In the early 1800’s, in Pennsylvania after the emergence of stories of this black liquid seeping from the ground, the Seneca Oil Company sent Colonel Edwin Drake in search of this elusive substance.
Drake, a retired rail worker from New York, selected only as he had a free rail pass was tasked with find a reliable method of extracting this liquid in the hope it could be used to light homes.
Drake accepted the task and set about finding a solution as quickly as possible. But of course, it was never going to be that easy.
Obstacle after obstacle thwarted Drake’s attempts, from collapsed drilling wells, impenetrable bedrock and abandonment by the very company who sent him on the search in the first place.
After painfully slow and seemingly unproductive progress was being made, many of the areas residents would gather to mock and jeer the site of operation, dubbing it “Drake’s Folly”
However, after much ridicule, on the 27th of August 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania and at a depth of 69.5 feet, Drake’s drill made its first full extraction from deep under the bedrock.
Unbeknown to him, Drake’s drilling method would not only establish the modern petroleum industry but enable America and the rest of the world to kick-start the industrial revolution.
As news quickly spread of this lucrative new market, Titusville experienced a boom as has only been seen during the early gold rush in the west.
In the space of a few years, the population swelled from a few hundred to over 8,000 people. Scores of entrepreneurs swarmed into Titusville and almost over night, townships were named.
Oil City, Franklin and Pithole sprang up, teeming with prospectors hoping to make their fortune.
At its peak, the Pennsylvanian oil industry supplied well over half of the world’s oil supply before the discovery of vast oil reserves in Texas and the world over.
Today it is particularly striking that the valleys and forests, once stripped bare and exploited by the industry, have now been reclaimed by nature.
The area is now teeming with wildlife. Flora and fauna are slowly erasing the remnants of pipelines, rusted machinery and abandoned wells.
Today, retracing the steps of the early oil industry, it is hard to imagine the massive feat of human endeavour that took place over 150 years ago.
This is a true testament to the incredible regenerative power of nature and its ability to heal itself over time.
Words by Dan Mariner