150ᵗʰ Anniversary of Gas Usage in São Paulo: The Beginning

150 years of Gas

A century and a half ago, on August 28ᵗʰ, 1872, the english business firm San Paulo Gas Company was authorized to operate in the Empire of Brazil, prompting the use of gas as a source of energy in Brazil, beginning in São Paulo. Piped gas, initially derived from coal, now derived from natural gas, was at the heart of the history of the land, in moments that transformed its’ way of life, such as on the implementation of public lighting; the welcoming of illumination on households; and, finally, to substitute wood-fired ovens and to provide water heating. 

We are happy to share with you a little more about the beginning of this history.

Partial view of the Coal Gasworks’ patio (1922)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Partial view of the Coal Gasworks’ patio. In the background, the Palace of Industries; on the left, a partial view of the House of Retorts’ building and of the steam crane; In the middle, a pile of coking coal and a wagon for the subproduct’s trading; and, to the right, the administration office of San Paulo Gas Company.

Construction of Gasometer no. 1 on Figueira Street (1890)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Construction of Gasometer no. 1 on Figueira Street. A group of workers and, in the background, the container with its ring-hoisted metallic structure already in place. In the foreground to the right, the head-workers in full suit and hat. 

Partial view of the Coal Gasworks’ patio (1910)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

It is unknown if the discovery of gas, by dutch chemist Jan Baptista van Helmont in 1609, was fortuitous or intentional. This discovery, in fact, was made even before the composition of the air we breathe was figured out.

The publicly lit street corner between Capitão Salomão St. and August 11ᵗʰ St. (1910)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Well into the second half of the 19ʰ Century, very little lighting was present in the streets of São Paulo, which was mostly provided through whale oil street lamps or castor bean oil street lamps. For the sake of comparison, the city of London had implemented gas-based public lighting since 1807. Baltimore, in the U.S., was the pioneer in the Americas, and had a system in place by 1816. This was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of energy.

Lamplighter (Undated)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Before coal gas

The initial stages of public lighting utilities in the city of São Paulo went through a constant replacement of contractors and experimentation with different fuel sources. The first contractor deal took place in 1844, when Bernardo Justino da Silva made use of oil lamps. Succeeding oil lamps, among the many different fuel sources used were liquid hydrogen, rosin oil (a mixture of turpentine and alcohol), until 1863, when Jacques Dutton and Francisco Taques Alvim brought along a service of “carbonated hydrogen gas”. The associates, however, could not implement their proposal and transferred their contract to a group of entrepreneurs that founded in London the San Paulo Gas Company Ltd, in December of 1869.

An example of a short pole gas lamp, specifically used in building facades, 1908, From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
,
Victorian gas street lamp (Undated), From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
Show lessRead more

Illuminated downtown

Initially, only the main streets of the Capital city in São Paulo were provided with lighting, while the rest of the city remained in the dark. Nowadays, this region is equivalent to the “old center” of São Paulo.

Outside view of the Paula Souza Substation (1926-12-01)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The new lamps, characteristic because of their elegance, contributed to the modernization of the city’s landscape.

Florêncio de Abreu Street (1900) by Guilherme GaenslyThe Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Did you know?

In 1880, Maj. Diogo Antônio de Barros was the first São Paulo citizen to have his household illuminated with electric lighting, on Florêncio de Abreu St.

Partial view of the Garden of Light (1908-03-21) by Guilherme GaenslyThe Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Did you know?

In 1883, 1,900 people paid tickets to witness the big novelty: the inauguration of the gas-based lighting on the Garden of Light. The posts remained in the park until the year of 1933.

In the background, to the right, is the first canalized gas plant of São Paulo, named the House of Retorts (1888)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

In the background, to the right, is the first canalized gas plant of São Paulo, named the House of Retorts. In the patio, in the middle, a system of cast iron tubes used for the canalization of the gas and piles of coal, raw material for the production of gas.

The Gasometer

The site chosen for the construction of the gasometer was the plot of land from Ferrão’s Farm, now known as the Gasometer Street, in the district of Brás, which was previously owned by the Marquise of Santos. 

On the night of January 6th, 1872, the first gas street lamps were experimentally lit up. The official inauguration took place on the 31st of March of that same year, the same day in which D. Pedro the First, then Emperor of Brazil, returned from an overseas trip.

On August 28th, 1872, exactly 150 years ago, the San Paulo Gas Company received, through an imperial decree, the concession to operate in the Empire of Brazil.

Partial view of the Coal Gasworks’ patio (1900)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Partial view of the Coal Gasworks’ patio. In the middle, piles of coking coal and many wagons for the subproduct’s trading can be seen. In the upper area of the picture, to the left, a portion of the second Gasometer’s metallic structure can be spotted, which was built by The San Paulo Gas Company.

iew of the construction of the House of Retorts, at the corner between Figueira St. and Maria Domitila St., 1900, From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
,
Front-side view of the building in Figueira St., 1915, From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
Show lessRead more

The Gasometer patio (1915)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The Gasometer patio. In the foreground, to the left, wagons and trucks to be used in the transport of subproducts from the coal burning, such as coking coal and tar. In the background, to the left, the House of Retorts; and in the middle, the Palace of Industries, still under construction. To the right, the administration office of the San Paulo Gas Company.

The Gas and Coal Plant, as seen from the Palace of Industries (1915)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The Gas and Coal Plant, as seen from the Palace of Industries. In the foreground, the crossing of the Gasometer St. and Figueira St. In the background, the House of Retorts.

Overview of the Gasometer area (1922)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Overview of the Gasometer area. In the middle, the Gas and Coal Plant; to the right, in the background, a partial view of the Balloons Square, and in the foreground, the Dom Pedro the Second Square. 

A tram can be seen on Gasometer Street.

A locomotive can be seen on Figueira St., being used to transport coal.

Building in the Gasometer Complex (1927)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

New gas compressors used in the canalized coal gas supply network in São Paulo, 1927-11-30, From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
,
Device used in the production of carbureted water gas (no. 3), at the Gas and Coal Plant, 1927-11-30, From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
Show lessRead more

Battery no. 5, showcasing funnels and the retort loading machine, at the Gasometer Plant. (1928)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

In the photograph, the process of expansion of the San Paulo Gas Company’s workshop and storeroom (1932-05-01)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

 Increase in production

The exponential rise in consumption that resulted from the city’s development led to the increase of the production of gas. To meet this high demand, renovations and new constructions were an ongoing process from the year 1871 until 1954.

Photography of the San Paulo Gas Company’s head office (Undated)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The building belonged to the Marquise of Santos, Maria Domitila de Castro Canto e Melo, between 1834 and 1867, and was also known as Carmo Manor,  has its history linked to gas. In 1909, the building was then acquired by the San Paulo Gas Company, to become its head office. In 1967, it was appropriated by the City, and eight years later, became the main office of the Municipal Department of Culture. As of today, the building is the main office of the Museum of the City of São Paulo.

Photography of the San Paulo Gas Company’s head office, following its second renovation, expansion and facade redesign (1930)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Gas Meter Workshop on Figueira St. - locomotive no. 3 (1930)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The locomotive in the photograph (locomotive no. 3) and the locomotive no. 2 of the Santo Amaro railroad were commonly referred to as Souza Queiroz. 

Workers of the Gas Meters Workshop, on Figueira St. (1940-04-04)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Construction of the compensation balloon, at the Retorts area, also known as Relief Holder, with a capacity of 8,500 cubic meters (1939)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Interior view of the Marquise of Santos’ Solar, on Carmo St., known today as Roberto Simonsen St., where the San Paulo Gas Company hardware store and office was once situated (Undated)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Interior view of the Marquise of Santos’ Solar, on Carmo St., known today as Roberto Simonsen St., where the San Paulo Gas Company hardware store and office was once situated. In the foreground, various household appliances for gas usage are put on display. In the background, the service desks to attend to the customers.

In 1899, with the arrival of the Light Company in São Paulo - which would go on to acquire share control of the San Paulo Gas Company em 1912 -, and with the beginning of the contract auctions for generation and distribution of electric power, electric trams and public electric lighting, the whole situation changed. The San Paulo Gas Company would lose its market share on public lighting and began investing in water heaters and ovens, bringing its way of life innovations into the homes of the people.

Publicity stunt by the São Paulo Gas Company on Cinema Odeon (1937)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Did you know?

The city’s first gas-fired oven was installed in the former Governmental Palace.

Advertisement for the “Société Anonyme Du Gaz” company, indicating the benefits to buying a gas-fired oven (1931-11-01)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Home use

The demand for new, household gas-based technology had to be instigated through advertisement.

Advertisement for the “Société Anonyme Du Gaz” company, incentivizing the usage of gas-fired ovens at home, 1935-05-01, From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
,
Advertisement for the “Cruzwaldinha Cruzol” company, incentivizing the usage of gas-fired water heaters at home, 1930-04-01, From the collection of: The Energy and Sanitation Foundation
Show lessRead more

And history is still in the making…

Here, we talked a little about the first decades of the use of gas in the lands of São Paulo, starting at the capital. But, since the 1980’s, the distribution of gas expanded well into the upstate.

Throughout the years, beyond the expansion of the services, great transformations occurred in the sector. Initially produced using coal as a source, the gas was eventually obtained from naphtha, up until the extraction of natural gas was made possible, in the 1980’s.

In 1988, some households on Ida Kolb Garden, at the capital, were the first to receive domiciliary supply of natural gas. Few decades later, natural gas went on to become a staple in people’s day-to-day lives, from cooking to heating. The first CNG-fueled vehicles began circulation in the early 1990’s. 

Today, more than 2.2 million people utilize gas in houses and industries, in 92 municipalities in the state of São Paulo, and more than 5,400 vehicles have already been converted to run on CNG as fuel.

A vehicle belonging to the São Paulo Gas Company (1935-07)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Credits: Story

The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Administrative Council
President | Renato de Oliveira Diniz
Executive director | Rita de Cassia Martins Souza 

Supporting companies, sponsors and partners 
Danillo Sene | Enel
Salete da Hora | CTG Brasil
Mario Luiz do Nascimento Oliveira | EMAE
Renato Erdmann Gonçalves  | Sabesp
Ovidio J. Santos Jr. | CESP

Community with notorius ability
Gildo Magalhães dos Santos Filho
Renato de Oliveira Diniz
Sergio Augusto de Arruda Camargo
Sueli Angelo Furlan 

Employee Representative
Denis Quartim De Blasiis 

Fiscal  Council
Daniel Jesus de Lima | EMAE
Camila Vannozzi Marques | CESP
Francisco José Cavalcante Júnior | Sabesp 

EXHIBITION “150ᵗʰ ANNIVERSARY OF USING GAS IN SÃO PAULO: THE BEGINNING
The Energy and Sanitation Foundation Collection 
Curatorship: Danieli Giovanini
Exhibition Project | Collection research and selection  | Texts: Danieli Giovanini
Translation: Gabriel Almeida Couri
Review: Mariana de Andrade Dias da Silva
Graphic Designer: Fernando de Sousa Lima
Technical Support: Isabella de Souza Matsura

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps