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Drake Well printing plates: Here’s what early oil producers used for money

July 12, 2016

Filed under Community and Domestic Life, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Drake Well bank note printing plates

In 1861, producers working in the Pennsylvania oil fields were in desperate need for banking services. In response, Charles Vernon Culver started the Petroleum Bank of Titusville. That bank printed notes from this plate in denominations of $5, money that served as a form of currency in the oil region.

Charles Vernon Culver came to the burgeoning Pennsylvania oil fields in 1861 and started the Venango Bank in Franklin, Venango County. At the time, oil producers were in desperate need for banking services, locally, and in eastern cities. In December 1863, Culver and other investors started a bank in Philadelphia and another in New York City. By late 1864, Culver operated 13 banks, including the Petroleum Bank of Titusville. That bank printed notes from this plate in denominations of $5, money that served as a form of currency in the oil region. In 1963, the Office of the Pennsylvania Auditor General transferred two plates to the Pennsylvania State Archives. Currently, these plates are on exhibit at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville.

Banking wasn’t Culver’s sole interest. In 1865, he stared the Reno Oil and Land Company, a firm which developed an area along the Allegheny River between Oil City and Franklin. The Reno, Pithole & Oil Creek Railroad was the next endeavor. An influx of more than 150 businessmen and newspaper reporters from across the nation to the region increased investments. During that same year, in 1865, Culver was elected to the Thirty-ninth Congress.

The bubble burst in March 1866 when the bank of Culver, Penn & Co. in New York was suspended. Shock ran through the oil region as investors saw their earnings vanish over night. Many who were ruined brought suit. Since the Venango Bank had received a federal charter, both the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of Currency and the Pennsylvania Auditor General became involved in the matter. Culver was arrested and charged with embezzlement and fraud, but was later vindicated.

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.