George Bissell (industrialist)

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George Henry Bissell
George Henry Bissell by Gurney, 1860s.jpg
Born(1821-11-08)November 8, 1821
DiedNovember 19, 1884(1884-11-19) (aged 63)
Resting placeDartmouth College Cemetery
Known forAmerican oil industry pioneer

George Henry Bissell (November 8, 1821 – November 19, 1884) is often considered the father of the American oil industry. He was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, the son of Isaac Bissell and Nancy Wemple.[1]

In 1853 he observed by chance the primitive oil-gathering industry in western Pennsylvania, although his interest in what was then known as "rock oil" had been piqued by seeing samples while a student at Dartmouth College. At the time, oil was gathered by such crude methods as soaking blankets in surface oil and then draining the blankets over barrels. The oil was used mainly for medicinal purposes.

Bissell had the innovative idea of using this oil to produce kerosene, then in high demand. After getting confirmation of the usefulness of the product from Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman Jr., he and his partner, Jonathan Eveleth, formed the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company for this purpose. In 1856, after seeing pictures of derrick drilling for salt, Bissell conceived of the idea of drilling for oil, rather than mining it. This was widely considered ludicrous at the time but on August 27, 1859, the company first succeeded in striking oil, on a farm in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Bissell invested heavily in the surrounding region and ended up becoming a wealthy businessman.

The company's agent, Edwin Drake, is sometimes credited with the "discovery" of oil.



  • The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin. (1991; ISBN 0-671-50248-4)
  • George Bissell at Find a Grave