Drake’s well drilled in 1858/59 was the first with a drive pipe. The ‘Colonel’ is on the right
Just last year we saw the 150th anniversary of the first modern oil well drilled on US soil by Edwin ‘Colonel’ Drake. The story goes that Drake – who wasn’t a colonel at all, but an ex railway conductor – was employed by Seneca Oil to investigate oil seeps on its land in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Prospectors in search of water had drilled here before, but had been hampered by oil that flowed into their wells instead.
Drake first began work on his groundbreaking well in 1858, but soon ran into difficulties. At five metres (16 ft.) the hole started to collapse. Undeterred, Drake devised a jointed cast iron pipe that was driven into the ground until it struck bedrock. Steam-powered drilling tools inserted in the drive pipe did the rest. At the end of the day on the 27th August 1859 the bit hit a crevice. When the driller returned to work the next day he was met by the sight of crude oil rising in the hole. Despite his critics (the locals had named his well ‘Drake’s Folly’) and Seneca withdrawing support, Drake won the day. His pioneering method of employing a drive pipe to protect the drilling process was revolutionary and is still used to this day.