The luck of John Washington Steele begins on December 10, 1844, when Culbertson and Sarah McClintock adopt him as an infant.
Johnny Steele – who will one day will be known as “Coal Oil Johnny” – is adopted along with his sister, Permelia. The McClintocks bring them home to their farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.
Fifteen years later, the petroleum boom prompted by Edwin Drake’s discovery – America’s first commercial oil well – will make the widow McClintock a fortune in royalties.
When Mrs. McClintock dies in a kitchen fire in 1864, she leaves the money to her only surviving child, Johnny. At age 20, he inherits $24,500 and his mother’s 200-acre farm along Oil Creek between what is now Rynd Farm and Rouseville. The farm includes 20 producing wells yielding $2,800 in royalties a day.
“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele will earn his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that years later the New York Times will report: “In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known…he threw away $3,000,000 in less than a year.” Read the rest of this entry »