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City Gas Co.: 1913

City Gas Co.: 1913

        In the days before the long-distance transmission of natural gas, municipalities had their own plants where coal was heated to make what was called "city gas" or "illuminating gas."

March 31, 1913. "Construction of gas holder, Detroit City Gas Company." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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These storage vessels were called gasometers and consisted of multiple sections that rode inside of each other and rose and fell to maintain the service pressure as the the gas was used.

The gas went under many names including water gas, illuminating gas and producers gas. It was manufactured by heating coal in a closed retort and passing high pressure steam through the coal bed. The gas it produced was a mixture of methane and carbon monoxide it was far more dangerous than natural gas in the event of a leak.

All the sites where this gas was produced are super fund sites as one of the many toxic byproducts of the process was benzene which typically leaked into the ground.

Gas runs in my family

My great-grandfather worked for one such company in Newark, NJ when, in 1903, it became part of the Public Service (NJ) family of gas, electric and transport utilities at the conglomerate's inception; over 100 companies were merged into the startup in a single transaction. Several coal-blackened faces are seen in the accompanying photo (my forebear in the inset), but at the end of the shift, he'd clean up and change into jacket and tie for the streetcar ride home, as all respectable gents would do. Two more generations of family members -- my great-uncles and aunt -- would find employment there, although none quite so dirty as he.

It took me a while- -

but I did figure out the odd rivet designs on the tank, triple riveting covers both sides of the overlap steel plating.

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