McClintock Number 1

Marking Time
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXV, Number 3 - Summer 2009

Commercial petroleum production began in 1859 with Edwin L. Drake's well at Titusville, Venango County, but the well failed after only two years of operation. In McClintock, two miles north of Oil City, how-ever, the world's oldest produc-ing well continues to yield oil. The McClintock Number 1 in Cornplanter Township began pumping crude in 1861, the same year the Drake Well went dry.

As early as 1807, Hamilton McClintock (1777–1857) was collecting twenty to thirty barrels of oil each year from seeps on his farm and selling it for one to two dollars a gallon. His son, Culbertson McClintock (1809–1855), continued the family's oil interests, but smallpox claimed his life less than five years before Drake launched the oil boom. Upon learning of Drake's success, his widow, Sarah McKnight McClintock (1813–1864), opened her property for drilling leases.

Jonathan Watson of the Brewer, Watson Lumber Company acquired leases on the McClintock property and had erected a dozen wells by the summer of 1860. It was a well commis-sioned by Watson and drilled by Joel D. Angier, originally called the Colby Well, that would come to be known as the McClintock Number 1 which, at its peak, produced a modest fifty barrels of oil per day.

Joseph E. Robinson (second from left), owner of Robinson Oil Company, photographed in 1920, purchased McClintock No. 1 from the McClintock Petroleum Company in 1892.

Sarah and Culbertson McClintock had adopted infant John Washington Steele (1843–1921) and his sister Permelia (1841–1851) in 1843. After his stepmother's death in 1864, the twenty-one-year-old Steele inherited the 200-acre oil farm, a reported $200,000 in cash, and a daily income of $2,000 from oil. Steele's extravagant lifestyle was legendary, and newspaper reporters dubbed him "Coal Oil Johnny." He squandered his fortune and lost control of his oil rights, which were acquired by brothers John and Joseph Bowers. John Bowers's son, John Jr., took over the operation in the late 1890s and owned the land until 1919.

The Brundred Oil Corporation acquired the property in 1919 and sold it in September 1952 to the Quaker State® Corporation. The company pumped the McClintock several times a year to maintain its status as the world's oldest operating oil well. Quaker State merged with Pennzoil® Company in the late 1990s, and the company was subsequently acquired by Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Ownership of the McClintock was officially transferred to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) during ceremonies at the site in 2000.

Administered by PHMC, McClintock No. 1, the world's oldest continuously producing oil well, will be 150 years old in 2011.

The Drake Well Museum, administered by PHMC, maintains the historic site and pumps the well occasionally to ensure its historic status. The well yields one to two barrels a day, which is used at the museum and also bottled and sold as souvenirs. One or two barrels at a time are pumped.

PHMC dedicated the state historical marker for the "Oldest Oil Producing Well" in 1958. The marker is located on Route 8, south of Rouseville.

As part of PHMC's theme for 2009, "Energy: Innovation and Impact," the Drake Well Museum will mark the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Drake's successful drilling for oil on Thursday, August 27, with Drake Day Extravaganza. The event will include entertainment, demonstrations of traditional crafts and skills, a Civil War encampment, and a spectacular Nitro Show.