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Paraffin Young: Pioneer of Oil (clip 1)

Biographical documentary about industrialist James Young

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This film focuses on the life and work of James Young (1811 - 1883), the pioneer of coal distillation for the production of oil, and the shale oil industry of West Lothian. Young was a Scottish chemist who patented processes for extracting oil for certain types of coal and from oil shale which resulted in the world's first oil refinery. The film was specially made for screening at the Scottish Oils and Shell Mex Pavilion at the Empire Exhibition of 1938 to highlight Scottish pioneers and showcase Scotland's industrial might. This clip describes the inventions of the nineteenth century during the industrial revolution including a steelworks, weaving, water wheel. A dramatised section illustrates James Young's early interest in chemistry and his collaboration with Binnie where they experimented on coal distillation for oil at Alfteton coal pit, Derbyshire and then oil from shale at Bathgate.

Questions & Activities


  • What inventions are mentioned in the film?
  • What is oil used for?
  • Why did James Young want to extract oil from shale?
  • Where else can you get oil?
  • Why was this film shown at the Empire Exhibition? Who do you think it was made for?


Technologies / Science / Social History: Research James Young and his contribution to oil production today.

Technologies / Science: Research Grangemouth Oil Refinery.

Technologies / Science / Environmental Studies: Make a list of petrol and oil companies. Find out where these companies import and export oil to and from. Explain how we receive oil from abroad.

Health and Wellbeing / Science / Environmental Studies: Oil is often transported in huge tanker ships which sometimes sink or leak oil into the sea harming animals and other wildlife. Design a method of transport for oil which would be environmentally friendly.

History / Science: Research the industrial revolution and find out to what extent Scotland contributed.

History / Geography: Find out what industries West Lothian is known for today.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-000-031-C
Resource Rights Holder Courtesy of the BP Video Library
Project Ref 0167
Date 1937
Genre Documentary, Sponsored, Biographical
School Subject Geography, Science, Business Studies
Who Ralph Bond (director), Realist Film Unit (production company), Scottish Oils Ltd (sponsor)
Where Bathgate, West Lothian
Event Empire Exhibition
Attributes Black and White, Sound
Clip Length 6:55
Film Length 13:50