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Galena Oil Co. and Signal Oil

Feb 23, 2009 | Posted in Essays, Pennsylvania Oil Companies

By Neil McElwee, 2009

The Franklin heavy crude district in Sugarcreek Township produced an unusual oil naturally suitable for railroad car applications after simply reducing the crude to eliminate volatile components and screening it to remove grit. A small refinery at the base of Point Hill on lower French Creek in 1864 began mixing this reduced heavy crude with a lead oxide soap to improve its performance. The product was called Hendrix Lubricator and proved to be an excellent lubricant for railroad journal bearings. The product was given the name Galena in 1868. This small firm was bought by two Franklin grocers, Charles Miller and John Coon, in 1869. The partners also purchased the patent for Hendrix Lubricator.

After a fire destroyed the Point Hill refinery in 1870, the partners purchased the idle Dale Refinery further up on French Creek in Franklin’s Third Ward. With the financial investment of some wealthy Franklin citizens, R. H. Austin and Henry Plumer, the Dale Refinery was improved and renamed the Galena Oil Works.

Charles Miller was a tireless salesman. He sold Galena to railroads all over the country, and the product soon gained an impressive reputation for quality. In 1878, Standard Oil bought out three of the four partners, Miller the only owner refusing to sell. Galena Oil was reorganized in 1881 with Charles Miller as President, but the other five members of the board were Standard Oil men.

The Signal Oil Works was located inside the Galena plant. This firm was organized to produce specialized railroad lamp and signal oils using processes developed and patented by Miller’s brother-in-law, Joseph Sibley. A gifted salesman, also, Sibley soon had a large number of the nation’s railroads between the East Coast and Chicago using Signal Oil. The Signal Oil Works and patents were purchased by Standard Oil in 1878.

When the proud firms eventually merged in 1901 as Galena-Signal Oil, observers of the railroad oil trade claimed Galena-Signal Oil had 95% of the business in the country and a big proportion of the trade throughout the world. Railroad men around the world knew the Galena and Signal trade names and that these famous oil products came from Franklin, Pennsylvania.

The firm became an independent company after Standard’s dissolution in 1911. Valvoline bought the company in 1931 and phased the old Galena-Signal refinery out in the early forties.