EDWIN DRAK, the father of the oil industry

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  EDWIN DRAK, A person with an iron wills, persistent and persevering, guided the world towards the discovery of a new source of energy: oil.

Edwin Laurentine Drake was born in March 1819 in Greenville, New York, and grew up on family farms in New York and Vermont. After having practised various jobs, he moved to New Haven, Connecticut and became a conductor for the New Haven Railroad. He retired a few years later due to an illness that forced him to leave the railroad. What he did not know was that it would lead him to a new world.

Drake catched the opportunity and met George H. Bissell and Jonathan G. Eveleth, founders of the new Seneca Oil Company whose name was later attributed to one of the first oils found. This company came after the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first oil company in the United States, which had been created to exploit oil seeps at ground level near Titusville, Pennsylvania.

The chemist Benjamin Silliman, Jr. had analyzed and mentioned that oil after refining could be used as an illuminant, as well as for other purposes. The founders of the Seneca Oil Company needed someone to inspect and report on the sources of oil on their property, and Drake was eventually employed in 1858 to accomplish it so, he returned to Titusville as a general agent in charge of operations (he was for a short time president of the company).

His mission was to produce a cost-effective amount of oil. However, the main seep only brought in three or four gallons of oil a day, and the other sources of oil he had opened only added a few gallons to production. So Drake tried to exploit the oil. He hired workers to dig a well, but the water flooded it and he abandoned the idea. Eventually, he decided to try another idea he had discussed with George H. Bissell, and Bissell proposed extracting the oil using salt-well drilling methods.

 

From 1858 to 1859 was a critical time for Drake to find a driller and money to buy a steam engine and build an engine room. In the meantime, in early 1859 Drake found a reliable driller – William A. “Uncle Billy” Smith,  who forged his own tools and showed up for work in late May.

They built a pine derrick and started drilling after that they found a solution for flooded water; he drove an iron pipe to the bedrock, and then placed the drill inside the pipe to prevent water from entering the excavated well. The men drilled several times until August 27, when, at a depth of 69.5 feet, the drill bit had fallen into a crevasse, Brice notes. Late the next afternoon, the driller “Smith”, visited the site “and noticed a very dark liquid floating above the water in the hole, which, when sampled, turned out to be oil and so Drake was able to touch the black wealth: oil. Drake had shown that large quantities of oil could be found by drilling into the earth. And so began the modern oil industry. Drake finally went black on August 28, 1859, almost seventy feet lower.

Edwin Drake, the man without whom the U.S. oil industry would never have come into being. He developed the technology to drill the first commercial oil well in the United States and revolutionized the way crude oil was produced and launched the oil industry on a large scale. Drake died in 1880.

 

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