The beginning of the American oil industry didn’t begin in Texas, or California, or even Alaska. It began in Pennsylvania thanks to a man named Edwin Drake.
In college, I drove through Pennsylvania and looked at the sprawling vastness of the forests and mountains. There’s not many developed areas at all–which makes it a peculiar place for the origin of what would shape the 20th century as we know it.
157 years ago, Drake drilled the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
He actually fell into the oil industry on accident. He happened to be staying at the same hotel as a few other chemists, lawyers, and other folk who wanted to start up the country’s first oil company. He was unemployed so they gave him a shot.
Earlier in his life, he was forced to retire from the railway industry because of muscular neuralgia, so he was kind of down on his luck.
However, come August 27, 1859, he invented a “drive pipe” which drives a pipe down into the rock through which drilling can start. It dug an average of three feet per day, and eventually struck oil at 69.5 feet deep.
This first well produced 20-40 barrels per day, and Western Pennsylvania itself produced half of the world’s oil until 1901.
Drake himself got the short end of the stick after his drive pipe helped the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York strike black gold. They abandoned Drake and his pursuits, refusing to help him out financially.
It wasn’t until 1873 when the people of Titusville pushed for Drake’s family to receive an annual pension of $1,500.
He died in Bethlehem, PA in 1880 as the true founder of the world’s first oil well.