What Do Dynamite, X-Rays, Alfred Einstein, and an Oil Tanker Have in Common? A Nobel

Zoroaster, the First Oil Tanker 11 photos
Zoroaster, the Nobel-built First Oil Tanker of the WorldZoroaster's blueprints, the Nobel-built First Oil Tanker of the WorldZoroaster, the Nobel-built First Oil Tanker of the WorldOil Barrels in Baku, Mid 19th CenturyThe First Nobel Oil PipelineBaku Oil Fields, with Well RigsA Sailing Ship used in early oil barrel haulingAlfred NobelLudvig NobelBuddha, one of Zoroaster's Sistershipp
The Nobel Prize founder Alfred Nobel was a very successful businessman. The Swedish-Russian inventor of dynamite and his two older brothers are primarily responsible for greatly influencing the early oil industry of the world.
Perhaps the most significant contribution they made was the oil tanker. Oil had been shipped from the US to Europe before the Nobels' invention. Still, the vessels were slow sailing ships, and the oil was hauled in wooden barrels (hence the standard unit of measurement). It was expensive and ineffective, as the empty barrels alone accounted for 20% of the cargo weight.

Ludvig and Robert Nobel (the elder brothers of Alfred) were very successful oilmen. However, they realized that business was restricted by the slow speed at which their petroleum products reached the market. Not a charming perspective for the Nobel brothers, the leading players in the oil industry at the time, with 50% of the world's production coming from their company during the 1870s.

The Nobel Bros company – adequately named Branobel (Russian short for Brothers Nobel) first experimented with carrying oil in bulk on single-hulled barges. Not happy with the results, the Nobels came up with the idea of purpose-built oil-powered oil-transporting steamships.

Fast-forward to 1878, and we have the first steel-hulled oil tanker in the world, the Zoroaster. With a payload of just 242 long tons (245 metric tons) divided between two iron tanks joined by pipes, the oil tanker had to be small enough to be able to navigate the Russian rivers from Baku (the capital of today's Azerbaidjan) on its way to the Baltic Sea. In addition, the two cargo tanks had connecting pipes simultaneously loading at the same pace. Thus the ship's balance would not be affected by the loading and off-loading of its precious liquid cargo.

Zoroaster, the Nobel\-built First Oil Tanker of the World
Overall, the ship was 184 feet (56 m) long, 27 feet (8.2 m) In its widest part, and had a draft of 9 feet (2.7 m). The tanks could be filled from a shoreside oil pipe. Not surprisingly, a seven-mile - or 12 km - pipeline had been built in the same year as the oil tanker specifically for this purpose. The transport pipeline is another Nobel innovation of the oil industry. Early piping systems had major engineering flaws that made oil transportation quite risky, as the pipes would crack and break. Nobel hired a prominent Russian engineer to correct the issues for his pipeline project.

The newly commissioned ship proved so effective that Branobel had nine more laid down in the following years. Ever improving the design of the vessels, the Nobel brothers set their mark on the global oil industry. Surprisingly, despite his keen sense for profit, Ludvig Nobel refused to patent the Zoroaster's design, allowing for the fast spread of this type of ship. As a result, the oil trade would change forever as tankers became increasingly popular in the industry in the following decades.

Odds saw that Branobel experienced in more ways than one with oil tanker challenges: In 1881, one of Zoroaster's two sister ships, the Nordenskjöld, caught fire while loading kerosene. The ship exploded, and half of the crew was lost. It was one of the first oil tanker disasters in history. The Nobels quickly acted to set procedures and regulations that would eventually become industry standards.

On a positive stroke of luck note, almost two decades later, in 1898, the Nobel Brothers company was granted an exclusive license for Sweden and Russia to build Diesel engines by the inventor himself. This allowed for the first Diesel-powered oil tanker to be launched. The design became increasingly popular thanks to their superior carrying capacity, all due to the powerful Diesel engines.

In a very ironic twist of fate, Ludvig Nobel had a decisive impact on his brother Alfred's decision to leave his fortune to the Nobel Foundation for the benefit of the sciences. Alfred Nobel read his own obituary in an 1888 French newspaper. However, the article was intended to spread the word about Ludvig's passing. Unhappy with the article's tone, Alfred made the historic decision that withstands to this day.

Alfred Nobel
The fate of the world's first proper oil tanker is not known. Still, the men who brought the invention went down in history forever. Having added this to your knowledge, together with the common denominator of dynamite and the oil tanker, it's time to learn that Albert Einstein received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. X-rays were the first ever scientific discovery to be awarded Nobel recognition in 1901.
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About the author: Razvan Calin
Razvan Calin profile photo

After nearly two decades in news television, Răzvan turned to a different medium. He’s been a field journalist, a TV producer, and a seafarer but found that he feels right at home among petrolheads.
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