Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:40 AM


BRICE, William R., Nat Sci-Geology/Planetary, University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, PA 15904,

Petroleum and natural gas have been exploited for over 5,000 years, but the modern industry began its rise to greatness with the success of a well drilled in western Pennsylvania under the supervision of Edwin L. Drake in the mid-1800s. Many others, such as Abraham Gesner of New Brunswick, who in 1846 discovered kerosene could be made by distilling coal, Samuel Kier of Pittsburgh, the first to refine crude oil into kerosene in 1849, and Col. A. C. Ferris of New York City who helped to build a market for the kerosene, all played a role, however, it was the work of Edwin Drake and his successful well on the banks of Oil Creek on August 27th, 1859, that really sparked the revolution. But of all those involved, perhaps the one who benefited the least was the very man who started everything. Edwin Drake. This paper will tell the story of the man, his life and trials, and describe how this unemployed, former railroad conductor, with little formal education came to be in Titusville that summer of 1859, and how his work started a modern industry.