Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Northern Liberties Gas Company, 1838
50 Laurel Street, Philadelphia PA 19123
(south side between Canal and Front Street)

Roy E. Goodman and David G. Orr, Ph.D., Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The company was organized under an ordinance of the District of the Northern Liberties in 1838, with an authorized capital of $100,000, divided into shares of $50 each. In 1844 it was incorporated with its capital stock limited to $200,000. Its purpose was to ‘construct and maintain suitable works for the manufacture of high carburetted hydrogen gas from bituminous coal and other substances, for the purpose of public and private illumination in the district of the Northern Liberties, or in streets dividing that district from those opposite.’ 1
This plant is noteworthy because it was the first to extract gas from native supplies of bituminous coal along the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny rivers.
Inventor Joseph Battin was appointed superintendent of the Gas Works, by the Board of Managers of Northern Liberties in 1841. He contributed much to gas technology by perfecting a machine for breaking and screening coal in his own shop near the gas works. Battin obtained the first U.S. patent granted for a ‘coal-breaking machine’ in 1843. Further refinements on the breaker caused Pennsylvania coal land operators to sign lucrative agreements with him.
Northern Liberties remained the only private gas company after the 1854 Consolidation of the municipalities in Philadelphia County.
It operated until 1956 when the Philadelphia Gas Works absorbed it.

1   James Goodman, compiler. A Digest of the Acts of Assembly...of the Northern Liberties. (Philadelphia, 1853), pp. 118-127, esp. p. 125. See also Edward Pinkowski, "Joseph Battin: Father of the Coal Breaker," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 73, pp. 337-340.

Update May 2007 (by Torben Jenk):

See also:
Hexamer General Survey #2579 (1892) "Northern Liberties Gas Co.'s Works."