The place that changed Norway

Wilhelm  Mohr stands in front of the replica of the Drake Well. Mohr, who is originally from Norway, learned about Drake and Titusville as a kid, and is now finally visiting the place that meant so much to his country.

Those who attended school in Pennsylvania most likely know about the exploits of Colonel Edwin Drake.

As the man who first drilled for oil in Titusville, he forever shaped the history of the Oil Region and Pennsylvania. Drake however had an impact that reached much further than just Titusville.

One man who learned about Drake in grade school is Wilhelm Mohr. Mohr, born and raised in Norway, is in town to visit the Drake Museum, and learn more about a man who forever shaped his home country, transforming it into the wealthy nation it is today.

Norway used to be a very poor country. Under control of Denmark for hundreds of years, the country was known for its cheap labor.

One of the toughest jobs to do anywhere in the world at anytime in history was that of whalers. The whalers would board ships in Europe and North America, only to travel to the lengths of the oceans down near Antarctica. They braved rough seas to try and kill the biggest animals in the oceans, and sell their blubber to power the oil lamps of the day. The jobs didn’t pay very well, but Norway had a strong ship-building industry and a seafaring history that made the work standard.

Everything changed when Drake struck oil in Titusville, killing not only the whaling industry, but crashing Norway’s economy.

Mohr said there is a joke in Norway that results from this time period. It is common to tell people that you “have a rich uncle in America.”

Due to the collapse from Drake’s discovery of oil, thousands of Norwegians would emigrate to the states. Between 1825 and 1925, 800,000 Norwegians would leave the country and come to America — about a third of the country’s population.

What Drake took away from the country, he also gave back. It was 100 years after his discovery that Norway would find oil, and it was the American companies that originated in Titusville that would help them drill the oil, leading to a prosperous time for the Scandinavian country.

“Every Norwegian kid learns about Colonel Drake and Titusville in school,” said Mohr. His country is one that has consistently benefited from American innovation, whether that be aviation and the Wright brothers, the liberation of Europe during WWII, and even the vaccines for COVID-19 that were developed in America.

“When you fly into Norway, the main airport in Oslo, all the money came from our oil revenue,” he said. “It was American innovation that over 100 years later was able to produce revenue streams in Norway.”

He said America really changed the path that Norway was on. It went from a country that was losing its population due to a lack of opportunities, to a nation that is so wealthy it has a sovereign wealth fund.

Mohr said that the immense wealth his small country has accumulated has been almost all good, but it can make it difficult for some of the population to get motivated, as so much of their life is provided for them.

While the innovation and help that America gave to Norway is very well known, it took Mohr visiting and later living in America that really let him see this nation’s true colors.

“When you think of America, at least in Norway, you think of rockstars and New York City,” he said. “But then you visit and see it is made up of smaller cities, places like Titusville.”

The man who showed Mohr the small towns of America is Matt Sampson, a friend and native of Titusville. Sampson and Mohr both work together in Houston, Texas, in the oil industry, and have since developed a friendship.

When Sampson first told Mohr that he was from Titusville, to Sampson’s surprise, Mohr had heard of the small town.

Mohr is spending some time in the area now to visit the oil sites that lead to his home country’s most prosperous time in their history, and might have some fun visiting the restaurants, parks, trails and breweries that northwestern Pennsylvania has to offer.

“America is much more than the headlines and the news say,” said Mohr, who is finding that out first hand.

Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.

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