Thursday, September 19, 2013

Drake's Well

Where does the modern petroleum industry have its roots?

The Middle East?  Nope.
Alaska?  No. 
Russia?  Nuh-uh. 
Must be Texas, right?  Sorry, but no.

The world's first oil well was in northwestern Pennsylvania near a town called Titusville.  (Ever hear of PENNZOIL?)

Prior to the mid-1800's, people fueled their lamps with expensive whale oil.  Not only was obtaining whale oil dangerous, but the practice of whale hunting was beginning to decimate the world's whale population.  A cheaper, easier alternative was being sought.

Enter Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880).  People knew that crude oil burned, but no one had an easy means of getting it in large quantities.  Besides harvesting seepage through the earth's surface, no one knew how to get lots of this "black gold" efficiently.  Mr. Drake thought he could drill for it, just as people dug water wells.

He was right.  On August 27, 1859, after digging only 69 feet into the earth, Drake struck oil.  The world's first oil well was born.

Boomtowns popped up all over the area as speculators and wildcatters rushed in.  However, once the wells ran dry the towns disappeared just about as quickly as they appeared.  Even John D. Rockefeller got in on the game by helping the Standard Oil Company survive the "boom and bust" of the era.  The oil industry eventually moved away from Pennsylvania, first to Russia in 1864, then to Texas in 1901.

We spent our afternoon visiting Drake's Well, which is now a state park in rural northwestern Pennsylvania.  There is a great interactive museum, along with an accurate replica of the oil well right over the exact spot that the oil was first discovered.  Since we were there on a Thursday afternoon and were just about the only ones there, we had a private exhibition of the steam-powered oil pump in action.  We toured the grounds and ended by skipping rocks into Oil Creek.  Lovely afternoon.