Significant Dates in the History of Drilling

by Ken L. Doe
SEDC Steering Committee
March 23, 2000

The following was presented at the 2000 and 2005 SEDC Clinics.

Year Event
256 BC Chinese brine wells recorded: centuries old method.
1126 AD First artesian well in Artois, France.
1600 Grenelle well in France: dry rotary auger method; drilled to 1771 feet and took eight years.
1806-08 Ruffner Brothers invent spring pole method; first rock-bored well in U.S.; took 18 months to drill 60 feet.
1829 First oil well, by accident; the "American Well". Invention of steam engine.
1830 Walking beam; four-legged derrick.
1831 William Morris patents "jars".
1845 French drilled with water circulation; 560' in 23 days.
1857 Bowles patents reverse circulation drilling.
1859 Drake well; first commercial oil well in America; cable tool drilled to 69 feet.
1866 Sweeney stone drill patented; improvements still in use.
1876 Massive diamond drill exhibited; drilled 9" hole 1000'.
1882 Baker Brothers drilled first well with rotary equipment; pumped water with windmill; Yankton, Dakota Territory.
1885 Stockton, California, near-modern rotary drilling.
1890 First calyx drill.
1901 Spindletop gusher, Texas.
1906 Portable gas engines.
1916 Steel cable.
1919 A.P.I. standards.
1920 Portable seismic rigs (percussion type).
1935 Failing makes first portable rotary rig.
1946 Reverse circulation re-invented for large-diameter irrigation wells.
1949 Mobile Drilling produces first portable continuous flight auger drill; Models B-27, B-31, etc.
1960s CME and Failing start manufacturing auger drills.
1980s to present Specialized rigs for environmental drilling and sampling, and monitoring well installation.


There have been many developments in drives, rigs, bits and tools. Mounting vehicles range from hand carts to pickups, and small to large trucks and trailers, as well as 'dozers, half tracks, balloon tires, skids and barges.