“will be a commodity instead of a luxury” — Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin

Today, the Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin remembers the financial news in Pittsburgh of September 29, 1891.

A couple of oil wells recently struck a large pocket of oil just a few miles outside the city.

They began gushing the black gold.

From the Pittsburgh Press:


Whoop! Oil flowing loose and nobody knows where it is going.

This was the feeling on ‘change this morning, and yet President McKelvey reiterated his determination to be a bull.

“She’s going up,” he said. “The production yesterday was 37,000 barrels and may be 50,000, and I have no doubt will before two weeks pass, and yet she is going up.

“We will have a market and oil will be a commodity instead of a luxury put up in pound cans for family use, and you will see it coming within two months.”

A great deal of the same feeling prevailed among the other members of the oil clique, who for the first time in months made themselves felt and heard on the floor.

Reports came rolling in of fresh accessions to the McDonald field.

Barney Forst led as usual, the Forst and Greenlee well making a big record by pouring 500 barrels per hour into the creek. This was on the Mevey farm.

The Matthews well came in about the same time, throwing out 250 barrels per hour in the same recklessly extravagant manner, while the owners tore their hair and the atmosphere at the loss of such a large quantity of the best raw material.

And still McKelvey was a bull, although he held those special telegrams in his hands.

His is the kind of faith that can move mountains, but whether it stirs the Standard Oil Company or not remains to be seen.

The market opened at 57 3/4 bid, with a few sales at that price, but the indications were that it would seek a lower level before long.

The following special telegrams to the press from Oil City and McDonald explain the situations.

At oil City it opened at 58, sold down to 57 1/4; rallied to 57 7/8.

The general tone of the market was heavy.

Professional traders were bearish on reports of increased production at McDonald.

Sales up to 12:30 were 125,000 barrels.

McDonald, Sept 29. — Forst, Greenlee & Co.’s No. 1 on the Mevey farm was drilled deeper during the day and it commenced throwing the golden fluid out at a rate estimated from 8,000 to 10,000 barrels a day.

This is the greatest well on record.

All the oil is flowing down the creek.

The pipe line company is taking charge of all the oil that reaches the producers’ tanks.

It is an impossibility to connect these two wells on account of the great pressure.

The town has gone wild with excitement over these latest strikes, and predictions are heard on all sides that there is no limit to the productions of this field.


Sketches in Crude Oil by John James McLaurin, published in 1896, provided more details of the wells:


C.D. Greenlee and Barney Forst, who joined forces west of Butler and at Wildwood, in August of 1891 leased James Mevey’s 250 acres, a short distance northeast of McDonald.

Greenlee and John W. Weeks, a surveyor who had mapped out the district and predicted it would be the “richest in Pennsylvania,” selected a gentle slope beside a light growth of timber for the first well on the Mevey farm.

The rig was hurried up and the tools were hurried down.

On Saturday, September twenty-sixth, the fifth sand was cracked and oil gushed at the rate of 140 barrels an hour.   The well was stirred a trifle on Monday, September twenty-eighth, with startling effect.

It put fifteen-thousand-six-hundred barrels of oil into the tanks in twenty-four hours!

The Armstrong and the Matthews had to surrender their laurels, for Greenlee & Forst owned the largest oil-well ever struck on this continent.

On Sunday, October fourth, after slight agitation by the tools, the mammoth poured out 750 barrels an hour for four hours, a record that may, perhaps, stand until Gabriel’s horn proclaims the wind-up of oil-geysers and all terrestrial things.

The well has yielded several-hundred-thousand barrels and is still pumping fifty.

Greenlee & Forst’s production for a time exceeded twenty-thousand barrels a day and they could have taken two or three-million dollars for their properties.

The partners did not pile on the agony because of their good-luck. They kept their office at Pittsburgh and Greenlee continued to live at Butler.

He is a typical manager in the field, bubbling over with push and vim.

Forst had a clothing store at Millerstown in its busy days, waltzed around the bull-ring in the Bradford oil-exchange and returned southward to scoop the capital prize in the petroleum-lottery.


The Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin shows with an image of Greenlee and their oil well, circa 1890s.

Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin