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Tar is a black mixture of hydrocarbons and free carbon obtained from a wide variety of organic materials through destructive distillation. Tar can be produced from coal, wood, petroleum, or peat. Production and trade in pine-derived tar was a major contributor in the economies of Northern Europe and Colonial America. Its main use was in preserving wooden vessels against rot. The largest user was the Royal Navy. Demand for tar declined with the advent of iron and steel ships.

Carbolic acid was first extracted from coal tar.

Along with carbolic acid, other medical items are extracted from different types of tar, and listed in the Pharmacopeia, including creasote (, and benzol (

British Pharmacopoeia 1867


Preparations of Tar

Carbolic Acid / Acidum Carbolicum[1]

  • “An acid obtained from coal-tar oil by fractional distillation and subsequent purification… In colourless acicular crystals, which at a temperature of 95° become an oily liquid, having a strong odour and taste resembling those of creasote, which it also resembles in many of its characters and properties.”
  • dose: 1-3 grains
  • used in the preparations of: Glycerinum Acidi Carbolici

Creasote / Creasotum[2]

  • “A product of the distillation of Wood Tar… A liquid, colourless or with a yellowish tinge, and a strong empyreumatic odour. It is sparingly dissolved by water, but freely in alcohol, ether, and glacial acetic acid.”
  • dose: 1-3 drops
  • Used in the preparations of: Mistura Creasoti, Unguentum Creasoti, Vapor Creasoti

Ointment of Tar / Unguentum Pici Liquidae[3] 357

  • Tar (5 oz), yellow wax (2 oz)

Benzol / [4]

  • “A colourless volatile liquid, obtained from coal tar.”


  1. General Medical Council of Great Britain, British Pharmacopeia, (London: Spottiswoode & Co.,1867), 7
  2. GMCGB, 92
  3. GMCGB, 357
  4. GMCGB, 380

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