The events that initiated the modern petroleum industry in the Middle East have long been relegated to the archives of history. But to better understand today's oil dynamics in the region where nearly 60% of the world's known reserves lay—southwestern Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, and Egypt—a retrospective look can be enlightening. To begin with, the decades covered in this article—a unique era of intrigue, entrepreneurship, and resolve in the quest for black gold—helped open up a part of the world that had been languishing in arrested development. In fact, large segments of the Arabian Peninsula in the mid 1800s, were less advanced than they had been in medieval times.

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