Manufacturing Petrotoxicty (1903-1945)

Authors: Adam Romero*, University of Washington Bothell
Topics: Historical Geography, Agricultural Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: waste, toxicity, oil, agriculture, pesticides, poisons, STS, endocrine disrupting chemicals, labor, petroleum, lubricants, insects, oil refining, California, chemistry, entomology, pest control
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 4:00 PM / 5:40 PM
Room: Studio 1, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the early 1920s, the California Spray Chemical Company introduced highly refined white oil sprays into the California agricultural market. By the early 1930s, oil sprays had become the weapon of choice for combatting unwanted pests in fruit orchards across the US west, and by the late 1930s, oil sprays had become the critical economic poison for industrial fruit and nut production around the world. In this talk I explore the rationalization of oil as an economic poison across California and US agriculture. In doing so, I link the agroscientific fabrication of phytonomic oil sprays to both structural changes in agriculture and the development of oil producing and refining industries in California. I argue that that the historical development of oil as an economic poison turned on three critical axes: 1) the entomological shift from viewing insects as individuals to study to seeing insects as populations (and metapopulations) to control 2) the technological development of California’s oil refining industry and the development of non-energy based commodities, especially lubricating oils, and 3) the scientific rendering of petrotoxicty from the physical properties of oil.

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