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City Gas: 1905

City Gas: 1905

Circa 1905. "Gas holder, Detroit City Gas Company." A familiar sight from the era of "city gas," when municipalities had their own gas plants in the days before long-distance transmission of natural gas. The telescoping sections rose or fell as "illuminating gas," which was made by heating coal, was put into or removed from the holder. 8x10 glass negative. View full size.


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Wow, popular topic!

I just wanted to add that modern tanks act as flow buffers, just like water towers. Instead of just storing locally made gas, they store a 'back-up' quantity of product to handle periods of high demand, but are fed by massive pipelines from distant plants.

Roll up the windows!

We passed two of these tanks en route to Grand-ma's Brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. But the associated cracking plants and their gas flare towers sent the pervasive stench of rotten eggs drifting over the county for miles around. We all held our noses and made rude noises until shushed by the adults.

Same in St. Louis

There was at least one of these on highway 64/40 in St. Louis that I used to pass daily on my commute. It would rise and fall and I always wondered what it was. I'd heard it was for natural gas but I never really understood, but now I do. Great photo- thanks for posting!

They could have preserved it

by turning it into a park, like we did here in Seattle.


Those Elmurst, NY, Gas Tanks were a staple for many Long Island Expressway Commuters. Traffic reporters would announce, with almost every daily (weekday) morning drive heading to The Queens-Midtown Tunnel, that the major tie-ups would be in the vicinity of the gas tanks. Incidentally, the tanks themselves rose and fell according the volume of gas in them.

An Illuminating Subject.

When I was young, not far from our home was a coking plant which had two huge gas holders of the type shown.

They would slowly rise as gas was produced and fall as gas consumption exceeded supply.

The adjacent gas works would emit an atomic cloud of steam as a coke oven was "pushed" and the glowing coke quenched by water before it was loaded into steel hopper cars.

On occasion a wood-sided hopper was used, the coke not completely quenched, and the resulting fire caused by the wind of the train's motion would burn thru the car side and a glowing lava of coke pour out as the train moved down the track.

Steel coke cars would sometimes glow in patches at night.

I do not know if there are any gas holders of this design left.

I would like to ride on top of one and watch it inch up by looking at the framework, and see it pause as the pressure inside had to increase to lift the next section.

I tell younger people about them and they do not grasp the idea of the telescoping sections at all, how the pressure inside, although low, was enough to lift the tons of metal the tanks sections were made of.

Other gas holders were circular and made with bricks, not rising nor falling.

The whole coke plant and the gas holders are long gone, ugly to be sure, being replaced with even UGLIER slumplexes of high-density housing.

Love em in London!

These things seem to inspire the same fond feelings as water towers. So big and matter of fact and useful! The number 8 gasometer down the road from me in King's Cross, London, is being zhuzhed up as part of the regeneration of the area. Hopefully they'll keep it a little bit weird and rusty.


I live in London, and you will still see these structures all over England and particularly in the large cities. We call them "Gasometers," and they are still part of the national grid for gas distribution.

Gas Holder Fun Facts

As my 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica states, "A gasworks should be sited with some care as it does not improve the neighborhood." Water was kept between the telescoping sections as a seal -- the internal pressure was not that great. Cincinnati, a town which has creatively repurposed its older infrastructure, has a gasworks park with creative "sculptures" made from the old apparatus.

Gas Tank Park

New York had dozens of these structures. Some of the most famous were the Elmhurst tanks. They were knocked down in the 1980s and now the site of Gas Tank Park. Near most of these structures were the gashouses which produced the illuminating gas -- sites often requiring remediation to remove the contaminant plumes of benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons which dripped into the ground.

Worried ?

Wonder if the people living next door ever worried about an explosion. That being said, I have never heard of one blowing up. Gas lines, yes. The neighbors most likely never had low pressure in their lines, at least.

A while back I was looking at some of these in Europe and UK online; some gas holders overseas have been converted to condominiums or apartment buildings!

Got gas?

Hi tterrace. That tank is now the site of the upscale Marina Safeway. However, its memory lives on in the name of the sailboat marina right across the street: Gas House Cove.

West coast gas

When I was growing up out here in California these things were a familiar sight in just about any city of a goodly size, even suburban San Rafael just to the north of us in Marin County. There was an enormous one in San Francisco up through the mid-1960s, at the east end of the Marina District. Here it is at the right in a section of a slide I took from across the bay near Sausalito in early 1965.


Got a light.

Oval Gas

Gasometers are still a feature of some British city skylines, one of the most high-profile being in the background of the Oval cricket ground in South London.

So THAT's what that thing was!

There was a framework that looked like this to the west of I-435 in Kansas City on the river bluffs - I wondered for years what it was. Thanks for clearing up that mystery!


I am mesmerized by those wires coming in from the upper right. I suppose they run behind the container and that it's only their shadow that continues perfectly across the front until diverted by the curve - but, as I study them, they play tricks on my brain jumping from foreground to background amongst the geometric shadows.

[The wires run across the photo in front of the tank. - Dave]

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