Jan Jósef Ignacy Lukasiewicz (1822–82)

Jan Jósef Ignacy Łukasiewicz was one of the outstanding pioneers of the oil industry in Europe, the inventor of the kerosene lamp, and co-founder of the first petroleum extraction company. He was born near Mielec in present-day Poland but then in the Hapsburg Empire, and after passing through secondary school worked at pharmacists’ shops at Lańcut and L’viv, now in Ukraine, where he developed an interest in petroleum. The region at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains had long been known for its shallow deposits of petroleum which was then used as lubricant grease and as medicine for animals.

In 1852 Łukasiewicz distilled some petroleum and offered it for sale as a patent medicine. When it failed to sell he conceived the idea of using it for lighting. By fractional distillation he obtained pure kerosene but had to design a new kind of lamp that could use it. The first kerosene lamp was lit at Mikulasch’s pharmacy in L’viv in March 1853 and the city’s hospital was lit by similar lamps the following July, providing a much improved means of illuminating operating theatres. In the same year he developed the first oil lamp to be used for lighting streets. 

In 1854 Łukasiewicz, with Tytus Trzecieaki and Karol Klobassa established some of the world’s first oil wells in Bóbrka, and two years later he was a partner in the first Polish oil refinery which opened at Ulaszowice. In 1870 he introduced jump drilling at the Bóbrka, workshops. He ceased his work as a pharmacist to work in the oil industry through which he became very rich, and in his later years devoted much of his time and money to philanthropy.