Monday, December 06, 2010

American Colossus

I'm almost halfway through American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 and thought I would share a couple of excerpts:
The bigger gamble was that new sources of oil could be found. During its entire brief history, the American oil industry had depended on a single source, the oil district of northwestern Pennsylvania. The older wells there were beginning to fail, and one had to think the newer wells would fail, too. The state geologist of Pennsylvania went so far as to describe "the amazing exhibition of oil" in the producing region as a "temporary and vanishing phenomenon, one which young men will live to see come to its natural end."

John Archbold, one of Rockefeller's own men at Standard, said the chances of finding another field like that of the Oil Creek district were "at least one hundred to one against." Standard might own the entire industry, but without more oil it wouldn't be an industry worth owning. Already railroads were reluctant to reinvest in equipment to handle oil shipments.
Translation: peak oil doom-mongering is nothing new. This bit about the steel industry is also of interest:
As much as [Andrew] Carnegie learned about the manufacture of steel, and as expert as he became in the craft, he never lost a sense of wonder as to what it all entailed. In a reflective moment he summarized his life's work:

Two pounds of iron-stone purchased on the shores of Lake Superior and transported to Pittsburgh;
Two pounds of coal mined in Connellsville and manufactured into coke and brought to Pittsburgh;
One-half pound of limestone mined east of the Alleghenies and brought to Pittsburgh;
A little manganese ore mined in Virginia and brought to Pittsburgh;
And these four and one half pounds of material manufactured into one pound of steel and sold for one cent. That's all that need be said about the steel business.
Pretty amazing, and all driven by self-interest and the desire to make a buck.

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