This article explains how oil as an energy carrier evolved alongside the technology of the steam engine. In practical terms, fuel oil was adapted to machines that were originally devised to be coal-fuelled and this led to the flexible switchover between energy carriers. The article links the micro account of technological developments with the macro records of energy consumption, to reveal how steam technology set the stage for the commoditization of oil, the customary fuel of the internal combustion engine. The analysis of the oil–steam combine embraces its diffusion across leading producing nations such as Russia and the United States, the diffusion in industrial and transport activities in South America, and the diffusion throughout European navies. What was at stake was the transformation of oil into a geostrategic good and the triggering of an international race for the seizure of fossil fuels.
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