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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

The Columbia Oil Company

This company, chartered on May 1, 1861, and patented on December 4, 1861, was probably the best run operation on the Creek. The board had decided to operate in a mass-volume manner, efficiently as equipment of the day would allow. It was geared to manage profitably at a low oil price level. At the same time the farm was propitiously located to take advantage of any innovation in transportation that could affect the oil belt of Oil Creek.

Railroads opened it up and profits soared. In 1867 the Farmer’s Railroad had passed through Columbia Farm and was connected with the Oil Creek Railroad at nearby Petroleum Centre. A third rail was laid to accommodate the broad gauge of the Atlantic and Great Western line. Now the oil from the valley wells could go to the east coast and western centers. Columbia Farm sent its share. They had a little station which the conductor would announce to passengers by shouting out “Columby”.

Columbia Farm was a leader in a phenomenon known as the company town. Such a concept was being put into reality by the company in late 1861. By the end of 1862, homes for the workers and their families had created the beginning of a town. Stores were opened, post office, a school house and a church were built. A cemetery was located on the lip of ravine. Here was a well organized town which rose to 500 population.

The Columbia board realized that absolute top talent was needed for the post of supervisor of operations and in all technical or skilled jobs. It wasn’t easy to get the best because most in that category were busy with their own wells. The board approved the payment of top wages and offered benefits like housing, even a library (some sources remark that the Columbia Farm library was, in a sense, Carnegie’s first introduction to this particular form of philanthropy). The company did not stint on equipment, always installing the best and kept as many engines running as necessary. The reputation of the company increased greatly and soon it was not so difficult to get the quality hands that management wanted.

Their best strike in human resources was the employment of George S. Bancroft to be Superintendent of Field Operations. He had a small office building but wasn’t in it much. He went from well to well and knew his business. Bancroft received much respect, and the drilling and production operations under his supervision went forward in an exemplary manner.

This tiny shed was the headquarters of the Columbia Farm Manager, George Bancroft. It sits in front of a well (see derrick). Bancroft (right) proved to be a very good field manager. Photo, 1864. Photo: Drake Well Museum.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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