Charles Snelling worked to preserve father’s industry-launching legacy

May 3, 2012 By    

Among many things, Charles Snelling was an intense man, a focused man, a businessman.

His younger brother, Walter Snelling, son of the late propane founder Walter O. Snelling, recalls one particular project on which they collaborated. Charles had asked the youngster for help in soldering a tank. When some of the solder began to fall close to Walter’s leg, Charles didn’t flinch for his brother’s well-being.

“Just keep holding it!” Walter remembers his brother telling him.

“Very few things interrupted his concentration,” Walter says today. “When he set his mind to something, he worked very hard to achieve his goals.”

Since March 29, the propane industry has mourned the tragic deaths of Charles and his wife, Adrienne, both 81, found together in their home. They come in propane’s centennial year, and they affect a Pennsylvania family that played such a role in the industry’s start, growth and preservation. Walter O. Snelling discovered the volatiles of propane in gasoline more than 100 years ago – a discovery that interested the scientifically-oriented Charles.

“I am my father’s son; same genes and chromosomes,” Charles wrote in his well-documented Life Report, published by The New York Times last December. “We have shared the same interests in knowledge, in science, in innovation, and in invention. We have shared the same desire to make the world a little better place because of our work.”

Charles went to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and became an engineer, inventor, entrepreneur and public servant. He was the chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and a member of the Propane Education & Research Council.

“At 80 I was still working 24/7,” he wrote in his Life Report.

Charles always believed that his father’s accomplishments – propane had been one of his 150-plus patents – went unrecognized, so he sought to bring them to light through the preservation of propane artifacts and equipment left to him in Walter’s will.

Charles also was to accept his father’s LP Gas Hall of Fame induction award last month in Atlanta. Instead, Walter and his wife, Norma, traveled from Washington to honor their father – and brother.

“Our house in Allentown had an active lab in the basement,” Walter says. “Charles immediately recognized that a lot of those items were propane related, so he set about to save those items and contact people within the industry. He very much tried to preserve our father’s role in the industry. He did a remarkable job.”

Charles kept those possessions in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse near Allentown. He had given Bob Nicholson of Eastern Propane and Roland Penta of Phelps Sungas access to the warehouse as part of their push to archive the industry’s history. Among their findings were devices used to identify propane as well as tanks, gauges and thousands of documents.

“I feel it’s important to grasp where you come from as well as where you’re going,” Penta says. “For me it was like a mecca.”

Walter, 68, was 13 years younger than Charles, so he doesn’t have the crystal-clear memories of their childhood together. His earliest memories are of Charles as a married man and of his bigger brother wrestling with him on the floor.

“I enjoyed the intensity he had in everything he did,” Walter says. “It was fun to see him tackle problems. He was so willing to jump in and do things. He was very much a mentor in those areas and reminding me of my duty to society. We had fun conversations, and later on Charles and I got to know each other much better.”

Charles was one of nine children of Walter O. and Marjorie (Gahring) Snelling. Charles and the former Adrienne Celeste Angeletti, who celebrated 61 years of marriage on March 21, had five children – “most important to our charmed life,” Charles wrote of them – and 11 grandchildren. In his Life Report, Charles also wrote poetically about his love for Adrienne, who in the last six years had been battling Alzheimer’s disease.

About the Author:

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

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