Model of first commercial Gas Works, c 1800.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Based on the first gas works owned by Scottish engineer, William Murdock (1754-1839), this model illustrates how the gas was made and stored. First, the coal was heated in a retort (an industrial furnace), in order to release the gas. The gas was then held in a container with a water roof, which rose and fell depending on the quantity of gas in the container. Murdock, whose main aim had been to extract tar from heated coal, stumbled upon coal gas by accident. He made his discovery while relaxing at home one evening. After placing some coal dust in the end of his pipe, he placed it in the fire. Coal gas was formed and came out of the mouthpiece as a glowing light. Murdock realised its potential for building and street illumination and formed his first Gas Light Company in Glasgow in 1817.