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Top hat connects Drake Well to its historic founder

August 30, 2016

Filed under Collections, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Treasures

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This black top hat made its most famous appearance in a photo taken in 1866 of Col. Edwin L. Drake and Peter Wilson standing in front of the engine house and derrick of the Drake Well. In the iconic image, Drake sports the 1860s hat, an artifact currently on exhibit at the Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville, Pa.

In 1857, nearly a decade before being photographed with his famous top hat, Drake found himself employed by the Seneca Oil Company, touring natural oil seeps across Titusville. During his travels, Drake witnessed oil being used as fuel in lamps and as lubrication for saw blades. One year later, he returned to the area, ready to drill for oil. Work began in May 1859, and the Drake Well struck oil at 69.5 feet on Aug. 27, 1859. The shallow well produced around 200 gallons daily for two years.

Edwin Drake, 61, died Nov. 9, 1880 in Bethlehem, Pa.

Laura Drake, Edwin Drake’s widow, wrote to Edwin C. Bell of Titusville on Nov. 7, 1913, offering the top hat, along with her late husband’s spectacles and pocket book, for preservation at the Drake Memorial Museum, precursor to the Drake Well Museum and Park. Previously, she had already made available to the museum Drake’s invalid chair.

A typical 1860s top hat, the inside is cushioned at the bottom and has silk lining above with maker’s logo in center of top which reads, “COPYRIGHTED / f h {logo} / 220 N.Y./ FIFTH AVENUE / AMIDON.” A small paper label attached to inside states: “7 1/2”. Francis H. Amidon proudly displayed his hats at the New York Exhibition in 1853. By 1871, the Harvard Advocate carried his ad for “The New York Hat”. Drake’s hat was conserved by Barrett Conservation Studio in 2007. Kory Barrett cleaned and repaired the silk lining and the ripped outside band.

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.