In today’s world, oil is the most important source of energy across the globe. Some may say that oil is the most efficient energy resource this planet has ever seen. Refined oil is used in things from the cars we drive, to the kerosene in our gas powered lanterns. Before the Great Oil Rush began, Edwin Drake’s ambition and determination proved to be the laughing stock of the small town of Titusville, but that great day in late August of 1859 changed not only the view of Drake, but essentially the world as we know it. Edwin Drake will always go down in history as the first person to perfect the oil drilling process, but some say that it was only a matter of time before someone took the bold step and pioneered the oil drilling industry.
Drake was an intelligent man, whose knowledge and social ability was beyond that of someone with regular schooling. Even though he shared the looks and character of President Abraham Lincoln, the people of Titusville, Pennsylvania poked fun at his arrival to their town to investigate the insignificant oil seep leased by the Brewer and Watson sawmill to the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. Before Drake struck oil in this small town, the local sawmills were only to extract small quantities of oil to lubricate their saw, and provide a source of light. The only person to make anything of the oil was Samuel Kier, who used it as a natural remedy for ailments such as rheumatism, cough, neuralgia, and liver problems. The oil drilling industry began to take shape when part owner, Mr. Ebenezer of the sawmill gave his son, Francis, the remedy, who subsequently started the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, with two lawyers from New York, George Bissell and Jonathan G. Eveleth, who his father saw as villains. The problem at hand was not the effectiveness of the oil, but whether it was possible to drill it effectively from beneath the surface, and with this issue the entrapaneurs could not find anyone to buy stock in their young company. As a result, the men were forced to the hand of James Townsend, who was the President of City Savings Bank in New Haven, who raised the money, and soon after took over the management of the company. Drake was brought into the picture when he realized Mrs. Ebenezer Brewer and Mrs. James Rynd did not sign the title deed, effectively giving the Company rights to exploit the land, and so Townsend persuaded Drake to go to Titusville to get the signatures, and also persuaded him to invest his life savings of $200 in the company. On return, “Townsend used Drakes position as a stockholder to carry out a complicated coup that ended Bissell and his partners management role, gave Townsend control via a new entity called Seneca Oil, and made Drake GM at an annual salary of $1,000.”(104) the property in Titusville was leased to Drake for fifteen years, but Drake would give Townsend royalties of twelve cents for every gallon of oil they produced.
The next series of events put Drake’s financial and social honor on the line in the small Pennsylvania city of Titusville. His first moves of his new venture were to rent a hotel room, buy supplies, and hire workers at $1 a day. “Drake’s first contribution to the future was his early conviction was that the skeptics were wrong, that oil lay trapped in the rocky reservoirs beneath the ground and the only way to get at it was to drill a hole, exactly the way people mine for salt.”(104) It is said that within ten minutes of being on the site, Drake knew that oil would be something that would be exploited from the ground, and that he would be the one to do it. His determination and intuitive thought gave him the driving force to prove the skeptics wrong. The only problem was he was missing an engine to the drilling process, and a driller because most of them were drunks and believed the 1,000 feet Drake wanted to drill was impossible. The first problem was laid to rest when Drake bought a six-horsepower engine for $500, as well as when Drake received a letter from a salt well operator, recommended the blacksmith William Smith to drill the well. Up to this point, there was no progress, and Drake resorted to borrowing money from locals, as well $500 from his lone supporter from the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, Mr. Townsend, even though his contract ended on April 1st, 1859. With the help of William Smith and his other workers, Mr. Drake designed and built a 30-foot high derrick all the while being criticized by Mr. Brewer. By this time, Drake used his capital to cover the expenses. “Once again, his intuition came to the rescue. His idea was that they should stop digging beyond 16 feet already done, but try to drive an iron pipe through the quicksand and clay to the underlying rock.”(106) He began this endeavor with a cast-iron pipe, but broke at 10 feet, so he decided to give it a second effort with soft iron. He saw great success with this new soft iron pipe fixture when he hit rock at thirty-two feet, and drilled three feet that day as well as the next few. Without knowing that Townsend sent a letter to close down the operation because of lack of efficient communication, Drake began to prove skeptics wrong when he reached 69 feet on August 28th, 1859. “According to Smith, Drake was in the derrick on the Saturday when at 69 feet the drill slipped and the jars stopped working. I noticed fluid rising in the drive pipe and called Drake’s attention and said, “that’s your fortune coming,” and lifted about a half a gallon of oil.”(106) Soon after Drake was drawing 400 gallons of pure oil every day. His unwillingness to give up hope on this venture in which he invested his own credit and name on the line, brought on a new age to the region, The Great Oil Rush. Within days of getting the word of Drake’s success, people from all over the region put their careers to the side for this lucrative business. “Merchants abandoned their stores, farmers dropped their plows, lawyers deserted their offices and preachers their pulpits.”(107) While others such as Bissell and local friends bought stock and leased land in the surrounding area, Drake concentrated on making the well more efficient. Before long, Townsend and his fellow directors took Drake’s title of president of the company and made him an agent because of his lack of business savvy, and eventually fired him in 1863. Edwin Drake, the man who pioneered the oil well, finally was given credit and acknowledgement by the local people, who put him on salary of $3,000, while his own company kicked him to the curb and others stole his idea and patented it. After losing all his money and growing sicker every day, Edwin Drake died in 1880 at the age of seventy-two. “Standard Oil donated a bronze sculpture of Drake engraved with the story of how this one man, enriched the state, benefited mankind, stimulated the mechanical arts, and enlarged the pharmacopoeia.”(107) Other pay tribute by saying that the man did not wish to gain anything financially nor socially, but was content in revolutionizing the industry with the fruits of his hard labor. Edwin Drake brought the world to the age of petroleum which thereby transformed the world as we know it.
Oil has arguably become the most important resource on Earth besides the presence of oxygen and water. Oil has transformed and revolutionized the world, and has led to the rise of huge oil tycoons throughout the world, where the business has produced many billionaires. Drake’s determination made oil drilling possible, and for the first time significant quantities of oil were produced and refined. Oil, which was first used as an illuminant and lubricant, is now used by everyone every day in cars, jet engines, as well the gas we used in our home grills and stoves. Some say that even if Drake gave up on his venture and did not discover the oil in the bedrock in that small Pennsylvania town, someone else would have, but his ability to overlook the skeptics and follow his own intuition, leaves us with this efficient energy sources and the legacy of a man who made this all happen.