James Miller Williams

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James Miller Williams
Source: Library and Archives Canada

James Miller Williams (September 14, 1818 – November 25, 1890) was a businessman and political figure in Ontario, Canada. He represented Hamilton in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1867 to 1879. He is also commonly viewed as the father of the petroleum industry in Canada.

He was born in 1818 in Camden, New Jersey, and apprenticed as a carriage maker. He came to London in Upper Canada with his family in 1840. With a partner, he set up a business manufacturing carriages, eventually buying out his partner. He moved to Hamilton and expanded his business, manufacturing vehicles for public transit and also railway cars.

In 1855, he entered the business of refining petroleum in Lambton County by taking over the International Mining and Manufacturing Company from Charles Nelson Tripp.[1] Already operating a small 150 gallon/day asphalt well in the Village of Oil Springs, Williams set out during a drought in September 1858 to dig a drinking water well down-slope from it but struck free oil instead, thereby becoming the first person to produce a commercial oil well in North America, one year before Edwin Drake.[2][3] He is also credited with setting up Canada's first refinery of crude oil to produce kerosene, based on the laboratory work of Abraham Gesner.

Two years later in 1860, he set up the Canada Oil Company which produced, refined and marketed petroleum resources in the area; he later sold the company to his son. He was also involved with insurance companies, railways and the manufacturing of tin ware. In 1879, he was appointed registrar for Wentworth County and served until his death in Hamilton in 1890.

In 2008 Canada Post issued a stamp commemorating the first commercial oil well, featuring portraits of Charles Tripp and Williams.[4]


  1. ^ "High Times in Oil Springs". The Village of Oil Springs. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  2. ^ Elizabeth Kolbert "Unconventional crude" New Yorker 2007-11-12 page 46
  3. ^ New York Times 1866-03-22 scanned images
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-09. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 

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