George H. (George Henry) Thurston.

Allegheny county's hundred years online

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wells, but to manufacture cheap gas from bituminous coal. The idea of gas fuel
grew from this to a fixed fact, and the dawn of Pittsburgh's day of natural gas fuel
was breaking. In 1875 the pioneers of the introduction of natural gas into the
factories of Allegheny county came. In that year Graff, Bennett & Co., Spang,
Chalfant & Co., J. J. Vandergrift, John Pitcairn, Jr., Henry Harley, W. K. Van-
dergrift and Charles W. Batchelor, organized under the title of " The Natural Gas
Company, Limited," for the purpose of piping gas from the wells in Butler county.
The enterprise was much ridiculed and failure predicted, notwithstanding the fact
that for eight or ten years previous natural gas had been used in the "oil region"
for fuel under boilers, several of the towns in that section had been lighted with it,
4ind in some of them it had been used for household purposes.

The two firms which joined in this first natural gas company were to have their
mills supplied from Butler county wells, 17 miles away. These were the Millvale
and Etna mills, below Sharpsburg, on the Allegheny river. The enterprise was
under Captain Batchelor's direction. The pressure of the first well was 130 pounds.
The gas made its appearance in the Bennett furnace in 19 minutes from the time
it was permitted to enter the six-inch pipe at the Butler county well. The record
:goes on to say that the gas had actually flowed of its own pressure the 17 miles,
through a pipe which in places reached an elevation of 400 feet from the lowest
level of the line, undulations regarded by many at that time as fatal obstacles to


Thus was inaugurated the first practical use of natural gas as fuel at Pittsburgh ,.
and the honor thereof belongs to Chas. W. Batchelor and the persons associated
with him. There was, however, no immediate further adoption of the benefit
thus brought to the door of the great manufacturing city.

The characteristic caution and conservatism of the Pittsburgh manufacturers
called for time to consider the subject, and some six or eight years elapsed before
its use was fully inaugurated. To George Westinghouse, Jr., the credit should be
given for this. In July, 1884, he organized the Philadelphia Company and had it
ready for work in October of the same year. The rapidity with which the work
was prosecuted in almost entirely a new field of labor is something wonderful to
contemplate now that it is done. In less than one year's time the gas from the
Murraysville wells was doing its work in the mills of Pittsburgh, and in the homes
of the city, and in two years time it was in general use. It is difficult to compre-
hend, now that it is of such common use, the small faith there was ten or
twelve years ago in its practical utility, and that, as mentioned in previous para-
graphs, the controllers of gas wells of the section were practically begging capital-
ists and manufacturers to put money into their utilization. The bringing of the
gas to the city and its efficient distribution in the short time occupied is in itself
a subject of wonder. One may take a broad plain and through the gradual con-
centration of population, in the course of time lay the gas and water pipes grad-
ually required. Even that requiring ability. But to lay in the short number of
months taken miles of pipes from 10 to 36 inches in diameter from wells 15 to 20
miles away, and through the paved and built up streets of a great city, through
net works of water and manufactured gas pipes, to convey as explosive and inflamm-
able a substance as natural gas without any serious accident or the stoppage of a
day in the work, is a great feat of engineering. Mr. Westinghouse's achievement
is one at which the wonder grows as time elapses, and the full results are realized.
The transformation in all things, whether in the factory or the household, was al-
most like a page out of the Arabian Nights, and to the people of Pittsburgh it is
still a wonder, and almost unrealizable. It has placed the manufacturers of Alle-
gheny county on an eminence that, where fuel is the factor, and the improved
quality of the product the consequence of that factor, they can not be competed
with. It has made the city one of the pleasantest cities for residence in the
United States, reduced the work of the household and added to its cheerfulness
and beauty, in the absence of the drudgery, grime and debris of the coal fires it has

So much has been written as to the locality of the gas district around and in
Allegheny county that it is needless to repeat what is so generally understood.
Equally so is it to discuss the probabilities of its exhaustion or its possible forma-
tion. Theories and theories have been given by those whose scientific attainments
or information obtained from practical research entitle them to give opinions, and
as yet it is all a theory. Although as to its duration, the fact existing that for
many long years it has been in divers sections of the earth escaping in great volumes


>ind the history of the great gas wells in Western Pennsylvania, tend to the opin-
1 -n that if it should be exhausted it is an event far distant. Should it fail neither
the people of Pittsburgh or of other localities where it has been utilized could or
will go back to the crude fuel of coal, although in case of such an event coal will
be a factor in the creation of the fuel. Coal is, after all, but tanked gas, to a cer-
tain degree, and while it is not desirable to make a gas works of a fire place, it
will not be necessary in the future if the natural gas fails, since all that has been
developed as to the economies and advantages of gas fuel have demonstrated that
gas can be made anywhere and conveyed anywhere for consumption. Should
natural gas fail manufactured gas will take its place, and Pittsburgh coal will be
the factor as the best gas coal known.

While Mr. Westinghouse, whose financial interest in natural gas supplies is so
large, has no falterings in his convictions that the supply of natural gas is in no
danger of exhaustion, yet with the wisdom that has won him success in many
enterprises that have linked his name and that of Pittsburgh so closely together,
he has been experimenting on a new process of manufacturing fuel gas from coal,
bituminous and anthracite. The process has been perfected, and the company be-
lieve that they have solved not only the problem of economized production of gas
from coal, but every question connected with the distribution and utilization of gas
under pressure. Should, therefore, the supply of natural gas exhaust Pittsburgh
will have not only economized supplies of manufactured gas to supply its wants,
but is likely to be, in addition to creating, by the utilization of natural gas, a pro-
gressive revolution in the manufacturing fuels of the world, and, through one of
its citizens, the agent in extending the benefit to all. The thought cannot but re-
cur here again that has at time before arisen in this resume of the history of Alle-
gheny county, of its pivotal character, that around it revolves so many of the
advancements made in the progress in practical results, not only of this nation,
but at times of the world. Dismissing, therefore, all questions of the formation
of natural gas, its possible continuance, as well as future comment on the history
of its introduction, a few facts are desirable as to its use. According to J. P.
Lesley, State Geologist of Pennsylvania, one pound of coal weighs 25 cubic feet
of gas, and one pound of coal has a fuel value of 7 2^ cubic feet of gas. S. A. Lord,
chief chemist of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works, says 1,000 cubic feet of gas
equals 62.97 of coke of 90 per cent, carbon, or 52.4 of bituminous coal, or 58.4 of
anthracite. The gas is odorless, because free from sulphur, etc., which makes it
superior fuel for manufacturing iron, steel and glass — three of Pittsburgh's great

It makes steam more regular because of the continuous heat, there being no
opening or shutting of the furnace doors, and no blank spaces between grate bars
for the entrance of cold air currents, and it is estimated it will create twenty-five
per cent, more steam in the consumption of a certain given quantity of gas as
corresponding to an equal fuel quantity of coal. In the manufacture of iron there
is a great saving in " burned iron," of which there is quite a percentage in the use


of coal. It increases the output, many mills increasing to the extent of 15 per
cent, with the same amount of furnaces. There is a saving from 10 to 15 per cent,
in wages in the reduction of the number of hands required for the handling of
the coal fuel, from 15 to 20 per cent, in the cost of fuel, and nearly 15 per cent, in
wear and tear of grate bars, fire brick, wear of carts, railroad sidings for delivery
of coal, switching charges, artificial gas for illumination, and a score of other items
each small but aggregating largely. The advantage in quantity of production and
in the quality of glass is mentioned in the chapter on the glass trade, and the further
fact can be stated, that in a glass factory where 2,000 tons of glass making material
was used in a year, the saving of gas fuel against coal was $6,000 annually. It should
not be overlooked that Allegheny county has in the gas fuel, although it is found
elsewhere, the same advantage it has enjoyed in the past in coal, the greatest
eupply. If the Pittsburgh capitalists and manufacturers were slow to take hold of
the new industry they were enterprising enough when they became convinced of
its value. Natural gas companies were rapidly formed. The Philadelphia Co.,
already mentioned, formed with a capital of |5,000,000, afterwards increased to
$7,500,000. The Chartiers Valley Co., with $4,000,000 of capital. The Pennsyl-
vania Gas Co., with $1,000,000 capital. The People's Natural Gas Co., with
$1,000,000 capital. The Manufacturers Natural Gas Co., with $600,000. The
Bridgewater Natural Gas Co., with $1,200,000 capital. The Allegheny Heating
Co., with $500,000 capital. The Baden Gas Co., with $500,000 capital. The Ohio
Valley Gas Co., with $100,000 capital. The Washington Natural Gas Co., with
$500,000 capital. The North Side Gas Co., with $100,000, also The Acme, The
Washington, The Penn Fuel Co., The Carpenters and The Bellevue, whose capitals
are not given, being sixteen companies inside of two years, with a combined capi-
tal of over $20,000,000, to supply gas to Allegheny county as the consuming point.
In addition there were formed, with more or less Pittsburgh capital invested,
eleven additional companies to supply points from 60 to 200 miles distant from
Allegheny county, with a combined capital of $9,000,000.

With the gas fuel within reach and known of, Pittsburgh was for forty or fifty
years indifferent to its great manufacturing value. It was for ten or twelve years
after a few nervy men had risked their money in the outcome of the enterprise
incredulous and hesitating as to the probable results. But their faith in natural
gas, its advantages and financial results, came in a flood that brought $29,000,000
of capital into this industry. The entire statistics of the milage of pipes, number
of wells and acreage of territory of these combined companies are not at hand,
but from those that are some idea of the magnitude of the industry can be obtain,
ed. The Philadelphia Company has about 600 miles of pipe, not including the
pipe connections into mills and houses. The ga* flowing into its lines is estimated
at 350,000,000 feet a day, and are now supplying 25,000 houses and 700 mills and
factories, and employ from 300 to 400 men in the working of its lines, not includ-
ing the small armies, amounting from 2,000 to 5,000 of men, laying pipes from fresh
wells. It controls from 75,000 to 80,000 acres of gas territory, and supplies, beside


the cities of Allegheny and Pittsburgh, twenty-eight other towns on the route of
the lines. Tlie Chartiers has 95 miles of main lines, and controls 20,300 acres of
gas territory, supplying 6,000 mills and factories and dwelling houses, and furnishes
90,000,000 cubic feet of gas a day. The Peoples Company supply 4,000 consumers^
have 100 miles of main pipe, and furnish 20,000,000 cubic feet a day. The '' Manu-
facturers" control 11,000 acres of gas and oil territories, and supply consumers
along its 70 miles of line, with 25,000,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The "Bridge-
water" controls 12,000 acres of gas territory, and have 150 miles of pipe, reaching
nine villages and towns. The "Baden" has 5,000 acres of gas territory, 150 miles
of gas pipe line, and supplies fourteen villages and towns. The statistics obtained
are so incomplete that no full or approximate estimate could be given of the pro-
portions to which the business of furnishing natural gas has grown. The three
companies, whose statistics are the fullest, supply 42,000 consumers in mills, facto-
ries and houses with 460,000,000 cubic feet of gas daily. The six, whose length ( f
line is given, have nearly 1,200 miles of pipe, not including the connections run-
ning from main pipes to consumers, laid to convey the gas to the cities and towns
and villages they supply. And the three, whose data was obtained, furnish, be-
sides the cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, over fifty additional towns and vil-

When to this is added the miles of pipe, possible consumers, cubic feet of gas
supplied by the other twenty-three companies, as by an approximate probable es-
timate, the magnitude of the gas fuel business is astounding. It should be remem-
bered that the great bulk of the business is that of Allegheny county capital, con-
trolled and managed by the business men of Pittsburgh. The judgment that lead
10 this investment was slow in forming, and the facts that gave the faith in the
continued supplies of natural gas convincing enough to justify it. As an exhibit
of something of the force of these facts, certain geological conclusions are briefly
stated, quoted from Pittsburgh Commerce and Industries, and the Natural Gas In-
terest, by George B. Hill, 1887, published by him and presented to the Bankers'
Association, at their convention in Pittsburgh in that year. Says the publication :

" In 1880 Prof. Caril after mentioning the enormous depth (three to five miles)
of the stratified rocks in western Pennsylvania said, ' the Silurian and Devonian
rocks lie at a depth which we may reasonably suppose would subject them to a de-
gree of heat competent to all requirements of spontaneous distillation of gas. * *
* * The great bituminous coal basin of Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, under
which the Silurian rocks plunge from the east and northeast to appear again as
they come up and fold over the Cincinatti anticlinal on the west, seems to be, so to
speak, one vast caldron filled with deeply buried carbonaceous matter, subject to
great heat, and, therefore, constantly generating gas.'

"This was gospel in 1880, and^the writer believes there has been no reason to
doubt Prof. Caril's conclusions since that time. Why should all the gasses from
the fossiliferous series of rocks, extending to the depth of three to five miles, have
concentrated itself into one or two of the strata near the top ? If the gas is no
longer generating but gradually wasting from the topmost layers, the greatest
pressure would be near the top ; but as a matter of fact the deeper our wells go
the stronger the pressure and the more durable the individual wells.


" One thing appears to be clearly established, and that is, the gas wells bored
into the great cyncline west of the Allegheny mountains, and parallel with that
range, promise lo last longer where the cyncline is deepest, and Pittsburgh is over
the deepest part. It it not difficult to conceive that the fossils of animal and vege-
table life contained in a series of strata three miles thick would certainly yield a
heat-producing capacity in gas equalling one layer of coal five feet thick. Imagine
three miles of such rocks squeezed together for its gas product, the result should
equal the calorific value of such a single coal vein. Yet the Pittsburgh vein of
coal is only that thick, but still it is properly referred to as inexhaustable.

" But as in the case of coal, so in the case of natural gas. We may in the fu-
ture have to go deeper to obtain it, but it may be relied upon that improved
methods of working for it, the result of gradually acquired experience, will ever
be rewarded with success. At present we are simply skimming the surface for
' gas nuggets ' near Pittsburgh, and so far the Murray ville and Canonsburg * placers,*
so to speak, are so rich that we have no object in exploring much beyond or deeper

For the information of the casual reader who may desire it, a few other items
touching the procuring of natural gas is given.

The oil sands are chiefly the tankage in which so far this gas is obtained, simi-
lar in character to those at Tarentum and Leechburg. The depth varies
from 1,200 feet at Leechburg, Armstrong county, to about 1,700 feet at Murrays-
ville, Westmoreland county; 2,100 feet at the McGuigan well, Washington county
and about the same depth at the Jones & Laughlin well in the city of Pittsburgh.
In the Washington county field at Canonsburg there seems to be three distinct gas
sands; one at 1,200 feet, the conglomerate strata proper; below that the 1,750 feet
strata of the Murraysville district; and below that the 2,100 feet strata of the
McGuigan well. In the Canonsburg district there seems to be no water in the
1,200 foot conglomerate, as there is in other sections. At Baden, Beaver county,
the gas is struck in the conglomerate at 1,500 to 1,700 feet ; and there is another
sand, at about 260 feet below this, from which the wells at Economy, in the same
county, obtain their flow.

The cost of drilling a well varies from $3,000 to $6,000, according to the depth.
From forty to sixty days are required to drill a well. The largest well ever struck
so far, so far as known, flowed 15,000,000 cubic feet a day. The largest found at
Findlay, O., was said to have produced at first 14,000,000 feet, but only yielded,
4,000,000 according to expert testimony. A thousand cubic feet of natural gas is
claimed to be worth as much for ordinary mill purposes as 1,500 feet of the best
coal gas. As to the exhaustion the quotation given from Geo. B. Hill's brochure is
quite satisfactory, that if it ever does occur it will be in the far distant years.




Oil Trade in Allegheny County.

The oil trade of Pittsburgh is a story that for nearly thirty years has been re-
peated often in all shapes and by all classes of writers. Its minor incidents are
many, but chiefly of a personal nature interesting only to a limited circle, relating
as they do to ebbs and flows of fortune, and not pertinent to any general narrative.
Beyond some additional statistics there is little or nothing to add to the history of
the petroleum industry.

The primaries of this trade are as largely controlled in Pittsburgh as in former
years, in most respects the city is still the head of the market. The direct refining
business of Pittsburgh has decreased in the number of refineries, but that is attrib-
utable to evolutions of trade that occur in all great commercial interests. With
the increasing exportation of petroleums the question of transportation and econ-
omies therein became factors in the trade, with the result of the creation of pipe
lines by which the oil was piped to the seaboard. Under the same factors the
number of refineries at Pittsburgh have decreased, and also from that inherent
characteristic of all business that leads to concentration from economical reasons
as capital therein accumulates. This has, to a considerable extent, been the case
in the refining of petroleum at Pittsburgh, and is a perfectly natural business
cause — one that will probably continue to produce concentrative results until such
times arrive when, to use an old homely adage, "big fishes cease to swallow little
ones." Under this and the natural business evolutions before cited, there has been
a decrease in some of the divisions of the oil trade of Pittsburgh in the past years
and in others progress. Yet, as a whole, it is probable that Pittsburgh is as great
an oil centre as at any previous period of the petroleum production and the sober
undercurrent of the oil trade is as well systematized and sedate as any other stan-
dard business of the country. Under the opening of new territory populations
rapidly concentrate thereon, and dissipate as quickly as the wells exhaust, creating
a constant ebb and flow of business interests at such points, but all reflective of and
to some chief center. Such has been the position of Pittsburgh in reference to the
oil trade for the past quarter of a century, and such is her status to-day, which
the new petroleum producing fields in Allegheny, Washington, Butler and Greene
counties of the present date go far to strengthen. In all the various " hygerias "
from one producing field to another, Pittsburgh has still been the great supply
point of capital and machinery for developments, and the dominator of the market
price, and thus virtually the central oil niarket, and to-day the largest factor in its
condition is at Pittsburgh.

After a quarter of a century of oil trade, with its depressions and "red letter
days," it seems as if the new fields now beginning to yield might renew the ex-
citements of the earlier petroleum fever. That they would is quite probable, but
the experience of twenty-five years has given more system to the boring for petro-
leum, and there is method now-a-days in the madness of the oil fever.


The earlier years of the petroleum mining — if that term may be used for oil —
was one of a speculative character, touching almost the verge of gambling. The
natural geological peculiarities of the oil region, the lay of the oil bearing sand
stones, and all the "metes and bounds" that in any legitimate business give stand-
ard character to its prosecution, were wanting. To-day the boring for oil and the
constitution of the production of crude and refined oil is on the basis of a legiti-
mate business. The experience of the past has formulated the depths of the
earth through which the well is sunk, and given intelligence to each strata of sand
through which the drill passes, so that he who bores may read. Exploration and
test have mapped the underground currents of oil almost as accurately as the sur-
veyor the water courses on the surface ; and the purchase of territory or the sink-
ing of a well is to-day undertaken with a reasonable degree of assurance, almost
approaching that with which the mining for other minerals is prosecuted.

The production of petroleum in Western Pennsylvania is generally accepted
as having resulted in adding greatly to the wealth of the country, but this is
rather a vague "of course belief," without knowledge of the statistics thereof, ex-
cept by those immediately in the trade. A few figures, exhibiting the business,
will not be amiss.

From 1859 until 1884, a quarter of a century, there were 38,182 wells drilled
in the oil regions of Western Pennsylvania. The total cost of these wells is stated
at $170,945,100. The total production during that period of twenty-five years is
given at 10,232,204,072 gallons, or 243,647,716 barrels, or an average production of
46,515 gallons, or over 1,100 barrels, every hour for all the days and nights of a
quarter of a century. Representing in its market value, as computed at the average
price during those years, of 1431,220,220, or $20,000 of value for every hour of the
night or day of the entire quarter of a century, in which Pittsburgh has been looked
to and spoken of as the center of the oil trade. The same ratio of statistics are
continued to the present date.

It seems singular that Pittsburgh should have been within hand's reach, as
may be said, of such wealth, and aware of its existence for years, and yet failed to
benefit by a development of it at an earlier period. And the same singularity is
noted in the development of the gas-fuel industries. At some future day this fact
will be classed among the singularities of commerce, as well as the fact that while
the same substance had been freely obtained in other quarters of the globe for
many years, it remained for the development of the oil regions of Pennsylvania to

Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Henry) ThurstonAllegheny county's hundred years → online text (page 28 of 43)