- Historic Sites
Drake's Rock Oil
No one knew that oil could come from the ground until a bankrupt group of speculators hit pay dirt in northwestern Pennsylvania
Winter 2010 | Volume 59, Issue 4
But not until the beginning of the 20th century, just as electricity began to displace kerosene for lighting, did the new invention of the automobile create the modern market for transportation fuels. Petroleum went on to become a huge industry, at the crossroads of the global economy and global politics. Today oil supplies 40 percent of the world’s total energy and, as a transportation fuel, truly makes the world go round. But for its first 40 years, the oil industry primarily served lamps. John D. Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Trust became the richest man in the United States as an illumination merchant.
“Colonel” Drake did not do so well. He became an oil trader but lost all his money and finally had to appeal to the state of Pennsylvania for a modest pension. He made a good case. “If I had not done it,” he said of his oil well, “it would not have been done to this day.”