Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Refineries (Oil)

Placing Pipe for the War Emergency Pipeline

Workers lacing a piece of pipe for the War Emergency Pipeline

Demand for petroleum products in the Philadelphia area increased during the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century. As German submarines threatened American tankers delivering and exporting petroleum products from the East Coast, the U.S. government promoted the construction of pipelines within and across the country. (Library of Congress)

Library of Congress

Demand for petroleum products in the Philadelphia area increased during the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century. During World War II, German submarines threatened American tankers delivering and exporting petroleum products from the East Coast, sinking forty-six oil tankers. In response, the U.S. government contracted with the Delaware-based War Emergency Pipelines Corporation (WEP) and initiated construction on the Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines (1942-43) from the Gulf Coast to refineries and distribution centers in New York and Philadelphia. They transported about 350 million barrels of crude oil by the end of the war.

The pipe used in the construction of the Big Inch Line, seen here, was 24-inch diameter seamless steel pipe weighing 94.62 pounds per foot and having a wall thickness of three-eighths inch. The total excavation in 1942-43 for the War Emergency Pipeline was estimated at more than 3,140,000 cubic yards of earth and spanned a wide range of terrains from Texas to Pennsylvania. Following World War II, the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation converted pipelines to transport natural gas as part of a deal with WEP. In 1957, the Little Big Inch converted to a common carrier of petroleum products, supplying Philadelphia refineries and encouraging local markets to convert from manufactured to natural gas.

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