Born on March 29, 1819, in Greenville, New York, Drake worked on the family farm until leaving home at 19. After a number of odd jobs, he became a conductor for the New York & New Haven Railroad (1850).
However, in 1857, he became interested in drilling for petroleum andorganized a new company, Seneca Oil. Two years later, on August 27,1859, the company struck an oil pool at a depth of 69 feet, and the worlds first oil well was in operation.
Drake's poor business sense eventually led him into poverty, however.
It was only in 1873 that his financial situation improved, when the state of Pennsylvania granted him an annuity. He died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on November 8, 1880.