Oil Creek | June 2022

From the gas in our cars to the heat in our homes and the electricity that powers us, none of it would be possible without the discovery of crude oil along the banks of Oil Creek at what is known as the Drake Well outside of Titusville, PA. The 69.5-foot-deep well was drilled by Edwin Drake in 1859 and was the first commercial oil well in the United States, changing the world forever.

At the time of the drilling, use of oil was still being refined and determined. Some of the earliest uses claimed medicinal properties while other industrious thinkers found ways to refine and burn it in lamps to illuminate homes. But Drake knew there was more to this mysterious black substance. Using salt well drilling techniques, Drake erected a drill to properly extract the oil from deep in the ground. Local Teamsters transported the oil to barges that traveled down Oil Creek to Oil City where they transferred to the larger Allegheny River and on to larger steamships that carried the oil south to Pittsburgh. Eventually the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad was constructed and enabled quicker transport of the oil, accelerating the development of the oil industry. In turn, the demand introduced new oil-related businesses in the area like refineries and equipment manufacturers, setting off a period of incredible economic growth in the region.

By the late 19th century, the original site of the Drake Well had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. In 1945, the Pennsylvania General Assembly appropriated $185,000 to construct a replica of the well and pumping equipment. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. The Drake Well Museum now encompasses the surrounding 22 acres and encourages visitors to experience the history firsthand.

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