In the April 2006 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, the Oil Field
Engine News column spoke of early oil production in the world and
the Drake oil well in Titusville, Pa. I’ve enjoyed the Drake Museum
– I’ve been there three times. I’ve also been to the Bóbrka Museum
of the oil industry in Bóbrka (boo-bor-kah), Poland.
I’ve put this article off for months, one of the reasons being
that I had to translate parts of the museum guide book from Polish
I was in Poland visiting the village where my grandfather came
from (Podniebyle), and Bóbrka was nearby. My driver spoke little
English and I had a lot of miles to travel that day, so I was only
at the museum 30 to 45 minutes. Bóbrka is such a historical,
fascinating place that I had to prepare and share this with the
readers of GEM. I couldn’t find some of the towns mentioned in the
report on a map (Polance, Lwowa, etc.). Perhaps after the world
wars, they no longer existed.
The following is a brief summary of the Polish oil industry to
1914, taken from the museum booklet Bóbrka i okolice:
Bóbrka is the cradle of the oil industry. In 1854, Ignacy
Lukasiewicz contrived an oil lamp after founding a method of
distilling crude oil. The extraction process that began here formed
an industry that became a key branch of world commerce during the
second half of the 19th century.
For over 150 years from when the production of rock oil began in
Bóbrka, till today, she remains a living witness of Polish
technology and organization. Created on the actual grounds of oil
production, the Bóbrka Museum of Oil Industry recalls the beginning
of the oil industry and its evolution. Located in the Podkarpackie
region of southern Poland on a huge deposit, the area is still a
source of crude oil and natural gas.
A monument built in 1872 on the museum grounds reads, “For the
preservation of memories of the production of rock oil in Bóbrka,
1854.” The area was known for a long time as a source of rock oil,
which was used in the 18th century to grease wagons and as a
medicine for illness.
In his work Physica Curiosa, published in 1682, Albert Tylkowski
wrote of rock oil. Gabriel Raczynski wrote in his 1721 book
Naturalis Curiosa Regni Poloniae of a source of oil in the
neighborhood of Krosno. In 1781, Krzysztof Kluk wrote about the
source of rock oil at the foot of the Beskidy Mountains. Jan
Czastka writes, “The seepage of oil and exhalation of natural gas
in the forests of Bóbrka was known for a long time. Oil collected
from those seeps was used as medicine for sick people and
Tytus Trzecieski, a farmer in the village of Polance, located
near Krosno, used oil from Bóbrka for the treatment of sick sheep.
He took a sample of the crude oil from the seeps of Bóbrka to the
town of Lwowa. He wanted an opinion of the value and usefulness of
the liquid coming from the earth. With no information available, he
was advised to see Ignacy Lukasiewicz, a chemist residing in the
town of Gorlice. Ignacy was known to possess experience in the
distillation of rock oil.
Tytus traveled to Gorlice, met Ignacy, and discussed the fluid
seeping from the ground. Ignacy was experimenting with rock oil
that was obtained from a pit-mine in the nearby town of Sekowo.
Tytus, a sharp-witted man familiar with the mining industry, and
Ignacy, who knew the value of rock oil for creating mineral and
lamp oil, decided to team up and extract the rock oil from
The owner of the property from which the oil seeped was Karol
Klobassa, who lived in the nearby village of Zrecin. When Tytus and
Ignacy presented to Karol their plans to search for oil in the
forests of Bóbrka, Karol was uncertain of such an undertaking, but
Tytus and Ignacy obtained permission for the search of crude on the
property. Thus, in 1854, the first oil exploration and extraction
began in Bóbrka.
The exploration work, consisting of the digging of shallow pits,
gave encouraging results. In 1856, Karol, Tytus and Ignacy formed a
partnership to extract the crude oil. Karol and Tytus provided the
needed capital to begin, and Ignacy was the director of the workers
and the company. There was a lack of experienced miners in the
area, so workers were fetched from Hungary and Germany, who in turn
taught the practice of mining to the locals.
The first pit was dug to a depth of around 49 feet, then
afterwards gradually increasing to 197 feet and ending at 459 feet.
The profile was 4-by-4-foot square and heavily planked. For fresh
air at the bottom of the pit, a manually operated ventilator was
used. To split the hard rock, gunpowder and later dynamite, was
In 1862, by the use of these methods, the well, “Malgorzata,”
(Margaret) obtained at the beginning around 1,057 gallons of crude
oil per day. With such copious flow, it was decided that further
pits would be developed. Natural gas and conquering running water
created great difficulties in the vertical pits.
Ignacy, a progressive man with regard to the workers’ safety,
thought of adapting other ways for obtaining crude oil from the
earth. He came up with a primitive drill that used a steel rod with
a sharpened chisel point. This method was used for a few years.
In 1856, Ignacy and Tytus built a distillery in the nearby
village of Vlaszowica on the property of Franciska Trzecieski. The
distillery was the first establishment of this sort on Polish soil.
It was in operation for a short time when it burned down, and the
local peasants did not favor its reconstruction.
Tytus built a new distillery in 1861 on his property in Polance.
That same year, Karol, Tytus and Ignacy formed a 10-year agreement
for managing the wells in Bóbrka and the distillery in Polance.
The distillery in Polance produced lamp and mineral oil. She
prospered well and yielded the owners a respectable earning. The
lamp oil had a large market in Wieden and Berlin.
In 1862, a newcomer to Bóbrka, Henryk Walter, a mining engineer
and geologist, introduced a method of drilling involving a
free-falling tool bit. This new method of extraction made it
possible to reach deposits at lower depths.
In 1868, one of the mines, at the depth of 300 feet, hit a
strong flow of mineral water. The large output of water was pumped
out, for the first time in Poland, with the aid of a steam
In 1870, by the invitation of Ignacy, Albert Fauk arrived in
Bóbrka. Albert, a distinguished driller of German descent, brought
with him the “Pennsylvania method” of drilling. Due to the
geological conditions of the area, steam powered drilling gained
favor over the free-falling bit method.
Ignacy had a strong concern of processing the crude oil from
Bóbrka and the wells from the area. In 1865, he bought property in
the nearby village of Chorkow, where at the site of the old brewery
he built the largest refinery in the country. The oil wells in
Bóbrka and the refinery in Chorkow were looked upon with high
esteem by the oil industry.
In 1871, the partnership of Karol, Tytus and Ignacy dissolved.
Karol remained the owner of the wells in Bóbrka, Tytus stopped his
tenure and Ignacy remained as director of Bóbrka and the refinery
in Chorkow. The refinery produced lamp oil, lubricants and
In 1878, Ignacy marked 25 years of his involvement in the oil
industry. Production in Bóbrka and the surrounding area was around
30,000 tons of crude oil. A special medal was struck for the
occasion with the words, “Creator of the oil industry – 25 years of
work.” The ceremony took place July 31, 1878, in Chorkow. Józef
Kraszewski, a well-known novelist of society presented the medal
and in a cordial speech praised Ignacy for his contribution to
Polish society and the economy.
Before his death in the beginning of 1882 as a result of
pneumonia, Ignacy was given credit for deepening the wells and
providing geological research of the Podkarpackie region by the
Galician local government. Four years after his death, a discovery
of crude oil was made in Wietrzno, a small village south of Bóbrka.
It freely flowed around 1,000 barrels a day, or around 140
In 1888, production started in the nearby village of Równe. In
1900, a well at a depth of 3,034 feet hit at the village of Rogi,
flowed 600 tons of crude oil daily. In 1887, a nearly nine-mile
pipeline was built from the town of Wietrzno, through Zrecin, to
Krosno. There, a railroad station collected and transported the oil
from the area. In 1890, the yearly production from the Galicia
region surpassed 91,000 tons – Bóbrka reaching 8,000 tons. Nearby
wells brought forth refineries in the towns of Chorkow (1865),
Targowiska (1890), Jedlicze (1902) and Dukla (1880).
The oil industry, in 20 years time, changed the countryside.
Kazimierz Chledowski writes in his book, Notable Records, “The area
is lofty, there is nearly nothing to be recognized. Oil production
is in the area, series of pyramid shaped derricks standing here and
elsewhere, long bands, one after another, showing from afar those
tanks of oil, which was found at the depths of 500 to 700 meters
(1,640 to 2,296 feet) under the surface. In the towns of Potok and
Krosno enormous reservoirs for oil are being built, connected by
long pipelines to the wells.”
Drilling for oil and its processing brought forth advancement in
education and culture for the localities. In 1876, Honorata
Lukasiewicz, Ignacy’s wife, operated in Chorkow a school for making
lace fabric. At the year’s end, there was an enrollment of several
dozen girls from the area. A group of workers at the refinery in
Chorkow founded a village library and reading room for people of
the area. Lectures and organized talks were frequent.
In 1874, when crude oil production was still mainly concentrated
in the Bóbrka area, the production and offshoots employed around
11,809 workers. As technical advancement grew, the employment
numbers fell. In 1886, the oil pits of the Galicia area employed
only 2,917 workers. But in 1906, when output leaped to nearly 1.5
million tons, employment in the oil fields of the Galician area
rose to 6,646 workers. In 1909, Galicia production reached
2,053,100 tons; a record that was never broken: 1910 reached
1,762,000 tons, and 1913, 1,071,000 tons of rock oil.
Contact Tony Ryba at: 242 Dupont St., Johnstown, PA 15902.
Contact the Ignacy Lukasiewicz Memorial Museum of Oil Industry
at Bóbrka: 38-458 Chorkówka, woj. podkarpackie, Bóbrka, Poland;
phone: (013) 4333-489 or (013) 4333-478; e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.geo.uw.edu.pl/BOBRKA/index.htm