Candles and whale oil provided most of the artificial light in the decades before the Civil War. Whale oil was also used for heating and lubrication in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips. Demand for whale oil intensified – and prices skyrocketed – with the development of mechanized transportation and industrialization. The whaling industry had a major effect upon Hawaiian commerce and trade. As the Northwest fur trade decreased and sandalwood supplies and values dropped, the whaling industry began to fill the economic void.
Then, Edwin L. Drake demonstrated practical oil recovery. On August 27, 1859, Drake struck oil 69-feet down in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The well yielded an average of 1,000-gallons daily for three years. The first export was in 1866, relieving the first glut in the market. Within a few years of the successful 1859 oil well in Titusville, this new type of oil replaced whale oil for lamps and many other uses – spelling the end of the whaling industry. By 1862, the whaling industry was in a definite and permanent decline. The effect in the Islands was striking. Prosperity ended, prices fell, cattle and crops were a drag on the market, and ship chandleries and retail stores began to wither. Sugar soon took its place.