A Short History Of Lubrication

Evidence of lubrication in an industrial setting can be traced back to ancient Egypt where analysis showed that wheels were treated with tallow animal fat to reduce the friction on large sleds used to transport large heavy loads. Not to be outdone, the ancient Chinese had their own mixture of vegetable oils and lead.

The use of vegetable and animal oils continued up until the 8th Century when whale oil was used in lubricating rudders and pulleys on ships. Naphtha, a distilled hydrocarbon based flammable oil (like modern day lighter fuel) was also used by ship builders.

Fast forward to 1845 when the first use of crude oil is attributed to a cotton spinning mill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The mill owner experimented with this oil by mixing it with the sperm whale oil used to lubricate spindles on a weaving loom. Then in 1859 the American oil industry was born after the first American oil strike in Pennsylvania which formed the basis for most lubricants throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Growing demands from the emerging auto industry saw lubricant manufacturers begin to process their petroleum-based oils to improve lubricant performance. New treatment processes, some more successful than others, are developed during the 1920s. The most successful, solvent refining emerges to become one of the most viable methods.

Additives were introduced in the 1930s and 1940s primarily to inhibit oxidation, resist corrosion, and improve viscosity. and more emerge Around 1940s, they are widely used in lubricant formulations, designed prolong the performance and service life of automotive engine oils. Before this, auto engine oils without additives would typically provide only up to 80 to 100 hours of service.

Synthetic lubricants were developed in the 1950s, driven by demands by the aviation and aerospace industries. Multigrade automotive engine oils are also introduced.

Evolution of industrial lubricant continues as increasingly advanced products are developed to meet the rising demands of modern machinery for enhanced productivity, reliability, energy efficiency and environmental responsibility.