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Paraffin Young: Pioneer of Oil (clip 2)

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 clips features a dramatised conversation between David Livingstone and James Young about coping with the threat of newly abundant foreign oil. Shots include: view of refinery and pits, SOL bricks produced from waste shale, by-products, petrol, diesel, carbons, ammonia, wax (accompanied by shots of factory machinery, farm labourers and milk cartons; shots of miners at work, drilling and setting charges; lighting fuse and explosion; men loading a cart and wheel it away; transportation of raw material from the workface to surface, tank steamer "British Reliance" coming into dock at Grangemouth; oil pipe from ship being connected on the dock; storage tanks.

Questions & Activities


  • What do we use oil for?
  • Who was David Livingston?
  • Why would Young be worried about oil from abroad?
  • Where do we get our oil today?
  • Could we live without it and what might we need to change?
  • What is shale? Why was it cheaper than coal?
  • What is the waste shale used from once the oil has been extracted?


Science / Technologies: Research Grangemouth Oil Refinery. Where does the oil come from and where is it exported to?

Science / Technologies / Social Studies: Make a list of all the things we use today that are made from or use oil. Then list the industries listed in the film which were made possible by Young's oil extraction inventions.

Technologies / Science: Research how oil is extracted from shale and detail the steps that are taken.

Technologies / Science / Environmental Studies: Young's invention enabled petrol to be developed for cars. Research new methods of powering cars today (e.g. electric cars, biofuels etc).

Technologies / Science / Art and Design: Design an environmentally friendly car. Consider fuel omissions, speed, cost.

Geography: Research and plot on a map the areas from which we get oil today. List the countries we import oil from and export to.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-000-033-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, History, Technologies, Environmental Studies
Who Ralph Bond (director), Realist Film Unit (production company), Scottish Oils Ltd (sponsor)
Where Bathgate, West Lothian, Grangemouth
Event Empire Exhibition
Attributes Black and White, Sound
Clip Length 6:17
Film Length 13:50