Last week we began our exploration of the history of the water well. We began by exploring the well’s ancient origins and discussing the immortality of wells in fairy tales and folklore. Finally, we talked about the deepest hand dug well in the world, the Woodingdean well. This week, we are continuing our exploration of well history. Read on to learn how wells bridged the gap between their ancient roots and what we know today.


Well technology had very few upgrades up until the early 1800s. For the most part, wells were hand dug for over eleven thousand years. Wells are quite literally older than civilization itself. They are without a doubt one of the most important pieces of technology that humans have. Luckily, some advances have been made in the last 250 years that make owning a well a much easier process.

Here Comes Mechanical Drilling

One of the biggest innovations in well history happened in 1808 in the United States. A mechanical drilling machine was invented by the Ruffner brothers. They used the machine to get to water and salt at a salt lick. The first use of the drilling machine in the United States was in West Virginia.

By the 1820s and 1830s the Ruffner brothers’ invention had been added to and improved. This is when auger boring machines entered the scene. These machines drilled the deepest wells that humans had seen up to that point. However, drilling machines were not standardly used until the early 1900s.

In 1908 Howard Hughes senior invented what is known today is the roller cone drill bit. The roller cone drill bit is still used for drilling through rock and other solid layers. It is most commonly found in the energy industry while drilling for natural gas and oil.

It took another 30 years for the next major well technology to show itself. In the 1940s, well drilling tools finally became portable. Before that, all drilling tools had been platform based, like an oil rig. Portable drilling tools finally make water wells recognizable to modern homeowners.

The Modern Day

Thanks to the long history of innovation and adaptation of water wells, they are now a more important tool than ever. Modern water wells provide clean and safe water to some of the most rural communities in America. Of course, there have been technological innovations other than the ones we’ve listed here. The biggest change is that drills are becoming less and less invasive. It is now easier than ever to get a private water well on your property. Additionally, there are well and well water safety monitors to ensure that you and your family are always safe. Modern homeowners also use well water for irrigation.