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Andrew Carnegie and the Columbia Oil Farm
William Story Farm
The New Pittsburgh Owners
Columbia Farm
Carnegie's First Visit to Oildom
Carnegie's Pond
The Columbia Oil Company
Brass Band
The Earnings
Wells and Operations
Carnegie's Departure
Trivia (?)
Concluding Remarks

Carnegie's First Visit to Oildom

Starting their trip from Pittsburgh to the oil region in late fall 1861, Carnegie and Coleman went up the Allegheny River by steamboat to the mouth of Oil Creek where Oil City had begun to spring up. Next came a rough wagon trip up the banks of Oil Creek and occasionally fording it. The area was crowded with shacks, derricks, equipment, wooden tanks, teams of horses, boats with barrels, cooperages to name a few. Sounds were of a thousand different operations all churning at once. Oil covered everything.

Carnegie noted that optimism prevailed in this frenzied activity. He was seeing an American oil boom, the first ever. It was like a heroic play on a giant stage, with actors pantomiming all the movements of the drilling, production and transportation of oil which amounted to a thousand independent events, each leading to grand finales like starbursts. Coleman and Carnegie has seen patches of oil floating on the Allegheny on their trip up the river. Now they were seeing the source where it came out of the boreholes, some of it to be captured and some to escape. There was scarcely room in the flats for more men, horses and machines, until the party reached Columbia Farm where things were a bit quieter and most of the acreage was undrilled.

Carnegie was impressed by pennants with mottos flying from the tops of a few derricks. “HELL OR CHINA” was printed on one of them and probably spoke eloquently for them all. However, the drillers were learning that they didn’t need to go to hopeless depths with their tools. A well on the bottoms would pass through all of the famous oil sands by the time it reached 550 feet depth or thereabouts.

The first impressions of the new oil field took some sorting out and analyzing. Carnegie recognized that the oilmen were of a stripe far above the average, and that they were willing to risk all in their Herculean search for oil. Their exertions were incredible as were their spirits. He could see that chaos could be replaced by order in the big spread that Columbia Farm offered. A fair but strong hand like Columbia Oil Company could harness this bucking bronco and make a fortune. It did just that.

Even brilliant capitalists failed to really get the hang of oil until they had put it to the test, in other words made a mistake or two. Coleman thought that the oil reserves might deplete to exhaustion in a short time. After all, there was oil running into the creek, loaded in barrels in the flat boats, in the stock tanks, sloshed on the top soil, and no matter how much was sent to market, the oil just kept coming. Certainly this situation couldn’t last long, could it? Carnegie agreed. Both were intrigued with “capturing the market” and creating a monopoly up to the last drop. They deemed it to be a sage move to have an appropriate quantity saved in a vessel of some sort.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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