Surprising 7: Famous business blunders

The unpatented oil drill

The credit for coming up with the first modern commercial oil well goes to a retired railroad worker, Edwin Drake, who developed an oil drilling technique in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. With the help of a drill engineer (after their first borehole collapsed), Drake, who had no expertise in geology, drove cast iron pipes into the ground and built a cable-tool drilling rig above a well.

Drake’s well did not produce much oil in the end, but his drilling technique was widely adopted, and by the time he realized the relevance of his achievement the whole state was using it to drill for oil. Drake lacked business savvy, never patented his invention, and lost all his money in oil speculation a few years later. However, Pennsylvania eventually voted an annuity to the impoverished old man for his contribution to the state’s growing economy.

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Edwin L. Drake in Front of Well


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