The History Of Propane - Who Discovered It and Why?

September 10, 2020

In 2020, propane is used by millions of Americans each day as a fuel source and is a crucial part of our daily lives. It’s hard to believe it has a relatively short past. So, where exactly did this powerful fuel come from? And how has it become one of the most popular energy sources in the world today?

 

It all started with a Ford Model T.

 

 

You see, the story goes that a Ford Model T owner asked Dr. Walter O. Snelling, a chemist and explosives expert with the U.S. Bureau of Mines, why the gasoline he had purchased for his Model T was half gone by the time he got home in 1910. 

 

The car owner thought the government should investigate because consumers were being defrauded, with the gasoline evaporating at such a rapid rate. 

 

Dr. Snelling took the owner’s plea to heart, and so he filled a glass jug with the gasoline from the car and discovered on his way back to the lab that vapors were forming in the jug, causing the cork to keep popping out. 

 

In addition, the gasoline he had purchased was half gone by the time he got home. So using an old hot water heater and other miscellaneous pieces of laboratory equipment, Snelling built a contraption that could separate the gasoline into its liquid and gaseous components.  

 

 

Snelling then discovered a large part of liquid gasoline was actually composed of LPG, including propane, butane, and other hydrocarbons and are also referred to as natural gas liquids – NGL. And began experimenting with these gases to find ways to control and capture them

 

Snelling soon realized that the LPG could be used for lighting, metal cutting, and cooking. Which marked the discovery of the origin of the LPG industry.

 

Snelling, in cooperation with others, created ways to liquefy the LPG during the refining of natural gasoline, and together they established the American Gasol Company, the first commercial marketer of LPG.

 

Snelling managed to produce relatively pure propane by 1911 and in 1913, his LPG technology was awarded a U.S. patent. The rest they say is history.

 

Take a look at this brief timeline below to see other methods and advances in technology that followed.

 

  • 1910: Chemist Walter Snelling discovers propane after observing how gasoline in a jug causes the cork to pop off. A few years later, Snelling sells the patent and others start developing new uses for the fuel. 

  • 1920s: Throughout this decade, research paves the way for new ways to use propane in appliances and gas equipment. Slowly, products are rolled out into homes. 

  • 1930s: During this decade, a rotten egg odor, ethyl mercaptan, is added to propane to allow consumers to detect leaks. In addition, railroad tank transit is developed along with local bottle-filling plants, making the fuel even more ubiquitous. 

  • 1947: By this time, 62 percent of American homes are equipped with either natural gas or propane. 

  • 1950: The first propane-powered buses are ordered by the Chicago Transit Authority. By 1958, total national propane sales reached over 7 billion gallons. 

  • 2004: By this time, propane grows to be a nearly $10 billion industry, with roughly 15 billion gallons of propane used annually in the United States.

 

 

Now that you know a little bit about the history of propane, we hope that you consider Nelson Propane for all your propane needs. If you have any questions or would like to speak with a customer service representative, we’d be more than happy to speak with you.

 

 

 

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