The Gas That Wouldn't Burn


          Natural gas in this locality was first found in 1903 at Dexter, five miles north. The town, envisioning a prosperous future, advertised its discovery far and wide. Crowds gathered to see the well fired, then watched in dismay as the roaring gas blew out every flame brought near it. For two years it was scornfully called "wind gas". Then analysis revealed that it contained almost two per cent helium.

          This primary discovery of helium in natural gas is credited to Professors H. P. Cady and D. F. McFarland of the University of Kansas. Helium was first used in balloons during World War I. For a few years, beginning in 1927, a privately owned commercial plant at Dexter supplied gas for Navy dirigibles. Later valuable uses developed in industry. In the 1950's, demand soared when helium became essential to the operation of nuclear reactors and ballistic missiles. Though Dexter's well no longer produces, the torch that wouldn't burn lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry.

 
Erected by Kansas Historical Society and State Highway Commission

Cowley County  
Intersection of K-15 & US-166
near Dexter
Cowley County
 

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October 30, 20000 / Bob Walter / Wichita, Kansas / history@kslib.info

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