On a summer day in 1859, a blacksmith galloped into tiny Titusville, Pa. on a mule and shouted electrifying news: "Struck oil! Struck oil!" The blacksmith was W. H. ("Uncle Billy") Smith, who had helped "Colonel"* Edwin L. Drake drill the nation's first commercial oil well, thus launch the U.S. petroleum industry. As the news spread, Titusville mushroomed into a city of 9,046 and became the U.S. oil capital. So sure were Pennsylvania oilmen that the state had been endowed with a unique gift of nature that they had a saying: "I'll drink every drop of oil found west of the Ohio River."
But soon richer fields were found in the West, and as the Pennsylvania reserves became depleted (the state, once first, has slipped to twelfth place among oil producers) Titusville's eleven refineries gradually dwindled to one. Last week the Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., which bought Titusville's last refinery from Cities Service Co. only a few months ago, had sorry news for oldtime roughnecks. It announced that its antiquated (built in the 1880s) refinery, which employs 70 people and has a capacity of 2,500 barrels a day, will be closed down and dismantled next month. Sighed one longtime Titus-villager: "A real sentimental loss."
* A title whimsically bestowed by Drake's Connecticut sponsor to impress Titusville yokels with the importance of his work. Actually, the only uniform that Drake ever wore was as a conductor on the New York, New Haven Railroad.