Natural Gas History
The Chinese discovered natural gas in 600 BC, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that natural gas pipelines were built for widespread use of natural gas in the United States. Here’s what happened in between.
Discovery of Gas (600 BC)
The ancient Chinese were the first to discover underground deposits of natural gas.
In 600 BC, Confucius wrote of wells 100 feet deep yielding water and natural gas
along the Tibetan border. The Chinese piped the gas to where it was needed through
long, hollow bamboo poles.
First Use of Natural Gas in
the Home (100 AD)
The first recorded use of natural gas in the home was in Persia (now Iran)
around the first century AD. Natural gas seeped out of the ground and was
ignited by lightning, producing a hot flame that burned continuously, day
and night. The King of Persia decided to take advantage of this "eternal flame."
But instead of having the gas piped to his home—like we do today—he built
his royal kitchen near the flame.
Natural Gas Use in America (1626)
Natural gas usage was identified in America as early as 1626,
when French explorers found Native Americans igniting gases
that were seeping into and around Lake Erie.
First Natural Gas Well in U.S. (1821)
In 1821, a gunsmith named William Hart drilled the first natural gas
well outside Fredonia, New York, near Lake Erie. He dug down 27 feet.
(Today's wells go down more than 30,000 feet!) Hart is considered by
many to be the "father of natural gas" in the United States. In 1858,
he formed the Fredonia Gas Light Company, the nation's first natural
Natural Gas Street Lights (1800s)
For most of the 1800s, natural gas was used as a fuel for lamps. There were
no pipelines to bring gas into individual buildings, so most of the gas went
to light city streets. After the 1890s, cities began using electricity for their
streetlights so gas producers began searching for new uses for their product.
First Natural Gas Pipeline in U.S. (1859)
In 1859, Colonel Edwin Drake drilled a 69-foot well in Pennsylvania
that struck natural gas and oil. Later, a 5½-mile-long, 2-inch-diameter
pipeline was constructed, running from the well to the town of Titusville.
Many consider this first gas transportation pipeline to be the start of
the natural gas industry in this country.
First Gas Burners (1885)
Ever heard of a Bunsen burner? Robert Bunsen was a German scientist
who made popular a burner that mixed air with natural gas, thus allowing
the natural gas flame to be regulated. This made it more convenient to
use natural gas for heating buildings and cooking.
Widespread Construction of Gas
Pipelines (1940s to Present)
Improvements in metals, pipe making, and welding techniques during
World War II made pipeline construction more economically attractive.
After the war, the nation began building its pipeline network. In the 1950s
and 1960s, thousands of miles of natural gas pipeline were constructed
throughout the United States. Today, this interstate pipeline system contains
over one million miles of pipe—enough to stretch to the moon and back twice.