How Did It All Begin?
In the 1850's, unlike today, drillers took Sundays off, but one Sunday afternoon in August 1859, William Smith decided to inspect a well he was drilling. Perhaps Smith, known as Uncle Billy to his friends, was curious to see if anything had happened while he was in church. The well, nearOil Creek just outside Titusville, Pennsylvania, sat next to an oil seep, a place where oil from subterranean rocks oozed to the surface.
Uncle Billy had begun drilling the well in April for a former railroad conductor named Edwin Drake. Drake, whom everyone called"Colonel," was overseeing a remarkable project. He was supervising the drilling of a well whose sole purpose was to produce oil. Asians and Europeans had drilled oilwells, but no one in the United States had. Some of the local residents had also drilled wells near Titusville before 1859. These wells, however, were saltwater wells.
Uncle Billy's visit to the well that particular Sunday turned out to be fruitful. He peered into the pipe that encased the top of the hole and saw that it was full of crude oil. When word spread, dozens of new rigs appeard in the area and the boom was on. This small project in Titusville marked the beginning of the petroleum era in the United States.