History of the oil industry in the USA

The oil extraction business started in the early 19th century in the United States. The discovery of oil, however, happened a bit earlier. It was in 1859 at Oil Creek in Pennsylvania. This discovery was the precursor of the first oil boom in the US, from 1859 to the early 1870s. Colonel Edwin L. Drake is heralded as the first person to have struck oil there. Soon enough, oil became one of the most desired commodities.

The Pennsylvania oil boom

Titusville, Pennsylvania is famous as the Birthplace of the oil industry in the United States. Pennsylvania was the leader in oil production in the 19th century, and the oil production peaked there in 1891. Many oil wells were set up around the state and many refineries to serve as processing plants, too. Whole cities just sprang up following the discovery of oil, like Oil City and Pithole. Titusville grew from 250 to over 10.000 citizens in just five years.

Soon enough, oil production wells arrived in other parts of the Appalachian mountains, in places were oil was seen seeping to the surface. Other states were quick to answer and start looking for the “black gold.” New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia soon followed, and oil business grew rapidly there.

Mid-Continent expansion

People quickly realized that oil was sitting around practically all over the country. The expansion of the Midwestern locations happened in the late 1890s and the early 20th century. Main extraction sites, of which many exist even today, are located in the states of Oklahoma and Texas. The biggest oil field in the lower 48 states was discovered in 1930 in Rusk County, Texas. This is now the East Texas oil field. North Louisiana also became a very productive location: first oil over-water platforms were set up there.

Gulf Coast

One of the most famous oil wells was the one at Spindletop Hill, just south of Beaumont, Texas. It was 1901, and the Spindletop oil field was born when oil came rushing up the pipe above the derrick. This field peaked the following year, but this field started further explorations of the area and led to Sour Lake, Batson and Humble oil fields. These fields, due to Standard oils’ poor reaction, gave birth to other oil industry giants like Texaco and Gulf Oil.

California oil boom

Tar seeps around the state of California were well known to Native Americans in this area. This led many early oil explorers to the west. Even though the first derricks were set up as early as the 1860s’, serious oil fields with great output were discovered around the Los Angeles area in the 1880s’ and 90s’.  Finally, it was the Long Beach Oil field discovery that exploded the oil industry in the region. This field became the most productive field per acre in the world.


Smaller business was set up in southern Alaska by the end of the 19th century, but it wasn`t until the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay oil field in 1968 in the far north when Alaska became the top US producer.