The Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum at West Virginia University has announced the opening of Light/Lubricant/Liniment: The Early Years of Oil Production and Consumption in West Virginia, 1860–1900.

The exhibition, open through October 31, focuses on the development of West Virginia’s oilfields following Edwin Drake’s 1859 drilling of the first successful oil well in the United States, and explores oil production and usage in late-19th-century America.

Using techniques developed by salt well drillers, early petroleum entrepreneurs launched a search for oil in the mid-19th century. Following the lead of oil pioneers in Pennsylvania, western Virginians first drilled for petroleum in 1860. They successfully struck oil near Burning Springs, Virginia (now West Virginia), triggering a migration of oilmen to the area and the rapid development of numerous oilfields.

Between 1860 and 1900, West Virginia supplied a considerable share of the oil produced and consumed in the U.S. Through historical photographs, archival documents, model oil derricks and displays of early drilling tools, Light/Lubricant/Liniment looks back at the role of West Virginia in America’s early oil industry.

In addition, the exhibition showcases a variety of objects that illustrate the three main uses of liquid petroleum in the late 1800s – as a lighting oil, a lubricating oil and a medicinal oil. Objects on display include kerosene lamps, Standard Oil lubricant samples and early Vaseline bottles, among others.

The volume of oil production in West Virginia grew steadily until 1900, when the state’s oil industry reached its peak. In the early 1900s, gasoline surpassed lighting oil as the most common use for petroleum and oil companies shifted their focus to wells in the western U.S. West Virginia’s oil activity declined as 19th-century drilling methods became largely obsolete.

Light/Lubricant/Liniment was curated by Danielle M. Petrak, museum coordinator of the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum. The objects featured in the exhibition are either owned by the Watts Museum or on loan from other institutions and private collections.

Exhibition Reception
An exhibition reception will be held Sept. 9, from 4:30p.m. to 6:30p.m. The reception is free to the public.

Hours and Location
The Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment. Admission to the Watts Museum is free, and parking is available at the WVU Coliseum.

The Watts Museum is located in Room 125 of the Mineral Resources Building on the Evansdale Campus of West Virginia University.

For additional information, please contact Danielle M. Petrak, museum coordinator, at 304.293.4609 or

Housed in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University, the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the social, cultural and technological history of the coal, oil and natural gas industries of the state of West Virginia through the collection, preservation, research and exhibition of objects relevant to these industries. The Museum is named in honor of Royce J. Watts, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and his wife, Caroline, who have tirelessly supported its mission.

The Museum’s permanent collection includes a wide selection of mining and drilling artifacts, including flame safety lamps, mine rescue equipment, canary cages and model oil derricks. Books, archival documents and a large collection of historical mining photographs are also included in the museum’s holdings.

Selections from the Museum’s permanent collection are always on view, and several temporary exhibitions are displayed each year.



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Danielle M. Petrak, Museum Coordinator

Nicole Riggleman, Public Relations and Marketing, College of Engineering and Mineral Resources