How the American Oil Industry Got Its Start

Edwin Drake did more than anybody else to save the whales. Just by creating an entirely new energy industry.

TIME

America’s first successful wildcatter had a lot in common with fiction’s most famous whaler. Edwin Drake was as obsessively single-minded in his hunt for oil as Ahab had been in his quest for the white whale: He was called Crazy Drake, per PBS, after pouring the modern equivalent of more than $40,000 in investors’ money — and his own endless labor — into a search that spanned more than a year without results.

But on this day, Aug. 27, in 1859, Drake’s monomania paid off. He struck oil after drilling 69 ft. into the ground in Titusville, Pa., launching the petroleum age and making Titusville ground zero for the Pennsylvania oil rush.

Unlike Ahab (spoiler alert), Drake wasn’t destroyed by his discovery — at least not instantly. But although he was the first to engineer a successful oil-drilling system, lining his well with pipe to keep it…

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