October 7, 1859 – First American Oil Well Ignites in Flames

The wooden derrick and engine house of the first U.S. commercial oil well erupted in flames, perhaps America’s first oil well fire. The well beside Oil Creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania, had been completed the previous August by Edwin L Drake for George Bissell and the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Working with driller William “Uncle Billy” Smith, Drake had used steam-powered cable-tool technology to find oil.
“The first oil well fire was started by ‘Uncle Billy,’ who went to inspect the oil in the vat with an open lamp, setting the gases alight,” notes historian Urja Davin. “It burned the derrick, all the stored oil, and the driller’s home.” Drake would quickly rebuild at his already famous well site.

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