The history of Indiana’s gas boom is one of entrepreneurs, inventions, and squandered natural wealth. It is the story of the turning point that made Howard County, Kokomo, and many other communities in east-central Indiana what they are today.
When natural gas was discovered in 1886, the region underwent a massive economic change and explosive population growth as it went from an agricultural economy to one dominated by energy-intensive industries like paper products, rubber, and, especially, glass production. Real estate speculation fueled investment in heavy industries. It sparked commercial growth in Kokomo and other cities of the east-central Indiana “gas belt.” In just four years after the discovery of gas, Kokomo’s population more than doubled as these new factories attracted workers to the area.
By 1902, the gas reserve was all but gone, leaving behind empty factories and a hungry workforce that would be filled by other industries. Hoosier entrepreneurs and inventors filled the void fueled by America’s growing desire for auto ownership. The economic changes sparked by the gas boom were here to stay.