Edwin Laurentine Drake
(1819 –1880)

Edwin Laurentine Drake was the first man to successfully obtain oil from the ground by drilling in
1859. His invention of the drive pipe stopped flooding and cave-ins, and revolutionized the oil industry. Edwindrake

Edwin Drake was born in Greenville, New York on March 29, 1819 and grew up on family farms around New York State and Castleton, Vermont before leaving home at the age of 19. He spent these early parts of his life working the railways around New haven, Connecticut as a clerk, express agent and conductor. During this time he married Philena Adams who died while giving birth to their second child in 1854. Drake later re-married three years later to Laura Dowd in 1857, sixteen years his junior.

It was during this summer in 1857 that Drake became ill preventing him from carrying on with his job. He retained the privileges of a train conductor which allowed him free travel on the railroads. The Drake family eventually found themselves living in Titusville by 1858.

In the late 1850’s Edwin Drake was hired by the Seneca Oil Company to investigate suspected oil deposits in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The oil company chose the retired railway man partly because he had free use of the rail. Drake decided that the best way to find oil was to dig for it. He used an old steam engine to power the drill. In 1857 and again in 1858 Drake searched for oil in and around Titusville. He had limited success, but was only able to extract a maximum of ten barrels per day. This was not enough to make a commercial yield sustainable. When attempts to dig huge shafts in the ground failed due to water seepage, Drake decided to drill in the manner of salt drillers. The well was dug on an artificial island on the Oil Creek. It took some time for the drillers to get through the layers of gravel. At sixteen feet the sides of the hole began to collapse. Those helping him began to despair. But not Drake. It was at this point that he devised the idea of a drive pipe. This cast iron pipe consisted of ten foot long joints. The pipe was driven down into the ground. At thirty two feet they struck bedrock. The drilling tools were now lowered through the pipe and steam was used to drill through the bedrock. The going, however, was slow. Progress was made at the rate of just three feet per day.

Meanwhile crowds of people began to gather to jeer at the apparently unproductive operation. Drake was also running out of money. Amazingly the Seneca Oil Company had abandoned their man and Drake had to rely on friends to back the enterprise. On August 27th Drake had persevered and his drill bit had reached a total depth of sixty nine and a half feet. At that point the bit hit a crevice. The men packed up for the day. The next morning Drake’s driller, Billy Smith, looked into the hole in preparation for another day’s work. He was surprised and delighted to see crude oil rising up. Drake was summoned and the oil was brought to the surface with a hand pitcher pump. The oil was collected in a bath tub.

Drake’s methods were soon imitated by others. This culminated with the establishment of the oil boom town of Pithole City, which was built around the Frazier well. This well pumped out two hundred and fifty barrels of oil per day.

Drake set up a stock company to extract and market the oil. But, while his pioneering work led to the growth of an oil industry that made many people fabulously rich, for Drake riches proved elusive. Drake did not possess good business acumen. He failed to patent his drilling invention. Then he lost all of his savings in oil speculation in 1863. He was to end up as an impoverished old man. Eventually he was granted an annuity by the State of Pennsylvania. He died in 1880 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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