In 1910, a Pittsburgh motor car owner walked into chemist Dr. Walter Snelling's
office, complaining that the gallon of gasoline he had purchased was half a
gallon by the time he got home. He thought the government should look into why
consumers were being cheated because the gasoline was evaporating at a rapid and
expensive rate. Dr. Snelling took up the challenge and discovered the
evaporating gases were propane, butane and other hydrocarbons.
Using coils from an old hot water heater and other miscellaneous pieces of
laboratory equipment he could find, Dr. Snelling built a still that could
separate the gasoline into its liquid and gaseous components.
By 1912, propane gas was cooking food in the home. The first car powered by
propane ran in 1913, and by 1915 propane was being used in torches to cut
through metal. Propane was marketed for flame cutting and cooking applications
In 1927, the total sales of propane in the U. S. were more than one million
gallons, and after World War II the propane gas annual sales increased to more
than 15 billion gallons.
By the 1930s, the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) established and proposed a
set of recommendations to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In
1932, the first pamphlet of standards (No. 58) was adopted for publication.
When Dr. Snelling sold his propane patent to Frank Phillips, the founder of
Phillips Petroleum Company, his price was $50,000. Today, propane gas is an $8
billion industry in the United States alone and it is still growing.