By August 1859,“Colonel” E. L. Drake and his small crew were disheartened. Few if any of the locals believed that oil—liquid called rock oil—could come out of the ground. In fact, they thought Drake was crazy. A small group of Connecticut investors had set Drake up in the small lumber town of Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania to try this “lunatic” scheme. The work was slow, difficult, and continually dogged by disappointment and the specter of failure.Read more »
Until hurricanes blew it off the front pages, the biggest economic story of the year was the rising price of oil. The media have been proclaiming gas prices to be the highest in history. In constant dollars, however, oil was more expensive as recently as 1980, when the price (in today’s money) reached almost $97 a barrel. Even Hurricane Katrina barely pushed the price above $70, and then only briefly.
Perhaps the most bizarre of all the great mineral booms of the nineteenth century took place not in a remote western wilderness, but in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, within easy reach of such well-established centers of population as New York and Pittsburgh. In this case the sought-after prize was not gold or silver but an infinitely more valuable substance, petroleum.