Notes for SAMUEL MARTIN KIER:
Son of Thomas and Mary (Martin) Kier.
Born: July 19, 1813 in Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
Died: October 6, 1874 in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
Married: Nancy Eicher March 16, 1842 in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
Kier was born in Conemaugh Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania near the town of Livermore. He was the son of Thomas Kier and Mary Martin Kier. The Kiers were Scots-Irish immigrants who owned several salt wells around Livermore and nearby Saltsburg.
In addition to the salt business, Samuel helped found Kier, Royer and Co., in 1838. The company was a canal boat operation that shipped coal between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Kier also owned interest in several coal mines, a brickyard, and a pottery factory.
He, along with several other investors including Benjamin F. Jones, founded several iron foundries in west central Pennsylvania. The iron business would be the forerunner of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, one of the largest steel producers in America.
Salt wells and oil
By the 1840s, Kier's salt wells were becoming fouled with petroleum. At first, Kier simply dumped the useless oil into the nearby Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, but after an oil slick caught fire, he saw a way to profit from this otherwise worthless byproduct. With no formal training in science or chemistry, he began experimenting with several distillates of the crude oil along with a chemist from eastern Pennsylvania. He developed a substance he named "Rock Oil" and later "Seneca Oil". In 1848, he began packaging the substance as a patent medicine charging $0.50 per bottle. He also produced petroleum butter (petroleum jelly) and sold it as a topical ointment. Neither product proved to be a commercial success.
After further experimenting, he discovered an economical way to produce kerosene. Kerosene had been known for some time but was not widely produced and was considered to have little economic value. But at the time whale oil, the principle fuel for lamps in America, was becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.
Kier began selling the kerosene, named "Carbon Oil", to local miners in 1851. He also invented a new lamp to burn his product. Kier never obtained a patent for his developments and many other inventors and businessmen would go on to improve upon his work yielding huge fortunes. Even so, Kier's income at the time exceeded US$40,000 per year, a huge sum for the time.
Kier established America's first oil refinery in Pittsburgh on Seventh avenue near Grant Street, in 1853. A marker identifying the site read's "Kier Refinery" - Using a five-barrel still, Samuel M. Kier erected on this site about 1854 the first commercial refinery to produce illuminating oil from petroleum. He used crude oil from salt wells at Tarentum." Kier consulted with Edwin Drake concerning Drake's experimental oil well and the first shipment of oil from Drake's well went to Kier's refinery.