Historical Markers
Edwin L. Drake Historical Marker
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Edwin L. Drake

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
PA 8 near Woodlawn Cemetery, Titusville

Dedication Date:
November 11, 1946

Behind the Marker

Edwin Drake was born in Green County, New York, in 1819. His family moved to a farm in Rutland, Vermont, in 1825. With little formal education, Drake left home at the age of 19 with no particular profession in mind. By 1849, he began working as a conductor on the New York and New Haven Railroad and lived in New Haven, Connecticut.

A portrait of a seated Edwin L. Drake in formal clothes.
A portrait of a seated Edwin L. Drake in formal clothes.
Drake befriended James Townsend and others who were involved in oil discovery efforts in Pennsylvania. Illness forced Drake to give up his railroad job in 1857, and physicians advised him to leave the urban life and spend some time in the country. Townsend put this advice together with Drake's access to a free railroad pass and asked him to travel to Titusville and oversee the drilling of the first petroleum well.

In Titusville, Drake constructed a derrick (a large crane) to drill for oil. He and Uncle Billy Smith drilled three feet per day. On August 27,1859, the drill dropped into a crevice at 69 feet and slipped down six inches. The men pulled out the drill; Drake went to town to observe the Sabbath. When Smith visited the well later, he found oil pooling from the earth's surface. The Drake well would remain a "pumper" and oil had to be mechanically pumped from the ground.

Drake never benefited financially from his discovery of oil. His health also quickly declined. By some accounts, he suffered from muscular neuralgia (a disease of the nervous system) as early as 1860. By 1873, he lost most of his money.

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