Why Was It Important To Find Oil?

There were two reasons Colonel Drake and his backers from New haven, Connecticut, decided to drill for oil.

  1. A shortage of whale oil.
  2. Oil that seeped naturally from the earth could not be held in a dam.

By the 1850's, New England seafarers had hunted whales nearly to extinction. Because people used whale oil as a high quality lubricant and as an illuminating oil, it was scarce and expensive. Reports of an oil spring near a Pennsylvania creek, where the oil literally leaked out of the rocks, therefore sparked the interest of the New Haven entrepreneurs. They reasoned that if they could recover enough rock oil from the Oil Creek site, they could sell it as an inexpensive substitute for the shale oil. They formed the Pennsylvania Rock Oil company of Connecticut in 1855 and began thinking of ways to extract the oil.

Since the oil seeped onto the ground near the creek, it had to be contained, First, the bankers hired workers to dig trenches and direct the oil into holding ponds. To make the ponds, the laborers simply dug out the soil and piled it around the edges of the pond. Unfortunately, everytime they built such a wall, rainwater and groundwater washed it out and the oil ran off into the creek.

To solve the problem, James Townsend, president of the newly formed oil company, proposed drilling for the oil, rather than merely trying to contain what seeped to the surface. Others in the area had been drilling for salt water, or brine, for many years. Townsend hired Drake, declared him an honorary colonel, sent him to Oil Creek to supervise the drilling for oil. Drake, in turn, hired Uncle Billy Smith, and experienced saltwater driller.

Oil Primer Home