Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Philadelphia Gas Works, Station A, 1853
3100 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19145

John Mayer, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

Philadelphia's first gas works was built in 1836 at 22nd and Market Streets as a private venture but was soon taken over by the city when it proved successful. Gas works were subsequently built in the Northern Liberties, Manayunk, Germantown, and Kensington, and in 1853, at Point Breeze. Municipal control opened the way for political manipulation and abuse. To isolate the utility from corruption, management was passed to the United Gas Improvement Company during the 1880s, a period of municipal reform in Philadelphia. 1 In the 1930s, management passed back to the city, where it continues today under the Philadelphia Gas Works.
An increasing demand for gas by the early 1850s resulted in the construction of the gas works at Point Breeze. John Cresson, Chief Engineer of the Gas Works, designed the facility in a simple Gothic style. The plant consisted of four buildings: a retort house, where coal was distilled to make gas; a purifying house, where the gas was washed and refined; a meter house, where the gas was measured; and a gasholder, where the gas was stored prior to distribution. The purifying house and the meter house are still standing.
Production of gas at Point Breeze ended between 1950 and 1960 as natural gas from the Southwest became available. A large c.1910 gasholder continues to serve the South Philadelphia district for distribution. Elsewhere in the system, the Richmond Gas Works is a central distribution point for liquid natural gas to other gas works throughout the city.

1   Federal Writers’ Project, p. 138.
2   David G. Orr, “Philadelphia as Industrial Archaeological Artifact: A Case Study,” Historical Archaeology, Vol. 11, (1977). pp. 3-14.
3   Interview with George McKim, Plant Manager, Philadelphia Gas Works, November 16, 1989.

Update May 2007 (by Joel Spivak):
No change.