This Place in History: Edwin Drake

Vermont History


At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Castleton, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re talking about crude, oil, Texas Tea…We’re going to talk about exploration and specifically, the guy who developed the modern oil drilling technique,” began Perkins.

“His name was Edwin Drake. He was born right across the border in New York right around 1819, but he grew up here in Castleton. He lived on a farm on what is modern-day Drake Road. Industrious as any Vermont farmer is, he learned his way around machinery and what to do. Later in life, he went on and worked on the railroad and he was a conductor.”

“But, ultimately due to health issues, he semi-retired to Titusville, PA. Titusville is where the oil industry really started in the U.S. Now, they weren’t using oil for locomotion too much at the time, but saw it as a way of replacing whale oil. So, the first thing they started doing was refining this natural sludge that just bubbled out of the ground into kerosene. This industry started to grow.”

“Edwin Drake had an idea. He said let’s take some well-drilling techniques and see if we can get [to the] oil [that way]. And so he started drilling. But the sand and everything just kept collapsing around. This is 1858. Everyone was just laughing at him saying how this was not going to work.”

“He [suggested taking] iron pipes and driving them down into the ground in ten-foot sections. So you drive a ten-foot pipe down and then you screw another pipe on top and you drive it down. Once you get to the bedrock, then you start driving. Sure enough, in 1859, he hit oil. And you could attach a pump to it; it was a hand pump, and you could pump that right out and they stored it in an old bathtub. And they still use this same technique today. In oil drilling, they drive pipes and they drill down through and it keeps the sand and dirt from collapsing,” explained Perkins.

“He was working for the Seneca Oil Company and they made a ton of money on this. He was comfortable but died soon after in Bethlehem, PA. But, his name goes down in history as the guy who invented modern oil-drilling techniques. There’s a museum down in Pennsylvania, the Drake Oil Well Museum. You can see some of his early inventions,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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