Man. Gas Processes
Contamination Threat Modes
Residuals - Components
Sources of MGP Liquid Effluent
FMG Plants in the US
Parallel MG Technologies
Think you've found a gas works?
Locating and Confirming a Site
Locations of US Gas Plants
FMGP In The News
FMGP In The Arts
Coal-tar Site Litigation
Related sites on the Internet
Literature of Manufactured Gas
Publications by Dr. Hatheway
Slide Shows by Dr. Hatheway
Slide Shows by others
Parallel Manufactured Gas Technologies
ILLUMINATING GAS from "GASOLENE" and ACETYLENE
These two sources of gas lights are both of historic importance and also of
today's environmental significance. The former factor is important because the
presence of gasolene gas machines (1860-1915) and acetylene gas plants
(1895-1940) did not typically generate toxic residuals and wastes for modern
consideration. Yet, having said this, these gas plants, where installed to serve
a community or small town, generally bore the name of "Gas Light Company," or,
perhaps less commonly "Gas Company" and can today give pause for thought to
environmental regulatory agency personnel charged with the responsibility of
locating and characterizing literally all of the many (several hundreds of
thousands) of pre-1970 "gas works" located throughout the world.
The minimal installation cost of a late 19th and early 20th century
commercial (town) manufactured gas plant was in the range of U.S. $25,000 to
$50,000 and this value was approximately pegged by the two equivalent factors;
inflation (rising dollar cost) and value (greater plant value per dollar). Said
another way, worldwide, after about 1875, the gas entrepreneur got more for the
money in terms of gas generation capacity and this approximately kept up with
the relatively small degrees of economic inflation of the times. Given this cost
constraint, the greater percentage of the world's people literally never
experienced any sight of gas lights, for they were farmers, herdsmen, stockmen,
trading peoples, migrant peoples, and other isolated semi-rural dwellers whose
small towns and farm and ranch homes were isolated geographically from human
clusters able to afford a traditional gasworks.
THE COMING of "BURNING FLUID"
Nevertheless, mid-19th century inventors began to work with schemes to take
advantage of the newly discovered "light ends" of crude oil almost immediately
coincidental with the world's first true discovery of systematically recoverable
petroleum, that of Edwin Drake, at Titusville, NW Pennsylvania, in 1859.
Distillation was a proven technology at the time Drake's first oil well created
the Titusville "rush" and from these first wells sprung refineries, the stills
of which included, among other products such as "snake oil" and other "medicinals",
the highly valuable "burning fluid" and "burning oil" (kerosene and coal oil)
and their more flammable "gasolene." Many of these light-end "oils" possessed
high vapor pressures and were, in today's chemical parlance, VOCs; volatile
organic compounds) having the dangerous quality of releasing combustible vapors
at ambient pressure and temperature.
The next result, all happening within months of the end of year 1859, was a
rash of patents for illuminating gas generators typically called gas machines,
capable of producing local, small-cost, gas-light vapors. The broad name for
these devices was gasolene gas machines and the general technology of "gasolene"
gas lighting was well in place in North America and in England by 1860.
Britain's advances in this new field occured mainly Scotland, and there from the
burning oils being distilled from extracted shale-oil and coal-oil and beginning
yet another stimulating sailing-ship trade to the empire, packaged in 5-gal.
"tins" in two-tin crates. Gasolene gas machines went on the market for about a
thousand dollars (£200) installed, in 1860 U.S. dollars. Accordingly,
urban-isolated, suburban and rural hotels, tavern, resorts, military posts,
naval stations, government offices, and the mansions of the rich, could now be
gas lighted and there was a rush of those who could afford the luxury or the
necessity, which, of course, did not include the "common man" of the times. The
common man bought burning fluid and sought light from the multitude of cheap
brass and glass lamps of the day, and people died by the thousands when such
lamps tipped and spilled their flaming contents. The gas-light industry kept the
"burning fluid" danger before the consuming public with frightening reports of
"deaths by burning fluid."
Perhaps the greatest impacts of the gasolene gas movement were gained by the
brilliant Massachsetts farm-boy inventor Hiram Maxim (later knighted by Queen
Victoria) and his Springfield Gas Machine, manufactured at Boston and sold
broadly and widely as a series of a few wooden crates easily shipped via
railroad, canal barge, riverboat, and steamship, with ease of local delivery by
team and wagon. The reader may remember that later on, Maxim created the
"better" machine gun. Click image to view larger version.
ACETYLENE (CARBIDE) GAS LIGHTING
about 1895, a new market force entered the general scene of artificial gas, that
of acetylene gas generators, which operated on powdered calcium carbide
delivered in sealed, light-metal drums, and consumed from inexpensive rolled,
corrugated-side, sheet-steel cylinders. Carbide lights made use of acetylene gas
generation, a French invention. Most carbide sales went for miner's underground
non-explosive head lamps, but the sales of gas-light acetylene generators became
brisk by about 1910 and there was a proliferation of acetylene gaslight
companies in North America England, and across Europe. Most of these companies
took up names that now confuse us with the potential presence of coal gas, water
gas, oil gas and producer gas plants, all of which present potentially serious
environmental threats today, or at least until competently and thoroughly proven
So, you see now that this presentation is made not only in the interest of a
higher degree of historical understanding of manufactured gas, but toward the
necessary screening of gasworks that may not present real and on-going threats
to environmental and public health and safety."
Click image to view larger version.
Copyright © 2018 by Dr.
Allen W. Hatheway All rights reserved.
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