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Carburetted Hydrogen Gas--Great Granddaddy Burned It

Wallace De Witt, Jr.

Natural gas, called carburetted hydrogen gas in the 1800s, was a dangerous nuisance to early 19th century salt-well drillers in the Appalachians. In 1841, William Tompkins first fueled his salt furnace near Charleston, West Virginia, with gas and demonstrated the utility of a previously wasted resource.

In 1821, William Aaron Hart of Fredonia, western New York, drilled the country's first well specifically for natural gas. Hart's third well and first producer, which was drilled near a gas seep in Canadaway Creek, enabled him to build a gasometer and to pipe gas to the Abel House and adjacent buildings. Hart's was the first natural gas company consisting of gas well, storage gasometer, and distribution system. He charged his consumers $1.50 per burner per year and supplied gas free for two burners as the royalty to his leasers.

In 1825, General Lafayette visited Fredonia and was impressed by lighting and cooking with natural gas.

Drilling for gas spread rapidly along the south shore of Lake Erie. Gas from a well at the Erie City Iron Works, Erie, Pennsylvania, lighted the factory. In the spring of 1859, the Iron Works received a rush order for a boiler and engine from E. L. Drake, Titusville, Pennsylvania. Night work and overtime completed Drake's equipment on schedule. The equipment was shipped that summer and soon powered the drilling of Drake's celebrated oil well. Thus, the infant gas industry had a brief but illuminating part in fabricating the machinery that launched the petroleum industry in the United States.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91031©1988 AAPG Eastern Section, Charleston, West Virginia, 13-16 September 1988.