Know Your History: World’s First Commercial Oil Well

In 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Edwin Drake struck oil, captured it, and established the first commercial oil well in the world. Drake’s well. Here it is in August of 2020:

Western Pennsylvania became the oil capital of the world for the next decade. The oil rush was on. Scores of wells dotted the aptly named Oil Creek area between Titusville, Oil City (see a theme here), and the expanded region. Some folks struck it rich fast. Others were not so lucky. Kerosene had been discovered only a few years earlier in 1853. This made oil a suddenly valued commodity. Through the processing of oil, kerosene could be used to light the big cities of the nation, and that it did for the next forty plus years until electricity took over.

It wasn’t long, however, until substantial oil reserves were discovered in Texas and elsewhere which dwarfed the nascent Pennsylvania industry. Pennsylvania didn’t last as the world’s greatest producer, but it did have a lasting effect on the oil industry and the region. Many towns were forever affected by the industry. (Oil City, Petrolia, Petroleum Center) Didn’t you ever wonder why there were so many Pennsylvania-centric brands of oil: Pennzoil, Quaker State, Kendall, etc…

In an interesting twist of fate, Pennsylvania has once again become a major player in the fossil fuel industry through the prolific fracking done over the past ten years to extract natural gas from the massive Marcellus Shale. Yep, Titusville is right in the middle of it.

Here’s a modern-day railroad bridge over Oil Creek a few miles south of Titusville. (I snapped this one on my bike ride at the fantastic Oil Creek Bike Trail.)

Drake’s Well and Museum can be visited (in non-Covid years) through the spring-fall months as part of Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek State Park.

FUN FACT: Did you know that the by-product of making kerosene is this obscure little product called gasoline? Oh, you heard of it. In the past, gasoline was thrown away. It was deemed too combustible and dangerous to be used. However, once the internal combustion engine was invented, it was gasoline which became king and kerosene became more a second thought.



Know Your History: The Largest Oil Producing Region in America

No, I’m not talking about Texas.


What, you say?

Did you ever wonder why there is “Quaker State Oil”? How about Pennzoil? Or Penn Oil? Or Oil City, Pennsylvania? Or Petronia, PA. Or even the humble village where I grew up – Great Belt, PA?

You may not realize it, but western Pennsylvania was, at one time, the largest oil producing region in the world.

It all started in 1859 with Drake’s Oil Well, which you can still visit today:

The successful extraction of oil by Drake was the beginning of the modern oil industry as we know it. Oil was refined into Kerosene which was highly sought after for burning lamps. The by-product of the refining process was a substance known as gasoline which was, if you can believe it, thrown away because there was no uses for it at the time.

Oil wells popped up all throughout western PA, even my hometown which some surveyors thought would be a “Great Belt” of oil. Alas, it was not to be. But our humble country village did several working oil wells when I was a kid.

Western PA was soon surpassed in oil production as the black gold was discovered throughout the country, especially in places like Texas. With the advent of the gas-powered engine, the waste product of petroleum – gasoline – suddenly took on a new significance, leading to greater discoveries of oil both at home and abroad.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the modern oil industry started humbly in my back yard. And that’s a fact of history.