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1 James Young at Bathgate (c.1850-1864)

James Young, a Glasgow-born chemical engineer from humble origins, devised a process for producing mineral oil from cannel coal, which he protected with a carefully worded patent. In 1850, Young and his two partners constructed Bathgate Chemical Works, sited close to supplies of the oil-rich Boghead cannel coal which yielded up to 120 gallons of crude oil per ton. Initially intended to produce lubricating oil, it was soon discovered that a market also existed for lighter oils that could be burned in lamps. The promise of clean affordable domestic lighting brought an immediate demand for the new lamp oil, and immense public interest in James Young and his very profitable secret works in Bathgate. Despite strict security surrounding operations at Bathgate, many throughout Europe and the USA attempted to copy the process, but Young successfully defended his patent and even travelled to America to claim royalties due to him.

Liquid petroleum was discovered in the US in 1859 and by 1862 was being imported into Scotland at prices far lower than home-produced oils. This competition, the exhaustion of Boghead coal reserves, the expiry of Young’s patent, and friction between the partners led to the dissolution of the partnership of E W Binney & Company in 1864.

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