Page images
PDF

ART. XIV.-Review of Dr. Antisell's Work on Photogenic Oils, &c.

[The following Review of Dr. Antisell's book on Photogenic Oils has been for some months in type waiting an opportunity when our other engagements would permit its publication. It will amply repay the careful perusal of all who are interested in this important practical subject—EDs.]

REVIEW.

1. The Manufacture of Photogenic or Hydro-Carbon Oils from Coal and other Bituminous Substances capable of supplying Burning Fluids; by THOMAs ANTiSELL, M.D., Professor of Chemistry in the Medical Department of Georgetown College, D.C., etc. etc. New York and London: D. Appleton & Co. 1859. pp. 144.—In entering an earnest protest against the work before us, we would not have our motives misunderstood. We are not of those who would condemn a book solely on the ground that it is “not so good as it should be,” and will not therefore urge this objection against the effort of our Author, although it would be hard to find a case to which the charge would more forcibly apply. But we do condemn most heartily the presumption of the man who in these days attempts to write a handbook upon any scientific or technological subject with which he is not somewhat familiar. We believe, moreover, that errors, either of omission or of commission— accidental or intentional—in scientific writings, which exceed the well-understood conventional limits of tolerance, should not be allowed quietly to pass without correction. Dr. ANTiSELL, from his position of chemical examiner in the Patent Office at Washington, has naturally had a rare opportunity of familiarising himself with the recent improvements which have been made—or claimed—in the manufacture of coal oils. In the work in question, he has published an index of these, which cannot but be acceptable to all who are interested either in the practical or scientific consideration of the subject. Had this list been published by itself, or had it been incorporated with a portion of the materials which Dr. A. has now exhibited, in an article, or a short series of articles, in some one of our scientific or technological magazines, it would have been most gratefully received, and, we doubt not, widely copied. Diluted and scattered as this information has been, however, that it might fill a volume, its value has been lessened in no slight degree. We have endeavored, in vain, to make out the point of view from which the Author regarded his subject. Claiming the attention of all persons engaged in the manufacture of liquid products from the distillation of mineral combustibles, his work is nevertheless not a didactic one. In it scarcely any attempt is made to instruct the manufacturer, either by a clear enunciation of general principles to be followed, or of special details to be observed in given cases;* while a most lamentable lack of familiarity with the chemistry of the subject is continually exhibited throughout the work. Indeed the book is simply a jumble of badly selected extracts, huddled together in a manner which must be anything but edifying to the student. As a compilation, it has the merit of directing attention to a number of sources from which valuable information may be derived; while it has the great fault of omitting to mention numerous other sources of knowledge of equal or of greater value. In several instances, moreover, erroneous assertions are made, or wrongful conclusions drawn. One or two of these we propose to discuss and correct

* In this respect our author has fallen far below the level attained by previous writers upon the subject. Compare for example: UHLENHUTH, Handbuch der, Photogen-und Paraffin-Fabrikation. Quedlinburg Basse, 1858. t

in this article. Our attention will be especially directed to the first chapter of Dr. Antisell's book—“History of the Art”—for in it are errors which have too long been current in the annals of chemical science—errors, the repetition of which by our author is the more unpardonable, since, from his very position, he should have known them to be such. Indeed, from statements to be found in various parts of his work, it would appear that he must have known of these errors—that he must have been in possession of most of the facts which will here be brought forward.

That we may form a correct notion of the subject under discussion, let us here digress for a moment. As a general rule, when any bituminous substance is subjected to distillation—in the ordinary acceptation of the term, i.e., when it is gradually heated in any appropriate apparatus, a quantity of an oily fluid is produced, which may be collected in receivers; small quantities of gas, water, and other incidental products being at the same time obtained. J. The oily liquid, which alone interests us here, known in this country as Grude coal oil, is a mixture of various hydrocarbons, among which the wax-like substance Paraffine is an almost never-failing constituent. Crude oil, though of course varying greatly, according to the sources from which it is derived, like the various marketable “coal oils” obtained from it by purification, is specially characterized by its low specific gravity, being capable of floating upon Water. When, on the other hand, a bituminous substance, instead of being gently and gradually heated, is suddenly exposed to the action of an intense heat— when, as in the ordinary process of gas-making, it is thrown into vessels of iron or clay, which have previously been brought to a bright red heat, a different set of products is obtained. A large quantity of permanent gas is produced, while the liquids formed are no longer the light oily compounds just spoken of, but are composed of another set of hydrocarbons which taken collectively, are heavier than water. These constitute coal-tar. Among them paraffine is no longer found, excepting in comparatively rare instances, another solid substance, Naphthaline, being a characteristic component of the mixture. When the process to which the bituminous matter is subjected is a mixed one, i.e., when a portion of the substance comes in contact with strongly heated surfaces, while other portions receive only an amount of heat sufficient to distill off oils of the kind first described, a mixed product, containing both coal-oil and coaltar, is naturally obtained. As an instance of such mixed product may be mentioned the tar obtained in the preparation of gas from Boghead coal,” it being almost impossible, in this case, to maintain the retorts at the temperature best suited for gas-making, on account of the great amount of heat which is rendered latent by the enormous volume of gas generated by this highly bituminous substance. It should be mentioned, that both crude coal-oil and coal-tar contain a quantity of “light stuff” composed of several exceedingly volatile and inflammable liquids. Some of these naphtha-like fluids, for example benzol—the benzine of the French—(known as benzule in the private vocabulary of Dr. Antisell, or that of his proof-reader)—may occur both in crude-oil and in tar; others do not. We refer to these “light-stuffs” here merely for the purpose of explaining that they have been at times spoken of as “volatile oils,” from the resemblance which they bear to spirits of turpentine and other essential oils, and to eliminate them from the discussion. They are of but minor interest at the present moment, when compared with the true “coal-oil” now so largely employed in this country. We may mention, in passing, that Dr. Antisell has very inconsiderately obscured his historical sketch of the progress of the art of distilling coal-oil

* In * same class are several Scotch cannels, our own Breckenridge and allied coals, asso the Albert coal of New Brunswick and the like. SECOND SERIES, Vol. XXX, No. 88–JULY, 1860.

by blending with it the question of coal-tar naphthas. He has, for that matter, been unfortunate throughout in the presentation of this part of his subject; all the crude liquid products of distillation, at whatever temperature the process has been conducted, being indiscriminately classed by him as tar. , Now, it is well known to practical men, as has already been described, that the products obtained from bituminous matters by slowly distilling them, is as different from coal-tar as ether is from alcohol. The term crude-oil, by which the first-named liquid is known to manufacturers in this country, characterizes it perfectly; so does the term huile de schiste (written at times simply “schiste”) of the French.* It is surprising that Dr. Antisell should have followed the example of several German authors—without their excuse—in thus perplexing his readers.

In returning from this digression, we would expressly declare our disbelief in the adage which allows for the existence of no novelty. Still we do believe that very few of the arts have sprung into existence in a day, their perfection, and especially their development, having almost always resulted from the successive labors of numerous individuals; and we do believe that the inventor, who first practically “applies” any abstract knowledge, and thus creates a new art or branch of industry, is entitled to credit therefore—and to far more credit, and that of a different order, than the man who subsequently introduces this art into a foreign country. We would not detract from the efforts of the latter; on the contrary, would accord them high praise; but we desire, first of all, to see justice meted out to him who created the art—to those who increase human knowledge, sooner than to its mere diffusers. We would therefore join issue with Dr. Antisell when, in his preface, he tells us that his book is a “record of the origin and condition of an infant art,” and again mentions “this new branch of industry.” So, also, in the first lines of his Historical Introduction, where he speaks of “the new and extensive manufacture of oils from coal and other bituminous substances.” For these statements are not only erroneous in themselves, but they—no less than the unfair allusions which appear on subsequent pages—tend to do great injustice to earlier inventors, and especially to the memory of a man whose name must ever remain inseparably connected with the history of the art of manufacturing the fluid now known as coal or paraffine-oil. We refer to SELLigue. More than twenty-five years ago, this inventor's method of obtaining such oil was described in the Journal des Connaissances Usuelles, for Dec., 1834, p.285. (See also Dingler's Polytechnisches Journal, 1835, lvi, 40.) This article was subsequently followed by numerous others, until in Selligue's patent of March 19, 1845, we find the whole subject treated of most fully and clearly. As a lucid and truthful description of his processes and of the products obtained, this specification is most praiseworthy. Few subsequent writers upon the subject have been able to add anything to the stock of knowledge which it imparts. Taken for all in all, it is doubtless the most meritorious essay which has ever been published upon the art of manufacturing coal-oil. We can but reiterate our statement, that the brief, inaccurate, and exceedingly superficial comments which have been bestowed by Dr. A. (pp. 9, 80, etc.) upon the information which Selligue has imparted in his admirable series of essays, does great injustice to the subject as well as to this author. Leaving for a moment the minute consideration of Selligue's improvements, let us first glance at the labors of some of his predecessors. As Dr. Antisell has truly said (p. 7), the discovery of the production of oil from coal appears to date as far back as the time-of-Boyle, (1728–1799), when the well known experiments of Dr. Clayton were made.}

* We may here observe, that throughout this article we shall translate the French term huile de schiste, by its English equivalent, coal-oil.

+ Philosophical Transactions, Jan. 1739, No. 452, p. 59; in Martyn's Abridgment, vol. ix. p. 395.

In distilling coal from a pit near Wigan in Lancashire, this observer obtained, first phlegm (water), then oil, and finally gas.

No doubt an earlier record of similar experiments might be found in the writings of the alchemists, who, as is well known, subjected almost every substance to processes of distillation. f During the last century attention was again several times called to the fact.*

It would seem, however, that nothing very definite was published before thé year 1830. UNv ERDoRBENí had, indeed, in the preceding year, called attention to oils distilled from petroleum, and even appears to have obtained paraffine—to which however he gave no name.f The attention of the scientific world was first really attracted to this substance by the memorable memoir of Reichenbach, who separated it, in the first instance, from wood tar, and described its properties at length. In the following year, Reichenbach] is at great pains to prove that the crude-oil, obtained by slowly distilling coal, contains no naphthaline," that naphthaline is not a product of the slow distillation of coal, but is a result of the subsequent decomposition of such products by heat; and that the coal-tar of gas-works is not crude-oil, but an impure mixture of the products of distillation with those resulting from their decomposition.*

* In addition to the authorities cited by Dr. A. (p. 8), we would mention the fol: lowing from An Experimental History of the Materia Medica, or of the Natural and Artificial Substances made use of in Medicine; by WILLIAM Lewis, M.B., F.R.S., 3rd Edit. 8vo, Dublin, MDCCLXIX, vol. ii, p. 143, Article Petroleum ; also, (according to American Druggists' Circular, iv, 36,) in the London edition of Lewis, 4to, 1761, p. 436: “Some mineral oils, procurable among ourselves, are used by the common people, and often with benefit. The empirical medicine, called British oil, is of the same nature with the petrolea ; the genuine sort being extracted by distillation from a hard bitumen, or a kind of stone coal, found in Shropshire and other parts of England.” + Berzelius's Jahresbericht, x, 181, from Kastner's Archiv, xvi, 122; also in Schweigger-Seidel's Journal für Chemie und Physik, 1829, lviii, 243. f For allusions to other earlier German researches bearing upon the subject, see Reichenbach's Memoirs, which will be cited directly. Compare also Gmelin's IHandbook of Chemistry (Cavendish Soc. Edit.), xii, 439. § Journal für Chemie und Physik, (or Jahrbuch der Chemie v. Physik, Band, xxix) won Schweigger-Seidel, 1830, lix, 436. | Ibid, (or Neues Jahrbuch der Chenie u. Physik, B. 1,) lxi, 175. * Dr. Antisell dismisses this article (p. 11) with the statement that “in 1830–31, Reichenbach discovered naphthalin.” It may not be amiss to state that naphthaline was discovered at least ten years earlier, having been described by GARDEN in 1820. (Thomson’s-Annals of Philosophy, Xy, 74), to whose labors as well as to those of.-CHAMBERLAIN, Kidd, and others, Reichenbāčh particularly refers in this very article. See also loc. cit. B. lxviii, [B. viii, of the “Neues Jahrbuch,”] S. 233. ** It must here be explained that Reichenbach has suffered great injustice at the hands of those who, in translating portions of his papers, have rendered his term “Steinkohlentheer” literally—coal-tar. Now the term coal-tar, in countries abounding in gas-works like England or the United States, means, the tar of gas-works, and it means nothing else. Gas-works, it must be remembered, were, until quite recently, by no means so common in Germany, and were doubtless rare enough in 1830, consequently, it is not at all strange that the English idea of “coal-tar" should not have become current in that country. Reichenbach, for that matter, distinctly and repeatedly asserts, that his “Steinkohlentheer” is a very different substance from the tar of gas-works. In a word, it was crude-oil. If, perchance, there may be any person who would accuse us of mistranslating certain words used by Reichenbach, we would at once refer such an one to the orginal memoirs of this author. Submitting it. to the judgment of any competent chemist, whether we have misinterpreted his lans guage, * for example, loc. cit., B. lxviii., [B. viii, of the Neues-Jahrbuch, S. 226. It may be worth while also to call the attention of the reader to the fact that all of the substances discovered by Reichenbach in “tar” (as the text-books tell us) were in reality obtained from crude-oil. Knowing this, every one familiar with recent chemical literature, will perceive at once why so few of R.'s scientifiic results have been corroborated. For, until quite recently, the attention of chemists interested in such researches, has been almost completely occupied with the subject of coal-tar. Compare also Reichenbach's complaint against Dumas and Laurent, in SchweiggerSeidel's Journal für Ch. u. Phys., 1838, lxviii, 223. * Loc. cit., lxi, [or B. 1, of the Neues-Jahrbuch], S. 273. + Vid. infra. # Loc. cit., lxii, [or B. ii. of the Neues-Jahrbuch], S. 129, 273. § Loc. cit., B. lxvi, [B. vi. of the Neues-Jahrbuch], S. 318. | Erdmann's Journal für praktische Chemie, i, 377.

These experiments were made upon a manufacturing scale, Reichenbach being, at this time, “chief of an extensive system of mines, iron furnaces, machine shops, chemical works, etc., most of them established by himself on the estate of Count Salm [Blankso, Moravia], These works lie along a line some fifteen miles [5 Stunden] in length.” (Schweigger Seidel). In another article published later, in 1831,” he describes his method of obtaining paraffine from the distillation of flesh and of coal (portions of 75 lbs. weight having been operated upon). With regard to coal, he particularly urges the necessity of slow distillation, in order to prevent the decomposition of the first products and the consequent formation of naphthaline, as explained in his previous article, to which he refers. The paraffine was separated from the less volatile portions of the rectified oil by cooling—the description of which oil R. reserves for a separate article. He also obtained paraffine from petroleum. Two more papers upon the subject were published by Reichenbach in this year, only the first of which is of particular importance in this connection. It relates to Eupion (sū very, rotov fat). A term by which Reichenbach designates, in some instances, a portion, in others the whole of the somewhat difficultly volatile, fat-like oils, prepared by purifying the first product obtained by slowly distilling substances of animal or vegetable origin. This eupion was, in fact, a mixture of several hydrocarbons—the same which, in similar mixtures, are now collectively known in commerce as coal-oil; called paraffine oil by some, and designated in the retail trade by innumerable other names of only local significance. Eupion was obtained by Reichenbach from the products of the slow distillation of animal and vegetable substances, as well as from coal, and was minutely described by him. We make but a single extract from this article, which occupies some thirty-two pages: “When any one shall succeed in separating eupion, at a sufficiently cheap rate, from the tars [crude-oils], it will very probably enter into the circle of substances useful in household economy. For, since it burns from a wick, brightly and clearly, and is free from smoke, it is in no wise inferior to the finest oil as an illuminating material. It does not grease nor crust the wick, nor stiffen when cold. If we consider, in addition to this, that for all purposes where cold can exert no influence, the paraffine need not be separated, but can be left dissolved in the eupion, and used in conjunction with it for lighting; we shall perceive that this is of some importance, since the two substances are thus mutually improved for technical purposes.” - In 1832, Reichenbach.Ş. again published a note upon eupion; and, in 1834, another long article, in which he once more dwells upon its useful properties. Reichenbach's contributions on the subject of the dry distillation of organic substances, are comprised in some twenty or more long articles, not counting

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »