Charles Lockhart of Pittsburgh first became involved in the early Pittsburgh area petroleum trade in 1852, seven years before the commercial success of the Drake Well in 1859. Lockhart bought crude skimmed from saltwells located near Tarentum above Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River and resold it to the several small Pittsburgh refineries distilling it for lamp oil. By 1858, the Pittsburgh trade along the lower Allegheny amounted to 1200 barrels a year. In September 1859, Lockhart joined with other Pittsburgh and Freeport men to form a firm, Phillips, Frew & Co., to drill for oil on the south bank of the Allegheny across from the mouth of Oil Creek in Venango County. The firm’s first well at this site was called the Albion which came in at 20-40 barrels a day in March 1860. The first shipment of crude, 60 barrels, by river from the Albion Well to Pittsburgh was made that same month inaugurating what would become the principal route of shipping crude out of the Oil Region for the next eight years
Lockhart’s partners included William Frew, William Phillips, John Vannausdall and A. V. Kipp. In addition to the Albion Well site, this pioneering firm leased a two-rod wide strip at the water’s edge of the Tarr Farm up on Oil Creek. William Phillips was the firm’s driller and brought two big flowing wells in on the Tarr Farm lease. The second, the Phillips No. 2, at 3660 barrels a day, held the record for production in the Oil Region for twenty-four years. Before the Phillips No. 2 came in, Lockhart and William Frew in 1860 began their first refinery in Pittsburgh, the Brilliant, to refine the crude from the Albion Wells. This refinery, the Brilliant, would eventually be one of seven significant refineries owned by the firm of Lockhart, Frew & Co. in Pittsburgh in the 1860’s. Lockhart. working with pioneer refiner John Gracie in Pittsburgh, made significant improvements in refining apparatus that were used throughout the industry. In the first decade after the Drake Well, Pittsburgh, benefiting from the river route from the Oil Region, was the largest refining center in the country and Lockhart, Frew & Co. were the largest refiners in Pittsburgh with about half of Pittsburgh’s refining capacity.
Charles Lockhart and William Frew bought out the Tarr Farm and Albion Well producing interests of the other partners in the firm of Phillips, Frew & Co. in 1863. Lockhart, Frew & Co. established a crude oil buyers office on Centre Street in Oil City where they continued to provide a market for the heavy production flowing from the early Oil Region. In the late 1860’s, the producers, buyers, and speculators would gather in Lockhart, Frew & Co.’s Oil City office to buy, sell and gamble on crude stored in tanks or contracts for future delivery. The firm’s Oil City office became an unorganized oil exchange.
About 1865, if not earlier, another Pittsburgh man, William Warden joined his interests with Lockhart, Frew & Co. In Pittsburgh, the firm built large iron storage tanks to hold crude for later sale or shipment by train to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, the three Pittsburgh partners established a crude oil commission house in 1865 known as Warden, Frew & Company; William Warden moved to Philadelphia. The firm purchased crude for speculation and resale in Philadelphia and New York. They built a refinery in Philadelphia called the Atlantic. Charles Lockhart became the first president of the Atlantic Refining Co.
The refining industry was grossly overbuilt and inefficient in the early 1870’s. Recognizing the dire need to consolidate and rationalize the petroleum refining industry, Charles Lockhart recommended the Pittsburgh Plan for consolidation to the refiners of New York, Cleveland, and the Oil Region at a meeting in Titusville in May 1872. This would lead to a National Refiners Association and the combining of the refining properties owned jointly by Charles Lockhart, William Frew and William Warden in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with that of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in October 1874. This great merger of Pennsylvania refineries with Standard Oil included the Brilliant, the National, the Nonpareil, the Standard, the Lily, the Crystal and the Model in Pittsburgh – all to be named Standard Oil of Pittsburgh, and the Atlantic Refinery in Philadelphia. For these Pennsylvania properties, the firm of Warden, Frew & Co. received 6,250 shares of Standard Oil stock. In March 1875, Charles Lockhart and William Warden were named to the Standard Oil board of directors joining a group of just thirteen men who would manage over eighty per cent of the country’s crude oil transportation and refining before the end of the decade.
Only a very small handful of oil men were in it from the beginning. Charles Lockhart was among them. For decades as a buyer, producer and refiner he provided the vision, the belief, the enterprise, the resourcefulness and financial courage to build the American Oil industry from its earliest days. He was a Pittsburgh man, a Pennsylvania man who through the great achievements of the Standard Oil Co. gave the nation a great new source of light, energy and prosperity.
Written by Neil McElwee, 2007.
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Study in Power, Vol. I, Allan Nevins