Lehman Brothers Collection - Contemporary Business Archives

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Lehman Brothers Collection

Twentieth-Century Business Archives

Northwest Natural Gas Company - Lehman Brothers Collection

Northwest Natural Gas Company

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Henry Dodge Green received a perpetual franchise for a "gas manufactory" in 1859 in Portland from Oregon's territorial legislature. Green and his partner, H.C. Leonard, built a coal gasification plant, and in 1860 they began providing gas lighting for forty-nine customers. The company's first month's sales amounted to $425. It made gas by carbonizing coal that arrived in Portland as ballast aboard windjammers. The partners soon acquired a brig to transport coal and began doing business as Portland Gas Light Co.

By 1868 Portland Gas Light Co. was responsible for keeping the water hot in the boilers of Portland's horse-drawn, steam fire engines—the first recorded use of local gas for a purpose other than lighting. In 1892 the company gained new management, and its name was changed to Portland Gas Co.

During the early 1900s, as the gas range, water heater, and furnace became available, the gas industry shifted its emphasis from street lighting to supplying in-home energy. In 1910 the company incorporated as Portland Gas & Coke Co. Money was short for expansion as electricity crowded the lighting market. American Power & Light Co. took over the company's refinancing. California oil became cheaper than coal, so in 1906 the company began a plant changeover. After this change, the company was able to manufacture byproducts—briquettes, electrode pitch, naphthalene, and motor fuel—that brought in about a third of the company's revenue. Gasco, as the utility company commonly was called, then embarked on two decades of expansion.

In 1949 American Power & Light sold off its holdings in Portland Gas & Coke. The company soon thereafter enjoyed renewed development once natural gas arrived from the Southwest in 1956 and fifteen months later from British Columbia. In 1957 Portland Gas & Coke closed its manufactured gas plant, and in 1958 it changed its name to Northwest Natural Gas Co. The changeover from manufactured to natural gas cost the company about $4.3 million and involved an educational campaign that took place via letters, handbills, and newspaper ads.

Lowered gas rates and the abundance of better fuel kicked off a period of renewed expansion of fuel mains north into Washington State and Canada for Northwest Natural Gas Co. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Northwest Natural Gas marketed its natural gas fuel aggressively and employed price reduction programs to lure new customers. It built its first liquefied natural gas storage tank on its manufactured gas plant site in 1969.

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