The oil industry has a long history, dating back to prehistoric times.
In the 1860s, Pennsylvania’s oil fields emerged as a major supplier of oil after Edwin Drake discovered oil near Titusville. Initially, Pennsylvania oil was transported in 40-US-gallon wooden barrels using break-bulk boats and barges. However, this method had its challenges. One of the main issues was the weight of the barrels, which accounted for 20% of the total weight when filled. Additionally, barrels were expensive, prone to leakage, and typically used only once. In fact, during the early years of the Russian oil industry, barrels accounted for half the cost of petroleum production.
In late 1861 the two masted, square-rigged cargo ship Elizabeth Watts departed the Philadelphia docks on Nov. 19, 1861, and arrived at London’sVictoria Dock 45 days later. It took twelve days to unload the 1,329 barrels of oil.
The Elisabeth Watts was a cargo ship and not a tanker.
In 1863, two sail-driven tankers were built on England’s River Tyne. These were followed in 1873 by the first oil-tank steamer, Vaderland, which was built by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company for Belgian owners. The vessel’s use was curtailed by US and Belgian authorities citing safety concerns
The transport of oil on the waterways from Baku to the market in Europe required fresh ideas. With his experiences of building tankers for the Russian navy, Ludvig Nobel became the first person to design and order a tanker built of steel.
Ludvig had previously been working on designing steam engines for the Russian navy’s vessels. Now he was able to make use of his experiences and ordered a boat built of Bessemer steel in November 1877, the first in the world. He ordered this from a supplier who would later deliver many vessels to Branobel – the Swedish Lindholmen’s shipyard in Gothenburg, owned by Motala works where the engineer Almqvist was manager. Together, they designed a vessel with built in cisterns. The steamer was christened, Zoroaster, after the fire worshippers’ prophet, Zarathustra, who was also to become Branobel’s company symbol. The religion of the Zoroasters was fashionable and many Europeans were interested in it.
The dimensions and draught of the steamer were determined by the water flows in the Don and Volga. During two weeks of high water in the spring, it was possible to sail from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea. Zoroaster’s eight loose cisterns could be removed so as to reduce its draught in shallows channels. It was Ludvig’s first son, Hjalmar Crusell, who took the vessel across the Baltic through the Russian river system and waterways to Baku in May 1878.
Nobel’s Zoroaster was the world’s first successful oil tanker.
The steamer was studied carefully by competitors and shipowners. The Russian state, harbour authorities, private Russian shipowners in Baku and in Odessa ordered ships and machinery from Motala works and Lindholmen’s shipyard in Sweden. Branobel placed total orders with Motala Engineering Works, Lindholmen, Bergsund, Lindberg and Kockum shipyards for 53 tank steamers to a value of SEK 12 million. Later, the Nobels’ ships were built in Åbo in Finland and at the Kolomna works south of Moscow.
(Source: AOGHS/Wikipedia/Branobel History – Image: Zoroaster tanker/Branobel)