The Parable of Petrolia
WHEN PLAINS SETTLERS needed every kilowatt-hour they could get, a new and savage energy source—crude oil—was flowing out of new wells in the nation’s first oilfield in western Pennsylvania. The only problem was that sometimes the petroleum didn’t flow fast enough. Regardless, early oil services companies run by Civil War veterans had a solution.
On January 21, 1865, Colonel E. A. L. Roberts carefully loaded eight pounds of black powder into an oblong iron casing, affixed a cap as a detonator, and lowered the charge on a wire down into the Ladies Well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. After getting to the depth he thought proper, Roberts took out a donut-shaped weight and sent it down the wire. According to plan, ...