Titusville, Pennsylvania is 95 miles north of Pittsburgh and 50 miles south of Erie in northwestern Pennsylvania. In 1857 it was home to about 1,000 people, a normal small town in pre-Civil War America. That was when Edwin L. Drake, head of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company showed up, planning on drilling for oil. This was the most ludicrous thing any of the residents of Titusville had ever heard and the project quickly became known as Drake's Folly.

Titusville, and indeed the whole of northwestern Pennsylvania, already had a thriving industry capturing and refining the oil that poured out of oil seeps all over the region. It was refined and bottled into kerosene and medicine, petroleum based medicines then being all the rage for the cure of everything from intestinal disorder to headache. While oil fouling wells used for drinking water and irrigation was a constant problem it had never occurred to anyone to try to drill a well specifically for oil. It seemed too hard and nearly pointless, anyway, with the stuff just seeping out of the ground.

Over the next 2 years Drake spent tens of thousands of dollars, a tremendous sum for the time, drilling holes in the ground. Most of the company's investors walked away by the end of 1858, leaving only the original investor, James Townsend, to provide financial backing. Enticed by the prospect of huge profits in the brand new kerosene business Townsend made a final infusion of capital, but the wells continued to not produce.

Finally, on August 27, 1859 Edwin Drake struck oil. The day before his crew had finished drilling a 69 foot well, when they returned in the morning they dropped a rope into it to see if there were any signs of oil. It came up coated in a thick, black substance. That day they pumped 25 barrels of oil, and changed the world.

Though they had been hostile to Drake, the people of Titusville had recognized the potential of his idea. Once it had been demonstrated that it was possible to pump oil from a well in vast quantities a land rush, similar to the California gold rush a decade earlier, ensued. In 3 months time a completely new city, Pithole, had come into being and attracted 30,000 residents a couple of miles from Titusville. Driven by an exponentially growing demand for kerosene, oil was worth $18 a barrel and there were fortunes to be made.

Within a year there were literally thousands of oil wells and fires had become an immense problem. Several fires swept across the oil fields, killing dozens and destroying hundreds or thousands of wells at a time. From the ashes of these fires rose Standard Oil and the birth of a new age of human industry.

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