Propane was first identified by U.S. Bureau of Mines chemist and explosives expert Walter Snelling in 1912 when asked to investigate vapors coming from a new Model T’s gas tank. While returning to the lab he discovered that volatile vapors were forming in the jug he used to collect samples and were repeatedly causing the cork to pop out. At the lab he began experimenting with the gasses and separated propane from the other gasses and discovered some of its many uses. Snelling, along with Frank Peterson, Chester Kerr and Arthur Kerr formed the American Gasol Co. and became the first commercial propane company later that year. Both Snelling and Peterson produced different ways to produce propane and had their methods patented. Snelling sold his patent to Frank Phillips of the Phillips Petroleum Co. (now ConocoPhillips) for $50,000 in 1913. By 1927 one million gallons were being sold a year following the introduction of a new gas range produced by Phillips.
The 1930s saw an explosion of propane into the market. Special railroad cars were produced and local bottle-filling plants were introduced. As a result by 1935 over 56,000,000 gallons were being sold in the U.S. alone. Following World War II use exploded for use in cooking and production topped 1,000,000,000 gallons. Government regulation was introduced during the oil crises of the 1970s and the National Propane Association came into being as a trade association to stand up for the industry. Price controls were instituted for nearly a decade until removed by Ronald Reagan. Today the propane industry is a $10 billion a year industry and is used in over 8 million homes in the U.S. alone.
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