Fuel for Thought

Who is James Miller Williams? The History of the Petroleum Industry Explored!

Mar 10 2015 Read 1628 Times

Known as a True Pioneer of the Canadian Oil Industry, James Miller Williams was at the forefront of the oil revolution long before many of the major companies we know now came to force. 

James Miller Williams was born in 1818 in Camden, New Jersey. His parents were of Welsh background and he was raised in Camden. Shortly prior to his birth, his brother Ronald passed away and he remained an only child until his fifteenth year when a sister Elizabeth was born. Little is known of his upbringing or what became of his parents, but records show that when James was 22 he moved to London, Ontario, with Elizabeth who was then 7 and an adult servant. The family also took with them the skeleton of their deceased brother!

Upon their arrival in Ontario, James established his first foray into business when he took up a partnership with a carriage maker named M Holmes. He bought Holmes out shortly after and some six years later when his business was well established he joined forces with the Hamilton Coach Factory. He and the owner Henry G Cooper forged their business, Williams and Cooper, and continued to run it successfully for nearly a decade.

At the same time, James was establishing himself as a pillar of the local community. He bought a family plot in the local cemetery and laid his brother to rest and became an Alderman, serving twice on the local council.

The oil business

At that time, many business owners were looking towards oil as an investment. James was intrigued by the notion and hired a local man called Charles Nelson Tripp to be his advisor. Upon Tripp’s advice he gave up his share in the coaching business to become a full time manufacturer of refined illuminating oil. In 1958, James’ gamble paid off and he struck oil. He was 39 at the time and the well he had purchased would become known as the first commercially successful oil well in North America.

Within a year, he owned 800 acres of land around Oil Springs where he continued to drill wells. He would become the President of J M Williams Company which would see him doing business in North America and further afield: something nobody else at the time had been able to. In time, the company was renamed the Canadian Oil Company and James received two Bronze medals for his services to industry; the “Father of the Oil Industry” and for having the best refined oil in North America.

It is widely acknowledged that much of his success came from the coincidental fact that the London to Sarnia branch of the Great Western Railway opened in the same year as his striking oil. He was one of only four men who saw the opportunity and laid out their refineries within close proximity of the railway for transportation of their products. Luckily for all, the gamble was a good one.

He died a wealthy man and a true Entrepreneur in 1890.

Looking for more?

If you’re fascinated by the history of the petroleum industry, rewind the clocks with these fascinating posts about James Young and Howard Hughes

Image Source: Wikipedia
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