Little Bits of History

Powerful Industry

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 28, 2010

Edwin Drake's oil well

August 27, 1859: Edwin Drake strikes oil at Titusville, Pennsylvania – the birth of the modern oil industry. Titusville, was founded by Jonathan Titus in 1796 with lumber as the primary industry and 17 sawmills in the region. Oil was known to exist, but there was no practical way to get it out of the ground. Local natives would soak blankets on the top of the creek and let them absorb the oil.

In the late 1850s Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company sent Drake to the area with orders to drill on some leased land. He used an old steam engine to power the drill and tried in several locations over the span of two years. The most any previous well produced was ten barrels a day, not enough to be considered commercially viable. Digging larger shafts produced water seepage. Drake hired a salt mine drilling expert, William A. Smith, and in the summer of 1859 they began to drill.

At 16 feet, the hole began to collapse. Drake devised the use of a cast iron drain pipe in ten foot lengths and drove them into the ground. At 32 feet, they hit bedrock and drilled down via the drain pipes. Progress was about 3 feet per day. Crowds came to make fun of the process. Drake was running out of money. The company was no longer sending funds and Drake relied on friends to supply the cash flow to finish the drilling.

At the depth of 69.5 feet the bit hit a crevice and the men stopped for the day. The next morning, getting ready to drill some more, they found crude oil rising up from the crevice and began to pump it out and into a bathtub. By the next day, Drakes system of drilling was being copied at other Oil Company sites. Drake failed to patent his method and while many grew fabulously wealthy, Drake never cashed in and died impoverished.

“Invention is a combination of brains and materials. The more brains you use, the less material you need.” – Charles F. Kettering

“True creativity is characterized by a succession of acts each dependent on the one before and suggesting the one after.” – Edwin H. Land

“It puzzles me how they know what corners are good for filling stations. Just how did they know gas and oil was under there?” – Dizzy Dean

“Moses dragged us for 40 years through the desert to bring us to the one place in the Middle East where there was no oil.” – Golda Meir

Also on this day, in 1896 the world’s shortest war starts, and ends.
Bonus Link: In  551 BC, Confucius
is born.

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  1. Kǒng Qiū « Little Bits of History said, on August 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    […] this day, in 1896 the world’s shortest war starts, and ends. Bonus Link: In 1859. Edwin Drake strikes oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Leave a […]


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