Gasoline Street

From Pittsburgh Streets
Gasoline Street
Neighborhood Central Business District
Origin of name Modification of Gas, the original name
Gas Street (until 1910)
Origin of name Pittsburgh Gas Works

Gasoline Street is a short passageway running underneath the Try Street Terminal building between First Avenue and Second Avenue, immediately west of Interstate 579 (Crosstown Boulevard). Though the street itself is unmarked, its name has been adopted by the Gasoline Street Coffee Company.[1] It was originally named Gas Street because it ran next to the original site of the Pittsburgh Gas Works.[2][3][4][5][6]

Gas manufactured from coal was the primary fuel for street lights in Pittsburgh for much of the nineteenth century, continuing into the twentieth century. The city's first street lights, burning whale oil, were installed in 1816, but they provided only a weak light.[7][8] In 1827, the city councils granted William Griffiths "the exclusive right to provide the city with gas light."[9][8] On April 27, 1835, the city councils passed an ordinance authorizing the establishment of a stock company to raise $50,000 for the construction of the Pittsburgh Gas Works.[10][11] This facility became operational two years later; the coal gas (or "town gas") it produced was piped throughout the city to illuminate streets, bridges, retail stores, and residences.[12][7][9][8] As the city expanded, additional franchises were granted to gas companies, and by 1878 there were five manufactured gas plants in the city.[7][9][8] The largest of these was the Pittsburgh Gas Company, the 1848 reorganization of the Pittsburgh Gas Works, whose main plant was on the north bank of the Monongahela River on a site later occupied by the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company (today the location of the Pittsburgh Technology Center).[13][7][9] The west, east, and north sides of the city had smaller gas companies.[7][9] By 1875 Pittsburgh had 1,060 street lamps burning coal gas.[7]

Coal gas was expensive to manufacture and distribute. Starting in the 1850s, byproducts of petroleum distillation, including kerosene, naphtha, and gasoline, became more widely available and competed with coal gas. Kerosene rapidly came into use for domestic and retail lighting but was too expensive for street lighting. However, in the 1870s Martin Maloney developed and promoted standalone street lamps burning gasoline or naphtha from individual reservoirs. Pittsburgh adopted these gasoline street lights in 1878, because they were found to be useful for lighting alleys and the more sparsely populated outer areas of the city, for which it would have been too costly to extend the gas network. By May 1886, there were 5,523 street lamps in the city: 3,165 coal-gas lamps, mostly in the older wards; 2,330 gasoline lamps, mostly in the newly annexed districts; and 28 electric lamps downtown (probably arc lighting).[7]

Electric street lighting began in the 1880s and quickly rose in prominence. By 1895 Pittsburgh's 6,000 street lamps were almost evenly divided between gasoline and electric arc lamps. The standalone, off-grid gasoline lamps were commonly used to light newly opened streets and undeveloped alleys, to be replaced by electric lamps when the electrical network was expanded and streets were improved. The invention of the gas mantle in the late nineteenth century significantly improved the efficiency and light quality of coal-gas and gasoline lamps, but could not prevent the eventual dominance of electric lighting. Pittsburgh replaced the last of its gasoline and coal-gas street lamps with electric lights by the end of the 1920s.[7][8] Electric lighting has also evolved. Most of the early electric lights were arc lamps, but incandescent lamps later became common. Mercury-vapor lights came in the early 1970s, followed by high-pressure sodium-vapor lamps at the end of that decade. More recently LEDs have started to light the city's streets.[8]

For purposes other than lighting, coal gas was gradually replaced by natural gas. The first natural-gas pipelines in Pittsburgh were built in 1882.[12] In 1884, George Westinghouse drilled four gas wells on the grounds of his estate, Solitude, on Thomas Boulevard. He hit a "roarer" that ignited and shot flames 100 feet into the air for several days until it was brought under control. Westinghouse drilled more wells, developed distribution and safety systems, and organized the Philadelphia Company (an ancestor of today's EQT) to provide natural gas to Pittsburgh.[14]:32[12] Despite numerous explosions and legal battles in its early days, natural gas grew in popularity, and in 1892 Harper's Weekly credited it for improving the city's air quality, saying that Pittsburgh had lost the title of "Smoky City." By 1913, natural gas made up about 30 percent of the city's total gas consumption.[12]

In 1910, over 900 streets were renamed to fix duplication; Gas Street was changed to Gasoline Street, probably to avoid confusion with Gass Avenue in Brighton Heights.[15] Most of the new street names were chosen to be somewhat similar to the old names. Matt Stark, owner of the Gasoline Street Coffee Company, has said the street's modern name refers to the diesel trucks that used to idle there;[1] this is likely a folk etymology, as the building that exists today was not yet built in 1910.[16] The city ordinance permitting the construction of the building over Gasoline Street was passed in 1919,[17] and the building was completed in 1921.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dan Gigler. "Fueling up on Gasoline Street." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 20, 2016. [view source]gigler-gasoline
  2. Joe Bennett. "Second-class streets." Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 4, 1977, Roto, pp. 36–41. 147074260, 147074279, 147074293, 147074305, 147074319, 147074338. [view source]bennett
  3. The Cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, with Parts of Adjacent Boroughs, Pennsylvania. 1855. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0089;; 1855 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps ( In George W. Colton, Colton's Atlas of the World: Illustrating physical and political geography, J. H. Colton & Co., New York, 1856 ( [view source]colton
  4. Atlas of the Cities of Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and the Adjoining Boroughs. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1872.; 1872 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps ( [view source]hopkins-1872
  5. R. E. McGowin. Map of the Cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny and of the Boroughs of South-Pittsburgh, Birmingham, East-Birmingham, Lawrenceville, Duquesne & Manchester etc. Schuchman & Haunlein, Pittsburgh, 1852. [view source]mcgowin-1852
  6. R. E. McGowin. Pittsburgh: Engraved from R. E. McGowin's map for Geo. H. Thurston. Wm. Schuchman & Bro., Pittsburgh, 1856. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0091. [view source]mcgowin-1856
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Joel Tarr. "Lighting the streets, alleys, and parks of the Smoky City, 1816–1930." Pennsylvania History: A journal of mid-Atlantic studies, vol. 86, no. 3, summer 2019, pp. 315–334. [view source]tarr-lighting
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Joel A. Tarr and Anna Rosenblum. "Pittsburgh's illuminating history: Conversion to LEDs is part of a long quest for bright, efficient streetlights, write Joel A. Tarr and Anna Rosenblum." The Next Page. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 7, 2016. [view source]tarr-rosenblum
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Joel A. Tarr. "Pittsburgh and the manufactured gas industry." Pittsburgh Engineer: Quarterly publication of the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania, winter 2006, pp. 12–14. [view source]tarr-manufactured
  10. "Important." Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, Apr. 28, 1835, [p. 2]. 37366130, 96044638. [view source]important
  11. "Pittsburgh Gas Works." Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, Apr. 29, 1835, [p. 3]. 96044652. [view source]pittsburgh-gas-works
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Joel A. Tarr and Karen Clay. "Boom and bust in Pittsburgh natural gas history: Development, policy, and environmental effects, 1878–1920." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 139, no. 3, Oct. 2015, pp. 323–342. [view source]tarr-clay
  13. Atlas of the Cities Pittsburgh and Allegheny. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1882.; 1882 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps ( [view source]hopkins-1882
  14. Sarah L. Law. Pittsburgh's Point Breeze, p. 32. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, S. C., 2014, ISBN 978-1-4671-2233-7. LCCN 2014932586. [view source]law
  15. "An ordinance changing the names of certain avenues, streets, lanes and alleys in the City of Pittsburgh." Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1910, no. 715. Passed Mar. 31, 1910; approved Apr. 5, 1910. Ordinance Book 21, p. 342. In Municipal Record: Minutes of the proceedings of the [Select and Common Councils] of the City of Pittsburgh for the years 1909–1910, appendix, pp. 312–328, Devine & Co., Pittsburgh, 1910 (Google Books doQzAQAAMAAJ; Internet Archive Pghmunicipalrecord1909). Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post, Apr. 19, 1910, pp. 10–11 ( 86611990, 86612022), Apr. 20, pp. 10–11 ( 86612278, 86612297), and Apr. 21, pp. 10–11 ( 86612601, 86612625). [view source]ordinance-1910-715
  16. Atlas of Greater Pittsburgh. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1910.; 1910 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps ( [view source]hopkins-1910
  17. "An ordinance granting unto the Estate of Henry Rea, Jr., his heirs, successors and assigns, the right to build, construct, maintain and use a certain brick, steel and reinforced concrete warehouse, structure or building over and across Gasoline street at a point from the southerly line of Second avenue to a point on the northerly line of Greenough street, in the First ward of the City of Pittsburgh, subject to the terms and conditions of this ordinance." Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1919, no. 192. Passed June 23, 1919; approved June 26, 1919. Ordinance Book 30, p. 353. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post, July 2, 1919, p. 19 ( 87698296). [view source]ordinance-1919-192