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Locations of Gas Plants and Other Coal-tar Sites in the U.S.

THE STATE OF MICHIGAN 

Introduction

             Following its introduction to manufactured gas in 1849 (Detroit), the all-around American gas fever reached most of Michigan just before the Civil War, with a good deal of wood-gas generation, as one would expect from a State with considerable forest reserves. A second wave of gas plants and plant expansions began at the turn of the 20th century, embracing carburetted water gas. The smallest Michigan community to support a manufacture gas plant were the 2.034 people of Grand Ledge (1922).

             Michigan innovations include the construction of some of the first (ca. 1910) form-cast, reinforced concrete generator houses, built in the carburetted water gas sweep that was going on nationally. About 1915, inclined coal-gas ovens became popular as an expansion medium in the lower-tier counties. The Michigan Gas Association sponsored Masters-level gas engineering fellowships at the University of Michigan, under the direction of Professor Alfred White, and its stars were prominent gas engineers such as James A. Brown, Frederick W. Seymour and Frank W. Steer. Consolidation of Michigan gas companies began at Detroit at the rather late date of 1898, and holding company activity was particularly active after 1910. from Grand Rapids where pioneer entrepreneurs such as W.A. Foot, Anton G. Hodenpyl, and H.D. Walbridge operated the Consumers Power Company (established 1910).

             Also at Grand Rapids was the American Public Utilities Company, the creation of Kelsey Brewer & Co. (organized in 1911), as active throughout the United States, most notably, in the latter case, in Utah. These holding companies first were styled as investment syndicates and later morphed into full-fledged engineering and management companies earning a fee based on total quantities generated, thus fitting nicely into a justifiable cost within the rate structures being prescribed by public utility commissions. With the New Deal breakup of national utility holding companies, Consumers Gas and Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. emerged in the 1930s as the new State-sized versions, and the brutal Congressional utility hearings and “death sentence” clause of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act forged the 1940 Presidential campaign of former liberal Democrat utility attorney Wendell Wilkie (Commonwealth & Southern Co.), against the unheard but successful third-term candidacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

             Michigan’s industrial plants held early applications (from about 1895) of producer gas plants supplying fuel gases for a wide variety of heat and power uses. The automobile industry quickly expanded beyond Detroit and spawned many individual companies, as well as suppliers, all hungry for gas energy, and many of these installed their own producer gas plants and by-product coke oven plants, as well.
Northern Michigan is the scene of many wood distillation plants, uncontrolled wood-tar pits of charcoal plants, and creosote contamination from wood preservation plants.
Some natural gas entered Michigan in 1898, from Ontario Province, but really sufficient supplies did not appear until 1927 through 1937, in the southern counties, and many northern gas plants continued to function until the 1950s.

             Geologically, Michigan presents many aggravated gas works pollution problems, with many relatively porous, near-surface groundwater aquifers and otherwise plentiful bodies of receiving surface water. The State experienced its first pollution control efforts against discharge of such toxics as gas works wastes, in 1876.

Click the blue "EPA" link below to view the
Michigan map of the EPA 1985 Radian FMGP Report.

Click the green "Hatheway" link below to view the
Michigan map of Professor Hatheway's research.

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