The subsequent shale oil boom transformed the economy and the landscape of West Lothian, leaving huge piles of shale across central Scotland. At its height, there were 40,000 people employed at 120 refineries in the region and three million tons of shale and coal were mined and treated.
Professor Lesley Yellowlees, RSC President-Elect, said: "Sites that are awarded Chemical Landmark status have either played a major part in the development of chemical science or have seen a development of chemical science that has made a significant contribution to the health, wealth or quality of life of the nation - and Paraffin Young's legacy fits exactly that."
Professor Yellowlees also said she was delighted that students from the James Young High School, Bathgate Academy and St Kentigern's Academy were present. "I hope that not only will they take from the event the pride that Scotland has in a distinguished scientist of the past in James Young, but that they also are inspired by the exciting opportunities that exist in science today to pursue an intellectually challenging and rewarding career in the future," she added.
Professor Michael Hitchman, an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde's department of pure and applied chemistry, was also present. He is a past holder of the Young Chair of Technical Chemistry, established through a gift by Paraffin Young.
The RSC chemical landmark plaque is inscribed to Paraffin Young: "In recognition of the outstanding contribution, made on a site close to here in Birniehill, Bathgate, where in c.1850 he processed torbanite ('cannel coal') to create the first commercial production of paraffin oil in the world, leading to the major shale oil industry in West Lothian."
In 1873 Young was elected a Fellow of Royal Society and in 1879 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of St Andrews University. James Young died at his home, Kelly House, near Wemyss Bay, on 13 May 1883, and is buried at Inverkip cemetery.