Natural oil seeps have been present since before the days of dinosaurs about 200 million years ago. Lighter oils evaporate in air leaving behind the heavier oils in "tar pits". People have used this naturally occurring oil since the beginning of recorded human history. Oil can also be made from animal fat, and it is not always clear whether mention of oil in ancient records refers to oil from the ground or from animals.
Ancient Greek texts describe how they would pour oil onto the sea to set fire to their enemies fleets. The Bible refers to a thick form of oil called "Pitch" which was used to waterproof Noah's ark and the baby Moses' basket. The American Indians also used pitch to waterproof canoes and to make warpaint and medicines. These examples are probably uses of oil from the ground.
The word "Petroleum" come from the Greek word for rock and the Latin for oil or fat. It literally means "oil that comes from rock".
petra / petros (Greek) = rock
oleum (Latin) = oil / fat
Crude oil was pumped from the ground in Sichuan, China, 2500 years ago, but the history of oil wells as we know them today is much younger. A brief history starting in 347 A.D:
347 Oil wells are drilled in China up to 800 feet deep using bits attached to bamboo poles.
1264 Mining of natural oil seeps in medieval Persia is witnessed by Marco Polo on his travels through Baku.
1500’s Seep oil collected in the Carpathian Mountains of Poland is used to light street lamps.
1594 Oil wells are hand dug at Baku, Persia up to 35 meters (115 feet) deep.
1735 Oil sands are mined and the oil extracted at Pechelbronn field in Alsace, France.
1815 Oil is produced in United States as an undesirable by-product from brine wells in Pennsylvania.
1848 First modern oil well is drilled in Asia, on the Aspheron Peninsula north-east of Baku, by Russian engineer F.N. Semyenov.
1854 First oil wells in Europe are drilled 30- to 50-meters deep at Bóbrka, Poland by Ignacy Lukasiewicz.
Oil historians in the USA give credit for the first modern commercial oil well to Colonel Edwin L. Drake. His well reached a depth of 22m (72-ft). It was drilled in "Oil Creek" near the town of Titusville, slightly east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA and started producing oil on August 28,1859. There were no automobiles in those days; the main market for petroleum was for medicine. It was called Rock Oil and sold for about $40 a barrel, which is about the same as a barrel of oil costs today, so it would have been worth a lot of money in 1859.
There are several other claims for "the first oil well", including a well drilled in 1858 in Wietze, Germany. This area, locally nicknamed "Little Texas" now houses a petroleum museum (the Deutsches Erdölmuseum).
The first offshore oil well was in the bayous (swamps) of Louisiana, USA during the 1950s. The first drilling in open sea was done in 1955 for Shell Oil in the Gulf of Mexico just south of New Orleans. This used a barge with a drill rig attached named "Mr. Charlie", which continued to drill in the Gulf of Mexico for 32 years.