George Bissell, a Yale University Chemistry professor, and Edwin L. Drake, a former railroad conductor, made the first successful use of a drilling rig on August 28, 1859 at Titusville, Pennsylvania. This single well soon exceeded the entire cumulative oil output of Europe since the 1650s. The principal product of the oil was kerosene.
McClintocksville was a small community in Cornplanter Township in Venango County. In 1861, it was the location of Wamsutta Oil Refinery, the first business venture of Henry Huttleston Rogers, who became a leading United States capitalist, businessman, industrialist, financier, and philanthropist. Rogers and his young wife Abbie Palmer Gifford Rogers lived in a one room shack there along Oil Creek for several years beginning in 1862.
Shortly later, Rogers met oil pioneer Charles Pratt who purchased the entire output of the tiny Wamsutta Oil Refinery. In 1867, Rogers joined Pratt in forming Charles Pratt and Company, which was purchased by Standard Oil in 1874. Rogers became one of the key men in John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust.
After joining Standard Oil, Rogers invested heavily in various industries, including copper, steel, mining, and railways. The Virginian Railway is widely considered his final life's achievement. Rogers amassed a great fortune, estimated at over $100 million, and became one of the wealthiest men in the United States. He was also a generous philanthropist, providing many public works for his hometown of Fairhaven and financially assisting helping such notables as Mark Twain, Helen Keller, and Dr. Booker T. Washington.
Perhaps in one of history's ironies, another resident of Venango County about the same time as Henry and Abbie Rogers was a little girl named Ida M. Tarbell, whose father was an independent producer whose small business was ruined by the South Improvement Company scheme of 1871 and the conglomerate which became Standard Oil. Introduced to each other in 1902 by their mutual friend Mark Twain, Tarbell who had become an investigative journalist and Rogers, who knew of her work, shared meetings and information over a two year period which led to her epoch work, The History of the Standard Oil Company, published in 1904, which many historians feel helped fuel public sentiment against the giant company and helped lead to the court-ordered break-up of it in 1911.
The oil heritage of Venanago County is remembered by a Pennsylvania State Park and many heritage sites which help tell the story and memorialize the people of the oil boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As of the census of 2000, there were 57,565 people, 22,747 households, and 15,922 families residing in the county. The population density was 85 people per square mile (33/km²). There were 26,904 housing units at an average density of 40 per square mile (15/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.64% White, 1.09% Black or African American, 0.18% Native American, 0.23% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.17% from other races, and 0.67% from two or more races. 0.52% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 33.0% were of German, 12.7% Irish, 12.2% American, 8.6% English, 5.7% Polish and 5.3% Italian ancestry according to Census 2000.
There were 22,747 households out of which 30.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.80% were married couples living together, 9.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.00% were non-families. 26.20% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.50% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 2.93.
In the county, the population was spread out with 24.20% under the age of 18, 7.20% from 18 to 24, 26.70% from 25 to 44, 25.10% from 45 to 64, and 16.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 95.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.10 males.
In the 2004 United States presidential election, voters registered in Venango County cast 9,024 (38.1%) ballots for Kerry, 14,472 (61.2%) for Bush, and 163 (0.7%) for "other".
Under Pennsylvania law, there are four types of incorporated municipalities: cities, boroughs, Unincorporated communities in Pennsylvania, and, in at most two cases, towns. The following cities, boroughs and townships are located in Venango County:
Pennzoil and Quaker State left the Venango area for Texas. After leaving the area they merged and stopped refining oil. They now concentrate on retail oil and automotive additives produced for them by other companies. As of 2007, the two companies only exist as brand names after the company disappeared because of successive mergers.
With global crude oil prices touching US $100 in early 2008, long-dormant interest reawakened in Venango County's remaining oil reserves, 70% undrilled by one estimate. High prices make less accessible oil deposits worth extracting. For instance, a Canadian firm proposed drilling several large mines and allowing oil to flood the tunnels.
Other major employers are Government (at all levels) and Walmart.