Abraham Pineo Gesner

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Abraham Pineo Gesner, ONB
Abraham Gesner Photo.png
Abraham Pineo Gesner
BornMay 2, 1797 (1797-05-02)
DiedApril 29, 1864(1864-04-29) (aged 66)
Alma materGuy's Hospital Medical School
St Bartholomew's Hospital
Dalhousie University
Known forInventing kerosene
Scientific career
FieldsGeology, Medicine
InstitutionsGovernment of New Brunswick
North American Kerosene Gas Light Company

Abraham Pineo Gesner, ONB (/ˈɡɛsnər/; May 2, 1797 – April 29, 1864) was a Canadian physician and geologist who invented kerosene.[1] Gesner was born in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia (now called Chipmans Corner) and lived much of his life in Saint John, New Brunswick. He died in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was an influential figure in the development of the study of Canadian geology and natural history.


Born to a well-established farming family in the Annapolis Valley, Gesner pursued a career at sea from a young age. Twice shipwrecked by his early twenties, Gesner returned to the family farm near Chipman Corner, northeast of Kentville. He married Harriet Webster, the daughter of Kentville's Dr. Isaac Webster in 1824, then went to London to study medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital under Sir Astley Paston Cooper, then surgery at Guy's Hospital under John Abernethy.[2] While in London, he became interested in geology, making the acquaintance of Charles Lyell.[3]

Early career[edit]

Returning to Parrsboro as a practising physician, Gesner also pursued his passion for geology. In 1836, he published a study on the mineralogy of Nova Scotia, which included a detailed geological map providing information on the key deposits of iron ore and coal in Nova Scotia. In 1838, he was appointed Provincial Geologist for New Brunswick, charged with the mission to undertake a similar geological survey. In the course of this survey, in 1839 Gesner discovered the bituminous asphalt substance albertite, which he named after Albert County, New Brunswick where it was found.

In 1842, looking for coal, Gesner travelled to Quebec, where he discovered the first of the great fossil deposits of the future Miguasha National Park. However, little notice was taken of his report until the fossils were rediscovered in 1879.

In 1842, Gesner started "Gesner's Museum of Natural History", in Saint John, New Brunswick, the first public museum in Canada. This later became the New Brunswick Museum.[4]


Gesner's research in minerals resulted in his 1846 development of a process to refine a liquid fuel from coal, bitumen and oil shale.[1] His new discovery, which he named kerosene, burned more cleanly and was less expensive than competing products, such as whale oil and Camphine. In 1850, Gesner created the Kerosene Gaslight Company and began installing lighting in the streets in Halifax and other cities. By 1854, he had expanded to the United States where he created the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company at Long Island, New York. Demand grew to where his company's capacity to produce became a problem, but the discovery of petroleum, from which kerosene could be more easily produced, solved the supply problem.

Abraham Gesner continued his research on fuels and wrote a number of scientific studies concerning the industry including an 1861 publication titled, A Practical Treatise on Coal, Petroleum and Other Distilled Oils, which became a standard reference in the field. Eventually, Gesner's company was absorbed into the petroleum monopoly, Standard Oil and he returned to Halifax, where he was appointed a Professor of Natural History at Dalhousie University.[5][6]

Gesner himself was humble about his contribution to the development of the petroleum industry. In his Practical Treatise, he said that "the progress of discovery in this case, as in others, has been slow and gradual. It has been carried on by the labours, not of one mind, but of many, so as to render it difficult to discover to whom the greatest credit is due."[7]


In 1933, Imperial Oil Ltd., a Standard Oil subsidiary, erected a memorial in Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax to pay tribute to Gesner's contribution to the petroleum industry.

The City of Halifax renamed a street at the west end of Fairview between Melrose and Adelaide in honor of Gesner. Formerly a part of Dunbrack Street, the construction of the Dunbrack Street/North West Arm Drive connector during the 1980s prompted the renaming of this segment.

There is a street named for Gesner in the west part of Ottawa's Katimavik-Hazeldean neighbourhood, where the residential streets are named for Canadian inventors. Whether by plan or by coincidence, it dead-ends at an Esso (Imperial Oil) gas station.[8]

In 2000, he was honored by the placement of his image on a postage stamp by Canada Post. In 2016, Gesner was posthumously awarded the Order of New Brunswick by the province of his longtime residence.

Starting in 1998, the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro Nova Scotia, a former residence of Gesner, has awarded an "Abraham Gesner Work Scholarship" to a local student who shows keen interest in the sciences.

Written works[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ed Butts (2019-10-04). "The cautionary tale of whale oil". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2019-10-06. Retrieved 2019-10-07. Then in 1846, a Nova Scotian physician and geologist named Abraham Gesner invented kerosene. This pioneering form of fossil fuel, which some called coal oil, burned cleaner and brighter than whale oil, and didn’t have a pungent odour.
  2. ^ Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  3. ^ Abraham Gesner, Part One: A Father of Petroleum by Hans Durstling Archived June 20, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Abraham Gesner by the New Brunswick Museum
  5. ^ Murray, T J (1993), "Dr Abraham Gesner: the father of the petroleum industry", Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (published Jan 1993), 86 (1), pp. 43–4, PMC 1293824, PMID 8423576
  6. ^ Swinton, W E (1976), "Physician contributions to nonmedical science: Abraham Gesner, inventor of kerosene", Canadian Medical Association Journal (published Dec 4, 1976), 115 (11), pp. 1126–33, PMC 1878918, PMID 793702
  7. ^ "The Industrial Revolutionaries--The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914" by Gavin Weightman, Grove Press, 2009
  8. ^ http://goo.gl/maps/17hN9

External links[edit]