We do not know if it was a bright or a dark evening when the decision was made that the fourteen-year-old Ignacy must go to work. In the house of a former participant of the Kościuszko Uprising, in one of, once (like many other of the kind), wealthy noble families, there was no more money for the education of a son with four siblings to feed.
And so, born in 1822, after four years of middle school, Ignacy became an assistant in a pharmacy in Łańcut. No one knows why pharmacy, of all places. However, from that moment on, higher necessity and sacrifice for the cause would occupy an important place in Łukasiewicz’s life. The same would be true for pharmacies, which would be located in a series of new towns. It was in one of such pharmacies that Ignacy would come up with an invention that changed the course of the development of the country and even the world.
Before that, Łukasiewicz managed to find the time to become a conspirator – an agent of the Polish Democratic Society founded by Polish emigrants, whose aim was to rebuild the Republic of Poland – which landed him in prison in Lviv.
Released in 1847, on condition that he remained in the city and reported to the police, a year later he started working in Piotr Mikolash’s pharmacy, the best in the city. It had an undoubtedly enlightened owner who, having support from the authorities, would enable the new employee to study pharmacy at the universities of Vienna and Kraków. Did the sacrifice for a cause, this time a patriotic one, yet again lead Ignacy to the right place?
For it is in the Mikolash’s pharmacy that Łukasiewicz, together with Jan Zeh, a somewhat forgotten co-creator of the success, distilled oil and obtained a substance which, despite not finding use in the pharmaceutical sector, would bring more light to the world.
We do not know whether the inventors were surprised, happy or disappointed that day. We do know, however, that Ignacy, with the help of a tinsmith, Adam Bratkowski, would soon build the world’s first kerosene lamp. It was 1853, the birth of the oil industry, which was to shape the fate of the world from then on until the present day.
And so, Ignacy already had his “torch” to carry to the people and to carry out the next missions in his life. A year later, after moving to Gorlice, he found resources for this noble cause. He found them 18 metres underground. The world’s first oil mine was built in Bóbrka near Krosno, with the use of pioneering technologies of the time.
In about 1861, Tytus Trzecieski, Ignacy Łukasiewicz and Karol Klobassa-Zrencki launched an oil company. It was a gentlemen’s agreement, never written down. Trzecieski was the one to finance the enterprise, while Klobassa provided the land for the premises. Łukasiewicz became the plant manager.
And so the Polish pharmacist, who saw the potential in the black slurry, became a globally respected businessman and a wealthy social activist. What were his goals and dreams?
The oil was extracted using deep shafts and not collected from trenches dug above ground, like it had been done previously. Four years after the opening of the mine, the output increased to 4000 litres per day. Łukasiewicz built distilleries in the area, where, apart from kerosene, he produced other substances: greases, asphalt, various oils. He and his partners continued to open other mines and refineries. He had his ups and downs, experiencing misfortunes such as his daughter’s death or fires in refineries, but he never stopped to pursue his goals, introducing new drilling technologies, digging deeper and producing more.
“Light, light and work for a poor country and its people” … Łukasiewicz, also known as Father Ignacy in the Subcarpathian region, established people’s schools, funded university scholarships and Brotherly Funds (he was a pioneer in this field as well), and also took care of his employees, creating a pension system and providing them with medical care. Thanks to him, the local roads became known as the best in Galicia, a church in Zręcin was built, as well as chapels or health care centres in other locations.
Łukasiewicz was also active in politics as a member of the Galician Parliament. Education, health, work, spirituality. With persistence and insight, Łukasiewicz supported the development of people and the country in all these fundamental aspects. Unfortunately, we do not know if he felt fulfilled and whether he saw and appreciated the work of his life when he died of pneumonia at the age of 60.