Story of Acetylene, the New Illuminating Gas.
informational booklet was handed out to visitors in the Acetylene Building.
The text and images in this booklet are reproduced here in full.]
by Acetylene Journal Publishing Co.
324 Dearborn St., Chicago, Ill., U. S. A.
Union Carbide Company
New York, Chicago
STORY OF ACETYLENE AS TOLD IN QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS.
By Elias A. Long,
Editor of the Acetylene-gas Journal
What, is acetylene?
Answer. Acetylene is a new illuminating
gas, suited to universal lighting.
How is it produced?
A. It is produced by a process simple
almost beyond belief. This consists of slacking a product called calcium
carbide, closely related to building lime, known also as "acetylene
lime," in water-nothing more.
That indeed is simple; but how can gas proceed from such slacking?
A. Remarkable to say, the instant
water-even a thimbleful-touches a piece of the carbide, crude gas arises
ready for a match.
Is it possible? How long has this means of light production been known?
A. Acetylene was first described as
far back as 1836. In that year, Professor Edwin Davy introduced it to
the attention of the Royal Society of Dublin, Ireland, but for many years
it was treated hardly otherwise than a chemical curiosity, as it was very
difficult to produce.
When did it come to the front for common use?
A. This had its beginning in the year
1892, at which time carbide was first made by the application of electricity.
This admitted of its production at low cost in commercial quantities;
very soon the wonderful carbide was introduced to the world everywhere.
The Instant Water Touches the Carbide, Crude Gas
Arises Ready For Match
Who discovered the low-cost, electra-manufacture of calcium carbide?
A. It was discovered almost simultaneously
by an American, T. L. Willson, and a Frenchman, M. Moissan. The latter,
however, acknowledges that Willson is entitled to the honor of priority
in its discovery and manufacture.
THE WONDERFUL CARBIDE.
How was such a remarkable discovery received by the scientific world?
A. That a distinctly new light, suited
to universal use, of such great simplicity and superiority, should have
appeared, created a profound sensation everywhere. Professor Lewes of
Greenwich, England, recognized as the world's most prominent gas expert,
says: "I shall never forget the impression made upon my mind when,
in the autumn of 1894, I first generated acetylene by the action of water
upon calcium carbide. There was something almost 'uncanny' in the development
of this wonderful gas from the simple contact of the carbide with water."
A Single Pound of Carbide Contains the Equivalent
of 50 Odd Feet of Common City Gas.
What can you say of the specific nature of calcium carbide?
A. Here again mark the simplicity.
Carbide is the product of two of the commonest materials the world affords,
limestone and carbon, the latter as found in coke, coal, or even wood
charcoal. These materials are finely ground and mixed, and then are melted
together in the intense heat of the electric furnace. Carbide is a solid
material and as ordinarily furnished looks like crushed stone. In weight,
appearance, hardness, harmlessness, and, in fact, in everything except
its marvelous affinity for water, it resembles granite. When water touches
it, it slacks precisely like common lime.
What is the lighting value of carbide, taking the pound as a basis?
A. The answer to that question brings
to notice the amazing lighting power of this marvelous product. A single
pound of carbide-you can hold it in your hand like a piece of coal-contains,
to be released by water, five cubic feet of this rich gas, the equivalent
of two quarts of the best kerosene, or of sixty-two cubic feet of common
Is the slacking of carbide with water the ordinary way of producing the
A. As we need a stove in which to
utilize fuel, so a generator is needed for utilizing carbide. This is
a metal apparatus, which in most cases brings the carbide and water, each
from its chamber, together automatically, and delivers the gas to a third
chamber or holder, thence to the burner tips as used. The action of an
acetylene generator might be compared to a self-feeding coal stove, except
that the labor of attending to it is a mere fraction of that necessary
with a stove. An acetylene generator costs about the same as a stove,
Where can I purchase an acetylene generator and a supply of carbide?
A. Reliable manufacturers are ready
to wait upon you in the matter of a generator, while carbide is carried
in stock and can be delivered quickly from nearly every city in the United
States. In small towns, hardware and general stores carry it, or can procure
it for you. You can also buy it direct from the manufacturers.
Carbide as Shipped and Handled in Tight Cans With Screw
In what manner is carbide handled and delivered?
A. Carbide comes to the purchaser
in metal cans having an opening at the top, which is closed against the
admission of air or moisture by a screw cap that is easily turned off
or on with the of kerosene, or the incandescent electric bulb or city
gas, and the surface shows a yellowish hue; take it to daylight, and it
will appear white. Take the same paper to acetylene light, and it will
appear precisely as it does at a window by day. The paper will be a clear
white, natural to the eye, and the print so plain as to impose the least
possible task in reading. Many persons who require spectacles for reading
by the yellow glare of kerosene, city gas, or electric globes, need none
with acetylene. This newspaper test can be made by anyone wherever there
is acetylene. It is most convincing.
Well, Everybody Reads Newspapers.
But the electric arc light possesses this quality of whiteness you mention
in acetylene, does it not?
A. The arc light, in some measure,
may approximate such whiteness, but this difference must be noted: It
is not a common house illuminant. Second, acetylene has a steady flame
and light diffusion, while the arc light is very unsteady, causing an
intense strain on eyesight. Besides, the arc light shows changeableness
But is not the Welsbach gas jet equal to acetylene in whiteness?
A. Far from it. The Welsbach casts
a ghastly greenish-white hue that is positively sickening to some people,
and very different from the soft, daylight white of acetylene.
COLORS AS SEEN BY ACETYLENE.
What other common tests of the superiority of acetylene can you mention?
A. There is the equally convincing
one of colors as seen by different lights. Under acetylene all colors
and shades are distinguishable as by daylight. You can match the most
delicate fabrics, paints, etc., by acetylene. Blue can be distinguished
from black and green, as cannot be done by gas, kerosene and other artificial
And photography shows what?
A. Photographs can be taken by the
acetylene light as in no other artificial light. Tests have shown that
to fully expose a certain plate in direct sunlight took one second, in
diffused daylight twelve seconds, in acetylene light (1 cubic foot) three
seconds. Acetylene photographs are remarkable for their clear outlines
and deep shadows. Acetylene makes possible the taking of photographs at
any hour of the night.
Can you mention any other points favorable to acetylene?
A. It is impossible to do this new
light adequate justice by description. It must be seen to be fully appreciated.
In brief, it may be said that it possesses the illuminating quality of
daylight, the convenience of city gas, economy below the average of lights,
and intrinsic safety beyond any other common illuminant. Every added step
you may take in investigating this new discovery will show its superiority
as an illuminant for the million.
ADAPTABILITY OF ACETYLENE.
You have used the term city gas. Does that imply that a gas illuminant,
including acetylene, is only suited to city lighting on a large scale?
A. Oh, no. It is an additional high
recommendation that in acetylene we have a lighting gas with every advantage
of common city gas, and which can be used as widely as kerosene. It can
be used anywhere and everywhere, from lighting an acetylene lamp to lighting
a large city.
Cannot common city gas be used for all purposes?
A. No, it cannot. Its use is debarred
from many towns because of the great cost of building gas works.
How do the two gases differ in this respect of costly works?
A. Most widely. The production of
common gas involves so large an outlay that only towns of considerable
size can afford to use the gas. Even there its cost demands a high price
to the user, while frequently the product is so inferior as to gall the
consumer. Acetylene, from its simplicity, can be made with economy on
a scale as small as the lighting of a dwelling or a single room. Its use
is brought down even to bicycle lamps by hundreds of thousands. The cost
of a first-class acetylene generator, suited to light a house, is about
as much as a common stove or furnace. In this way each home owner has
the advantage of superior illumination by gas from his own independent
What gain may there be in being independent of gas and electric companies?
A. Too often after a coal gas company
has put down its distributing pipes, and its patrons have learned to prize
the convenience and superiority of gas lighting, the company, realizing
that it has a monopoly, becomes unreasonable in the matter of price, or
unfair in providing an inferior grade of light at the price of the best,
and other things intolerable to American ideas of independence. From this
the consumer has no adequate redress, save to go back to kerosene after
having been at the expense of piping his building for gas. In the case
of electric lighting the complaints are apt also to be against high price
for inferior service. Here the added complaint is much heard that the
current is turned off too early on dark mornings, and is not on soon enough
in the afternoon. This fault is of special frequency in factories, offices,
stores, etc., where the earning capacity of employees depends on a good
That does sound grievous. And does acetylene offer any special remedy
against such troubles?
A. It plainly does, as you can see.
If gas or electricity have been installed for the reason that something
better than kerosene is wanted, even if it costs more, then in acetylene
a far better light is had at a cost about as low or lower than kerosene.
Acetylene is not only better at less cost, but it makes every owner of
a home, store, office, factory, and the trustees of churches, schools,
etc., forever free from the unpleasant feature of patronizing a local
lighting company. Each one owns and manages his own inexpensive gas plant
with true independence.
of the Tens of Thousands of Residences Lighted With Independent Acetylene
Mills at Middletown, Conn., Lighted With Acetylene. One of Hundreds
of Large Factories Now Using Acetylene.
If a building is piped for any gas, will the same piping answer for acetylene?
A. Perfectly so. All that need be
done is to detach the house piping from the street flow, or from the gasoline
machine, make the connection with the acetylene generator, then go ahead.
The change involves a small cost for acetylene burners.
PIPING FOR ACETYLENE.
Can more than one building be supplied with acetylene from a single generator?
A. Yes. Acetylene passes through pipes
to any distance as readily as does common gas. In most cases a residence,
a factory, or store, and perhaps the street lamp is supplied from the
same generator. Frequently a church and the parsonage, with one or more
street lamps, are supplied from one apparatus.
In case acetylene is introduced for one s own lighting, where is the gas
A. Usually the generator is placed
in the cellar or in an outhouse that is warm enough to keep the water
needed in generation from freezing. From there pipes lead to wherever
the lights are desired.
What is the expense of piping for acetylene?
A. This varies much according to locality.
In general, the cost of the larger piping for common city gas is sufficiently
low that houses of laboring people in cities are piped. For acetylene
the cost is still less because of the smaller pipes required. From $6.00
to $20.00 will cover the cost in most cases. Since acetylene has come,
no house, wherever located, should be erected without being furnished
with gas pipes.
Is acetylene used on a smaller scale than for regular house lighting generators?
A. Oh, yes; generators are coming
in at a small price, suited to furnishing as low as one or two jets for
the reading table, piano lamps, or for dental, surgical, stereopticon
and microscopical uses, street lights, pier lights, etc. Acetylene bicycle
lamps are in extensive use, and some table lamps have been introduced.
Could not a number of stores or buildings be lighted from the same generator?
A. Yes, and it is frequently done.
Whole towns and villages, in many cases, are lighted from one central
generator, the gas being distributed by pipes like ordinary city gas.
POSITIVE SAFETY, INSURANCE.
An important question I desire to ask is this: Is acetylene safe for ordinary
A. That is important, and in answer
it is a pleasure to say that when nature gave up the secret of this last
great light, it was not as a thing to be received with alarm. As acetylene
excels in many other points, so it also positively excels in safety.
Obviously Safer Than Kerosene
Can you here give in brief some assurance on this point?
A. Yes; almost in one word, namely:
the position of the great fire insurance nderwriting boards in America.
You must know that these boards are expert in sizing up the hazard of
any new combustible, and their decisions, based on a stern dollar-and-cents
view of fire losses, will be accepted as most weighty.
Do you mean that the fire insurance companies approve of acetylene?
A. Yes, precisely that. As a new and
unknown illuminant, their attitude at first was properly guarded. But
the value of their decision is found in the fact that their own investigations,
coupled with the extensive and safe use of the gas by the people, convinced
them of its safety, and for a long time they have gladly permitted both
its generation and use in buildings without any change in cost of insurance.
How, in a word, may its superior safety, as compared with city gas, be
A. In the first place, you use such
a small quantity of acetylene to get a great deal of light. As previously
stated, it requires thirteen times as much city gas to make a given amount
of light as it requires of acetylene. In the second place, the odor of
unconsumed acetylene immediately leads to its detection in case of leak.
And thirdly, if a burner should accidentally be left open the quantity
of acetylene which would escape, being so very small, would not be enough
to cause either explosion or asphyxiation within twenty-four hours even
in a small room.
What, in brief, makes acetylene safer than kerosene?
A. It is a stationary pipe-delivered
light, where kerosene lamps are veritable torches, handled about by persons
of all ages, even children. The flame of acetylene is far from the main
source of sup-ply-the generator-being conducted therefrom by gas piping,
while with kerosene the fire is within a few inches from a quart or thereabouts
of a highly inflammable oil.
How does acetylene compare with gasoline for safety?
A. To say that gasoline lamps are
even more dangerous than kerosene covers this ground. The reason of its
great danger is that gasoline gives off at low temperatures a very explosive
vapor, and the fluid itself will burn at a much lower temperature than
kerosene. Hundreds of persons are injured, many fatally, every year by
gasoline explosions. The State of Iowa takes the lead in prohibiting by
severe penalties both the sale and use of the dangerous stuff, a warning
to the prudent everywhere.
THE DANGER REPORTS.
But some reports have been spread stating that acetylene is unsafe, have
A. That is correct, but such were
to have been expected.
Why were such to have been expected?
A. Because rival lighting interests
would see pecuniary gain if this new illuminant was retarded, and there
has been no hesitation in encouraging the circulation of reports, however
unfair, against this winning competitor.
Where do some of my friends get the impression that acetylene is dangerous?
A. Almost immediately after this wonderful
gas was discovered, endless experiments were made with it, in and out
of the laboratories. Unfortunately, some tried to liquefy it by compressing
it under very great pressure-600 pounds and upwards to the square Inch-and
while so experimenting with liquid acetylene, accidents occurred which
might happen with air or steam at these high pressures, and these accidents
were advertised at a time when the whole subject of acetylene was new
and largely talked of in the newspapers. These accidents, notice, occurred
under the enormous pressure of 600 to several thousand pounds to the square
inch. to-day acetylene is generated and distributed through house pipes
at the same pressures that ordinary city gas is distributed, namely: two
ounces to the square inch; and when we say acetylene is not dangerous
we refer to gaseous acetylene and the manner it is handled and used to-day.
But is it not possible to have accidents with acetylene?
A. Certainly, it is possible. Few
things are on the exempt list as a cause of accidents. Many a child has
been accidentally drowned in a tub of water. Thousands of lives are destroyed
yearly by scalds and fires. Kerosene lamps cause innumerable accidents
and deaths. The same is true of kicking horses, farm machines, and a thousand
Then just where does acetylene stand comparatively as to danger?
A. Simply as the safest of common
illuminants, kerosene not excepted.
Can you mention any single element of danger in acetylene?
A. The one thing of taking a light
to the generator when opening it, would be about like throwing a lighted
match into a waste paper basket.
Night Ride With the Light of
an Acetylene Dash Lamp.
Is there any need of doing the former thing?
A. No. Such source of danger is entirely
avoided by simply charging the generator by daylight, as every maker directs.
Are all generators on the market good ones?
A. No. Only such as the insurance
underwriters have approved should be made use of. The extreme simplicity
of the principle of bringing carbide and water together to make acetylene
has caused thousands of men with some mechanical ideas, but little knowledge
of gas, to design generators, and many such have been sold without affording
satisfaction to the users, since the qualities and nature of the gas,
and its raw material, have not been understood sufficiently by these inventors.
THE MATTER OF CONVENIENCE.
How does acetylene compare with kerosene, for instance, in the labor required
to attend it?
A. The labor is very much less, because
it is a pipe-delivered gas, where kerosene is burned from movable lamps.
What would you mention as the advantage of a piped gas?
A. First, safety as aforementioned;
then cleanliness, and lastly convenience.
How is the cleanliness apparent as compared with oil?
A. In the fact that you get entirely
rid of the grease and odor of kerosene, together with mussy lamps, chimneys,
oil cans, wicks and greasy wiping towels. Your gas is on tap ready for
the match in any room where wanted. Acetylene greatly reduces the labor
Do not the burners or other parts of acetylene lighting need attention?
A. Where kerosene lamps must be cleaned
and filled daily, acetylene requires nothing of the sort, save as occasionally
the tip openings should be examined to remove any encrustation of carbon,
as in the care of common gas tips, which takes but a moment of time.
The generator needs some attention, does it not?
A. Yes; but that is located in a room
by itself, and the attention is slight, being coarse work, like tending
a coal heater, and quickly done. This once performed answers for all the
tips of the building or system.
ACETYLENE IMPARTS BEAUTY.
Does acetylene add to the beauty of the home?
A. Very much, indeed. In the first
place, suitable gas fixtures are everywhere recognized as assisting greatly
in furnishing a room. Then the quality of the light and its effect on
wall decorations, pictures, plants, carpets, etc., not to say the attire
and complexions of persons, is wonderful for good appearances.
Is there any evidence to indicate the general superiority of gas lighting
over kerosene besides that you have stated?
A. Yes. Ample proof is found in the
enormous use of city gas, even where kerosene is available at lower cost.
SUPPLY AND LIGHTING POWER OF CARBIDE.
Is it not true that kerosene and natural gas are becoming scarcer and
higher priced year by year?
A. That is true, and the reason is plain. The wells from which these natural
products are obtained are steadily giving out, and the territory thereof
is growing more and more limited. The falling off in recent years has
been amazing, and the prices steadily advancing.
Exhaustless Quarries Furnish Limestone, One of the
Raw Materials of Acetylene.
May not acetylene be similarly affected in time?
A. One thing in favor of acetylene
is that its raw materials are absolutely unlimited. It is impossible ever
to corner them. So long as limestone abounds nearly everywhere, and the
earth contains coal beneath and wood above its surface, the materials
for carbide, or "acetylene lime," will be at hand.
Is carbide now an article of general manufacture?
A. New as is this light, there is
hardly a civilized nation in which carbide is not extensively manufactured
at one point or another.
How great is the present output of carbide?
A. According to an article in the
November, 1899, issue of the Acetylene Gas Journal (Chicago, Ill.), the
present total annual production of carbide in the world reaches 282,300
tons, divided among nine countries. The United States is credited with
a yearly production of 60,000 tons.
Exhaustless Coal is the Other Raw Material. Besides
Water, or Acetylene.
What effect has increased production had upon the price of carbide?
A. It has brought down the price from
$2,000 a ton to $75 a ton.
What is the present price of carbide to the average small consumer?
A. It is sold as low as $3.75 per
100 pounds at the extensive carbide works located at Niagara Falls, N.
Y. It is kept in stock in many places through-out the country at a price
which represents freight charges added to the above figure. In California,
where the prices are highest, it costs but five cents a pound in 100-pound
COST OF ACETYLENE: COMPARISONS.
What is the cost of lighting with acetylene as compared with other artificial
A. At the present price of carbide
acetylene costs about the same for a given amount of light as ordinary
city gas at $1.00 or $1.20 per thousand cubic feet, and is the equivalent
to incandescent electric light at one-third cent per hour 16-candle power
(much less than the cost of electric light anywhere). Acetylene is about
as expensive as kerosene with the best lamps.
But there is the cost of a generator in acetylene lighting, is there not?
A. Yes; but divided over a lifetime
the cost is small per year. You must remember also that the large expense
of lamps, chimneys, wicks, etc., used with kerosene is wholly done away
What have you to say of the gasoline gas lamps offered in some places?
A. To state, on the admission of dealers
themselves, that the light is inferior even to city gas; that the flame
in its very nature is most variable in power; that mantles are required,
many of which break on the first lighting, because so fragile they can
be shaken to pieces; and that gasoline, everywhere known as dangerous,
is suspended in a receptacle overhead in the living or other room where
this gas is used, would seem to be serious enough objection to the use
PROGRESS OF ACETYLENE.
What has the progress of this new gas, as regards use, been like to date?
A. The progress of acetylene is one
of the wonders of the age. It is less than six years since Professor Lewes
made his first practical acquaintance with carbide; to-day its use extends
over the civilized world.
To what use is it chiefly put?
A. Its most extensive employment,
on the basis of carbide consumption, has been in lighting dwellings, factories,
churches, hotels and all manner of buildings.
Can you state to what extent such lighting prevails?
A. It is estimated that to-day not
less than 30,000 buildings, having 300,000 gas tips, are lighted by acetylene
in America. And the number is increasing rapidly. Hundreds of manufacturers
and dealers in all parts of the country are now introducing generators.
Its use in many foreign lands is proportionately great.
What has been the demand for buildings larger than those named?
A. Many buildings, such as factories,
universities, hospitals, asylums, homes, etc., using upwards of 50 lights,
employ acetylene with marked satisfaction. One large factory in Buffalo,
N. Y., has used 350 acetylene jets for several years. The Ohio State Industrial
Home, Rathbone, Ohio, recently illustrated in the Acetylene Gas Journal,
uses about 600 acetylene burners in its large buildings. The Nebraska
Wesleyan University is acetylene-lighted with great success. Many similar
cases could be cited.
Eleven Large Buildings of The Ohio State Girls' Industrial
Home Lighted With 800 Acetylene Jets From One Generator.
Is acetylene put to any large use besides lighting buildings?
A. Next to buildings its use is perhaps
most extensive in bicycle lamps, of which is estimated 400,000 are employed
Has the new gas come into use in any other ways besides those named?
A. Yes, in more ways than can be mentioned.
It is used by railroads, both for station and car lighting; headlights
on locomotives and on trolleys; for street lights, pier lights, boat lights,
water lighting, etc.; for dental, surgical, micro-scopical use and photography,
and widely in the mechanical and fine arts.
As a new industry, how is the importance of acetylene otherwise emphasized?
A. Besides the large capital invested
in carbide production, and in the making of generators, influential associations
of persons interested in acetylene have been formed in many countries,
and a number of acetylene expositions have been held.
Has acetylene any periodical, literature?
A. There is an American paper devoted
to the subject, The Acetylene Gas Journal, Chicago, Ill., 50c a year;
and one similar periodical in England, one in France, and several in Germany.
Is there any other acetylene literature?
A. Besides some instructive advertising
pamphlets issued by generator makers, a number of standard books and also
educational pamphlets have appeared on the subject of acetylene. Recently
the State Agricultural College of Pennsylvania published an excellent
unbiased work written by Prof. George Gilbert Pond, Ph. D., on acetylene,
for gratuitous distribution.
If asked to sum up in a word the distinctive merits that have won for
this new gas prominence in a brief time, what would be your answer?
A. Sunlike quality; ease and economy
of production; safety; wide adaptability; unlimited supply.
And how, in a word, would you sum up the chief disadvantages of older
A. City gas inferior, and requiring
heavy initial investments for works. Natural gas growing scarce and costly.
Kerosene decreasing in production, increasing in price, while the quality
of the light, greasiness and odor of the oil do not improve. Electricity
expensive and dangerous. Gasoline gasdirty, smoky, unsteady, troublesome
And who, additionally, may be expected at an early date to be included
in the great family of acetylene admirers and users?
A. Millions, when once they have been
educated to the intrinsic worth of this, Nature's last great gift to the
ACETYLENE-GAS JOURNAL. A vigorous, sprightly. Profusely illustrated monthly.
Interesting to everybody. A sample copy free.
Rogers and Wells
Engravers and Printers