Knowledge and Technique in French and Spanish gas industry until the Great War (ca. 1850-1918): study of technical journals

Gas production for industrial purposes originated in Great Britain in 1792, thanks to the initiative of William Murdoch. Its first uses were linked to lighting, private and public, though Murdoch’s prototypes were limited to small devices with a low reach. In 1799, Philippe Lebon followed his example in France, but Albrect Winzer, who changed his name for Frederick Winsor, led the qualitative and quantitative transformation of the sector in British territories: first, he built bigger factories to reach the broader public; second, in 1812 he founded the Gas Light and Coke Co., first European gas company to carry out supply at national level. From Great Britain, gas spread to France: this country would lead the diffusion of the new industrial sector to central, western, and Latin Europe, via capital, knowledge, and work force export to the whole region.

The 1850s marked a turning point in the history of European gas industry: gas lighting had become a common feature of most relevant cities. Once they had reached that point, engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs started to think of ways to improve the service, and the also looked for alternative ways to produce that energy source. The next step forward happened by the 1870s, when the improvement in living condition of urban masses made it possible for the slow consolidation of consumer society, which was fully developed at the turn of the 20th century. Gas companies adopted quickly to the new socioeconomic scenario, due to, among other reasons, the rise of electricity, which threatened the gas market. It is then that technical societies and technical press developed, in order to share knowledge, and to protect the interest of “the gas people”.

In this session, we present three works that deal with the aforementioned topics. Firstly, Francesc X. Barca Salom studies the attempts to produce gas from water by mid-19th century. Secondly, Mercedes Fernández-Paradas, José J. Luque, and Antonio J. Pinto describe the role of the gas technical press since the end of the 19th century until the Great War, focusing on the French Journal des usines à gaz. To conclude, José J. Luque and Antonio J. Pinto study the role of the technical journals in the gas sector during the conflict (1914-1918).

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