The cradle of the oil industry

Po Polsce [In English], Podróze — Napisane przez: . Opublikowano: 12/06/2010 5:30

„Franek” is 150 years old; „Janina” is 18 years younger. They are still operating today and are oldest oil wells in the world. They are in the Ignacy Łukasiewicz Museum of the Oil and Gas Industry in Bóbrka. The Polish oil industry was born in 1854 in this region of Podkarpacie, near Krosno. Here oil was not only being extracted, but also distilled. Apart from the oil lubricants, oils for machines, paraffin and asphalt were also being obtained.

If somebody imagined extensive oilfields in this place, they would be surprised if not disappointed. The open-air museum covers twenty-hectare area in the forest, exactly as it was 150 years ago. In this forest, as in the entire neighbourhood, the slimy liquid, which residents called wood tar or rock oil has been flowing out of the ground for ages. The local residents sopped it up and used for various purposes; they rubbed their aching places as well as aching places of their sick animals, used it for the maintenance of wood and metals, to grease pivots in carts, to make torches. They also used it as fuel in oil lamps.

In the mid-19th century Jan Zeh and Ignacy Łukasiewicz, both pharmacists working in the Lvov pharmacy „Under the Golden Star”, conducted experiments with rock oil. As a result of the applied method of the fractioned distillation they obtained liquid paraffin. The use of oil as lighting material is also a merit of Łukasiewicz. Together with Adam Bratkowski, the Lvov tinsmith, he constructed a paraffin lamp, which they used for the first time on 31 July 1853 for lighting an operating theatre at the hospital in Łyczakow (district of Lvov).

The obelisk „to commemorate the founding of the mine”

What connection has it with Bóbrka? Tytus Trzecieski, the owner of Polanka, the neighbouring village, brought samples of rock oil to Łukasiewicz and asked him about the possibility of exploiting it. When he was told that he „brought millions”, he offered Łukasiewicz to establish a company aiming to get and process oil. Karol Klobassa-Zręcki, the owner the Bobrzecki forest was the third person associated with this story. Although he didn’t enter the company, he agreed to found the mine on his land and didn’t take a penny for the lease of the ground.

The mine was founded in 1854.The obelisk raised by Ignacy Łukasiewicz is commemorating it with the following inscription „TO COMMEMORATE THE FOUNDING OF THE ROCK OIL MINE IN BÓBRKA IN 1854 – I. ŁUKASIEWICZ.” It is situated in a place of the boiling spring called Wrzanka. The touring of the world’s first petroleum mine begins there. The „Wrzanka” spring was named because of its bubbling (resembling an upheaval), triggered by bubbles of the natural gas getting out along with the oil.

Diggers in the well

You can find out how the spring is bubbling, when you look deep into „Franek” the oldest operating oil well. It doesn’t look too impressive. It resembles a cased well with a reel. When you turn the reel you pull up oil in a bucket attached to the rope – several dozen kilograms monthly. „Franek” was dug manually to the depth of 50 metres, and then it was deepened mechanically for another 100 metres. „Janina”, built in 1878, is located a little bit farther in the forest and is 250 metres deep. Both wells are still open. The oil sunk from „Franek” serves in the museum for preservation purposes, whereas „Janina” is still being exploited at the industrial scale. Between 50 and 100 kilograms of oil are still being extracted every day.

Making oil-wells was a difficult and dangerous task. They were being dug using shovels and pickaxes or iron poles. The digger was being lowered on the rope and the output, i.e. rock mass was taken out with the reel in buckets. So that the man working at the bottom of the mineshaft isn’t poisoned with gas, air pressed by hand was being delivered to him with system of wooden pipes through so-called hand mills.

There was a tradition that the digger, who first reached the oil had the right to name the well with a chosen name, for example his name or somebody’s from the family. They were often names of the patron saints of the day the oil appeared. Shafts were decorated with flowers and a christening party was organised. These celebrations were supposed to ensure the wealth and the productivity of the deposit. Till 1869 they dug over 60 of such mineshafts in Bóbrka. Today hollows are what remain after most of them.

Wandering around this open-air museum, we can see how techniques of getting oil and constructing mineshafts have changed. Many techniques applied later universally in the oil industry were used in Bóbrka for the first time. In 1862 the so-called Fabian’s scissors for drilling mineshafts were introduced. A shovel and a pickaxe were replaced by a drill and chisel device, which was being thrown down from a special fastening and crushed the rock. It allowed safer construction of mineshafts for depths of 200-250 metres. Then the manual drilling was replaced in Bóbrka with steam engine, and the Canadian and Pennsylvanian systems for drilling were introduced.

It’s best to visit the museum with a guide. Many of them are the former workers of the mine. They can tell you how the specific devices used to work, e.g. „kiwaki” for driving the pumps, or different kinds of drilling machines, including the modern ones. They will lead you through the old workshops from the times of the founder of the mine, as well as the home of Łukasiewicz set up in the former administration building.

Jan Boży, Józef, Ignacy

Although they were the Christian names of the son of Apolonia from the Świetlik family and Józef Łukasiewicz of the Lada coat of arms, born 8 March 1822, Ignacy used only the last one. By this name he also went down in history as the founder of the Polish oil industry, an inventor, as well as a patriot and a big-hearted person. Łukasiewicz was famous for the fact that he had cared very much for his employees who called him „Father Ignacy”. He established a health centre and the school in Bóbrka, was a co-founder of the church in nearby Zręcin.

A lot of documents relating to the mine were collected (among others its plan from 1879) in the “Łukasiewicz house”, as well as models, devices and archival photographs letting us go back into the times, when the oil industry was being born in that area. A study was also reconstructed in the museum also a study was reconstructed with portraits of Łukasiewicz and his wife, souvenirs of them, old furniture, as well as paraffin lamps.

The name of the inventor is bound with them after all. I have already written about the first lamp used at the Lvov hospital, but it is worth reminding that a paraffin lamp constructed by Łukasiewicz became the most popular way of lighting residential interiors in the second half of the 19th century. The floor and table lamps, hanging chandeliers, wall lamps and bedside lamps were being produced – starting from very simple lamps to elegant, richly ornamented, with decorative lampshades of glass coloured, frosted and painted into different patterns. You can see a great collection of the lamps in Bóbrka, and if you would like to see even more of them, you should go to nearby Krosno. There, in the Podkarpackie Museum, is the biggest collection of paraffin lamps in Europe.

How to get there?

The Ignacy Łukasiewicz Museum of Oil and Gas Industry in Bóbrka, founded in the still operating mine, exists from the beginning of the 1970’s. Since May until the end of the September it is opened every day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. apart from Mondays, for other months between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. You can drive there from Krosno by road no.98 to the Miejsce Piastowe village and from there to the international road no.9 (leading to the border crossing point in the Barwinek). After a few kilometres you should turn right towards Bóbrka.

You can find more information on the website

Bóbrka – village, Podkarpackie province, Krosno district, Chorkowka commune.

GPS – N: 49° 37′ 55″ E: 21° 42′ 2″


It is worthwhile visiting in surroundings of Bóbrka:

The Podkarpackie Museum in Krosno, 16 Piłsudskiego St,, having the biggest collection of paraffin lamps in Europe.

The Museum of Motorization in Krosno, 5 Tysiąclecia St, Zespół Szkół Mechanicznych. There are old motorcycles, motorbikes and cars restored by pupils as part of graduation works. Two-wheeled vehicles are in the rooms of the building of the school boarding house. However cars are exposed beneath sheds adjoining to buildings of the school workshops.

The monument of Ignacy Łukasiewicz in Chorkówka, erected in 1979. The inventor was living there and died in 1882. His period small manor house was destroyed after the World War II.

The Museum of Maria Konopnicka in Żarnowiec (She was a poet, a novelist, a writer for children and youth, a translator, journalist and critic. This year is the 100th anniversary of her death)

• During the longer expedition to Gorlice it is worthwhile going to the Zawodzie quarter, where, on the crossing streets Węgierska and Kościuszko, a figure of the sorrowful Jesus stands together with the first in the world street paraffin lamp, dated from 1854.

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Photo: J. Kozierkiewicz

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