesses.

As the Victorian era progressed, further new oil enterprises were established. Most were launched as public limited companies, overseen by boards of prominent and influential figures that inspired the confidence of potential investors.

The driving force of the industry continued to be the practical engineer and chemist; practical men from a similar mould to James Young. In many instances the success and prosperity of a company was built on a technical innovation that provided a competitive advantage. These practical and inventive minds became the leaders of the industry and helped inspire the success enjoyed during the early years of the 20th century

Many are inventors, scientists, engineers and managers that were the backbone of the industry, but also included are landowners, entrepreneurs and influential figures that have contributed much towards its history.

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