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"Uncle Billy" Smith

Stylized "Uncle Billy" Mural

William “Uncle Billy” Smith was a farmer, blacksmith, highly skilled mechanic, and oil well driller. Born on his grandfather’s Winfield Township farm in February 1812, Billy married Jane Powell circa 1835. The couple set up housekeeping and raised seven children, regularly relocating to Billy’s changing work locations. On the 1850 Census, the Smiths were in northeast Allegheny County, where Billy was drilling salt wells in East Deer Township.

Mural Details

Colonel Edwin Drake came to visit Billy in April of 1859. Drake had a concept for drilling deep underground for oil, but not the technical expertise or tools to put his idea into action. Turned down by every other driller he approached, Drake heard about Billy’s talents and came with an offer: $2.50 per day for Smith to bring his tools and skills to Titusville. Billy accepted, moved his family to Crawford County, and—with the help of his sons James and William—set to work forging custom tools and drilling. Shortly after they finished in August 1859, Drake’s Well hit the first “oil strike” in history, marking the birth of the petroleum industry.


Jeff Lang


Butler Co. Historical Society

123 W Diamond St, Butler, PA


Uncle Billy is credited with drilling the first commercial oil well, but he was also responsible for the first oil well fire! Unfortunately, Billy took an open lamp to inspect one of the oil vats. The open flame in Billy’s hand set gases alight, burning down the derrick, stored oil, the engine house, and his family’s home. Uncle Billy worked at the rebuilt Well until April 20, 1862.

Billy Smith retired to his family home in Winfield Township, where he farmed and continued blacksmithing until his death in 1890. His grave in Hannahstown Cemetery is marked by a tall granite obelisk commemorating Uncle Billy Smith and the blacksmithing skills he used to forge equipment and tools to drill the world’s first oil well.

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