Gilsonite or Natural Bitumen was first discovered in the United States of America in the 19th century. It’s confirmed that the Native Americans who lived in the state of Utah were familiar with this material, yet there was neither commercial nor scientific use of it until the pioneers entered the Continent.
The discovery was made by Samuel H. Gilson who was a marshal in the Utah area while attending a horse trading business in the livestock market. He detected (or was leaded to by a local) a shiny black raw material, which eventually after examination at the Columbia College School of Mines in 1865, proved to be over 95% made of hydrocarbons.
Throughout the years, Mr. Gilson made lots of efforts to use the newly discovered item for different applications, in order to make commercial benefit out of it, yet mostly unsuccessful. His ultimate achievement was selling his company under his own name to a firm in Saint Luis which was then renamed to The Gilson Asphaltum Company.
In later years, different commercial purposes of Gilsonite were found and applied. Some companies developed more advanced usage such as Printing Inks and Drilling Mud Additives and some failed significantly including John Kelly. His approach was to use Gilsonite instead of coal. Also American Gilsonite Company failed to extract Diesel from Gilsonite while having it moved through pipes from Utah to Colorado.
The first authentic commercialization of Gilsonite was launched by Chevron. They established the American Gilsonite Company in order to uncover workable applications for the natural bitumen and also locate stable markets for the product. That resulted into a successful business for 100 years until a dramatic hit at 2012 when oil prices around the globe started falling.
– The University of Utah