The word "oil" is used many times in regular conversations and in the news these days.
Oil, as we know it, is a natural, combustible liquid used in many variations of products that we so often use but mainly with the turn of a key in our favorite vehicle.
Where would we be without it in its purified, refined state called gasoline? Gasoline and diesel is the drink of life for all those thirsty engines encased in autos, trucks, boats, planes, trains, tools and much more.
It keeps our planet running and is also cursed many times daily by all of us viewing prices at the pump as they escalate for unknown reasons. It may also be ruining our atmosphere.
In oil talk today, we generally assume that since most of the oil is produced in the Middle East - which it is - that it probably originated there also. But, believe it or not, oil got its real origins drilling for this precious controversial product in nearby Titusville, Pa., some 85 miles from our own valley.
Col. Edwin L. Drake arrived in Titusville in 1858, even before our Civil War. By Aug. 27, 1859, he had successfully drilled for oil with an old steam engine that produced his power to drill some 70 feet into the earth and extracted this so-called "black gold." To assist his drilling, he lined the drilling hole with conductor pipe.
Interestingly enough, Drake got this job from a brand new Seneca Oil Co. only because he was a former railroad conductor and had a free pass to travel from New Haven, Conn., to the rolling hills of Titusville to examine the oil seeps which were so predominant. He later found that the best way to extract this substance was by drilling.
Drake's well produced some 25 barrels of oil a day. It seemed that many others got into the act, and by 1871, the Titusville area was producing some 5.8 million barrels a year.
For some in those early days, oil was really a nuisance as people tried drilling for water and up came oil. The use for oil at that time was mostly for lamp oil which they had successfully refined into kerosene. They began to use it as a lubricant in machinery also. It eventually took the place of whale oil which was used for lamps at that time.
It was also used for patent medicine as a cure for anything. Can you imagine taking a spoonful of crude before you go to bed?
After the Civil War, along came industrialist John D. Rockefeller, who really revolutionized the petroleum industry by forming Standard Oil of Ohio. This was even before the internal combustion engine, which was the heart of the automobile.
With the upcoming automobile, propelled by gasoline, and the value of kerosene still going strong, Rockefeller quickly became the richest man in the world.
Oil seemed to be popping up everywhere from Texas to Oklahoma to California and beyond. The big thirst had started.
The 20th century rolled around and ushered in Henry Ford and his idea of assembly lines producing more autos. This required more gasoline and more oil wells. The Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk proved that people could fly. Of course, with a gasoline engine, which meant more gasoline and more oil wells.
Later on, the Middle East got into the act with a seemingly never-ending supply of this precious fuel. Production soared during several wars during the 20th century, when the military depended so much on King Oil to keep tanks, planes, trucks and ships moving. Keeping fuel tanks on full helped bring victory.
And here we are in 2010, still thirsting for more oil with phrases like "Drill, baby, drill." Our atmosphere seems to be polluted - they say - because of this miraculous fuel. At present, Saudi Arabia alone is pushing 9.5 million barrels of oil a day.
When will it ever end? The auto industry is starting to talk seriously of electric and even hydrogen cars. Can it be done?
What happened to Col. Drake? Mr. Drake didn't really have a business-oriented mind. He failed to patent his drilling invention and he lost all of his savings in oil speculation. He ended up an old man in poverty.
In 1872, Pennsylvania voted an annuity of $1,500 to Drake, whose determination founded the oil industry and a new way of life. There is a Drake museum near the fabled site of Drake's oil well in Titusville.