Oil has historically been associated with drilling rigs in the Caucasus, the Middle East, or the U.S. Yet the oldest preserved oil refinery in the world is actually in the middle of a lake in Sweden, on a patch land dubbed Oil Island.
August Ålund is the somewhat mysterious man behind the Oil Island, or Oljeon. At the end of the 19th-century, he came to the small industrial town of Ängelsberg where he started working with oil. No one knows from where he got the idea or where he learned how to refine oil for that matter. Possibly this happened during the few years in the 1860s when he lived in Stockholm, but there is really nothing supporting this theory. There are not even any photos of August.
What is known is that in 1873, lightning struck his factory, resulting in a huge explosion. The local newspaper at the time depicted how the surrounding forest burned and how burning crude oil floated into the nearby lake. Surprisingly, August reportedly looked pleased when he crawled up out of the soiled water, maybe because he had come up with a great idea.
August didn’t let the fire and explosion stop him, and he bought the small island of Barrön in lake Åmänningen, just outside of Ängelsberg. Here, he would build a complete oil refinery shielded by water in every direction. Crude oil was imported from Pennsylvania and transported to him via Stockholm. His business idea was simple but brilliant: refined oil products were targeted with import tariffs, but not the unrefined oil he imported. Right before the turn of the 20th century, however, crude oil was also targeted and that would be the beginning of the end of his business.
In 1927, the refinery was finally closed. Today it’s considered the world oldest preserved oil refinery, maybe thanks to August Ålund’s idea to place it on an island. Or it could be that it was just not worth all the effort required to haul the equipment in boats off the island.
Know Before You Go
The best way to reach Ängelsberg is by car. The Oil Island (Oljeön) can only be accessed through guided tours. Please take a look at the homepage for updated information.