Edwin Drake (1819 - 1880)

Feb 21, 2007 | Posted in Essays, People

Edwin Drake

Edwin Drake

Much has been said and written about this "crazy" man who drilled for oil. Obviously, after the well came in, people didn't seem to think he was so crazy after all.

Before Drake became involved with drilling for oil, he had many varied occupations. He sailed on the Great Lakes and worked in a hotel and a dry goods store. Later on, he became an express agent and then a conductor on the New York and New Haven Railroad.

While staying at a hotel in New Haven, Connecticut, Drake met James Townsend. He agreed to travel to northwestern Pennsylvania, and history records his success at drilling for oil in August, 1859. The next year, Drake was elected Justice of the Peace in Titusville.

In 1863, Drake decided to leave the oil region and set off for New York City. He became a broker in oil stocks on Wall Street, but good fortune didn't follow. Drake lost all his money, valued at $15 - $20,000. It seems he lost more than his money at that time. His already poor health failed also, and he moved to Vermont and later to New Jersey.

Drake's family was having a very difficult time making ends meet, since he was unable to work. His wife picked up small sewing jobs here and there, but she had the responsibility of tending to Edwin and the children, and the funds were never sufficient.

Finally in desperation, Drake managed to go to New York, hoping to find work for his son. While there, he happened to meet a hotel man from Titusville who was so upset at Drake's condition that he bought him food and gave him money. When this man returned to Titusville, he let others know of Drake's terrible situation. The town raised over $4,000 and sent it to Drake.

In 1873, the Legislature of Pennsylvania granted Drake a pension of $1,500 a year, which passed onto his wife after his death. On November 8, 1880, Edwin Drake died. Although Drake had hard times after he left the oil region, most people do not remember him for that. Instead, his hard work, determination, and success at striking oil are what keeps his memory alive today.

Bell, EdwinC., The Dramatic Story of Colonel Drake. Pennsylvania Refining Company, Butler, Pennsylvania

Reprinted Courtesy of the Venango Museum of Art, Science and Industry