A Brief History of Steel Piping Systems

In this day and age, we rely on piping systems for a variety of matters, with some being perhaps more crucial than others. Without piping systems, as well as the pipe fittings that sustain them, we would not have fuel. The United States relies on them to transport both natural gas and liquid petroleum. Therefore, as long as we remain reliant on these fuel systems, so too will we remain reliant on piping systems.

But what is the history behind these pipes? When did we begin to use equipment like carbon steel pipe fittings, for example? This complex system may actually date back further than you even realize. With that in mind, let’s explore the history of the pipes that we depend on.

The Beginnings of Pipelines

Far before we used the carbon steel pipe fittings that we are used to today, there were actually hydrocarbon pipelines in existence. They in fact date back to China in 500 BC and were crafted of bamboo. China was a massive empire, and it was important that fuel was readily available even in its early days. Long before the United States was even a nation, China was already using natural gas and oil to supply its country with energy. Although there is no record of exactly when China began using natural gas, we know that the local people of Szechuan were already digging into the earth get natural gas and brine before 400 BC.

By the first century BC, their technology had advanced considerably. At that point, the Chinese empire had workers digging as much as 800 feet underground and by 1090 scholars were writing about the future uses of oil. Shen Kua predicted that oil and natural gas would both become widely used for energy. At the time, China often used oil for weapons, medicine, lubricants, ink, and lighting. But it was understood by some that eventually the rest of the world would understand the value of oil and natural gas and expand those uses over time, as did eventually happen.

Early Steel Pipes

Shen Kua was obviously correct, and eventually there became a greater demand not only for oil and natural gas, but the pipes that could transport them. In fact, the first methods for producing steel pipes were introduced in the early nineteenth century. William Murdock created a coal burning lamp system, and subsequently joined together long barrels of discarded muskets in order to transport the coal gas. As his light system gradually became more popular and successful, the demand for steel pipelines also grew and the systems became more refined.

In 1824, James Russell patented his method for creating steel tubes that would work as pipes. This method involved joining the tubes together against a flat metal strip. The metal would then be heated until it was malleable, and the edges would be folded together and welded using a drop hammer. The pipe would then be finished by passing it through a groove and rolling mill. However, this method was eventually replaced by that of Cornelius Whitehouse. With this method, a model for current pipe-making processes, the thin sheets of iron were heated and drawn through a cone-shaped opening. They then would curl at the edges and create pipe shapes. The other two ends were then welded together to finish the pipe. Over time, not only these pipes but forged steel fittings like carbon steel pipe fittings would become more widely produced.

The Production of Pipes Today

Today these pipes are obviously mass produced, with the world production of pipes reaching 78.45 million tons by 2004. Fitting distributors furthermore create and sell fittings to correspond with different pipes, suiting the individualized needs of customers. Therefore, carbon steel pipe fittings can be made to satisfy a range of different requirements, ultimately providing a more precise output.

Although natural gas and petroleum may not be our primary fuel sources forever, we rely upon them now. Furthermore, the fuel that replaces them will likely still require piping systems for transportation. Therefore, these systems are here to stay for the long term. It’s important to understand how they work and how far they’ve come.

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