Engineers have always intrigued me, especially the brilliant kind. And so, had Waclaw Wolski lived today and operated in one of the western countries or the United States, he would have probably been a multi-millionaire and honorary member of various Academy’s of Science. But, he was born in Poland and worked in that country when it was still partitioned. Though his inventions were well in advance of the period in which he lived, they brought him no fame and no honors.
Born on September 28th, 1865, in Eastern Galicia, the Austrian partition zone, Waclaw Wolski completed his secondary education and technical training at the university in Vienna, where his father who was a member of the Austrian Parliament had a lawyer’s practice.
It should also be mentioned that young Wolski’s uncle, Stanislaw Szczepanowski, a well-known social worker and a founder of the first important oil refinery to be built on Polish territory, exerted great influence on the formation of his character.
His engineer’s diploma in his pocket, Waclaw Wolski returned home to begin his life working in a technical designing office in Lwow. But he was fascinated by oil, which was soon to become his life’s passion. He sought the advice of his uncle Szczepanowski, who suggested he should take a job in his refinery where he could learn all about the oil business starting as a laborer and gradually working his way up. Wolski took the advice and started work as an unskilled workman. Later he became a driller and finally technical manager of the refinery.
Watching the work of Canadian drillers that his uncle had brought all the way from Canada, Wolski came to the conclusion that the tools and equipment they used were extremely primitive. In fact, their equipment consisted of old-fashioned drills fixed at the extremity of long wood poles. Wolski designed an eccentric drill which could drill holes larger than its diameter. Instead of wooden poles he introduced iron bars connected together.
After testing his invention to his complete satisfaction, Wolski went to Vienna with the purpose of patenting it. But in Vienna things took an entirely unexpected turn. In the patent office he made the acquaintance of a Canadian driller named Mac Garvey, who worked on one of the oil fields in the same vicinity in Poland. They got to talking and found out that they both had hit on the same idea. They compared drawings and calculations and found that their inventions were identical. In view of the circumstances they decided to patent them as their joint invention. The new method and equipment permitted drilling to a depth of over a thousand meters, almost three times the previous maximum.
At the time, drilling in America was done by the rotary method. It was not until after World War I that the Americans introduced the Diesel engine in oil drilling. The Diesel rotated a column of steel pipes and water pumped in under great pressure which ejected crushed fragments of rock and soil.
Wolski, on the other hand, designed the first combustion engine specially adapted for drilling purposes already in 1898. Through non-rotating steel leads water was pumped under pressure directly on the drill. The impact of the water onset the drill working in a batteringram like motion.
Wolski patented this brilliant invention in all European countries.
Unfortunately, though endowed by nature with an extraordinary talent for engineering, he lacked business acumen. Self-confident and somewhat naive, constantly in search of capital he needed to operate his own oil refineries, he sold the patent rights of his invention to a foreign concern for the sum of 600 thousand marks. This deal, however, did not give the invention the publicity Wolski had expected it would.
What actually happened was that the concern locked away all the diagrams, drawings and detailed descriptions of the invention in their safe. The reason for this was that modernization of their drilling methods and equipment would have required an outlay they were not prepared to face.
Wolski introduced his invention in the refineries he operated, with the result that his well ‘Wilno’ alone, one of the most important in Poland, produced 375 thousand tons of oil in two years. However, such a volume of production was in excess of the small needs of the country at the time. In those days, oil didn’t rule the world. It was not until the rapid expansion of automobiles and aviation which followed World War I, that the demand for oil multiplied and consequently also rose. As a result, Wolski found himself in financial straits. Placed in a situation without any additional financial backing he was forced to sell all his wells, loosing the results of the work of a lifetime.
Waclaw Wolski, a man whose inventions were in advance of his time, died in 1922 a broken man.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .