The motor car is one of the greatest inventions of all time in its effect on society. Although there have been attempts to power automobiles using coal as a fuel (the Stanley Steamer was the most famous car of that genre), soon engines that used fuel derived from petroleum drove the coal powered ones out of the market. They were lighter, more efficient, and generally superior to steam engines. This marriage of motor cars and petroleum products led to oil becoming the most used fossil fuel. Oil's use in generating electricity and its effectiveness in powering airplanes, locomotives, and speedboats have also helped to put it ahead of all other sources of energy. It has occupied this premium position since 1940 and will probably continue to do so as long as ample supplies of oil are available. As had been noted, it supplies 40 percent of the energy used in the United States with coal and natural gas each contributing 25 percent.
Oil has been known since very ancient times. People first became aware of it when it appeared in certain rock outcroppings. Its name petroleum (petro- rock-, oleum- oil) is derived from rocks impregnated with oil that could support a flame. These were frequently found near places where oil had oozed out of the ground.
The following information about the early history of oil is taken from a book written by Abraham Gesner in the middle of the nineteenth century and reprinted in 1968 by A. M. Kelley, entitled A Practical Treatise on Coal, Petroleum and Other Distilled Oils. Herodotus, the Greek historian, mentions that Anderrica wells yielded oil among