Historical Markers
William A. Smith Historical Marker
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William A. Smith

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
PA 356, 9 miles Southeast of Butler

Dedication Date:
January 1, 1955

Behind the Marker

A head and shoulders portrait of a bearded William Smith.
A head and shoulders portrait of a bearded William Smith.
When Edwin Drake traveled to Titusville to drill the world's first petroleum well, he had neither technical knowledge nor the useful skills for releasing oil from the earth. Hiring a blacksmith was his first job. This individual, he hoped, might fabricate the tools for a task never before attempted.
He spent weeks combing the surrounding towns in search of help. Men called his project ridiculous. Refused at every turn, Drake went 100 miles to find someone to drill for oil with him. He finally contracted for 1,000 feet of boring, but the man who promised to work for him never arrived for the job. He hired a second man, but that man died en route to the job.

Finally, in April 1859 Drake hired William A. Smith, a trained blacksmith. Smith later recalled that Drake immediately asked him what he thought were the chances for success. "Very good," Smith reports that he replied. "I would not be afraid to guarantee... ten barrels a day." [Drake] said "half that will satisfy me."

Smith and his family lived in the engine house. "Uncle Billy" rarely left the site. On Sunday August 28 he and his son Samuel noticed a dark green substance floating around the well head. It was oil.

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