Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company Stock Certificate (107780)

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Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company Stock Certificate  (107780)
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Low number 8 for 100 shares to Walter B Roberts, one of the company founders, on April 11th, 1865. Signed by secretary Frank Norton and president William Fogg. Not cancelled. This has to be one of the more unusual stock certificates we have offered for sale. Two vignettes. The first shows an 1860's oil well scene. The dramatic second vignette shows how the Roberts petroleum torpedo worked, by exploding deep in an oil well to fracture surrounding rocks. 25 cent adhesive revenue stamp at right. Pinholes, very light wear. The Roberts Petroleum Torpedo was the brainchild of Colonel E.A.L. Roberts, with the help of his brother Walter B Roberts. E.A.L. had noted the effects of explosive rounds landing in a canal at the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. A Pennsylvania historical marker near Titusville states “Roberts Torpedo – First successful device for increasing the flow of oil by setting off an explosion deep in a well. It was publicly demonstrated in 1865…” Their first patent for an “Improvement in Exploding Torpedoes in Artesian Wells” was granted on April 25, 1865 and a patent for the actual Roberts Torpedo was awarded in November 1866. It dramatically changed the oil industry by increasing oil production from existing wells.

The Roberts invention was a simple 'torpedo' filled with nitroglycerin that was lowered down a rope and ignited when a large weight was sent down that rope. Simple, yes! Dangerous, yes! Easy to copy, yes. For 25 years the brothers would spend a great deal of time and energy fighting patent infringements and "moon-lighters" who produced their own unlicensed varieties. They were call moon-lighters as they would only do this at night to avoid detection from the detectives that were hired by the Roberts brothers to spy on oil fields. It is estimated that as many as 2,000 lawsuits were in court at one time! Explosions in the field, especially with moon-lighters, were constant. It is estimated that at least 120 people lost their lives in factories and warehouses, during transportation by wagon, and during handling by shooters (those who actually sent down the torpedo and weight.) Even curious bystanders were sometimes killed.

As one author put it, this was fracking before there was fracking.

Country (if not USA):
State: Pennsylvania
City/County: Titusville
Date: 1865