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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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North America's First Commercial Oil Well (1858)

North America’s first oil well.The belief that North America’s first oil well was drilled in 1859 by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania is incorrect. In reality, the petroleum industry began in 1858 in Ontario. The oil beds had first been recognized by the Tripp brothers in 1851, but they failed to develop the find and sold the rights to James M. Williams. With the acquisition of the Tripp’s mining and manufacturing company, Williams gained the oil rights near the town of Woodstock, Ontario. In his attempts to find better drinking water, Williams dug a twenty metre well near his asphalt plant. Instead of water, Williams hit free oil. In 1860 he launched the first integrated oil company -- exploring, drilling, and refining the oil into finished products --  and called it The Canada Oil Company. The well find resulted in an invasion of fortune seekers. Records indicate that between 20,000 and 50,000 wells were drilled in Ontario before 1900. The well, Williams No.1 at Oil Springs, Ontario is gone but The Oil Museum of Canada was founded on the site and a replica of the well is on display at the museum.


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