Prior to the Civil War, most homes and businesses burned coal gas. It was easy to manufacture and safe to use. After the Civil War, kerosene became popular as a fuel for lamps. Both coal gas and kerosene were in high demand, and new supplies of fuel were needed. Natural gas was prevalent in the United States, but at the time, no one had developed an effective means of using the resource. It was highly flammable and quite hazardous.
In Indiana, one of the earliest discoveries of natural gas occurred in 1867, when G. Bates discovered a supply of natural gas while drilling for oil. However, since commercial markets had no use for the gas at the time, the well was simply filled in.
By the 1880s, production methods had developed to utilize natural gas as a fuel. On January 20, 1886, a huge supply of natural gas was developed near Findlay, Ohio. The Great Karg Well produced 20 million cubic feet per day. Pressure was so great that a huge plume of fire burned for four months. Visitors flocked to Findlay to see the tall flames.
Inspired by Findlay’s success, Henry Sees decided to try drilling for natural gas in Portland, Indiana. He found some investors and in March 1886, they formed the Eureka Gas and Oil Company. On March 28, 1886, the company hit natural gas. Townspeople crowded the area to view the 8-foot-tall blaze.
A few months later in Delaware County, Indiana, Civil War veteran Almeron Crannel discovered gas and developed a significant commercial well. This site would later erroneously be referred to as Indiana’s first commercial gas well.
By April 1887, five miles of pipeline had been completed in Portland. Natural gas floated to local homes and businesses. Town officials began offering free gas to manufacturers who moved their factories to Portland.
Natural gas wells began to crop up all over Central Indiana in an area that became known as the Trenton Gas Field. The wells crossed 17 Indiana counties and over 2500 miles. It was the largest natural gas field in the country at that time. By 1890, there were over 200 companies in Indiana involved in natural gas discovery and production.
The gas boom became a boon to small Indiana towns. Gas was plentiful and cheap. Rapid growth followed, as companies flocked to the area. Nearby cities like Muncie and Kokomo offered generous incentives to companies willing to relocate.
Towns people assumed that the supply of natural gas was limitless. However, about 90% of the resource was lost due to inefficient tapping. Even more loss resulted from careless use. By 1902, natural gas supplies had dwindled and the boom ended. By 1913, Indiana was importing its natural gas from other states.
While the gas boom was short-lived, it had a huge impact on the Hoosier state. The resulting industrialization brought prosperity to many of the state’s towns and cities and lead to the relocation of major factories to Indiana.