The Story of Oil in Pennsylvania (continued)
Who was "Colonel" Drake?
The truth was, Edwin Drake was not a "Colonel" of anything. He and his
financiers simply invented the title to impress the locals, many of whom
laughed at what was, for a time, known as "Drake's Folly". With the financial
backing of the newly formed Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company (soon to be
renamed Seneca Oil Company), Drake set off to Titusville, Pennsylvania
in 1857 to survey the situation. Drilling began in the summer of 1859.
There were many problems with this well, and progress was slow and financially
costly. The initial money the investors had fronted Drake ran out, and
he had to borrow more to keep drilling.
"The Yankee's Struck Oil!"
On August 27, 1859, Drake and Smith drilled to a depth of 21.18 m (69
1/2 feet). It was not until the next morning, on August 28, when the driller,
"Uncle Billy" Smith, noticed oil floating in the hole they had pulled
the drilling tools from the night before. By today's standards, it was
a pretty unremarkable hole, probably producing 20 barrels or less of oil
.....and just in time
The timing could not have been better. Most of the financial backers had
given up on the project, and James Townsend, after having financed the
operation out of his own pocket, had sent Drake the order to pay the remaining
bills and close up shop. Drake received this order on the very day that
he struck oil.
The oil boom
Almost overnight, the quiet farming region changed in much the same manner
as the gold rush towns of the Wild West. The flats in the narrow valley
of Oil Creek, averaging only around 330 m (~1000 feet) wide were quickly
leased, and hastily constructed derricks erected. Towns sprang up out
of nowhere with people coming from all over looking to make their fortunes.
This once quiet area suddenly became louder than anyone could have imagined,
with steam engines and other types of machinery necessary to run the hundreds
of wells that sprang up in the valley in the first couple of years. And
the mud was fast becoming legendary. Horses were the main means of transporting
machines and oil in these early days. As soon as a trail became too muddy
to travel, the trail was simply widened. Soon, the width of the trails
stretched from the stream to the foot of the hills, with the entire area
having been transformed into mud. Horses, which were worked to beyond
exhaustion, would often sink up to their bellies in the stuff.
The dangers of early oil
Due to the lack of geological knowledge of the rocks beneath which were
actually producing the oil, wells were drilled almost at random in those
first few years. Photographs show that derricks were built at extremely
close proximity to one another in an attempt to get as much oil out of
the ground as fast as one could. Frequent fires often raged out of control.
In fact Drake's initial well only last a few months before it burned to
the ground. A second well was erected shortly thereafter.
The birth of an industry
Still not convinced that the Oil Regions in Pennsylvania were important
in the early days of oil? Consider this - Pennsylvania was responsible
for 1/2 of the WORLD'S production of oil until the East Texas oil
boom of 1901.
Go back to page one of Pennsylvania's
the geology of the Pennsylvania Oil Regions