Oil Region National Heritage Area | The Valley that Changed the World

History of Oil

Timelines and Bibliography


Peter Kalm of Sweden published map showing oil springs of Oil Creek, PA


Sir William Johnson of New York recorded Native American practice of skimming oil


Moravian missionaries reported “oil wells, with the products of which the Seneca Indians carry on trade with Niagara” in Western New York


General William Irvine reported “Oil Creek, PA, has taken its name from an oil or bituminous matter floating on its surface”


Nathaniel Carey skimmed oil from springs near Titusville, PA, and delivered it to customers by horseback


Pennsylvania map showed stream named “OYL CREEK”


Joseph Scott, first U. S. gazetteer, reported about Oil Creek and Seneca Oil


1800 Crude oil quoted at $16.00 per gallon


David & Joseph Ruffner drilled first salt well using spring pole, drive pipe, casing & tubing near Kanawha River in western Virginia, well produced oil instead of salt water


Mr. F. Cuming described collecting oil by blanket dipping in “Sketches of a Tour of the Western Country”

Oil from spring in Oil Creek on the Hamilton McClintock farm sold for $1 – 2/gallon


Prof. Benjamin Silliman Sr. experimentally distilled crude petroleum


First recorded use of natural gas for manufacturing, used in brine evaporation at Centerville, PA


Abraham Gesner produced illuminating oil from Nova Scotia coal, distilling a product he named “Kerosene”

Nitroglycerine, invented by Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero, used by Swedish engineer Alfred Nobel


Samuel Kier marketed rock oil from his father’s salt well as medicine


Samuel Kier devised a process to distill crude oil, producing “carbon oil”


Samuel Kier marketed carbon oil for use in lamps
Dr. Francis Brewer purchased first oil lease on land owned by J.O.Angier, Titusville, PA


George Bissell & Jonathan Eveleth paid $5000 for 105 acres of land (Hibbard Farm) in Venango County, PA, owned by Brewer, Watson & Co. to collect surface oil

Bissell & Eveleth organized Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company incorporated in NY – first U. S. oil company – and leased Hibbard Farm


Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman, Jr., filed favorable report on petroleum sample from Hibbard Farm

Bissell & Eveleth reorganized PA Rock Oil Co. as a corporation in CT


Abraham Gesner’s North American Kerosene Gas Light Co. sold kerosene in New York lamp oil market


Samuel Downer & Joshua Merrill mastered multiple distillations, chemical treatments, and cracking of crude coal oil (applied to crude oil 3 years later)

Pennsylvania Rock Oil Co. of CT leased the Hibbard Farm to Edwin Bowditch & Edwin Drake of New Haven


Seneca Oil Company of New Haven Connecticut formed, purchased Bowditch & Drake lease, and sent Edwin Drake to drill


August 27 -Edwin L. Drake’s well, drilled 69 ½ feet, struck oil near Titusville PA (first well deliberately drilled for oil) and launched the modern petroleum industry

August 30 – John Grandin & H. H. Dennis drilled in Tionesta,PA – first dry hole

October 7 – Drake’s well ignited by gas and destroyed – first oil well fire on record, well house rebuilt and oil equipment replaced


April – Steamboat “Venango” carried first load of petroleum to Pittsburgh


May – A. B. Funk’s “Fountain Well” reached 460 feet & flowed 300 barrels per day Annual U. S. crude oil production increased from .5 million barrels in 1860 to 2.1 million barrels in 1861

October – Phillips Well #2 on Tarr Farm came in at 4000 barrels a day

November – First shipload of petroleum to cross the Atlantic shipped from Philadelphia to London


Humboldt Refinery established near Plumer, by John Burns & the Ludovici brothers.

Jacob Vandergrift and Daniel Bushnell shipped crude from Oil City to Pittsburgh by bulk barge tows, more than 20 Allegheny River shipping companies in Oil City.

Oil Creek Railroad reached Titusville from Corry, first railroad into PA Oil Region.


Pennsylvania legislature passed first anti-pollution bill preventing running of tar and distillery refuse into certain creeks


“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele began spending spree
Pithole Creek oil field discoveredCol. E.A.L. Roberts used explosives to increase “Ladies Well” flow near Titusville, PAApril 9 – Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse ended the Civil War.April 14 – President Abraham Lincoln assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Six weeks later, well on Pithole Creek, in which Booth had a share, struck oil.Van Syckle oil pipeline connected Miller Farm on the Oil Creek Railroad to the U. S. Well, a distance of approximately 6 miles.


Patent for exploding torpedoes in wells granted to E.A.L. Roberts – 2000 lawsuits filed involving patent, but it was said Roberts never lost a suit

Roberts exploded a torpedo in “dry hole” establishing oil flow in a non-producing well

Alfred Nobel invented dynamite.


E.A.L. Roberts licensed by Alfred Nobel to use dynamite in shooting wells.


Nikolaus Otto invented early internal combustion engine


John Benninghoff robbery near Petroleum Centre netted robbers half million dollars


Rockefeller, Andrews, and Flagler firm operated in Oil City, Cleveland, and New York

Oil exploration moved south to Armstrong, Clarion, and Butler Counties, PA


Crawford Well in Emlenton, PA produced 35 barrels of oil per day
Standard Oil Company organized as corporation in OH


Titusville Oil Exchange formed


Newton Gas Well, Titusville, produced gas for 250 customers.


Edwin L. Drake granted a $1500 annual pension by Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Bradford oil field boom


Pithole Borough Charter annulled


Standard Oil controlled 90% of nation’s refining capacity


Thomas Alva Edison invented incandescent lamp

Tidewater Pipeline completed from Bradford to Williamsport – 100 miles


November 8 – Edwin Drake died in Bethlehem, PA, at age 61


Standard Oil organized the National Transit Company


Standard Oil Trust organized


German engineer Karl Benz built first internal combustion engine vehicle


Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act


First American car built by Duryea brothers

First steel derrick, 72 feet in height, constructed and made available through catalog

Standard Oil Trust passed formal resolution to dissolve


Thomas Edison introduced motion pictures


First U. S. automobile road race won by Duryea “motor wagon”
California produced 1.2 million barrels of crude oil


First reported U. S. automobile accident occurred in New York City – Henry Wells collided with bicycle rider Evylyn Thomas, breaking her leg. Wells went to jail

Standard Oil reorganized as holding company in NJ


8000 automobiles owned in the United States, half sold this year


14,800 automobiles registered in the U.S.

Spindletop well struck oil in TX


Ida Tarbell began publishing Standard Oil series in McClure’s Magazine.


May 23-August 1 – First transcontinental automobile trip, San Francisco to New York

December 17 – Kittyhawk, North Carolina, Wright Brothers made their first heavier than air powered flight – flight lasted 59 seconds


First plant for extracting natural gasoline (Casinghead gasoline) from natural gas by the compression method built by Andrew Fasenmeyer near Drake Well at Titusville, PA.


October 1 – First Model T Ford built

First commercial natural gasoline plant built at Sistersville, W.VA.


Standard Oil of NJ found guilty of Sherman Act violations, company dissolved into 37 independent organizations in 1911


667,000 automobiles registered in the United States


Gasoline replaced kerosene as product leader of the American petroleum industry


8,500,000 automobiles & trucks registered in the U.S.


Charles A. Lindberg made first successful trans-Atlantic flight

Compiled for Drake Well Museum with research by Neil McElwee, Susan Beates, and David Weber.


Early American settlers notice “burning springs” throughout Appalachia.


Gas lighting experiments in Philadelphia.


George Washington discovers burning gas springs in Appalachia.


Oil and gas discovered by salt well drillers in western Virginia (now West Virginia).

First drilling tools developed.


Capt. Wilson reportedly discovered natural gas looking for brine in Charleston,

W.Va. Wet gas meter patented by a London, England company.


Gas Light Company of Baltimore becomes first manufactured-gas firm in U.S.


Kentucky salt well driller Martin Beatty accidentally finds oil and natural gas.


Salt well drillers discover natural gas by accident in Pittsburgh and Ohio.


First commercial natural gas well drilled in Fredonia, N.Y., by William Hart.


First gas cooker developed.


Barcelona, N.Y., lighthouse uses natural gas.

Petroleum used for medicine, light, and lubricant in West Virginia.


Natural gas used by salt manufacturers in West Virginia.

New drilling methods invented by William Morris in Kanawha County, W.Va.


Gas used for illumination in Findlay, Ohio.

Manufactured gas works begin in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.


Natural gas used to evaporate brine water in Butler County, Pa.

Manufactured gasworks opens in Buffalo.


First deep natural gas well drilled in Erie, Pa.


Robert Bunsen invents “Bunsen burner” concept.


Fredonia Gas Light and Water Works Company becomes first natural gas utility in the United States.


Col. Drake drills first oil well in Titusville, Pa.

Oil wells follow in West Virginia and Ohio, many-producing natural gas as well.


First commercial gas wells drilled in Kentucky.
West Virginia becomes the 35th State of the Union, partially due to oil wealth there.


Oil boomtown Pithole uses petroleum gas for lighting.

First oil pipeline built.


Gas well in Oil City, Pa., supplies houses.


Jarecki Manufacturing Company in Erie, Pa., becomes the first industrial user of natural gas. Gas pumps first used for oil wells in Tidioute, Pa.


Standard Oil Company formed.

Natural gas first used in Pittsburgh-area iron manufacturing.


Discovery well drilled opening huge Bradford, Pa., oil and gas field.


First long-distance (twenty-seven miles) wooden gas pipeline completed from

West Bloomfield, N.Y., to Rochester.

First iron gas line constructed (five and one-half miles) from Newton, Pa., to Titusville.


Theodore Lowe invents carbureted water gas manufacturing process.


Jacob J. Vandergrift pipes natural gas in Butler County, Pa.


Gas discovered at the Haymaker Well near Pittsburgh at Murrysville, Pa.

Electric light firms begin service in region.


First natural gas compressor station built at Rixford, Pa.


Natural gas firms begin to form throughout northwestern Pennsylvania.


Thomas Edison produces electricity at power station.


Natural gas supplied by first Pennsylvania-chartered natural gas company, Joseph

Pew and Edward Emerson’s Penn Fuel Gas Company.


George Westinghouse discovers natural gas on his property, purchases Philadelphia Company to supply natural gas to Pittsburgh, develops numerous natural gas patents.

Short-lived Findlay, Ohio, and northern Indiana gas boom begins.


Peoples Natural Gas Company becomes first official natural gas firm in Pennsylvania.

Speechley well drilled near Oil City, Pa.

Manufacturers Natural Gas Company (later part of Columbia) serves Pittsburgh area.

First suggestion of odorizing gas by Ohio Gas Light Association.

Gas water heater developed.


United Natural Gas Company organized in Oil City, Pa, UNG constructs 87-mile wrought iron pipeline from McKean County, Pa., to Buffalo, N.Y.

Gas also exported from Pennsylvania to West Virginia. Gas crematory used in Pittsburgh.

Dresser couplings patented, allowing construction of longer pipelines and reduced leakage.

Federal government passes Interstate Commerce Act, start of regulation interest in Standard Oil.


Standard Oil forms Natural Gas Trust to hold securities of natural gas firms.

Philadelphia Company purchases Equitable Gas interests in Pittsburgh, designs meters for gas services. Gas meter manufacturer Metric Metal Company forms in Beaver Falls, Pa.


Manufactured gas interests consolidate in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Electric and gas consolidation movement begins in many areas.


Big Moses well discovered in West Virginia, first 100 million cubic foot well in the United States.


Buffalo streets are lighted with electricity generated at nearby Niagara Falls, N.Y.


Hope Natural Gas Company in West Virginia and East Ohio Gas Company in Ohio formed by Standard Oil interests. Akron “Ten-inch” line begins construction from West Virginia to Ohio.


First 1,000 horsepower natural gas-powered gas compressor installed by UNG.


Famous Spindletop Well drilled in Texas, leads to great Southwest discoveries of oil and gas.


National Fuel Gas Company incorporated from investments in Standard’s Natural Gas Trust.


Natural gas delivered to Cleveland for the first time by East Ohio. Standard Oil interests purchase Pittsburgh’s Peoples from Pew.


First extraction of natural gasoline from natural gas by the compression and cool¬ing method in Tidioute, Pa.


George W. Crawford’s Ohio Fuel Supply Company (later part of Columbia) granted a franchise in Cincinnati to serve natural gas.


West Virginia surpasses Pennsylvania as largest producer of natural gas.


Gas utility regulation begins in New York with Public Service Commission.


Gas trash incinerators developed.


U.S. Supreme Court breaks up Standard Oil, but firm’s natural gas interests largely unaffected. Orifice meter invented by John G. Pew and Howell C. Cooper of Pittsburgh.


Liquid propane (LP) bottled gases first supplied in Waterford, Pa.


Gas utility regulation begins in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.


First natural gas storage experiments in Welland, Ontario, Canada.
Gas refrigerators introduced.


First natural gas storage field in U.S. begun at Zoar Field, south of Buffalo.


Appalachian production reaches its peak, gas shortages appear during World War I years.


American Gas Association formed.


UNG installs first natural gasoline recovery plant using the charcoal absorption process at Lewis Run, Pa. Kentucky’s Menifee field becomes the second storage area in the U.S.


First natural gas storage in Pennsylvania at Queen field.

Natural gas conservation efforts begin.


Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Erie, and other areas build facilities to generate additional supplies of manufactured gas.


East Ohio helps establish American Gas Association testing laboratories in Cleveland.


Oriskany sand gas boom begins in central Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia.

Public Utility Holding Company Act passed by Congress, eventually causes wave of holding company divestitures.


Congress passes the Natural Gas Act, Federal Power Commission regulates expansion of interstate pipelines.


48 Severe shortages of gas, wartime and post-war restrictions become effective, Appalachian gas fields near depletion, and underground storage facilities increase.


Standard Oil (New Jersey) divests itself of Peoples, East Ohio, and Hope, which form Consolidated Natural Gas. Rockefeller Foundation divests itself from NFG. “Big Inch” crude oil pipeline begins operation.


Liquefied natural gas storage tank in Cleveland fails and explodes, leading to Cleveland’s greatest fire that took 130 lives.


Appalachian companies augment gas supply from Southwest producers from “Inch” lines that are converted to gas.

Tennessee Gas delivers Southwest gas to Appalachian markets, pipeline gas odorized.


The city of Philadelphia receives natural gas for the first time.


Pittsburgh’s Equitable separates from the Philadelphia Company.
Another Oriskany sand boom starts in Appalachia.


Most manufactured gas operations phased out.


New York City receives natural gas for the first time.
U.S. Supreme Court Phillips Petroleum decision confirms FPC control of natural gas prices at the wellhead.


Massive growth of customers and consumption of natural gas in Appalachia and across the United States.


Appalachian companies begin receiving interstate pipeline supply curtailments.


OPEC oil embargo begins.


Curtailments of industrial natural gas customers implemented by regional utilities.

Appalachian companies increase local drilling and explore alternative supplies from coal, oil, and imported LNG.


Cold snap and natural gas shortages close schools and factories across U.S.

Natural gas customer expansion halted.


Congress passes the Natural Gas Policy Act, creates Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from FPC.


Natural gas prices escalate sharply.

Utilities transport third-party gas for industry.


Boundary Gas Project imports gas from Canada.


85 Most gas production deregulated, surplus in market begins price decline.


Natural Gas Wellhead Decontrol Act passes Congress deregulating all natural gas supplies by 1993.


FERC Order 636 requires interstate pipelines to become common carriers.


Gas utilities offer residential gas supply choice programs.


Various Appalachian utility acquisitions and mergers into larger firms including Dominion, Energy East, and NiSource.
  • Beers, F. W. with A. D. Ellis and G. G. Soule, “Atlas of the Oil Region of Pennsylvania”, New York, NY, 1865. Reprinted.
  • Boyle, Patrick C., “The Derrick’s Hand-Book of Petroleum, Vol. I”, Oil City, PA, The Derrick Publishing Company, 1898.
  • Boyle, Patrick C., “The Derrick’s Hand-Book of Petroleum, Vol. II”, Oil City, PA, The Derrick Publishing Company, 1900.
  • Brice, William R., Myth, Legend, Reality; Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry, Oil City, PA, Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism, 2009.
  • Brown, George W., “Oil Times in Oildom”, Oil City, PA, The Derrick, 1911.
  • Cone, Andrew and Johns, Walter R., “Petrolia”, New York, NY, D. Appleton and Company, 1870.
  • Caldwell, J. A., “History of Venango County, Pennsylvania”, Columbus, OH, 1879.
  • Darrah, William C., “Pithole The Vanished City”, Gettysburg, PA, 1972. Reprinted.
  • Eaton, Rev. S. J. M., “Petroleum”, Philidelphia, PA, J. P. Skelley & Company, 1866. Reprinted 1984, Venango County Historical Society.
  • Giddens, Paul H., “The Birth of the Oil Industry”, New York, NY, MacMillan Co., 1938.
  • Giddens, Paul H., “Pennsylvania Petroleum”, Harrisburg, PA, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1947.
  • Giddens, Paul H., “Early Days of Oil”, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1948. Reprinted.
  • Hardwicke, Robert E. “The Oilman’s Barrel”. Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.
  • Henry, J. T., “The Early and Later History of Petroleum”, New York, NY, 1873. Reprinted.
  • Hidy, Ralph and Hidy, Muriel, “Pioneering in Big Business”, New York, NY, 1955.
  • “History of Venango County, Pennsylvania, Vol. I & II”, Chicago, IL, Brown, Runk and Company, 1890. Reprinted 1984, Venango County Historical Society.
  • “Hodgman’s Gazetter & Business Directory of the Oil Regions”, Pittsburgh, PA,1869.
  • Huff, Eileene Russell, “Lakes of Oil, Ben Russell’s Rare Photo Record of an Early-Day Oklahoma Oil Boom”, New Forums, Stillwater, 2006.
  • McElwee, Neil J., “Oil Creek…The Beginning”, Oil City, PA, Oil Creek Press, 2001.
  • McElwee, Neil J., “Standard Oil Co. Men in the Early Oil Region”, Oil City, PA, Oil Creek Press, 2006.
  • McElwee, Neil J., “The National Transit Co., Standard Oil’s Great Pipeline Company”, Oil City, PA, Oil Creek Press, 2007.
  • McKain, David L. and Allen, Bernard L., “Where It All Began, the Story of the People and Places Where Oil and Gas Industry Began – West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio”, Part One, Parkersburg, 1994.
  • McLaurin, John J., “Sketches In Crude Oil”, Harrisburg, PA 1896, 1898, 1902. Reprinted.
  • Michener, Carolee K., “Franklin, A Place in History”, Franklin, PA, Franklin Bicentennial Committee, 1995.
  • Michener, Carolee K., “Oil, Oil, Oil!”, Franklin, PA, Venango County Historical Society, 1997.
  • Miner, Craig, “Discovery! Cycles of Change in the Kansas Oil & Gas Industry, 1860-1987”, KIOGA, Wichita, 1987.
  • Morris, Edmond, “Derrick and Drill”, New York, NY, James Miller, 1865.
  • Nevin, Allan, “John D. Rockefeller, Vol. I & II”, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1940.
  • Nevin, Allan, “Study in Power, John D. Rockefeller, Vol. I & II”, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1953.
  • Newton, J. H., “History of Venango County”, Columbus, OH, 1879.
  • Rev. J. N. Fradenburgh, D.D.L.L.D., “In Memoriam – Henry Harrison Cumings, Charlotte J. Cumings”, Oil City, PA, The Derrick Publishing Company, 1913.
  • Rowe, Melodia B., “Captian Jones”, Hamilton, OH, Grace E. Jones Stewart, 1942.
  • Ross, Phillip W., “Allegheny Oil – The Historic Petroleum Industry on the Allegheny National Forest”, Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archeology – West Virginia University, USDA, Allegheny National Forest Heritage Publication No. 1,
  • Alfred N. Mann, “Petroleum Pioneers of Pittsburgh”, Mechling Bookbindery, Butler, PA, 2018

Crude Oil Production Comparisons

Crude oil production numbers in the nineteenth century are at best just informed estimates. The numbers listed in this table are generally based on the compiled records of crude oil shipped from the wellhead by pipeline companies, railroads, water transport and by wagon. The early year numbers are not well documented nor are they corroborated by other competent sources. The U. S. Geological Survey is the primary source for American numbers. These numbers after 1870 are corroborated and validated by the extensive records of the American gathering pipeline companies. A high degree of confidence can be assumed with the American numbers after 1870.Various excess production events are not reflected in these numbers. For example, a substantial amount of the first months production from the big flowing wells on Oil Creek in the fall of 1861 could not be stored or shipped and simply ran off into Oil Creek. How much crude was lost is not known. One nineteenth century observer reported huge losses of Canadian crude on Black Creek in Enniskillen Township in 1862 when the local inhabitants drilled with no real purpose or market available. This immense amount of crude ran down the creek to Lake Erie. Eventually, a great fire consumed this Black Creek oil. Fires deliberately set by Confederate raiders destroyed the big flowing wells at and around Burning Springs, West Virginia after the Burning Springs wells had produced 95,000 barrels of crude in 1861 and 70,000 barrels in 1862. As late as 1878 and ’79, the Bradford Era and the Oil City Derrick were reporting 5,000 barrels every day of Bradford crude were running to waste on the ground due to lack of sufficient storage tank capacity and trunkline railroad capacity out of the Pennsylvania Oil Region. It is clear, the numbers in this table do not reflect the absolute total production of any of the fields, but they do reflect in general what was recorded in good faith by competent observers of the time.


  • Pennsylvania 1,200 barrels (Skimmed from salt wells around Tarentum.)
  • West Virginia Unknown Amount (Skimmed from salt wells; excavated oil seeps.)
  • Canada Unknown Amount (Produced from oil seeps at Oil Springs, Enniskillen, Township, Lambton County.)


  • Pennsylvania 4,450 barrels (George Bissell in a letter from Titusville to his wife in New York dated November 1859 stated the Drake Well was producing 1,000 to 1,200 gallons a day, or about 25 barrels a day. Bissell in the same letter indicated a fire shut the Drake Well down in October. Assuming the Drake Well produced no more than 90 days in 1859, the well produced about 2,250 barrels in 1859. Two other wells in or near Franklin, the Evans and the Hoover, produced collectively about 1,000 barrels in the last part of the year. The salt wells around Tarentum produced approximately 1,200 barrels. Crude oil markets were readily available in Pittsburgh, Erie and New York.)
  • West Virginia Unknown Amount (Skimmed from salt wells and excavated oil seeps. Oil wells drilled at Petroleum on Oil Spring Run in Ritchie County began producing in the summer.)
  • Canada Unknown Amount (Williams Well at Oil Springs, Enniskillen Township flows at 60 barrels a day.)


  • Pennsylvania 220,000 barrels (The Venango Spectator documented and reported that on one day in November the Pennsylvania Oil Region produced collectively over 1,100 barrels. Assuming 200 days of production at that level throughout 1860, the estimate of production for the year is a conservative 220,000 barrels.)
  • West Virginia Unknown amount (S.D. Karns Well at Burning Springs pumps 30 barrels a day. The Rathbone Well at Burning Springs flows at 100 barrels a day.)
  • Ohio Unknown Amount (James Dutton drills successful well on Dutton Creek opening Macksburg Field in Washington County.)
  • Canada 118,000 barrels (Production at Oil Springs not recorded. In 1928, R. B. Harkness, estimated the total production from Oil Springs field from 1858 through 1916 was 7,000,000 barrels. The 59 year annual average was about 118,000 barrels.)


  • Pennsylvania 2,114,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls. (No documented record available. U. S. Geological Survey in 1875 estimated total West Virginia production from 1859 through 1874 was 3,000,000 barrels. The average annual production for this 16 year period was about 187,500 barrels.)
  • Ohio 13,000 bls. (No documented record available. U. S. Geological Survey in 1875 estimated total Ohio Macksburg Field production from 1860 through 1874 was 200,000 barrels. The average annual production for this 15 year period was about 13,000 barrels.)
  • Canada 118,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 3,057,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 118,000 bls


  • Pennsylvania 2,611,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 118,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 2,116,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 118,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 2,498,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187, 500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 118,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 3,598,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls. (In addition to the wells at Oil Springs, new wells at Petrolia, Enniskillen Township were brought into production. R. B. Harkness in 1928 estimated the accumulated total production of Petrolia wells from 1866 through 1916 was 14,500,000 barrels, or an annual average for this 51 year period of about 285,000 barrels. Adding this annual Petrolia average with the Oil Springs annual production of 118,000 barrels gives a combined Canadian annual total from 1866 through 1916 of 403,000 barrels.)
  • California 17,500 bls. (Thomas Bard drilled the first significant commercial well near Ventura. Wildcat operations commenced from Ventura to Humboldt County. From 1866 through 1875, California’s total crude production was estimated to be 175,000 barrels, or 17,500 barrels a year.)


  • Pennsylvania 3,347,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls
  • California 17,500 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 3,646,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 17,500 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 4,215,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls
  • California 17,500 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 5,261,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,000 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 17,500 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 5,205,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,000 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 17,500 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 6,293,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,000 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 17,500 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 9,894,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 17,500 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 10,927,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 17,500 bls.
  • Russia (Baku Field) 480,000 bls


  • Pennsylvania 8,788,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 187,500 bls.
  • Ohio 13,000 bls.
  • Canada 408,000 bls.
  • California 17,500 bls.
  • Russia 570,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 8,969,000 bls.
  • West Virginia (recorded) 120,000 bls.
  • Ohio (recorded) 32,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California (recorded) 12,000 bls.
  • Russia 1,300,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 13,135,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 172,000 bls.
  • Ohio 30,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 13,000 bls.
  • Russia 1,500,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 15,163,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 180,000 bls.
  • Ohio 38,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 15,000 bls.
  • Russia 1,900,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 19,685,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 180,000 bls.
  • Ohio 29,112 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 20,000 bls.
  • Russia 2,400,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania 26,027,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 179,000 bls.
  • Ohio 39,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 41,000 bls.
  • Russia 2,500,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 27,377,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 151,000 bls.
  • Ohio 34,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 100,000 bls.
  • Russia 3,900,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 30,054,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 128,000 bls.
  • Ohio 40,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 128,636 bls.
  • Russia 4,900,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 23,128,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 126,000 bls.
  • Ohio 48,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 143,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 5,000 bls.
  • Russia 5,800,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 23,772,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 90,000 bls.
  • Ohio 90,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 262,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 4,000 bls.
  • Russia 9,800,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 20,776,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 91,000 bls.
  • Ohio (Includes Lima Field) 662,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 325,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 5,000 bls.
  • Russia 13,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 25,798,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 102,000 bls.
  • Ohio 1,783,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 377,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 5,000 bls.
  • Russia 18,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 22,356,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 145,000 bls.
  • Ohio 5,022,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 679,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 5,000 bls.
  • Colorado 76,000 bls.
  • Russia 18,500,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 16,489,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 119,000 bls.
  • Ohio 10,010,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 690,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 5,000 bls.
  • Colorado 298,000 bls.
  • Russia 23,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 21,487,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 544,000 bls.
  • Ohio 12,471,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 303,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 5,000 bls.
  • Colorado 316,000 bls.
  • Indiana 33,000 bls.
  • Russia 23,500,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 28,458,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 493,000 bls.
  • Ohio 16,125,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 6,000 bls,
  • Colorado 369,000 bls.
  • Indiana 63,000 bls.
  • Russia 30,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 33,009,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 2,406,000 bls.
  • Ohio 17,470,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls,
  • California 323,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 9,000 bls.
  • Colorado 665,000 bls.
  • Indiana 137,000 bls.
  • Russia 35,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 28,422,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 3,810,000 bls.
  • Ohio 16,363,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 385,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 7,000 bls.
  • Colorado 824,000 bls.
  • Indiana 698,000 bls.
  • Russia 36,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 20,314,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 8,445,000 bls.
  • Ohio 16,250,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 470,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 3,000 bls.
  • Colorado 594,000 bls.
  • Indiana 2,335,000 bls.
  • Russia 40,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 19,020,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 8,578,000 bls.
  • Ohio 16,792,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • California 706,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 1,500 bls
  • Colorado 516,000 bls.
  • Indiana 3,689,000 bls.
  • Kansas 40,000 bls.
  • Russia 38,000,000 bls.


  • Pennsylvania & New York 19,144,000 bls.
  • West Virginia 8,120,000 bls.
  • Ohio 19,545,000 bls.
  • Canada 403,000 bls.
  • Kentucky & Tennessee 1,500 bls.
  • California 1,208,000 bls.
  • Colorado 438,000 bls.
  • Indiana 4,386,000 bls.
  • Kansas 44,000 bls.
  • Russia 46,000,000 bls.

Compiled by Neil McElwee

Boyle, P. C., The Derrick’s Handbook of Petroleum, Vol. I, Oil City, 1898

Boyle, P. C., The Derrick’s Handbook of Petroleum, Vol. II, Oil City, 1900

Whiteshot, Charles, The Oil Well Driller, Mannington, 1905

Williamson, Harold and Daum, Arnold R., The American Petroleum Industry, The Age of Illumination 1859-1899,  Evanston, 1959

Estimated Production and Average Prices


  • 2.1 million barrels
  • $0.50


  • 3.0 million barrels
  • $1.00


  • 2.6 million barrels
  • $3.00


  • 2.1 million barrels
  • $8.25


  • 2.5 million barrels
  • $6.75


  • 3.6 million barrels
  • $3.75


  • 3.3 million barrels
  • $2.50


  • 3.6 million barrels
  • $3.50


  • 4.2 million barrels
  • $5.50


  • 5.2 million barrels
  • $4.00


  • 5.2 million barrels
  • $4.50


  • 6.3 million barrels
  • $3.75


  • 9.9 million barrels
  • $1.85

Excerpted from:
“Oil Creek… The Beginning – A History and Guide to the Early Oil Industry in Pennsylvania”

Neil McElwee
Oil Creek Press, Oil City, PA

Originally printed in:
Williamson, Harold F. and Arnold R. Daum, The American Petroleum Industry, The Age of Illumination 1859-1899, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1959

Oil & Gas Dictionary of Historical Terminology

We are constantly using and adapting words to fit our ever-changing culture.

The oil field workers were no different. They used and changed the meanings of words to fit their lifestyle. This little glossary is just a small example of the amount of words and expressions used. This is not meant to be a comprehensive study, merely a sample of the historical terminology used many years ago and in some cases still used today.

For more modern and in-depth definitions check our list of other dictionaries below.


To complete a task that seems to be impossible. The Big Inch is said to have been “accidented” across the mountains of Pennsylvania by builders who were unable to recognize the impossible.

Atlantic Ocean

A salt-water well that produces little or no oil. In the 1850’s salt water well drilling was prominent down by Pittsburgh.

Attic Hand

A worker in a drilling or a production crew who is employed in the derrick, usually climbing the tall heights of the derrick.


Descriptive of a worn drilling bit. Many drilling bits were sharpened by toolies before oil was struck.


A well that has no casing, perforated pipe, or screen and doesn’t need one.


An extension on an exhaust. Since the extension alters the sound produced by the engine, the worker in charge of a group of engines can by using extensions of different lengths, determine from a distance whether each engine is running properly.

Barrel House

A combination saloon and dance hall; so called because bartenders habitually put drunken customers who were out of money into barrels and rolled them out of the house.

Big Inch

A twenty-four inch pipe line built during World War II which transported crude oil from Longview, Texas, to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and there branched into smaller lines leading to refineries in the east.

Bird Dog

  1. An early term used for geologists, who were so called because they were supposed to be able to “smell out” oil.
  2. Any person who ferreted out information and bird dogged it to other companies.
  3. A snooper or hanger-on who watches oil-field activities with the intention of getting information.

Biscuit Cutter

A clumsy derrickman who drops pipe and so leaves biscuit-like marks on the derrick floor.

Black Gold

An early name for petroleum. (See Petroleum)


The local name for the Big Red Sandstone, Clarion County, Pennsylvania.

Blue Monday Sand

The name given to the lower second sand in Butler County, Pennsylvania.


To handle goods or deals surreptitiously or through other than regular or legal channels.


A simple minded but honest individual, who allows himself to be persuaded that he can make a fortune by investing his “pile” in an oil well with one-half royalty. Some became very wealthy.

Bulk Boat

An open flatboat which was used to transport crude petroleum down Oil Creek to the Allegheny River before 1900. It was called a bulk boat because it carried oil in bulk, untrammeled by barrel, can, or other container. The oil ran from the well in a rough, V-shaped board trough to a crude tank, which was a hole in the ground eight to ten feet deep and eight to twelve feet in diameter, lined with pine planks. The top of the tank was even with the surface of the ground. When a pond freshet came, the oil was pumped through a wooden pipe to the bulk boat and started on its way.


The condition of a man from whose pockets no more greenbacks “can be pumped,” on account of a serious rupture at the bottom.

Carbon Oil

A trade name for kerosene used around 1850-55.

Cash on the Barrel-Head

A term allegedly originating in the oil field in the 1860’s when old Major Adams, manager of the Clapp Farm near Oil City, Pennsylvania, sold his first thousand barrels of oil for cash. As the story goes, he kicked the nearest oak barrel upright and counted the $10,000 on the barrel’s head.

Chocolate Rocks

Bands of red shale occurring between the Second and Third Oil Sands in the Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, field. Also called putty rocks.

Christmas Tree

An assembly of valves, pipes, and fittings the top of a well controlling the flow of oil and gas.


A half acre “clearing” on a barren sidehill, upon whose “brow” three slab shanties, a stable, and a “travelers’ rest” have been erected.


The name for unrefined petroleum, or petroleum in a natural state, not altered, refined, or prepared for use by any process.

Crude Skinners

Early oil teamsters who replaced the boatmen who originally floated the oil down the creek during a pond freshet.

Curbstone Exchange

An informal meeting of producers, dealers, and speculators at Oil City, Pennsylvania, in 1871. The oilmen congregated on the sidewalk in front of the office of Lockhart, Frew and Company, discussed the news, told stories, and bought and sold oil. It was said that often as much as $500,000 exchanged hands in one day.


A worker who transports nitroglycerin. So called because of the dangerous nature of the occupation. Many men lost their lives in this profession, and because of the danger were not allowed to carry life insurance, thus leaving their families in dire straits.

Derrick Apples

Small parts of the derrick that sometimes fall to the floor; nuts, bolts, washers, and even mud (which shrinks as it dries and falls to the floor.)

Dog Town

Boom town in Clarion County. It is said because of the large number of dogs in town, and also because the town was desolate, it was “not fit for a dog.”


  1. Any small house on a leases; a place to keep lease records, hang one’s cot, change clothing, or get out of the weather.
  2. The cooplike structure near the derrick floor where the driller or tool dressers keep their working clothes.
  3. A small, single-room stove-heated building (often separated from the main building of a gas or gasoline station to assure safety from fires).
  4. A pumper’s office.

Dog Town

Boom town in Clarion County. It is said because of the large number of dogs in town, and also because the town was desolate, it was “not fit for a dog.”


  1. One who uses a divining rod in prospecting for oil. Diviner, oil smeller, oil wizard.
  2. A divining rod used in prospecting for oil. In the days before geologists many well sites were located using this method. The oil boom began in Pleasantville because of this method.

Drake’s Yoke

The first oil derrick in America, designed and built by E.L. Drake at Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859. The derrick was twelve feet square at the base with four timbers thirty feet long, gradually narrowing to three feet square at the top. It was assembled on the ground and then raised to the proper position. So named by the men who helped Drake raise it.

Elephant Well

The third producing well in Titusville, Pennsylvania; so named because it produced what was at that time (1860) an enormous yield, 75 to 80 barrels a day.

Fancy Stock Company

The epithet applied to the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of New York, which was organized in 1854 but almost universally distrusted until the middle of 1855 when Benjamin Sillaman’s analysis of the Titusville oil was made public. This report proved to be a turning point in the establishment of the petroleum industry.


A horse-drawn slide or sled used in the early days to transfer pedestrians across muddy streets.


  1. A scraper with self-adjusting spring blades which is inserted in a pipe line and carried forward by fluid pressure to clear away accumulations from the walls of the pipes. Said to have been named by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers who associated the device with witches and evil spirits because of the rumbling and chugging noises the scraper makes as it progresses through the pipe.
  2. A device used to explode the nitroglycerin in shooting an oil well, so called because after dropping the Go-Devil you were to “go like the Devil.”


Clothing worn by the oilfield workers. It usually consisted of a flannel shirt, corduroy trousers, high topped boots or heavy shoes with leggings for the rugged country.


A narrow barge fifteen to twenty-five feet long, with a capacity of twenty-five to fifty barrels; used for transporting oil in the 1860’s.


Also known as a “flowing well.” So named because natural gas under the oil was released when the exploring drill struck the pocket containing it. The gas rushed to the surface carrying the petroleum ahead of it and causing it to flow spontaneously often throwing it high in the air over the derrick.


A hogshead ordinarily contains a minimum of 63 or a maximum of 140 gallons. If the Rangoon wells yielded 400,000 hogsheads annually, they produced a minimum of 600,000 barrels or a maximum of over 1,300,000 barrels per year.


An early pronunciation of oil. Made famous when Ann Evans’ “Dad struck ile!” sounded all over Franklin when James Evans drilled an oil well right in his back yard.


Originally any independent oil company outside the Standard Oil group; now, any small oil company, or individuals or companies engaged in a single branch of the oil industry.


To use a spring pole in well-drilling, probably because of the bobbing up and down and jerking motion.

Johnny Newcome

An early name for a newcomer to the oil regions, a greenhorn to the business.

Jumping a Claim

Taking possession of a mine or oil claim by stealth, fraud, or force.

Kicking Down

A method of drilling which involved the use of a short, elastic pole made of ash or hickory, ten to fifteen feet in length, and arranged over the well, working over a fulcrum. Stirrups were attached to the end of the pole, on which two or three workers each placed a foot and by a kicking motion brought down the pole and produced the action necessary to work the bit.

Kosmos Burner

A burner for testing the candle power of illuminating oils.


An agreement in writing between a land owner and a “flat” whereby the former, for valuable consideration, grants the latter the privilege of testing the landowner’s territory, and, if found paying to reserve to himself all the profits, and, if otherwise, to allow the lessee to hang himself on the erected derrick.

Long John

The stationary, tubular boiler which was used to furnish power for drilling Drake’s Well; the boiler had originally been used by steamers.


A cable-tool driller; so called because the engine he operated was called a mail pouch and because the driller often used Mail Pouch tobacco.


  1. To torpedo a well at night to evade the patent held by Col. E.A. Roberts, used before 1883.
  2. To engage in any illegal activity at night, a moon lighter.

Mother Hubbard Bit

A drilling bit especially useful for working in a hole that muds up easily, or in a rock which is hard and contains wide seams. The bit is almost a wide at the top as at the cutting point and the steel is exceptionally thick. The result is that the bit so nearly fills the hole that it is not likely to slip off into slanting openings. The sharp shoulders on the bit cause it to cut its way through the mud when pulling out.

Mouse Trap

A fishing tool, cylindrical in form, open at the bottom and fitted with an inward opening valve; designed to fish out small parts that may be lost in a well.


To search for and publicize real or alleged corruption. The most famous being Ida Tarbell, for exposing the Standard Oil Company.


A well about which information is withheld from the public while it is being drilled. One of the most famous is the “646” well at Cherry Grove, Warren County, Pennsylvania.


The product of the action of nitric acid and sulphuric acid on glycerin. It is not properly a nitro compound, as the name implies, but a nitric ester of glycerin. It is an oil substance about one and one-half times a heavy times as heavy as water, is almost insoluble in water, and is used as a principal or active ingredient in dynamite, gelatin dynamite, etc. It is not used commercially in the form of a liquid, except for “shooting oil wells.”


A medicinal oil manufactured by the Standard Oil Company in the 1920’s. Their advertisement states “Nujol is a lubricant, not a laxative. When taken into the body it is not absorbed, as drugs and medicines are. The action of Nujol is entirely different from that of castor oil, olive oil, pills, salts, mineral waters, laxatives or cathartics. Its action is that of a mechanical lubricant, not a medical irritant.” Standard Oil also produced other petroleum medicinals.

Oil Creek Humbug

A dry hole, leaving its’ owners high, dry, and mostly broke. The Fountain well (the first famous flowing well, located at Funkville,) was nicknamed “Oil Creek Humbug” because paraffin destroyed it.

Oil Drummer

A salesman of petroleum products. Usually traveling the country side with wagon carrying his various wares. John Eaton, the founder of Oil Well Supply, began in this manner.

Oil Fever

The “disease” of eager oil speculators. Otherwise known as “oil on the brain.”

Oil Prince

An heir to an oil fortune. John (Coal Oil Johnny) Steele was an early famous oil prince.

Oil Sand

Crude oil is located not in large pools, as the term oil pool would indicate, but in one or more layers of porous oil saturated rock, each of which is called an oil sand. These formations as a rule are overlaid with an impervious cap rock preventing the oil and gas from escaping while salt water usually occupies the lower parts of the sands.

Oil Scout

A representative of an oil company who is expected to keep his employers informed about new wells and other developments in the fields.

Old Oil

Oil on which storage has been paid for a certain length of time but not to the day of transaction; when paid to the day of transaction, it is called fresh oil.

Organ of Oil

An epithet applied to the Oil City Derrick, the daily newspaper covering all the important early developments in the oil industry. First issued on September 11, 1871, in Oil City, Pennsylvania.

Paleozoic Age

The most productive geologic age in American petroleum-bearing sedimentary rocks.

Pay Dirt

An earth formation in which there is a paying yield of oil. Originally a mining term.


The Bradford and Foster Brook Railroad, built in 1877; so called because the train ran on a single rail. It operated for only a short time.


Black gold, crude oil, Devil’s tar, earth oil, flowing gold, fossil oil, Kier’s Rock Oil, Pennsylvania crude, rock oil, Seneca oil, and many other names. In the early part of the 19th century it was defined as bitumen, black, floating on the water of springs.

Pipe-Line Harley

Henry Harley, the president of the first great pipe-line company, The Allegheny Transportation Company (1871), which controlled nearly 500 miles of pipeline in Pennsylvania, to Tidioute, Irvineton, Oil City, Shamburg, Pleasantville, and Titusville.


A deep rock fissure. Pithole Creek, Pennsylvania, was named for the pitholes there; because of their great depth and the steam that arose from them, constantly accompanied by foul odors, they were never completely explored. Some believed that the pitholes were entrances to hell and the odor was that of brimstone; others believe that they indicated the presence of petroleum. Oil was discovered there in 1864.

Pond Freshet

An artificial flood used in early days to increase the depth of a creek temporarily. Water was stored in ponds during the rainy season and was released during the dry season; by this method the transportation of oil could continue the year round regardless of the season. When the dams were opened, oil boaters were cut loose from their moorings and plunged helter-skelter down the creek. There were many collisions and jams and much oil was lost. Sightseers came prepared to dip up the oil that spilled, and it was said that many people got their start in the oil industry by this practice.

Poor Boy

An oil promoter or drilling company with little or no financial backing. Usually operating on a shoestring.




The tent section of a boom town.


Rum, cards and tobacco, the motto of the Swordsman’s Club, a social group organized in Pithole, Pennsylvania, in 1865 by leading citizens. On one occasion, a jokester told a minister that the initials meant “Religious Counsels Treasured,” whereupon the minister preached a sermon praising the organization.


A teamster who hauled barrels of oil to railroad shipping points in the early days of the petroleum industry.


  1. All the boring and pumping equipment, including the derrick, used in locating and securing oil.
  2. An oil derrick.


  1. It is a variety of bitumen; for bitumen is the general term applied to inflammable substances, whether fluid or solid, which is found in the earth or exuding from its surface, and of a particular, disagreeable odor.
  2. Petroleum; so called to distinguish it from linseed oil, caster oil, etc.

Rope Choker

A cable tool driller. Probably the nickname originated in the name calling feud between the cable tool drillers and the rotary drillers. It is said that the cable tool drillers first began to call the rotary drillers swivel neck to show their scorn for the new methods of drilling. Resenting the insult that had been cast at their work, the rotary drillers retaliated by calling the cable tool drillers ropechokers. It has been also claimed that the cable tool driller is so called because of his almost human association and relationship with the Manila rope or rag line.


Name given to a member of the crew of an oil derrick during drilling operations. The crew is supervised by the tool pusher who operates the drilling equipment.


  1. A semi-skilled laborer who assists the foreman in the general work around producing oil wells and around the property of an oil company. The name was originally given to the laborer who assisted in the loading and unloading of river craft.
  2. A common laborer who fires the boiler, does odd jobs about the rig, and aspires to be a tool dresser or a roughneck.


  1. A shortened form of a rock hound or geologist.
  2. The nickname of the author of this little work.



Name for a popular mixed alcohol drink, so called because the oil workers would stir it with their screwdrivers.

Seneca Oil

Early name for petroleum, probably because of the Seneca Indians that lived here. Nathaniel Carey, one of the earliest settlers on Oil Creek, collected the oil and peddled it all around the area, selling it for 25¢ a gill. Every household had a bottle of “Seneca oil” handy. People regarded it as a remedy for a wide variety of ailments. Carey also traveled to Pittsburgh with two kegs slung across h is horse, where he traded the liquid for groceries and cloth.


A temporary residence erected by those immigrants to the oil regions who expected to make their fortunes in a year and then retire.


One who shoots oil wells with nitroglycerin to loosen or shatter the sand and to increase the flow of an oil well.

Snake Oil

A liquid represented as having medicinal properties. Many traveling hucksters pedaled their wares from the tailgate of a wagon. Not all snake oil medicinals were petroleum based.

Soiled Dove

A prostitute. An active occupation in the many boom towns, one of which was the famous “French Kate” of Pithole.

Soup Wagon

A wagon or truck used to haul liquid nitroglycerin. One bump and …KABOOM!


An oil well with an uncontrolled flow, in general a well that does not require pumping. Also called a gusher or fountain.

Spring Pole

A tool used to work the drill and other implements in sinking a well.


A modern cable tool rig used in drilling. By using this rig it was no longer necessary to build a derrick.

Stripper Well

A flowing well in the 1860’s that flowed constantly during the week days, but ceased on the Sabbath. It was regarded with some superstition by the workmen, and regarded as a great curiosity for a short while. It was thought to be caused by a peculiar confirmation of the veins with relation to the cavities containing the oil.


Nickname for a tool dresser, the driller’s assistant at an oil well, responsible for sharpening or dressing the drill bit. A junior driller.


A strong shell or water-tight box filled with powder, and exploded by a galvanic battery. The explosion is supposed to distend the opening, enlarging the veins, and preparing for the flow of the oil to the region of the pump. Nitroglycerin was also exploded in a well to remove obstructions or reach oil.


A working shift. Most workers worked a 10 to 12 hour shift, six days a week.

West Virginia Rule

A rule adopted in 1886 which set the measure of a barrel as 40 liquid gallons plus 2 more gallons in favor of the buyer.


One who drills for oil in unproven territory in the hopes of striking it rich.

Yellow Dog

A teapot shaped lamp used at night on early drilling rigs. So named by tradition because it gave just enough light to see a “yellow dog.” Another translation says it gave just enough light to see the “eyes” of a yellow dog.


A spudder for drilling the borehole down to the rock; so called because it has an up and down motion like a toy yo-yo.

Roxannne Hitchcock, “Lube Lingo”,  Oil Region Books, Oil City, 1999

Reprinted by permission from the author. Copies available from the ORA online store.

Other Oil and Natural Gas Dictionaries

Pennsylvania Oil Region
Oil Region Map
National Park Service

 National Park Services Logo