The history of propane begins with the industrial revolution and the proliferation of the automobile

Shelby Gas Corporation TruckIn 1910, a Pittsburgh motor-car owner complained to chemist Dr. Walter Snelling that the gallon of gasoline he had purchased was half a gallon by the time he got home. He thought the government should look into why consumers were being cheated because the gasoline was evaporating at a rapid and expensive rate. Dr. Snelling took up the challenge and discovered that the evaporating gases were propane, butane, and other hydrocarbons. The general term for these gases is LP-gas.
Over the years LP-gas has become synonymous with propane. Using coils from an old hot water heater and other miscellaneous pieces of laboratory equipment, Dr. Snelling built a still that could separate the gasoline into its liquid and gaseous components.

About this same time, according to a tradition, a wealthy family who had become accustomed to piped natural gas for their cooking needs, moved to a remote location along the eastern seaboard of the United States where piped natural gas was not available. A friend of the family, who worked in the oil refining industry, “bottled” some liquefied petroleum gas (LP-gas), adapted a pressure regulator to a valve on the bottle and piped the ‘gas from a bottle’ into the kitchen of his wealthy friend’s new home. Thus was born bottled gas. Whether or not this story is true, propane was quickly becoming recognized as an available and marketable, portable gas source which acted very similar to natural gas or “city” gas, making it an easy sell to modernize rural homes beyond the natural gas piping.

By 1912, propane gas was cooking food at home. The first car powered by propane ran in 1913. By 1915 propane was being used in torches to cut through metal. However, the motorist’s demand for gasoline grew at such an enormous rate during these early years, that the demand of other hydrocarbons, including propane, could not keep up and were considered little more than nuisance by-products. Millions of gallons were literally “flared” (burned off) simply to be disposed of.

In 1927, the total sales of propane in the U.S. were just over one million gallons, and after World War II the propane gas annual sales increased to more than 15 billion gallons. When Dr. Snelling sold his propane patent to Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum Company, his price was $50,000. Today, propane gas is an $8 billion dollar industry in the United States alone, and it is still growing.

By the 1930’s, the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) established and proposed a set of recommendations to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 1932, the first pamphlet of standards (No. 58) was adopted for publication.

Today, about 30% of the propane produced is extracted with and refined from crude oil. The other 70% is processed from natural gas. Propane is normally found trapped in pockets with either crude oil or natural gas.

The process of refining crude oil, similar to Dr. Snelling’s still but on a grander scale, produces many different gaseous hydrocarbons, including propane. These different gases are captured under pressure and slowly cooled. Depending on their boiling point, each of the gases will condense into a liquid, one at a time, as the temperature drops (in a condensing tower) below the boiling point of each gas.

Propane is also extracted from natural gas; in several different ways. Natural gas straight from a well is referred to as “wet” gas. This means that the gas is a mixture of hydrocarbon gases and in, some cases, liquids. The mixture includes propane, methane, butane, and other natural gasolines. Even though the sources and the processes are quite different, there is almost no difference in the quality and composition of the end product.

There are 2 basic types of propane typically used in the propane industry:

  1. Commercial Propane: A type of LP-Gas, which consists mainly of propane and propylene.
  2. HD5 Propane: A type of LP-Gas, which consists mainly of propane with a maximum of 5% propylene.

To insure the best in general quality, service to the appliance, and heat value, Shelby Bottled Gas Corp. handles only HD5 Propane along with the motor fuel certification.
This remarkable fuel serves more than 175 million people in the United States, where over 44.1 billion gallons of propane are consumed annually. Of these 44.1 billion gallons, propane is used as follows:

  • 7.7 billion gallons (17.6%) for utility/gas industry usage
  • 661 million gallons (1.5%) for internal combustion engine use
  • 2.3 billion gallons (5.3%) for other uses, including agriculture
  • 8 billion gallons (18.1%) for residential / commercial usage
  • 25.4 billion gallons (57.6%) for chemical/industrial usage

History of the Company

At the end of WWII, Hugh Leary was returning to the states from overseas duty. Both he and his brother Robert were in need of work. During a brief meeting in Cincinnati, the brothers decided to open an electrical business (as soon as Hugh was discharged from duty) replacing old style knob and tube electrical wiring to the new safe and modern Romex wiring. After much success in gaining a solid business base, the risk of adventure overcame the Leary brothers and they launched another business; converting coal fired furnaces to gas and installing new gas furnaces. They saw, first hand, the growing demand for gas appliances in the home. They also saw an opportunity: providing gas beyond the natural gas pipeline to the country could be accomplished through propane. So the Leary brothers began setting 100# cylinders supplying propane gas to cooking stoves in 1946 under the name of Riley Gas. After 4 years of toting cylinders and establishing another good business base, the need for propane gas in larger tanks for home heating was more than they could resist. With fortitude, resourcefulness and stubbornness they transported and set their first 1000 gallon bulk tank by dragging it down the road on a makeshift sled of sheet steel in “the good ole days” of 1951.

After several home heating installations, it became apparent that a storage and distribution facility was needed. One again through hard work and sheer determination, a hand-built rail spur and adjacent storage facility was planted in Greenfield in 1953. Soon, however; due to the railroad’s inability to be timely, the need for supply delivery was met through the purchase of a semi tractor-trailer in 1958.

Growth and the hiring of several employees brought about the necessity to incorporate and change the business name to Leary’s Bottled Gas, Inc. In 1960, after a brief inquiry into a thriving propane business in Shelbyville, Young’s Liquid Gas was acquired. The Young’s storage facility was moved in 1960 from a railroad siding south of Hendricks Street to the present site at 1340 N, Michigan Road. Beginning in 1964 all business done in Shelby County, and areas south fell under the name of another acquisition, Shelby Bottled Gas Corporation.

As business at the two locations grew during the 1960s, so did the brothers’ desire for independence. After simple, speedy, and mutual arrangements were made, US 52 became the natural dividing line of the business territory and Hugh agreed to ownership of the southern half.

The later ’60s and the early ’70s brought company growth for Shelby Bottled Gas Corp. both from within and through acquisitions, such as Jones Bottled Gas, A& H Bottled Gas, the propane division of DePrez Hardware, and the Dailey’s Thermogas operations in Bartholomew County. The 1970’s also brought hardship in the great oil embargo, government controls, and fierce auditing.

In the 1980s, relief through deregulation and solid growth resulted from innovative sales techniques and lower prices in the oil industry. Then in 1990, the desire to expand services in a related field brought on the acquisition of the well-established Farlow Air Conditioning and Heating business. This move positioned Shelby Bottled Gas Corp. into the full-service arena of “total home air comfort”, and made them poised for the demands of the 21st century. No other propane dealer or heating and cooling business in central Indiana could compare in service value for home air comfort.

Shelby Bottled Gas Corp. and Shelby Air provided service to thousands of customers in twelve central Indiana counties for more than twenty years. In April of 2012, an affiliation was formed between Shelby Bottled Gas Corporation and Williams Comfort Air to serve the increasing HVACR demand in the area.  Hugh Leary’s extended family and motivated staff of service experts have managed the family business to provide the best propane and heating & air conditioning service throughout central Indiana with the same fortitude as in the beginning. Suffice it to say that modern, state of the art technology has replaced the iron sled, but the resolve and dedication to service still remain.

Our short-term goal at Shelby Bottled Gas Corp. is a growth in sales of 5-8% yearly by means of improved marketing and increasing the number of contract customers. Our long-term goal is to acquire additional propane retailers through acquisition.  Expanding into new adjacent areas with a larger customer base provides opportunities for economies of scale to not only increase profitability, employee education, and better manage our human resources but, more importantly, increase customer satisfaction.

We maintain the belief that striving to attain perfection elevates us above our competitors. This is evident in our dedication to our customers by providing them with the finest products and services, and to our employees by acknowledging their contribution to our success.

Shelby Bottled Gas Corp. provides propane service to thousands of customers in fourteen central Indiana counties. Our motivated staff of service experts manages this small business and provides the best propane service throughout central Indiana with the fortitude of yesteryear, service for today, and preparedness for the future.