The history of gunsmithing is a fascinating one, and it is often discussed in classes at the Pennsylvania gunsmith school in Pittsburgh, PA. Sadly, though, one of the things that students learn is that whale oil used to be very popular for lubricating small gun parts. Sperm oil in particular was often used for springs.

Whale oil, despite being incredibly expensive, was very popular in the 1800s and was used as a lubricant for all sorts of products, including trains. Because of this, many species of whales were driven to the brink of extinction.

However, that all changed in 1857 with Michael Dietz’s kerosene lamp invention. Almost immediately the demand for whale oil dropped and kerosene, also known as coal oil, production skyrocketed. It is estimated that had coal oil not been introduced onto the market when it had, nearly every species of whale would have been extinct in only another ten years.

Whales face a whole new set of challenges today than they did back in the 1800s when whale oil was popular. Luck was on the whales’ side back in the 1800s; let’s hope it happens again.

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