Human Exploitation in the United States

By Norman Thomas | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER VI
NEW SOURCES OF PHYSICAL ENERGY

There is nothing new about either oil or water power. Enough petroleum had oozed up through the earth to make it a familiar sight to men of ancient times. They thought of it, however, as waterproofing or as a medicine, not as a source of light and power. The ancient Chinese, the Greeks and medieval Europeans included it in their pharmacopoeia, and it was as a medicine that 2,000 years later it first attracted the attention of Colonel Edward Laurancien Drake, of Titusville, Pennsylvania, who in 1859 dug the world's first successful oil well.

As for water power the use of running water to turn a water wheel was for centuries about the only kind of mechanical energy which man harnessed to his service. Nevertheless, water power in the modern sense waited for the development of turbine engines and electricity before it could assume its present great importance. The entire development of the electric power industry is even more marvelous than the story of oil. The first bill for electric current was sent out in New York City in 1882, only a little more than fifty years ago. To-day electricity is the world's slave, ready to supply it with abundance.

With the romantic history of the development of the oil industry and hydro-electric power we are not greatly concerned except as it helps to illustrate three things: (I) The extraordinary technical skill which man has acquired; (2) his equally extraordinary failure to use for his own best interests this skill; and (3) the inter

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