Maple Syrup and Natural Gas - Murrysville PA History

Murrysville, PA is home to the nation's first commercial natural gas well, which remained the largest gas well in the world for many years. However, the origin of how this gas well, and the entire natural gas industry came to be is especially interesting, particularly to anyone who lives in Murrysville or enjoys maple syrup.  

The Haymaker brothers (Michael and Obediah) grew up in the Murrysville, PA area, and were working in the oil industry in Clarion County, PA in 1876.  Convinced there was oil in Murrysville in 1877 they leased farm land from Henry Remaley and constructed a wooden derrick and began drilling.  Overcoming many hardships and financial issues, the brothers finally broke through on November 3, 1878.  In the words of Michael Haymaker in a 1936 interview, 

"I'll never forget the day the well came in.  We were down 1400 feet.  Without the slightest warning, there was a terrific roar and rumble that was heard fifteen miles away.

Every piece of rigging went sky high, whirling around like so much paper caught in a gust of wind.

But, instead of oil, we had struck gas.  It was being shot out under such enormous pressure that it continued to shake the ground and roar for months, rattling windows for miles around.  You can't imagine the production at such pressure; we figured the production at 30,000,000 cubic feet/day.

That well was as rich as any drilled."
The well seeped gas uncontrolled for nearly 4-years, including a period where it burned as a 100-ft flame for 18-months.  Eventually it was controlled, and the brothers sold the well to Joseph Newton Pew and Edward Emerson.  Unfortunately Obediah Haymaker was murdered at the gas well site by parties disputing the sale and trying to take over the well.  Eventually, 18 miles of steel pipe was constructed, and natural gas was commercially supplied to the homes and industries of Pittsburgh, PA.  

So what role did maple syrup play in the discovery of one of the largest supplies of natural gas and the dawning of the commercial natural gas industry, that today supplies energy to homes and industries worldwide?   The Haymaker's were convinced there was oil in Murrysville along Turtle Creek because they had seen a neighbor, Josh Cooper, using a gas seep to boil his maple sap.  

There was no oil, just gas - but Michael Haymaker began to realize the commercial opportunities were huge: 
"Of course, we were disappointed in not getting oil.  Then in my mind's eye, I again saw Josh Cooper and his pot of maple syrup on Turtle Creek, using free gas for his fire.  The dream grew and I saw a whole nation, the world, cooking on stoves supplied by pipes coming out of the walls in kitchens; housing and buildings, theaters, and factories lighted by gas lamps suspended from ceilings; city lights brightening streets after nightfall."
Isn't it an interesting twist of fate that maple syrup would lead to the commercialization of one of the worlds largest energy sources?  So as you enjoy your syrup, remember Josh Cooper, the Haymaker brothers who sacrificed greatly, and the story of how commercially available natural gas came to be. 

Image source: AOGHS

Image source: AOGHS

  1. Natural Gas is King In Pittsburgh. American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS).
  2. Murrysville is Location of Famed Well. Michael Haymaker. Sun Oil Company's 'Our Oil', 1936. Reprinted in 'Penn-Franklin News', Volume 9, Number 41, November 10, 1955 and 'A History of Murrysville Franklin Township And My Family' by Charles A. Hall, August 2003.


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