( Originally Published 1900 )
The great petroleum fields lie in and near the Pittsburg region, in the basin of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers, and extend from New York southwest to West Virginia, and also into Ohio. This region has had enormous yields in different parts of the river basin, the wells, however, ultimately dwindling as their supplies are drawn out. The petroleum industry, which has been one of the greatest in Pennsylvania, has been gradually all absorbed by the Standard Oil Company, which is probably the most extensive industrial combination in America, and certainly the most powerful. Yet we are told that those financial magnates began their wonderful career with an aggregate capital of only $24,000, largely borrowed money. There have been forty millions of barrels of petroleum taken from this great basin in a single year. The oil wells are bored in many places, south, southwest, north and northeast of Pittsburg. The "Panhandle Railroad," which crosses West Virginia to the Ohio, exhibits many of them. A branch of this railroad goes to Canons-burg, and thence to the town of Washington, on the old "National Road," thirty miles from Pittsburg. At Canonsburg was founded in 1773 Jefferson College, in a log cabin, which has now become the Jefferson Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church. Washington is a town of about four thousand people, rambling over a pleasant hilly region in Southwestern Pennsylvania, having as its chief institution Washington and Jefferson College, also a Presbyterian foundation, started in 1806 in what was then a remote Scotch-Irish colony beyond the mountains. Near this town in 1888 were struck the greatest petroleum wells the world ever knew. One of them, the Jumbo well, in sixty days after the first strike had poured out one hundred and forty thou-sand barrels of oil, flowing a steady circular stream of almost white oil, about five inches in diameter, at the rate of forty-two hundred gallons an hour. An-other well, afterwards bored not far away, in its freshness of infancy poured out sixty-three hundred gallons an hour. Additional wells were bored with almost the same results ; but they all afterwards dwindled, and finally ceasing a free flow, had to be pumped. This is the universal experience of all the oil regions, the " gushers," soon after the great strikes, giving out, as the store of petroleum in the reservoirs beneath becomes exhausted. But all this shows how enormous is the natural wealth of the Pittsburg district—oil, coal, coke and gas, with iron, steel and glass, electricity and railways, contributing to the wonderful prosperity.
The greatest petroleum field, however, was up the Allegheny River, in Northwestern Pennsylvania, and the first wells bored to obtain it were sunk at Titusville, on Oil Creek, in 1859. The early settlers knew of the appearance of oil about the headwaters of the Allegheny in New York and Pennsylvania, and the name of Oil Creek was given a stream for this reason in Allegheny County, New York, and also to the one in Venango County, Pennsylvania. The Indians had long collected the oil on the shores of Seneca Lake in New York, a course that the white settlers followed, and it was for years sold as a medicine y the name of Seneca or Genesee oil. When its commercial value for illuminating purposes began to be recognized, Colonel E. L. Drake went to Titusville to see if it could be obtained in sufficient quantities. He bored the first well about a mile south of Titusville, and on August 26, 1859, the oil was struck at a depth of seventy-one feet. The drill suddenly sunk into the cavity of the rock beneath, and the oil rose within a few inches of the surface. A small pump was introduced which brought out four hundred gallons daily, and then a large pump, in-creasing the daily flow to a thousand gallons. Soon a steam-engine was applied, and the flow continued uninterrupted for weeks. Titusville had at the time three hundred people. Many wells were sunk in the neighborhood with varying success, and the product of the Oil Creek district became so large that the market could not absorb it, and at the beginning of 1861, with two thousand wells in operation, the price declined to twenty-five cents per barrel. The two great wells were the Empire, originally yielding twenty-five hundred barrels daily, and the Phillips, nearly four thousand barrels. In 1863 the production had slackened, but the uses had expanded, and prices rose proportionately. Vast fortunes were then rapidly made, and as soon squandered. In the first twelve years of the development of this district, which extended over about four hundred square miles, there were taken from some four thousand wells forty-two millions of barrels of oil, which were marketed for $163,000,000. At first it was carried away y the railroads, of which several sent branches into the district, but there have since been laid extensive lines of pipes which convey it in various directions, and largely to New York and Philadelphia for foreign export. When this district was at the height of its yield it produced four hundred millions of gallons a year.