It was 150 years ago today that Col. Edwin L. Drake, drilling for Seneca Rock Oil Co., struck oil at Titusville, Pennsylvania, giving birth to the U.S. oil industry — one of the true economic foundations of U.S. prosperity, mobility, health and freedom.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The Birth of an Industry.”
Associated Press, “Titusville driller’s success enriched world”
The American (American Enterprise Institute), “Drake’s World“:
What Drake really did was apply ingenuity and technological innovation in a completely unorthodox manner to help solve one of society’s growing problems. Drake and the investors who backed him were derided for pursuing the notion of drilling for oil in the same manner that drillers bored salt wells. But their success with their supposedly foolish endeavors showed that oil could be extracted from below ground in substantial quantities. And with that success, the oil rush was on.
By the summer of 1859, people had already begun to realize that “rock oil,” as it was known, could serve two very useful purposes. One, it could be refined to provide kerosene, an illuminant that might light up homes and businesses. Up to that time people used wicks dipped in fat, or dirty “town gas” produced from coal, or the oil extracted from the heads of sperm whales. But the global supply of whales was dwindling, and the price of sperm oil was increasing, so Drake’s discovery was welcome news in helping bring people’s lives into the modern era.
Drake’s oil gusher solved another problem, too. Petroleum stood poised to provide the lubricants that a rapidly mechanized, industrializing society would require. Today roughly a quarter of our petroleum consumption goes to things like lubricants, pharmaceuticals, plastics, fertilizers, and pesticides, rather than into the tanks of our cars.
WQED has a six-minute video on the Drake Oil Museum here.
(Photo: Drake Well Museum, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)
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