Pew and Emerson - Early Oil Region, Men and The Peoples Natural Gas Co.

Oct 05, 2007 | Posted in Essays, People

In 1903, Standard Oil’s National Transit Co. acquired 100% of The Peoples Natural Gas Co. in Pittsburgh. Calvin Payne of Titusville, and Vice President of the National Transit Co., was named the new President of Peoples. Christy Payne, his son, was named the Secretary. Young John G. Pew was named the Assistant Manager. The founders and incorporators of the Peoples Natural Gas Co. were John Newton Pew of Pittsburgh, Robert C. Pew and Edward Octavius Emerson of Titusville. In 1905, Peoples, along with all the other National Transit natural gas properties, was transferred to Standard Oil, New Jersey – Standard’s holding corporation. Twenty years earlier, in 1885, John Newton Pew and Edward Octavius Emerson filed the charter of incorporation for the first natural gas company permitted by the Pennsylvania Natural Gas Act of June 25, 1885. The firm was called the Peoples Natural Gas Co., and it was organized on June 26, 1885.

The genesis of the Peoples Natural Gas Co. began with a mighty roar near Murraysville in Westmoreland County; a roar observers of the time claimed could be heard ten miles away. The Haymaker brothers, Michael and Obediah, had been drilling a well for oil with meager resources and equipment in 1878. Disheartened with no encouraging signs, they were about to abandon the well at 500 ft. when H. J. Brunot stepped in with encouragement and financing. The Haymakers continued drilling to a depth of 1,400 ft. when the earth suddenly and without warning on November 3, 1878 shook violently and exploded with an enormous stream of natural gas that blew the rigging over a hundred feet into the air. Releasing 30 to 40 million cubic ft. of gas a day, the great Haymaker Well became a natural wonder people from all over the country came to see. The curious admirers brought lanterns with them. Someone’s lantern set the great gas jet afire, and, afterward, the great Haymaker could not only be heard but also seen eight miles away.

While the well was still burning, Brunot and the Haymakers made a deal with a group from Chicago in 1882 to sell the well for $20,000. The Chicago investors put $1,000 down. Nothing was heard for a year. Brunot notified the Chicago group he was returning their deposit and put $1,000 in a bank account for them to claim. Waiting no longer, Brunot approached Pew and Emerson with an offer to sell the Haymaker. Pew and Emerson were successful natural gas producers and sellers in the Bradford Field. In 1882, the partnership drilled a number of gas wells around Murraysville and organized their Murraysville natural gas properties with others under the name of Penn Fuel Gas Co. In the first week of a cold January 1883, Penn Fuel Gas began piping natural gas through a 5-5/8 in. line to Sixteenth St. in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. This event was the first time a big city in Pennsylvania was served by natural gas. Bought out by their Penn Fuel Gas Co. partners, Pew and Emerson purchased the Haymaker Well in 1883, after the fire was extinguished. It was the Haymaker Well property that Pew and Emerson would organize as Peoples Natural Gas.

It would be pleasant to report all went well afterward. It did not. The Chicago group sent fifty men armed with rifles and bayonets to Murraysville to seize the Haymaker well. The Haymaker brothers and ten other local men went out to the well. In a bloody confrontation on November 26, 1883, Obediah Haymaker was bayoneted four times and shot once. He died while being carried back to his home. Michael Haymaker escaped death when the gun pointed at him by the leader of the Chicago group misfired. The Chicago mob was arrested and spent considerable time in Pennsylvania prisons.

In the 1880’s, natural gas made it through the transmission and distribution pipelines to markets under the original pressure experienced at the well heads. As time passed, this pressure in the fields diminished, and natural gas deliveries from the Murraysville field threatened to be disrupted or cease. Dangerous flameouts were a threat to the early natural gas industry. Historians credit J. N. Pew with the installation in 1890 of the first natural gas compressor station that maintained a steady pressure in gas transmission and distribution lines. Peoples was thus able to continue drawing gas from the Murraysville field and deliver it to Pittsburgh.

J. Newton Pew was from just outside of Mercer. As a young man, he moved to Titusville in the 1870’s where he speculated in oil and real estate with some success, but ultimately loss. While in Titusville, he met and married in 1874 Mary Catherine Anderson, the daughter of George Anderson who had been a very prominent producer in the mid 1860’s at Tarr Farm and on Benninghoff Run, a tributary of Oil Creek. Pew moved to Bradford in 1876, the first year of real promise in the great Bradford Field. In Bradford, Pew met E. O. Emerson and formed a partnership with him to pipe natural gas, abundant at the time, to fire the boilers at the wells throughout the growing Bradford Field. The partnership thrived. In 1881, Pew and Emerson incorporated this Bradford business as the Keystone Gas Co. This firm supplied natural gas to Bradford and nearby Olean, New York where residents used this new energy source for home lighting and heat. The firm prospered and was able to purchase and develop the Murraysville properties with the proceeds of this prosperity. Pew made the decision to move his family to North Highland Ave. in Pittsburgh in 1882.

George Anderson’s large home was sold at Sheriff’s sale in 1878. E. O. Emerson bought it and made Titusville his home the rest of his life. A New Englander educated at the Phillips Academy - Ralph Waldo Emerson was his cousin, E. O. Emerson was a successful producer in Pleasantville and Church Run before establishing his natural gas partnership with Pew in Bradford. In 1886, Pew and Emerson saw the oil opportunities in the Lima Field and were active oil producers very early in Ohio. The partnership formed the first Sun Oil Co. as an Ohio corporation in 1890 and purchased a refinery in Toledo. With its own fleet of rail cars and an extensive gathering pipeline system in the Lima Field, Sun Oil of Ohio was an early vertically integrated firm, similar in structure to Standard Oil. Sun Oil’s executive headquarters were in Pittsburgh. In 1899, Emerson sold out his interests and retired from the oil and natural gas business.

The Sun Oil Co. was reorganized by the Pew family as a New Jersey corporation. Sun Oil built a new East Coast refinery at Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. The family moved the business and their homes from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in the early 1900’s. This was the same time the Pew’s sold Peoples Natural Gas to Standard Oil.

by Neil McElwee, 2007.


A Centennial History of The Peoples Natural Gas Company, 1985

The National Transit Co., Standard Oil’s Great Pipeline Company, McElwee, 2007