“I live in the real world where men sell propane and propane accessories.”
King of the Hill’s character Hank Hill brought propane and propane accessories front of mind in modern pop culture. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ve probably heard Hank pay homage to the “father of modern propane,” Dr. Walter O. Snelling. Today we’re going to take a look back at just how Dr. Snelling discovered propane.
The Father of Propane
Walter O. Snelling (b. December 13, 1880 – d. September 10, 1965) was a doctor of Chemistry and held degrees from some of our nation’s most prestigious schools including Harvard University. Dr. Snelling consulted with the U.S. Bureau of Mines as a chemist and explosives expert and made a name for himself in the early 20th century by developing an underwater explosive detonator. His detonator saved the American government a considerable sum of money during the construction of the Panama Canal.
The Discovery of Propane
In 1912, after hearing a man complain of gas vapors leaking from his new Ford Model T, Dr. Snelling decided to investigate. He took a glass jug with gasoline and corked it. While transporting the jug, he noticed the cork kept popping out. This single observation eventually led to the discovery of propane. Upon examining the vapors, Dr. Snelling realized that they could be used as an energy source. He discovered that once the propane component was controlled, this versatile fuel could be safely used for many purposes from cooking to cutting metal cutting, and from there, the many benefits of propane continued to evolve.
The Birth of American Gasol Co.
A few years later in 1912, Dr. Snelling and his colleagues Frank P. Peterson, Chester Kerr, and Arthur Kerr created the first propane sales venue when they founded the American Gasol Co. This company was the first commercial marketer of propane. Dr. Snelling was granted a patent for his method of producing and processing propane.
Selling the Patent for Propane
Even though Dr. Snelling was a brilliant man with a passion for science and invention (he held close to 200 patents), it seems he was not as interested in the entrepreneurial side of the propane industry. In 1913, he sold this patent to the founder of Phillips Petroleum Co., Frank Phillips, for 50,000 dollars. Phillips was already established in the oil industry and the purchase of this patent allowed his company to bring Dr. Snelling’s propane discovery into homes, businesses, and yes, even pop culture across the country.
The 20th Century Expansion of the Propane Industry
Propane has a relatively short history. It wasn’t discovered until 1912, but over its first century, it quickly became a go-to fuel due to its vast benefits. Here is a short history of propane, leading up to the design and manufacture of STONEKOR’s expansive line of propane-powered machinery.
1920s: The Bureau of Mines began tracking the sale of propane in the United States, which totaled 223,000 gallons in 1922. That number almost doubled over the next three years. Phillips Petroleum (known as ConocoPhillips today) started researching the use of propane in domestic appliances and gas equipment. By the end of the decade, aggressive sales and marketing strategies paid off, demonstrated by the fact that national propane sales reached 10 million gallons by 1929
1930s: This decade saw not only the expansion of the propane industry, but also its commitment to safety. The birth of the first propane industry trade group occurred when the National Bottled Gas Association was founded in 1931. Propane-fueled appliances became more common during this time. A propane odorant was created in order to make the detection of leaks easier. In 1934, national sales of propane reached an impressive 56 million gallons. Twenty-pound propane cylinders, similar to those we use today for grilling, were introduced in 1936, consequently improving propane’s portability.
1940s: After World War II, the country saw a great deal of growth and innovation throughout the industry. Propane sales reached a remarkable one billion gallons. This decade saw either natural gas or propane ranges in over half the homes in the United States. The first propane-fueled clothes dryer reached the marketplace. In 1947, the first seafaring propane tanker was also introduced. The SS Natalie O. Warren could transport 1.4 million gallons of propane in each voyage.
1950s: This decade ushered in the expansion of propane use in both homes and businesses. Approximately 7.5 million propane installations took place on farms and in suburbs across the country. In 1950, one thousand propane-fueled buses were ordered by the Chicago Transit Authority. In 1958, national sales extended to 7 billion gallons annually.
1960s: As more families and businesses began to use propane, the transportation of LP gas became significant. By 1961, 13 million tanks were installed across the United States. The first 50,000-gallon tank car was produced for the transport of propane in 1963. Two years later, the General American Transport Corporation (GATX) built a 60,000 capacity tank car, which was the world’s largest propane tank car at the time. Chevrolet also announced four new truck engines intended for propane.
1970s & 80s: These decades addressed the commerce of propane more than anything else. In response to the Arab oil embargo, price controls were established for propane in the 1970s. Later in 1981, President Ronald Reagan lifted propane’s price controls.
1990s: As concern about the environment grew, it became clear that propane should be considered a smart alternative energy source. The 1990 Clean Air Act listed propane as just that. Later, it was touted as an alternative fuel in the Energy Policy Act of 1992. In 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) to promote the safe, efficient use of propane gas as a preferred energy source.
21st Century: Recognizing the differences in propane versus electric-powered machinery, STONEKOR set out to build a line of equipment that would rival its own reputation, and succeeded in becoming a forerunner in propane-powered concrete grinding and polishing equipment. The benefits of propane-powered machinery are many; propane-power offers superior mobility, cuts out the need for a generator and power cords, and allows operators to safely use equipment on wet surfaces without risk of electrocution.
Here at STONEKOR, we recognize the immense benefits propane-power lends machinery. We build our equipment so our customers realize safer, more efficient, and higher quality methods to cut or maintain concrete surfaces. We invite you to learn more about the advantages of using propane-powered equipment today.
Please call us at (800) 633-0519 or contact us to learn more about our propane equipment, including propane powered grinders, polishers and burnishers.