It is a little-known fact that astounds all who hear it: An oil field in Lima was once the leading producer of oil in the world.
That bit of history along with the fact that the Premcor Lima Refinery is the oldest continually operating oil refinery site in Ohio will be commemorated on an historical marker to be unveiled today by the Ohio Historical Society.
"It was incredibly important," Patricia Smith, director of the Allen County Museum, said of Lima's role in the oil boom. "Ohio was a leading producer of oil for 5 to 10 years. It's hard to believe."
Lima was just one of the cities and towns throughout northwest Ohio that prospered in the late 1800s as a result of the oil boom. A Lima paper mill owner, Ben Faurot, was actually the first to drill for oil after hearing of discoveries of natural gas just up the road in Findlay.
His success at striking oil in 1885 attracted the attention of John D. Rockefeller, co-founder of Standard Oil Co. Mr. Rockefeller soon bought or leased much of the Lima oil field and, in 1886, began building what he named the Solar Refinery in Lima.
Premcor's Roger Hornung said that amid all the research Premcor has done in recent years on the history of the refinery, it has found no record of where the name Solar originated.
"I've tried to figure out what it might have stood for - maybe Standard Oil-something," Mr. Hornung said, adding that the name also could have referred to its obvious definition, sunlight. "At that time, they primarily made kerosene for lighting. That was the main product."
The refinery went by the Solar name until 1931, when it became
Sohio - a name that would remain until 1986 when Standard Oil merged with British Petroleum.
BP ran the refinery until 1998, when it was sold to Clark Refining and Marketing, which changed its name to Premcor in 2000.
It was between 1886 and 1900, though, that the Lima oil field was the leading producer of oil in the world, producing 190 million barrels.
"It was a very, very, very significant oil field back in the late 19th century, and I think too that the connection with John D. Rockefeller is obviously very significant," said J.D. Britton, manager of the local history office for the Ohio Historical Society. "Rockefeller getting involved was important because the crude [from the Lima field] had a very high sulfur content, and it was iffy whether the crude was going to be viable."
Two men - J.W. Van Dyke, Standard's chief refining specialist, and Herman Frasch, a German chemist - were credited with finding a way to de-sulphurize the Lima crude and turn it into quality kerosene and fuel oil.
Crude oil no longer is produced in Lima. Today, the Premcor refinery produces gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel from oil brought in from pipelines.
Mr. Hornung, training supervisor at Premcor, said many of the refinery's 400 employees are second, third, even fourth-generation workers. He said the company decided to pursue an historical marker because history is important to many of them.
"There's a very long tradition of history and family at this site, and quite a few people take an active interest in it," he said.
"I think people are proud of the site."
The marker will be unveiled at the refinery's main entrance on Metcalf Street during a 1 p.m. ceremony today.
Lima Mayor David Berger, who will be among those attending, has declared it "Lima Refinery Day" in the city.