Long-awaited museum recognizes propane’s role in fueling America

October 3, 2016 By    

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lpg1016_museum-590x320Roy Willis remembers his visit to an old Bethlehem Steel site about 15 years ago to assess the potential home of a museum that would one day showcase the propane industry’s long history.

A propane industry contingent, including Eastern Propane Chairman Bob Nicholson, Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) member Charles Snelling and Willis, the council’s president and CEO, discovered less-than-ideal conditions in the former steel city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“The floors were dirt; the windows were missing panes,” Willis says.

It’s a far cry from the revitalized, modern-looking structure that sits there today.

After about two decades of planning and fundraising challenges, the National Museum of Industrial History opened in August in the 100-year-old former Bethlehem Steel facility. The Smithsonian Institution-affiliated museum, with more than 200 industrial artifacts on display across 18,000 sq. ft., is dedicated to preserving America’s rich industrial heritage.

On Sept. 10, which Bethlehem’s mayor proclaimed Propane Industry Day in the city, about 120 industry members gathered for a celebration recognizing the new propane exhibit. Propane is one of four galleries in the museum, with the others being iron and steel, machinery, and silk.

“The museum expects 50,000 people a year to walk through; this is our chance to make a first and lasting impression on them,” says Jim Renaldo, president of the International Association of Young Gassers, which helped to develop the propane exhibit. “This is our next generation of customers. This is our opportunity to tell our story to the public.”

The September event drew some of the biggest backers of the museum, including Roland Penta of Phelps Sungas, Harold Poland of NGL Energy Partners, Nicholson, Renaldo and Willis, among others. In addition, Marjorie Snelling and Elizabeth Snelling, the granddaughters of propane inventor Walter O. Snelling and the daughters of the late Charles Snelling, attended the celebration. Oliver Meeker, Elizabeth Snelling’s son and Charles Snelling’s grandson, was also in attendance.

Nicholson credits PERC, the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and other large and small donors over the years for providing the financial support to help make the $7.5 million museum and its propane exhibit a reality. He also notes Charles Snelling’s role in preserving his father’s propane equipment and materials – inside a large warehouse in the area – that would one day help to tell the industry’s story.

Willis says the propane exhibit commemorates the men and women who helped build a foundation and pave the industry’s way since it started over 100 years ago. He says it also educates others and motivates the industry “to become giants, as well.”

Visitors to the museum will learn about the cleanest, most practical and modern fossil fuel known to man, says Stuart Weidie, president and CEO of Blossman Gas and chairman of NPGA.

“We don’t have methane,” says Weidie, referring to the greenhouse gas component of natural gas. “We can go anywhere, anytime. [Propane] works when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. It works when the centralized power grid is down.”

The exhibit showcases the industry’s history, from its start in 1912 after Walter O. Snelling invented propane. It details propane’s production process, its portable attributes, as well as its uses over the years and the many markets it serves today. A mock hot air balloon is one of the exhibit’s unique features. It allows visitors to step into the basket for a virtual hot air balloon ride.

And this could be just the beginning. Amy Hollander, the museum’s executive director, asked the propane industry during the celebration to consider new archival material the museum could display in the future.

“Think about what you can contribute, especially if you’re local,” she says.

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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