2. Gas Boom: the Birth of Industrial Indiana

Indiana coal miners thought they reached the ceiling of Hell when they hit natural gas in 1876. The roar of the escaping gas frightened them so badly that they plugged up and abandoned the hole.

The accessibility and size of the underground gas field they stumbled into became apparent in the mid 1880’s — and started one of the most consequential economic booms in American history. It changed the Midwest in ways we’ve only begun to appreciate. The legacy of the boom includes the local glass and automotive industries — and the Seiberling Mansion.

In Howard County, the boom began in 1886 when a gas well was drilled on the Wildcat Creek a quarter mile northeast of the intersection of Park and McCann Streets. In June 1887, a well was drilled near the present-day intersection of Plate and Hoffer Streets that produced more natural gas than the four other wells in Kokomo at that time. The light from the burning well was said to be equivalent to that of daylight. This abundance of natural gas is what attracted entrepreneurs to Kokomo to build businesses. Kokomo and other cities offered free gas and land as an economic development lure. 

Monroe Seiberling first arrived in 1887 to Kokomo to take advantage of the free gas and started the Kokomo Strawboard Company. He sold that factory and organized the Diamond Plate Glass Company, along with several other plants in nearby gas boom towns like Jonesboro. In 1895, when the gas supply started to wane, Seiberling left Kokomo and moved to Illinois, where he started yet another company. If it weren’t for the gas that was found near the Wildcat, it is unlikely that manufacturing would have become such an huge part of the local economy.

His factories are long gone. He only lived in the mansion for a few years, but it remains - a symbol of the gas boom years, and the profligate waste that led to the gas boom bust.