Episode from the podcastNHMLA Talks | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

From Basket Sealant to Black Gold

Released Saturday, 7th April 2018
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To say that oil was "discovered" in Los Angeles in 1892, or even by the Spaniards in 1769, is absolutely absurd. That ignores the fact that the Gabrieleno/Tongva knew about the stuff for centuries. It was smelly, and if you wandered into the gleaming tarry depths at night, you could be a goner. But it did a dandy job of waterproofing reed baskets. Only in the 20th century did Yankees go drilling for it, and they found it in such quantities that backyard oil pumps were about as common as backyard orange groves. Oil paid the bills for so much of what L.A. became—including the car capital of the world. What geology put it here, what history did it make, and how do we now live with its consequences?