Horace Horton’s Spheres

Chicago Bridge & Iron Company erected a spherical pressure vessel in 1923.

 

Seen from the highway, they look like giant eggs or perhaps fanciful Disney architectural projects. A Chicago bridge builder invented the distinctive high-pressure storage globes, once constructed by riveting together wrought iron plates.

Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) officially named their “Hortonspheres” (also called Horton spheres) after Horace Ebenezer Horton, the company founder and inventor of the round vessels. His creation of a highly efficient storage tank was one of the great innovations to come to the oil patch.

A row of giant, white Hortonspheres for storing LNG.

Hortonspheres, the trademarked name of many containers like these, were invented by a bridge builder.

Horton (1843-1912), the son of a successful Rochester, New York, real estate developer, grew up in Chicago. Skilled in mechanical engineering, he was 46 years old when he formed CB&I in 1889. His company had built seven bridges across the Mississippi River when its Washington Heights, Illinois, fabrication plant expanded into the manufacture of water tanks.

Patent drawing of a Hortonsphere and its support pylons.

Horace Ebenezer Horton (1843-1912) founded the company that would build the world’s first “field-erected spherical pressure vessel.”

CB&I erected its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1892, according to the company, which notes that “the elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations.”

When Horton died in 1912, his company was just getting started. Soon, the company’s elevated tank towers were providing efficient water storage and pipeline pressure that benefited many cities and towns. CB&I’s first elevated “Watersphere” tank was completed in 1939 in Longmont, Colorado.

Improved Metal Structures

The company had brought its steel plate engineering expertise to the oil and natural gas industry as early as 1919, when it built a petroleum tank farm in Glenrock, Wyoming, for Sinclair Refining Company (formed by Harry Sinclair in 1916).

Horace E. Horton designed spherical storage vessels called Hortonspheres

Horace E. Horton designed spherical storage vessels for his Chicago Bridge & Iron Company. Photo courtesy CB&I.

CB&I’s innovative steel plate structures and its tank building technologies proved a great success. The company left bridge building entirely to supply the petroleum infrastructure market. Newly discovered oilfields in Ranger, Texas, in 1917 and Seminole, Oklahoma, in the 1920s were straining the nation’s petroleum storage capacity.

In the Permian Basin, a West Texas company desperate to store soaring oil production constructed an experimental tank designed to hold up to five million barrels of oil. An vast, experimental structure in Monahans used concrete-coated earthen walls 30 feet tall and covered with a cedar roof to slow evaporation.

But the Monahans oil tank’s seams leaked and the storage attempt was abandoned. The concrete oval today is home to the Million Barrel Museum.

Chicago Bridge and Iron Company 1912 sales book with Hotonspheres.

A spherically bottomed water tower shown in the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company 1912 sales book.

By 1923, CB&I’s storage innovations like its “floating roof” oil tank had greatly increased safety and profitability as well as setting industry standards. That year the company built its first Hortonsphere in Port Arthur, Texas.

Soon, pressure vessels of all sizes were being used for storage of compressed gases such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or propane and butane. Hortonspheres also hold liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced by cooling natural gas at atmospheric pressure to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it liquefies.

In one of engineering’s finest examples of form following function, a sphere is the theoretical ideal shape for a vessel that resists internal pressure.

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In the first Port Arthur installation and up until about 1941, the component steel plates were riveted; thereafter, welding allowed for increased pressures and vessel sizes. As metallurgy and welding advances brought tremendous gains in Hortonspheres’ holding capacities, they also have proven to be an essential part of the modern petroleum refining business.

CB&I constructed fractionating towers for many petroleum refineries, beginning with Standard Oil of Louisiana at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1930. The company also built a giant, all-welded 80,000 barrel oil storage tank in New Jersey.

Since 1923, Chicago Bridge & Iron has fabricated more than 3,500 Hortonspheres for worldwide markets in capacities reaching more than three million gallons. The company today says it continues to be the leading spherical storage container builder worldwide.

Poughkeepsie Hortonsphere

Fascinated by geodesic domes and similar structures, Jeff Buster discovered a vintage Hortonsphere in Poughkeepsie, New York. In 2012 he contacted the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

A Hortonsphere viewed in 2012 in Poughkeepsie, New York.

A Hortonsphere viewed in 2012 from the “Walkway over the Hudson” in Poughkeepsie, New York. Photo courtesy Jeff Buster.

Buster wanted the agency to save Horton’s sphere at at the corner of Dutchess and North Water streets. He asked that an effort be made “to preserve this beautiful and unique ‘form following function’ structure, which is in immediate risk of being demolished.”

Buster posted a photo of the Poughkeepsie Hortonsphere on a website devoted to geodesic domes. “The jig saw pattern of steel plates assembled into this sphere is unique,” he wrote.

“The lay-out pattern is repeated four times around the vertical axis of the tank,” Buster added. “With the rivets detailing the seams, the sphere is extremely cool and organic feeling.”

Although the steel tank, owned by Central Hudson Gas and Electric Company, was demolished in late 2013, Buster’s photo helps preserve its oil patch legacy.

Spheres at Sea

Sphere technology became seaborn as well. On February 20, 1959, after a three-week voyage, the Methane Pioneer — the world’s first LNG tanker – arrived at the world’s first LNG terminal at Canvey Island, England, from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Modern LNG tankers are massive and doubled hulled.

The Methane Pioneer, a converted World War II liberty freighter, contained five, 7,000-barrel aluminum tanks supported by balsa wood and insulated with plywood and urethane. The successful voyage demonstrated that large quantities of liquefied natural gas could be transported safely across the ocean.

Most modern LNG carriers have between four and six tanks on the vessel. New classes have a cargo capacity of between 7.4 million cubic feet and 9.4 million cubic feet. They are equipped with their own re-liquefaction plant. In 2015 — about 100 years after Horace Ebenezer Horton died — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced it was building next-generation LNG carriers to transport the shale gas produced in North America.

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Recommended Reading: The Extraction State, A History of Natural Gas in America (2021). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Horace Horton’s Spheres.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/hortonspheres/. Last Updated: September 19, 2021. Original Published Date: December 14, 2016.

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Flight of the Woolaroc

Phillips Petroleum makes aviation history in 1927 air race across Pacific.

 

Thanks to Frank Phillips, high-octane gas refined by Phillips Petroleum Company powered the “Woolaroc” monoplane to victory in a record-setting but deadly 1927 air race from California to Hawaii.  (more…)

First Car, First Road Trip

Bertha Benz’s 60-mile drive in 1888 made headlines for her husband’s fledgling auto company.

 

German mechanical engineer Karl Friedrich Benz invented and built a three-wheel “motorwagen,” today recognized as the world’s first car. His wife helped steer the company’s first marketing campaign.

Other inventors had experimented with electric and steam-powered vehicles. A gasoline powered engine had been placed placed on a pushcart in 1870, but is was Karl Benz who invented the modern car when he built his “Fahrzeug mit Gasmotorenbetrieb” (vehicle with gas engine) in Mannheim, Germany, in 1885.

Three-wheel first car with Bertha Benz driving it.

Just two years after Karl Benz applied for his patent, his wife Bertha in 1888 was the first person to drive his gas-powered motorwagen over a long distance, bringing worldwide attention…and sales.

Benz applied for an Imperial patent for his three-wheeled carriage powered by a one-cylinder, four-stroke gasoline engine on January 29, 1886. The Benz patent is recognized as the world’s first for a practical internal combustion engine powered automobile.

Although there had already been “auto-mobiles,” Benz used the internal combustion engine as the drive system for a “self-mover,” notes a Mercedes Benz company historian. “He presented his stroke of genius at the Imperial Patent Office – the car was born.” Since he soon built several identical three-wheeled vehicles, Benz also has been credited with first “production car” in history.

Born in 1844 in Baden Muehlburg, Benz founded a “Iron Foundry and Machine Shop” in 1871, He received his first engine patent in 1879. His remarkable 1886 engine – with a displacement of 0.954 of a liter – “anticipated elements still found in every internal combustion engine to this day: a crankshaft with balance weights, electric ignition and water cooling: enough to generate 0.55 kW and a top speed of 16 km/h, virtually corresponding to the power of a whole horse.”

It would not be long before his wife – from a wealthy German family who had earlier used her dowry to help Benz – made headlines driving his new automobile.

Bertha’s Historic Road Trip

Thirty-nine-year-old Bertha Benz made history on August 12, 1888 (History.com says August 5), “when she became the first person to complete a long-distance trip by automobile,” proclaims. “The trip helped popularize Karl Benz’s latest invention—and likely saved him from professional and financial ruin.”

Bertha reportedly drove away with the “Model III Patent Motorwagen” without her husband’s permission, although she left a note saying she was taking their two young sons to visit her mother in Pforzheim. Her route from their home in Mannheim was about 60 miles. The drive, which included stops at apothecary shops to buy a petroleum solvent needed keep the car running, took about 15 hours. She returned home three days later.

“The value of the journey to the fledgling car company that would in time become Mercedes-Benz is hard to quantify properly, but she surely helped to ensure that by the end of the century it was the largest car company in the world,” concluded a 2013 article in The Telegraph.

“Bertha’s journey proved many things, not least that a woman was every bit as capable of handling one of these newfangled contraptions as a man,” the article also noted. “Today you can go to Mannheim and retrace her steps by following the signs of the Bertha Benz Memorial Route.”

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According to Mary Bellis  in her 1903 “Biography of Karl Benz,” Benz retired from Benz & Company after his designs became outdated by inventions by Gottlieb Daimler. Daimler (together with his design partner Wilhelm Maybach) in 1885 had taken the internal combustion engine “a step further and patented what is generally recognized as the prototype of the modern gas engine,” noted Bellis.

Karl Benz would serve as a member of the supervisory board of Daimler-Benz AG from 1926, when the company was formed, until his death in 1929. Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 as the first female automotive pioneer.

In America, Charles Duryea claimed the first U.S. patent for a gasoline automobile in 1895. One year later, Henry Ford sold his first “quadri-cycle,” creating the auto industry. By the turn of the century, about 8,000 vehicles shared mostly unpaved roads with horses and wagons. In New York City public workers removed 450,000 tons of horse manure every year.

Read about a November 1900 event in Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.


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Recommended Reading:  Bertha Takes a Drive: How the Benz Automobile Changed the World (2017). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join AOGHS and help maintain this energy education website, expand historical research, and extend public outreach. For annual sponsorship information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Car, First Road Trip.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/benz-patents-first-car. Last Updated: January 25, 2020. Original Published Date: September 15, 2015.

 

America on the Move

Smithsonian’s Transportation Hall includes an oilfield service truck among petroleum-related exhibits.

 

A popular Smithsonian Institution exhibition includes a variety of themes aimed at educating visitors about transportation in American history. Opened in 2003, the museum hall includes classic and early autos, a locomotive, and a Route 66 exhibit with a oilfield service truck from Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Route 66 exhibit in Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

An exhibit about the history of Route 66 — commissioned in 1926 and fully paved by the late 1930s — is part of the Transportation Hall at the National Museum of American History. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Opened after a $22 million renovation, the Transportation Hall of the National Museum of American History is 26,000 square feet — with more than 340 historic objects. The Washington, D.C., attraction features 19 settings in chronological order. They reflect the nation’s historic relation with great and small roadways.

America on the Move

The Smithsonian’s exhibit includes the history behind creation of the interstate highway system. Photo by Bruce Wells.

“America on the Move” features the Smithsonian Institution’s extensive transportation collection using the latest multimedia technology – and a massive locomotive. The exhibition “brings back to life the history of ships, trains, trucks, and automobiles. It also reveals America’s fascination with life on the road.” (more…)

Wayne’s Self-Measuring Pump

From kerosene to gasoline, an 1892 Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Company dispenser preserves petroleum history.

 

Wayne D. Lease of White Salmon, Washington, owns a rare 1892 pump designed to dispense kerosene. The self-measuring device was one of just 50 manufactured by the Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Company during its first year of business in Wayne, Indiana. Lease is looking for more information about his petroleum technology artifact.

Originally designed for selling kerosene at mercantile stores, Lease’s Wayne company self-measuring pump was later adapted for dispensing gasoline instead of kerosene, according to its current owner.

Original 1892 Wayne Oil Tank Company pump.

Original 1892 Wayne Oil Tank Company pump, one of just 50 manufactured to dispense kerosene during the company’s first year of business in Wayne, Indiana.

“My research indicates the Wayne pump was never manufactured to be used for gasoline, but rather kerosene only,” Lease noted in a December 2020 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. He explained that many researchers of gasoline service station pumps have overlooked Wayne and other manufacturers’ altered pumps, “best defined as an ‘after strike,’ which allowed the use in the transfer of the more volatile gasoline.”

The rare pump’s vender made good use of what had become obsolete, Lease added.

The original Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Company design was limited to the specific use of kerosene as a lamp fuel, Lease explained. Kerosene was sold in the general stores of rural America, where stores were often found at stage coach stops 15 miles to 25 miles apart.

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Kerosene lamp fuel would be joined by a new transportation fuel in the early 1900s, gasoline for autos. “Small cities now become the hub of commerce on a larger scale with the introduction of the combustion engine,” he added. Kerosene would succumb to the Rural Electrification Act (1936) as gasoline became the U.S. consumer’s primary need.

Original 1892 Wayne Oil Tank Company pump, one of just 50 manufactured to dispense kerosene during the company's first year of business in Wayne, Indiana.

Detailed Wayne pump measurement scale for accurate dispensing of kerosene and later, gasoline.

“The Wayne pump, one of fifty made in1892, was then certified for the use of the transfer of Gasoline, and the vender made good use of what had become obsolete,” the amateur pump historian concluded in his 2020 email to AOGHS. He continues to research more information about the pump.

“It is in immaculate condition as you can see by the photographs, Lease noted in his email to AOGHS. He is seeking more information about the pump…and a potential petroleum museum interested in adding the Wayne pump to its collection.  Comments are welcomed below.

Learn more U.S. petroleum history in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

Wayne Fueling Systems

History from the former Wayne Oil Tank Company, today still operating as Wayne Fueling Systems:

Wayne has been shaping the retail and fleet fueling industry since we designed our first pump in 1891.  We were known as the Wayne Oil Tank Company back then, and from the very beginning we were developing a reputation for quality.

View of trade show display for Wayne Oil Tank and Pump Company equipment.

Trade show display for Wayne Oil Tank and Pump Company equipment, showing gasoline and oil pumps. Sign for Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Co. in background. Handwritten note on back: “Service stations, 1910. Gasoline pump.” Photo courtesy Detroit Public Library.

In fact, this inaugural product won the distinction “The Best Self Measuring Oil Pump” at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago just two years later. Once the motor vehicle entered the scene, our purpose and mission was solidified – to create a reliable, accurate way for motorists to refuel cars...Learn more at About Wayne Fueling Systems.

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Recommended Reading: Pump and Circumstance: Glory Days of the Gas Station (1993). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Riches of Merriman Baptist Church.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/oil-riches-of-merriman-baptist-church. Last Updated: July 19, 2021. Original Published Date: July 14, 2021. 

 

Trans-Alaska Pipeline History

North Slope oil began moving through the 800-mile pipeline system in 1977.

 

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, designed and constructed to carry billions of barrels of North Slope oil to the port of Valdez, has been recognized as a landmark of engineering. The first barrel of oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield would arrive at the Port of Valdez on July 28, 1977, after a 38-day, 800-mile journey.

With the laying of the first section of pipe on March 27, 1975, construction began on what at the time was the largest private construction project in American history. 

A tie-breaking, deciding vote in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Spiro Agnew had passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act on July 17, 1973. Years of debate about the project’s environmental impact escalated. Concerns were raised about earthquakes and elk migrations.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline illustration of zig-zag design and heaters.

The Alaskan Pipeline system’s 420-miles above ground segments are built in a zig-zag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe.

The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, including pumping stations, connecting pipelines, and the ice-free Valdez Marine Terminal, ended up costing billions. The last pipeline weld was completed on May 31, 1977.

On June 20, 1977, oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay field began flowing to the port of Valdez at four miles an hour through the 48-inch-wide pipe. It arrived at the port eight days later.

The completed pipeline system, at a cost of $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations, will transport about 20 percent of U.S. petroleum production. Tax revenues alone earned Alaskans about $50 billion by 2002.

Special engineering was required to protect the environment in difficult construction conditions, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Details about the pipeline’s history include:

  • Oil was first discovered in Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope in 1968.
  • Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was established in 1970 to design, construct, operate and maintain the pipeline.
  • The state of Alaska entered into a right-of-way agreement on May 3, 1974; the lease was renewed in November of 2002.
  • Thickness of the pipeline wall: .462 inches (466 miles) & .562 inches (334 miles).
  • The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System cross the ranges of the Central Arctic heard on the North Slope and the Nelchina Herd in the Copper River Basin.
  • The Valdez Terminal covers 1,000 acres and has facilities for crude oil metering, storage, transfer and loading.
  • The pipeline project involved some 70,000 workers from 1969 through 1977.
  • The first pipe of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was laid on March 27, 1975. Last weld was completed May 31, 1977.
  • The pipeline is often referred to as “TAPS” – an acronym for the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
  • More than 170 bird species have been identified along the pipeline.
  • First oil moved through the pipeline on June 20, 1977.
  • 71 gate valves can block oil flow in either direction on the pipeline.
  • First tanker to carry crude oil from Valdez: ARCO Juneau, August 1, 1977.
  • Maximum daily throughput was 2,145,297 on January 14, 1988.
  • The pipeline is inspected and regulated by the State Pipeline Coordinator’s Office.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline maps with pumping stations 1 to 12.

The Alaskan pipeline brings North Slope production to tankers at the port of Valdez. Map courtesy USGS.

More than 28,000 people worked directly on the pipeline at the peak of its construction in the fall of 1975.

Thirty-one construction camps, built on gravel to insulate and help prevent pollution to the underlying permafrost, are built along the route.

Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes.

Anchor structures, 700 feet to 1,800 feet apart, hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two each, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.”

The first tanker carrying North Slope oil from the new pipeline sails out of the Valdez Marine Terminal on August 1, 1977. By 2010, the pipeline will have carried about 16 billion barrels of oil.

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According to the Energy Information Administration, Alaska’s oil production peaked in 1988 at 738 million barrels, about 25 percent of U.S. oil production. In 2013, it was nearly 188 million barrels, or about seven percent of total U.S. production.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline today has been recognized as a landmark engineering feat. It remains essential to Alaska’s economy.

The Prudhoe Bay field was discovered in March 1968 by Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) and Exxon 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The first Alaska oil well with commercial production was completed in 1902 in a region where oil seeps had been known for years. The Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate produced the oil near the remote settlement of Katalla on Alaska’s southern coastline. The oilfield there also led to construction of Alaska Territory’s first refinery.

For U.S. petroleum pipeline history during World War Two, see Big Inch Pipelines of WW II and PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WWII.

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Recommended Reading:  The Great Alaska Pipeline (1988);  Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/trans-alaska-pipeline. Last Updated: June 10 20201. Original Published Date: June 20, 2015.

 

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