early 15c., "petroleum, rock oil, oily inflammable substance occurring naturally in certain rock beds" (mid-14c. in Anglo-French), from Medieval Latin petroleum, from Latin petra "rock" (see petrous) + oleum "oil" (see oil (n.)). Commercial production and refinement of it began in 1859 in western Pennsylvania, and for most of the late 19th century it was produced commercially almost entirely in Pennsylvania and western New York.
Petroleum was known to the Persians, Greeks, and Romans under the name of naphtha; the less-liquid varieties were called [asphaltos] by the Greeks, and bitumen was with the Romans a generic name for all the naturally occurring hydrocarbons which are now included under the names of asphaltum, maltha, and petroleum. The last name was not in use in classic times. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
"gasoline, refined petroleum used in motor-cars," 1895, from French pétrol (1892); earlier used (1580s) in reference to the unrefined substance, from petrole "petroleum" (13c.), from Medieval Latin petroleum (see petroleum).
1872, trademark for an ointment made from petroleum and marketed by Chesebrough Manufacturing Co., coined from German Wasser "water" + Greek elaion "oil" + scientific-sounded ending -ine. Robert A. Chesebrough was of the opinion that petroleum was a product of the underground decomposition of water.
The name is of mixed origin, being derived from Wasser, water, and elaion [Greek in the original], oil (water-oil), and indicates the belief of the discoverer that petroleum, the mother of Vaseline, is produced by the agency of heat and pressure from the carbon of certain rocks, and the hydrogen of water. [The Monthly Review of Dental Surgery, February 1877]
peninsula-state in the Persian Gulf, probably from Arabic katran "tar, resin," in reference to petroleum. The Romans knew it as Catara. Related: Qatari.