The Early Days of Gas. Experiments Made Forty Years Ago at the Capitol.
A Lantern Raised Upon the Capitol Building to Light the Surrounding Grounds - How Gas Was First Introduced into the Capitol Building and White House.
A venerable looking gentleman with an intelligent face, full beard, very white, and a bundle of papers under his arm, has been a diligent attendant upon the gas investigating committee of the Senate. This old gentleman is Mr. James Crutchett, who first introduced gas to Washington as an illuminating power. Forty years ago he resided in the cottage which stands on the top of the embankment at the corner of C and North Capitol streets. In the course of experiments entered into to please himself and gratify an active mind, he constructed works on his premises for the manufacture of gas after a method of his own investigation. He proposed to Congress to light the Capitol building with gas instead of wax candles then in use, and permission to do so was finally given him. He ran pipes from his works into the Capitol and illuminated the hall of the House and the Senate chamber by a single light in each. a large burner, or group of burners, giving a light of from 2,500 to 4,000 candle power, was located in the center of the sky-light overhead and it afforded all the illumination needed.
A Lantern Above the Dome.
Mr. Crutchett exhibited to a Star reporter a photograph of the Capitol as it appeared just after he had raised a huge lantern above the dome for the purpose of lighting the grounds. The building looked small and insignificant in comparison with the present proportions, and almost a dense thicket of forest trees then surrounded it. The columns were encircled with bands of mourning, as, at the time the picture was taken, the body of John Quincy Adams was lying in state in the rotunda. The photograph is a copy from an old daguerreotype, as the art of photography was not then known. The inside of the Capitol had been illuminated with gas for about a year when the contrivances for the lighting the grounds was hoisted.
The Saturday Evening News, of August 14th, 1847, contained an article announcing the "great lantern constructed under the direction of Mr. Crutchett, the inventor of solar gas by Buckingham," (a well-known blacksmith), would be lighted the following week. The lantern was hoisted on a mast towering about 150 feet above the dome. The mast was secured by heavy iron braces.
The lantern was surmounted by a ball and weather vane. With the glass in the lantern it weighed about 800 pounds. It contained large burners, and Mr. Crutchett says that when lighted it illuminated not only the entire Capitol grounds but all the higher portions of the city.
Birds Lured by the Light.
"The Capitol police," he added, "used to go up to the roof early every morning for the purpose of getting the game which, attracted and blinded by the powerful light, would fly against the lantern and fall helpless. They would find there wild geese, pigeons, ducks and other species of wild fowl."
The old lantern is now among the curiosities collected in the National Museum. The copper ball which was ten or fifteen feet above it is also preserved there, and it shows the marks of the lightning's wrath, expended upon it. There are five holes in it, made by the lightning's heat.
A joint resolution authorized the clerk of the House and secretary of the Senate to contract with Mr. Crutchett for lighting the Capitol and grounds, and appropriated $17,500 to defray the expense.
Meantime, as stated, Mr. Crutchett had been lighting up the inside of the Capitol with gas carried from his own works, without compensation, for the purpose of demonstrating the superiority of gas over candles. With this appropriation gas works, exclusively for the Capitol, were constructed near the northwestern corner of the building. These works supplied the Capitol with gas for some years until the Washington Gas Company prevailed upon Congress to purchase its product.
Lighting the White House.
After lighting the halls of Congress, Mr. Crutchett obtained the permission from President and Mrs. Polk to light the White House. He extended pipes from the Capitol to the Executive Mansion and carried the first gas into that building. He made his gas from grease or oil and oxygen. In order to cheapen the cost he made an oil from the refuse of pine trees. Mr. Crutchett is very confident of the future of his invention of water gas and claims that it can be made of a quality and power far superior to coal gas at a trifling cost.May 22, 1886. Washington D.C. Evening Star 68(10313): 2.