The Father of Propane Slept Here

The former home of Walter O. Snelling, the father of propane, as seen today in Allentown, PA. (image: Pete Dybdahl)

In 1910, Walter O. Snelling was an explosives expert working for the government when, while studying a bubbly tank of gasoline, he discovered there were gases trapped in the liquid. He ran a few tests, and in short order, became the first man to distill propane.

He patented a technique for extracting the gas, and sold the method for $50,000 (or more than $1 million today) to the company that became Conoco-Phillips. In 1912, the first propane system was installed in the home of Snelling’s father-in-law.

If any man deserves the title “Father of Propane” it is Snelling. And a father he was. He married a woman 20 years younger, had seven children, and lived out his days in a brick Victorian house in Allentown, PA, shown above. (One son, Richard, later became the governor of Vermont.)

Built in 1909, the house sits on the edge of the city’s beautiful West Park. The Snellings bought it sometime between 1940 and 1941. Snelling lived in Allentown until his death in 1965, at the age of 84.