COLONEL DRAKE: THE LEGEND OF TITUSVILLE
Edwin Laurentine Drake, born on March 11, 1819, in Greenville County, New York, grew up on family farms in New York and Vermont. He left home at age 19, having received a common school education, and wandered the Midwest and East, working at various jobs. In 1850 he settled in New Haven, Connecticut, and became a railway conductor for the New York and New Haven Railroad.
In 1857 illness forced him to retire, retaining the privileges of a train conductor, including free travel on the railroads. By 1858, the Drake family found themselves living in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Drake’s life changed when he met the founders of Seneca Oil who were living for a while in the same hotel in Titusville. Stockholder of the company, he was hired to investigate about the potential oil deposits in the area using his free railway pass. Back from his first reconnaissance, he became “Colonel Drake”. Drake faced difficulties from the beginning, the known methods of drilling for oil at the time only ended in failure. Primitive methods only allowed him to drill 16 feet deep, neither deep enough to find oil, nor as deep as he wanted to go: 1,000 feet. A few months later Drake conceived the idea of driving a pipe down to the rock through which to start the drill. He built an engine house, erected a wooden derrick and installed an engine and boiler. His crew started to drill the Oil Creek well, by the middle of August 1859. On August 27, 1859 his driller Smith, affectionately called “Uncle Billy” pulled out the drilling tools after they dropped into a crevice at 69.5 ft, and went home. When back to the well he saw oil floating on top of the water within a few feet of the derrick floor: oil was found in Titusville. Drake had tapped a vast subterranean oil deposit and the well was producing up to 25 barrels of oil per day. The adventure of the modern oil industry could start. Drake’s methods were being imitated by others along Oil Creek and in the immediate area. This culminated with the establishment of several oil boom towns along the creek. Drake proceeded to dig two other wells in the 1860s. By 1876, his first well had stopped producing oil. His health deteriorating, he left Pennsylvania in 1863 with his family . He failed to patent his drilling invention, and proceeded to lose all of his savings in oil speculations. He was to end up as an impoverished old man. The caring residents of Titusville started a collection for him in 1870 and convinced the General Assembly in 1873 to provide Drake’s family with an annual pension of $1,500. Drake died in Bethlehem, PA on November 9, 1880, and was later moved to Titusville, where he remains today. The original tools that Drake used for Oil Creek Well can be found at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.
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