By GEORGE WARDMAN.
The practical application of natural gas, as an article of fuel, to the purpose of manufacturing glass, iron, and steel, promises to work a revolution in the industrial interests of America--promises to work a revolution; for notwithstanding the fact that, in many of the largest iron, steel, and glass factories in Pittsburg and its vicinity, natural gas has already been substituted for coal, the managers of some such works are shy of the new fuel, mainly for two reasons: 1. They doubt the continuity and regularity of its supply. 2. They do not deem the difference between the price of natural gas and coal sufficient as yet to justify the expenditure involved in the furnace changes necessary to the substitution of the one for the other. These two objections will doubtless disappear with additional experience in the production and regulation of the gas supply, and with enlarged competition among the companies engaging in its transmission from the wells to the works. At present the use of natural gas as a substitute for coal in the manufacture of glass, iron, and steel is in its infancy.
Natural gas is as ancient as the universe. It was known to man in prehistoric times, we must suppose, for the very earliest historical reference to the Magi of Asia records them as worshiping the eternal fires which then blazed, and still blaze, in the fissures of the mountain heights overlooking the Caspian Sea. Those records appertain to a period at least 600 years before the birth of Christ; but the Magi must have lived and worshiped long anterior to that time.
Zoroaster, reputed founder of the Parsee sect, is placed contemporary with the prophet Daniel, from 2,500 to 600 B.C.; and, although Daniel has been doubted, and Zoroaster may never have seen the light, the fissures of the Caucasus have been flaming since the earliest authentic records.
The Parsees (Persians) did not originally worship fire. They believed in two great powers--the Spirit of Light, or Good, and the Spirit of Darkness, or Evil. Subsequent to Zoroaster, when the Persian empire rose to its greatest power and importance, overspreading the west to the shores of the Caspian and beyond, the tribes of the Caucasus suffered political subjugation; but the creed of the Magi, founded upon the eternal flame-altars of the mountains, proved sufficiently vigorous to transform the Parseeism of the conquerors to the fire worship of the conquered.
About the beginning of the seventh century of the Christian era, the Grecian Emperor Heraclius overturned the fire altars of the Magi at Baku, the chief city on the Caspian, but the fire worshipers were not expelled from the Caucasus until the Mohammedans subjugated the Persian Empire, when they were driven into the Rangoon, on the Irrawaddy, in India, one of the most noted petroleum producing districts of the world.
Petroleum and natural gas are so intimately related that one would hardly dare to say whether the gas proceeds from petroleum or the petroleum is deposited from the gas. It is, however, safe to assume that they are the products of one material, the lighter element separating from the heavier under certain degrees of temperature and pressure. Thus petroleum may separate from the gas as asphaltum separates from petroleum. But some speculative minds consider natural gas to be a product of anthracite coal. The fact that the great supply-field of natural gas in Western Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio is a bituminous and not an anthracite region does not of itself confute that theory, as the argument for it is, that the gas may be tapped at a remote distance from the source of supply; and, whereas anthracite is not a gas-coal, while bituminous is, we are told to suppose that the gas which once may have been a component part of the anthracite was long ago expelled by Nature, and has since been held in vast reservoirs with slight waste, awaiting the use of man.
That is one theory; and upon that supposition it is suggested that anthracite may exist below the bituminous beds of the region lying between the Alleghany Mountains and the Great Lakes. Another theory is, that natural gas is a product of the sea-weed deposited in the Devonian stratum. But, leaving modern theories on the origin of natural gas and petroleum, we may suppose the natural gas jets now burning in the fissures of the Caucasus to have started up in flames about the time when, according to the Old Testament, Noah descended from Mount Ararat, or very soon thereafter. In the language of modern science it would be safe to say that those flames sprang up when the Caucasus range was raised from beneath the surface of the universal sea. The believer in biblical chronology may say that those fires have been burning for four thousand years--the geologist may say for four millions.
We know that Alexander the Great penetrated to the Caspian; and in Plutarch we read: "Hence [Arbela] he marched through the province Babylon [Media?], which immediately submitted to him, and in Ecbatana [?] was much surprised at the sight of the place where fire issues in a continuous stream, like a spring of water, out of a cleft in the earth, and the stream of naphtha, which not far from this spot flows out so abundantly as to form a large lake. This naphtha, in other respects resembling bitumen, is so subject to take fire that, before it touches the flame, it will kindle at the very light that surrounds it, and often inflames the intermediate air also. The barbarians, to show the power and nature of it, sprinkled the street that led to the king's lodgings with little drops of it, and, when it was almost night, stood at the farther end with torches, which being applied to the moistened places, the first taking fire, instantly, as quick as a man could think of it, it caught from one end to another in such manner that the whole street was one continued flame.
Among those who used to wait upon the king, and find occasion to amuse him, when he anointed and washed himself, there was one Athenophanus, an Athenian, who desired him to make an experiment of the naphtha upon Stephanus, who stood by in the bathing place, a youth with a ridiculously ugly face, whose talent was singing well. 'For,' said he, 'if it take hold of him, and is not put out, it must undeniably be allowed to be of the most invincible strength.' The youth, as it happened, readily consented to undergo the trial, and as soon as he was anointed and rubbed with it, his whole body was broke out into such a flame, and was so seized by the fire, that Alexander was in the greatest perplexity and alarm for him, and not without reason; for nothing could have prevented him from being consumed by it if, by good chance, there had not been people at hand with a great many vessels of water for the service of the bath, with all which they had much ado to extinguish the fire; and his body was so burned all over that he was not cured of it a good while after.
And thus it was not without some plausibility that they endeavor to reconcile the fable to truth, who say this was the drug in the tragedies with which Medea anointed the crown and veils which she gave to Creon's daughter."