The House Monday passed House Resolution 139 (Rapp-R-Forest) honoring petroleum industry pioneer Col. Edwin L. Drake on the 195th anniversary of his birth.
Born on March 29, 1819, in Greenville, N.Y., Drake left home at the age of 19 and spent the next several years working on various railways until ill health forced his retirement.
“In 1857, Col. Drake was hired as an agent for the Seneca Oil Company and charged with the mission of producing a more profitable amount of oil in Titusville,” said Rep. Kathy Rapp. “Col. Drake’s unprecedented success in drilling for oil prompted the first great wave of investment and additional drilling that established petroleum as a major worldwide industry. With the spread of Drake’s innovative techniques, Titusville and other northwestern Pennsylvania communities instantly became boomtowns for the development and extraction of oil and natural gas.”
Unfortunately, Drake did not patent his oil drilling methods and never became a success in oil speculation. After enduring years of poverty and becoming disabled with neuralgia, Drake relocated his family to Bethlehem in 1870.
Although he never served in the military, the people of Titusville helped him with a stipend, and in 1876, the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted to provide Drake with a pension.
Drake died in 1880 in Bethlehem, but his body was later re-interred in a tomb in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery. Inscriptions on the tomb extol his contributions to the oil industry.
“The Men Who Built America” documentary on the History Channel most recently paid tribute to Drake as “a great entrepreneur” who is truly the Father of the Petroleum Industry,’” said Rapp. “Mentioned along with Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Henry Ford and others, Col. Drake played a significant role in our history and the Industrial Revolution that helped make the United States a great nation. Today, I dare say, most of us arrived here because we still benefit from that original Titusville oil well and the entrepreneurial risks taken by men like Col. Edwin Drake.”For more information, visit the PA Historical and Museum Commission Edwin Drake webpage.