LP Gas was used sporadically in the late 1800s to provide lighting for railway cars. The gas was placed in portable cylinders or "bottles" under pressure and were sold as compressed or bottled gas.
By 1910, "bottled gas" was being used as an alternative to acetylene in welder's torches, and as a fuel for portable stoves. It was not until the late 1920s that LP Gas started a phenomenal growth phase as a result of technological and price breakthroughs. Special pressure cylinders with regulators were developed, propane could be separated with a high degree of purity, large volumes could be produced, and the price was very reasonable. This led to its use for residential and commercial heating.
During World War II, North Americans found many additional uses for LP Gas: as heating orchards and construction sites, as a motorfuel, for "peak shaving" into Natural Gas, and as a refrigerant. Post war, several ex-servicemen set up a propane retail marketing business. During the 1950s, producers wanted to control the retail pricing and started acquiring these retail marketers, forming "Multi-state" marketers with many plants throughout the US and Canada. But as more were bought out, more independent retailers started new businesses and this process is continuing to this very day.
Furthermore, in the 1950s, refineries realized that propane was also a good building block for several plastic products and it became an attractive feedstock. During the oil crises of the 1970s and early 1980s, propane was known as the "alternative Fuel" when it was used for motorfuel instead of gasoline and used for residential heating fuel instead of the former fuel oil. It was used in markets where natural gas pipelines could not be constructed and utility companies burned vast quantities of LP Gas to produce electricity. In this decade, propane had gained another nom de plume, "the World's Most Versatile Fuel".
In the 1970s, studies reported that LP Gas imports to the United States would be required to offset the declining US production for propane as natural gas wells started to "play out"; two thirds of the US LP Gas production comes from natural gas wells. Import terminals and specialized ships were built and although LP Gas is still imported today from Venezuela, the North Sea and Algeria, the big foreign flood never materialized. Why? Technology produced more efficient furnaces and better engines to run on propane. Enhanced recovery techniques were developed to obtain greater amounts of products from the wells than earlier thought possible; and Canada started developing its natural gas reserves at an increased pace. Pipelines were built into the US and massive gas liquids stripper plants are producing Canadian LP Gas at a rate double from what production was over 10 years ago. Today 80% of all LP Gas imported to the United States originates in Canada, and the demand is growing.
The light burned even brighter for LP Gas in the 1990s due to one phrase: "Environmentally friendly". LP Gases are known for being clean burning fuels; they are a gas and therefore do not contaminate the ground or water in the event of a spill; they do not greatly affect the ozone or contribute to the "greenhouse effect".