The first oil well drilled in West Virginia and Pennsylvania
The Rathbone Well, West Virginia’s first major oil well, was drilled in 1860. William P. Rathbone, a New York City judge and alderman, and his sons, John Castelli ‘‘Cass’’ Rathbone and John Valleau ‘‘Val’’ Rathbone, had purchased 12,000 acres at Burning Springs Run in Wirt County in 1840. They laid out a small village, Burning Springs, later Rathbone, and operated a general store, gristmill, and boat yard. They also bottled and sold petroleum as a medicine, ‘‘Rathbone’s Rock Oil, Nature’s Wonder Cure.’’
In 1860, a Pennsylvania promoter, Samuel D. Karnes, leased an acre from the Rathbones and introduced derrick drilling techniques modeled after those of the pioneering Drake oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania. Within a few weeks, Karnes was producing 30 barrels of oil a day. Following his lead, Cass Rathbone sank a well on his property to a depth of 140 feet, hitting a gusher that produced 100 barrels a day. News spread and others rushed to Burning Springs. Johnson Newlon Camden, later a U.S. senator and Standard Oil director, along with partners including John Jay Jackson Sr., brought in ‘‘The Eternal Center’’ well in January 1861, earning them $23,000 the first week of production. The Rathbones made a fortune leasing one-acre tracts to wildcatters.
On May 9, 1863, a Confederate raiding party under Gen. William E. Jones set fire to the Burning Springs oil field and to crude oil being stored in the area. Flames from the fire could be seen in Parkersburg, 40 miles away. Though Camden and the Rathbones repaired the damage and continued to drill, Burning Springs never rose to its pre-war production. The discovery of new fields elsewhere in Wirt and surrounding counties moved the center of the industry to other locations.
The Drake Well is a 69.5-foot-deep (21.2 m) oil well in Cherrytree Township, Venango County in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, the success of which sparked the first oil boom in the United States. The well is the centerpiece of the Drake Well Museum located 3 miles (5 km) south of Titusville.
Drilled by Edwin Drake in 1859, along the banks of Oil Creek, it is the first commercial oil well in the United States. Drake Well was listed on National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. It was designated a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1979. The well was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 2009, on the sesquicentennial of the strike.
The Drake Well is often referred to as the first commercial oil well, although that title is also claimed for wells in Ontario, West Virginia, Persia, Arabia, Szechuan China and Poland, among others.
In the United States before the Drake Well, oil-producing wells were wells that were drilled for salt brine, and produced oil and gas only as accidental byproducts. An intended drinking water well at Oil Springs, Ontario found oil in 1858, a year before the Drake Well, but it had not been drilled for oil. Historians have noted that the importance of the Drake Well was not in being the first well to produce oil, but in attracting the first great wave of investment in oil drilling, refining, and marketing.