Oil Wells Brought Immigrants


Edwin Drake (right)stands before his oil well in1859, Titusville PA Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons


Energy production is shifting from oil toward  wind, sun, and water power. When my husband and I visit our daughter in Northwestern Pennsylvania, we learn that this area gave birth to the petroleum industry.

Cornplanter, chief of the Seneca Nation, showed encroaching immigrant settlers the many oil seeps along the riverbanks in Venango County. A retired railroad conductor, Edwin Drake, picked a low spot on an oil seep near Titusville’s Oil Creek and drilled a 69 foot well. More oil spewed forth than had ever been seen. Pioneering wildcatters descended to deface the forests and riverbanks with wells that soon went dry. Unfortunately Drake died a pauper. He neglected to patent his well,

Oil City soon became a center of commerce and transportation as oil was shipped by railroad, wagon, boat, and pipeline. Oil came along at the right time because over whaling had driven the right whale to near extinction. Once whale oil died out, crude oil, refined into kerosene, became the first choice fuel for oil lamps,

John D. Rockefeller chartered Oil City’s National Transit Co. as a Standard Oil holding company in 1881. Meanwhile, in nearby Titusville, site of the Drake Oil well, young Ida Tarbell honed the skills that would make her possibly the most famous female investigative journalist in U.S. history. She wrote The History of the Standard Oil Company in 1904. Her investigation into Rockefeller’s company led to antitrust lawsuits and congressional hearings. In 1911 the Supreme Court broke up the Standard Oil Company Trust, and implemented our country’s first antitrust laws.

Digging back a few years yields a treasure trove of information.


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