The History of Propane


The Discovery
In 1910 Dr. Walter O. Snelling, a chemist and explosives expert for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, was contacted to investigate vapors coming from a gasoline tank vent of a newly purchased Ford Model T. Dr. Snelling filled a glass jug with the gasoline from the Ford Model T and discovered on his way back to the lab that volatile vapors were forming in the jug, causing its cork to repeatedly pop out. He began experimenting with these vaporous gases to find methods to control and hold them. After dividing the gas into its liquid and gaseous components, he learned that propane was one component of the liquefied gas mixture. He soon learned that this propane component could be used for lighting, metal cutting and cooking. That discovery marked the birth of the propane industry.

The Growth of an Industry

1912    Dr. Snelling and some colleagues established the American Gasol Co., the first commercial marketer of propane.

1913    Dr. Snelling sold his propane patent for $50,000 to Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum Company.

1918    Propane was primarily used for cutting metals. J. B. Anderson of Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania developed the first propane-fueled pumpless blowtorch.

1922    The Bureau of Mines began to keep track of propane sales throughout the United States; national sales totaled 223,000 gallons.

1925    Propane sales reached 404,000 gallons-nearly doubling sales in just three years.

1927    Phillips Petroleum Co. began the research and development of domestic appliances and gas equipment. The Tappan Stove Company began producing gas ranges.

1928    The first bobtail truck was built, and Servel produced the first propane refrigerator.

1929    Aggressive sales promotions and marketing pushed national sales to 10 million gallons. The propane industry asset value was approximately $22 million.

1931    H. Emerson Thomas, George Oberfell, and Mark Anton founded the first propane industry trade group called the National Bottled Gas Association in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

1932    At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, all the cooking and water heating at the Olympic Village was done with propane.

1933    A propane odorant was developed to promote easy leak detection.

1934    National sales reached 56 million gallons, due in great part to rapid industrial growth.

1936    Twenty pound cylinders were first introduced to enhance portability.

1945    The end of World War II brought great industrial development. The propane industry enjoyed its so-called Golden Years, and sales reached 1 billion gallons.

1947    Sixty-two percent of all U.S. homes were equipped with either natural gas or propane ranges. Water heater sales rose 261 percent, and the first propane-fueled clothes dryer entered the marketplace. The first oceangoing tanker built for propane, the SS Natalie Warren owned by Warren Petroleum Corp., was also launched; total capacity was 1.4 million gallons.

1950    The Chicago Transit Authority ordered 1,000 propane-fueled buses, and Milwaukee converted 270 taxies to run on propane. In addition, an estimated 7.5 million propane installations occurred on farms and in suburbs.

1955    Propane containers, equipment and appliances were exposed to an atomic explosion at a federal test site in Nevada. After the explosion, all were in perfect working order, and the ranges were used to cook meals for the test personnel.

1958    National propane sales reached 7 billion gallons.

1961    Propane installations in the United States totaled 13 million.

1962    The propane industry celebrated its 50th anniversary at its national convention in May at the Conrad Hilton in Chicago.

1963    The first 50,000-gallon tank car was built, and hot-air balloons began using propane.

1965    GATX built the world's largest propane tank car, with a 60,000-gallon capacity. Chevrolet introduced four new truck engines designed for propane.

1973    Propane price controls were instituted in the wake of the Arab oil embargo. The propane industry trade association, now called the National Propane Association, opened its first Washington D.C. office.

1977    The U.S. Department of Energy was established, and the Federal Energy Administration (FEA) began investigating propane pricing practices, which were then controlled by the U.S. government.

1981    President Reagan eliminated price controls on propane, gasoline and crude oil.

1987    The National Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (NLPGA) changed its name to the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), the national trade association representing the propane industry.

1990    Propane was listed as an approved, alternative clean fuel in the 1990 Clean Air Act and two years later was listed again in the National Energy Policy Act of 1992.

1996    The Propane Education & Research Council was authorized by the U.S. Congress with the passage of Public Law 104-284, the Propane Education and Research Act (PERA), signed into law on October 11, 1996. The mission of the Propane Education & Research Council is to promote the safe, efficient use of odorized propane gas as a preferred energy source.

2000    Today, propane gas is an $8 billion industry in the United States and is still growing. The United States consumes more than 15 billion gallons of propane annually for home, agricultural, industrial and commercial uses.

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Source: Paul K. Haines, President, Trexler Haines Gas, Inc.; President, Pennsylvania Propane Gas Association, 1961; State Director, Pennsylvania Propane Gas Association, 1972-1976; District 9 Director, National Propane Gas Association, 1976-1996

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