National Heritage Area

(814) 677-3152

217 Elm Street

Oil City, PA 16301-1412

Oil History Timeline

Year Event
1748 Peter Kalm of Sweden published map showing oil springs of Oil Creek, PA
1767 Sir William Johnson of New York recorded Native American practice of skimming oil
1778 Moravian missionaries reported “oil wells, with the products of which the Seneca Indians carry on trade with Niagara” in Western New York
1785 General William Irvine reported “Oil Creek, PA, has taken its name from an oil or bituminous matter floating on its surface”
1790 Nathaniel Carey skimmed oil from springs near Titusville, PA, and delivered it to customers by horseback
1791 Pennsylvania map showed stream named “OYL CREEK”
1795 Joseph Scott, first U. S. gazetteer, reported about Oil Creek and Seneca Oil
1795 – 1800 Crude oil quoted at $16.00 per gallon
1806 David & Joseph Ruffner drilled first salt well using spring pole, drive pipe, casing & tubing near Kanawha River in western Virginia, well produced oil instead of salt water
1807 Mr. F. Cuming described collecting oil by blanket dipping in “Sketches of a Tour of the Western Country.”
Oil from spring in Oil Creek on the Hamilton McClintock farm sold for $1 – 2/gallon
1833 Prof. Benjamin Silliman Sr. experimentally distilled crude petroleum
1840 First recorded use of natural gas for manufacturing, used in brine evaporation at Centerville, PA
1846 Abraham Gesner produced illuminating oil from Nova Scotia coal, distilling a product he named “Kerosene.”
Nitroglycerine, invented by Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero, used by Swedish engineer Alfred Nobel
1849 Samuel Kier marketed rock oil from his father’s salt well as medicine
1850 Samuel Kier devised a process to distill crude oil, producing “carbon oil”
1851 Samuel Kier marketed carbon oil for use in lamps.
Dr. Francis Brewer purchased first oil lease on land owned by J.O. Angier, Titusville, PA
1854 George Bissell & Jonathan Eveleth paid $5000 for 105 acres of land (Hibbard Farm) in Venango County, PA, owned by Brewer, Watson & Co. to collect surface oil.
Bissell & Eveleth organized Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company incorporated in NY – first U. S. oil company – and leased Hibbard Farm
1855 Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman, Jr., filed favorable report on petroleum sample from Hibbard Farm.
Bissell & Eveleth reorganized PA Rock Oil Co. as a corporation in Connecticut
1856 Abraham Gesner’s North American Kerosene Gas Light Co. sold kerosene in New York lamp oil market
1857 Samuel Downer & Joshua Merrill mastered multiple distillations, chemical treatments, and cracking of crude coal oil (applied to crude oil 3 years later).
Pennsylvania Rock Oil Co. of CT leased the Hibbard Farm to Edwin Bowditch & Edwin Drake of New Haven
1858 Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut formed, purchased Bowditch & Drake lease, and sent Edwin Drake to drill
1859 August 27 -Edwin L. Drake’s well, drilled 69 ½ feet, struck oil near Titusville PA (first well deliberately drilled for oil) and launched the modern petroleum industry.
August 30 – John Grandin & H. H. Dennis drilled in Tionesta, PA – first dry hole.
October 7 – Drake’s well ignited by gas and destroyed – first oil well fire on record,
well house rebuilt and oil equipment replaced
1860 April – Steamboat “Venango” carried first load of petroleum to Pittsburgh
1861 May – A. B. Funk’s “Fountain Well” reached 460 feet & flowed 300 barrels per day. Annual U. S. crude oil production increased from .5 million barrels in 1860 to 2.1 million barrels in 1861.
October – Phillips Well #2 on Tarr Farm came in at 4000 barrels a day.
November – First shipload of petroleum to cross the Atlantic shipped from Philadelphia to London
1862 Humboldt Refinery established near Plumer, by John Burns & the Ludovici brothers.
Jacob Vandergrift and Daniel Bushnell shipped crude from Oil City to Pittsburgh by bulk barge tows, more than 20 Allegheny River shipping companies in Oil City.
Oil Creek Railroad reached Titusville from Corry, first railroad into PA Oil Region.
1863 Pennsylvania legislature passed first anti-pollution bill preventing running of tar and distillery refuse into certain creeks
1864 “Coal Oil Johnny” Steele began spending spree
1865 Pithole Creek oil field discovered.
Col. E.A.L. Roberts used explosives to increase “Ladies Well” flow near Titusville, PA
April 9 – Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse ended the Civil War.
April 14 – President Abraham Lincoln assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Six weeks later, well on Pithole Creek, in which Booth had a share, struck oil.
Van Syckle oil pipeline connected Miller Farm on the Oil Creek Railroad to the U. S. Well, a distance of approximately 6 miles.
1866 Patent for exploding torpedoes in wells granted to E.A.L. Roberts – 2000 lawsuits filed involving patent, but it was said Roberts never lost a suit
Roberts exploded a torpedo in “dry hole” establishing oil flow in a non-producing well
Alfred Nobel invented dynamite.
1867 E.A.L. Roberts licensed by Alfred Nobel to use dynamite in shooting wells.
1867 Nikolaus Otto invented early internal combustion engine
1868 John Benninghoff robbery near Petroleum Centre netted robbers half million dollars
1869 Rockefeller, Andrews, and Flagler firm operated in Oil City, Cleveland, and New York
Oil exploration moved south to Armstrong, Clarion, and Butler Counties, PA
1870 Crawford Well in Emlenton, PA produced 35 barrels of oil per day
Standard Oil Company organized as corporation in Ohio
1871 Titusville Oil Exchange formed
1872 Newton Gas Well, Titusville, produced gas for 250 customers.
1873 Edwin L. Drake granted a $1500 annual pension by Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
1874 Bradford oil field boom
1877 Pithole Borough Charter annulled
1878 Standard Oil controlled 90% of nation’s refining capacity
1879 Thomas Alva Edison invented incandescent lamp
Tidewater Pipeline completed from Bradford to Williamsport – 100 miles
1880 November 8 – Edwin Drake died in Bethlehem, PA, at age 61
1881 Standard Oil organized the National Transit Company
1882 Standard Oil Trust organized
1885 German engineer Karl Benz built first internal combustion engine vehicle
1890 Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act
1892 First American car built by Duryea brothers
First steel derrick, 72 feet in height, constructed and made available through catalog
Standard Oil Trust passed formal resolution to dissolve
1893 Thomas Edison introduced motion pictures
1895 First U. S. automobile road race won by Duryea “motor wagon”
California produced 1.2 million barrels of crude oil
1896 First reported U. S. automobile accident occurred in New York City – Henry Wells collided with bicycle rider Evylyn Thomas, breaking her leg. Wells went to jail
1899 Standard Oil reorganized as holding company in NJ
1900 8000 automobiles owned in the United States, half sold this year
1901 14,800 automobiles registered in the U.S.
Spindletop well struck oil in Texas
1902 Ida Tarbell began publishing Standard Oil series in McClure’s Magazine.
1903 May 23-August 1 – First transcontinental automobile trip, San Francisco to New York
December 17 – Kittyhawk, North Carolina, Wright Brothers made their first heavier than air powered flight – flight lasted 59 seconds
1904 First plant for extracting natural gasoline (Casinghead gasoline) from natural gas by the compression method built by Andrew Fasenmeyer near Drake Well at Titusville, PA.
1908 October 1 – First Model T Ford built
First commercial natural gasoline plant built at Sistersville, West Virginia
1909 Standard Oil of NJ found guilty of Sherman Act violations, company dissolved into 37 independent organizations in 1911
1911 667,000 automobiles registered in the United States
1919 Gasoline replaced kerosene as product leader of the American petroleum industry
1920 8,500,000 automobiles & trucks registered in the U.S.
1927 Charles A. Lindberg made first successful trans-Atlantic flight

Compiled for Drake Well Museum with research by Neil McElwee, Susan Beates, and David Weber.

Back to top