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Drake Well rig models highlight 1860s oil drilling technology

April 12, 2016

Filed under Collections, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Josiah Winger made and donated four drilling rig models to the Drake Memorial Museum

By 1861, Josiah Winger, known as the “oldest living driller,” had drilled his third well in Pennsylvania using horse power by means of a tumbling shaft. The model pictured, and now on exhibit at the Drake Well Museum and Park, illustrates Winger’s well.

In 1860, Josiah Winger (1845-1916) began drilling oil wells along the Allegheny River, living long enough to become known as the “oldest living driller”. In 1913, he made and donated four drilling rig models to the Drake Memorial Museum in Titusville, Pa.. Many of the artifacts from that museum are now housed at the Drake Well Museum. The models, currently on display, resemble the rigs Winger worked on in the 1860s. His descriptions of the models and the effort put into the drilling activities attributed to their full-sized counterpart were published in area newspapers.

By 1861, Winger had drilled his third well using horse power by means of a tumbling shaft. A tree with a block and tackle at the top served as the derrick. The model pictured illustrates, in detail, Winger’s well.

Of this well, Winger wrote: “This horse-power rig under consideration was the advance idea of drilling, without steam power. The motor power that drilled this peculiar well was a fine cream colored brought up the river from Pittsburgh on a steamboat. The horse soon accustomed himself to the monotonous trudging around in a circle hitched to the power sweep. He soon took on the habit of lagging and inviting urging. The writer being seated on a high stool in the drill house employed the only means at hand for keeping up the motion which was throwing pebbles gathered from the river close by which he bounced off the horse’s ribs when motion lagged. A hat was filled with pebbles and placed within easy reach of the driller on the high stool. Shortly after the last pebble was fired at the ‘nag’ he understood that the stock of motion-producing pebbles was exhausted and stopped, watching the driller or helper replenish the supply, in the meantime cocking his ears and rolling his eyes. No sooner would the driller be re-seated until the horse started the machine, making it spin for a few moments, slowing down until the pebbles were again found necessary.”

Winger and his horse drilled this third well to a depth of 220 feet before striking oil.

This Pennsylvania Treasure was written by Susan Beates of the Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville, Pa.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.