2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 158-11
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM


BRICE, William R., 116 Luna Lane, Johnstown, PA 15904-3068, wbrice@pitt.edu

In the autumn of 1860 or early spring in 1861, John A. Mather (1829-1915) a photographer, born in England, but later based in Titusville, Pennsylvania, took a photograph of two men standing in front of an enclosed wooden derrick. This was the same derrick used for drilling the well in which oil had been found on August 27, 1859. There was some snow on the ground and another figure can be seen peeking out of the top of the derrick. This was about a year after Edwin Drake, one of the two men, and his driller, William (Uncle Billy) Smith, who was in the derrick, had demonstrated that oil could be found by drilling rather than by digging a deep hole or by waiting for it to seep to the surface. A few years earlier people in other countries had drilled for oil, but the idea had not gained much traction anywhere until after Drake’s success. Very quickly, just about a year later, small boomtowns had sprung up in the Titusville region, hillsides were literally covered with wooden derricks, and fortunes were being made and lost in a matter of days. Mather had only just arrived in Titusville in October of 1860 when he ventured down to the banks of Oil Creek to see and photograph the derrick and the men behind the project; thereby preserving for posterity the beginning the oil and natural gas industry that can arguably be considered the world’s most successful business. Love it or hate it, no one can dispute the fact that it has changed the world over the past 156 years, and Mather was there to document the beginning.