Thursday, April 2, 2015

Whale Oil

I grew up on Martha's Vineyard which was a huge whaling port during the 19th Century and Whale oil was what drove them to the open seas. Below are some tidbits about whale oil that some of you may not have known. The primary use of the whale oil was for lamps but it had other uses as well.

Whale-oil prepared by the method just described, is of a pale honey-yellow colour; but sometimes, when the blubber from which it is procured happens to be of the red kind, the oil appears of a reddish-brown colour. When first extracted, it is commonly thick, but after standing some time, a mucilaginous substance subsides, and it becomes tolerably limpid and transparent. Its smell is somewhat offensive, especially when it is long kept. It consists of oil, properly so called, a small portion of spermaceti, and a little gelatin. At the temperature of 40°, the latter substances become partially concrete, and make the oil obscure, and at the temperature of 82°, render it thick with flaky crystals. It is sold by the ton of 252 gallons, wine-measure. A gallon of oil, by measure, weighs 7 lb. 10 oz.
Source: The Whale Fishery ©1820

Using Whale Oil Soap to help protect fruit trees:
The manner in which Capt. Randall uses the whale oil soap, and which we consider the most important part of his communication, is as follows:—eight to ten pounds of whale oil soap are put into a common pail, to which a sufficient quantity of warm water is added, so that when well mixed together, the whole is about the consistence of good'thick paint. With this pail of soap, thinned in this manner, the man having a small tin pail, or bag, or pocket, filled with fine sand, tied round bis waist, with a coarse crash cloth, and a paint brush, is ready for operations. He first wets his cloth with soap, then scatters on some dry sand, and gives the trunk and branches a good rubbing; nfter which, with a hand brush, he puts on a coat of the soap, prepared as above, equal to a thick coat of paint. The time selected for the operation is just at the termination of a storm of rain, when the moss, or any roughness on the bark, will yield more readily to rubbing.
Source: Magazine of Horticulture ©1842

Increasing Consumption of'Whale-oil.—It appears worthy of remark, that notwithstanding the large consumption of coal fur gas, which has in a great degree superseded the use of oil for street-lighting, the aggregate consumption of whale-oil has very materially increased. This fact is of course referable to the fashion now become very general of burning table-lamps in the *ace of candles in our dwellings; but it must excite surprise in the mind of every one when first made acquainted with the fact, that during this time the use of candles in dwellings, and especially of wax-candles, has also increased in a greater proportion than the population. It has been suggested, and with much apparent reason, that this increase may be consequent upon the greater brilliancy of the streets since they have been lighted with gas, since we have thus been made dissatisfied with the quantum of light previously thought sufficient within our houses. Certain it is, that our apartmcnU are much more brilliantly lighted now than they were before the introduction of coal-gas, whether that invention be chargeable with the increase or not.—Porter's Progress of the Nation,
Source: The Penny Magazine ©1843

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