Making Oil Essential: Emerging Patterns of Petroleum Culture in the United States During the Era of the Great War
Providing proper context to the First World War requires that historians consider the resource-based narrative approach that is informed by environmental history. Of these resources that were transformed by the Great War, energy, and particularly petroleum, presents a most revealing narrative. Across a spectrum of compounding uses, the tipping point to alter petroleum’s status was the Great War. From planes to tanks, the strategy and process of battle became firmly entwined with the burning of petroleum. However, this is just part of the story of petroleum’s emerging importance in this period. A variety of global economic and regional political and social factors converged on the era of the Great War to catapult the moderately valuable commodity of petroleum to new standards of value, systemisation, and competition for access. Indeed, by the end of the conflict, petroleum had become a commodity of global significance—even meriting the term ‘essential’.