Changing Industries

Today we use oil and gas to heat our homes, make electricity and power cars, trains and buses. It is also used for lots of other things. For example it is used to make fertilisers used in farming, chemicals and plastic.

Many years before the discovery of North Sea oil and gas, people in Aberdeen made other kinds of oil and gas.

Aberdeen used to be a big centre for whaling. Ships first sailed from here to the Arctic Ocean in 1752.   Whales have a lot of body fat, called blubber. Blubber was boiled to make lamp oil. In the past there was no electricity and people used oil lamps. In Aberdeen boiling was carried out at Footdee. Whalebone, or baleen, was also used in dressmaking. Baleen is not actually bone. It is made of a similar material to fingernails. Some types of whales have baleen in their mouths instead of teeth.

Whaling was very dangerous. Sailors could lose their lives if a whale overturned the small rowing boats used to hunt them. By the 1830s overfishing was a problem.   Whalers might return to Aberdeen with no catch at all. Other industries like fishing and shipbuilding became more important. Today, whales are protected. Many kinds of whales are on official lists of endangered species.

Aberdeen's gas works at the beach opened in 1843. When North Sea gas was discovered, it replaced gas made from coal.  Coal came from mining areas by boat for the gas works. The gas was used for street lighting as well as homes and factories. Gas street lights were later replaced by electric ones. The North Sea oil and gas industry is now very important in Aberdeen. Many people work in this industry to extract oil and gas from rocks beneath the sea. The first North Sea oil flowed ashore in 1975.Today it is thought that we have used up about half of the oil from the North Sea.

Gas Iron Aberdeen Gas Works Oil and Gas workers Hard Hat

Related Timelines

Local History - Industry


  1. Look at the gas iron and gas lamp. Lamps and irons today are powered by electricity. How do you think the gas ones compare with the ones that you have in your home? Think of brightness and smell.
  2. Look at the whaling timeline. Find the item made from whale bone. How do you think it was made?
  3. Think about what is produced from oil and gas.  Can you imagine life without them?
  4. Think of alternatives to oil and gas in heating, for fuel and so on.