Big Inch

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The Big Inch and its companion project, the Little Big Inch, are petroleum pipelines constructed during 1942 and 1943 as an emergency war measure from Texas to New Jersey. Until World War II, petroleum products had been transported from the oil fields of Texas to the northeastern United States by oil tanker. With the entry of the United States into the war, this vital link was attacked by U-boats, threatening both the supplies to the eastern United States and onward transshipment to Great Britain. The Inch pipelines were conceived as a way to transport increased quantities of petroleum by a secure, interior route, with the additional benefit of freeing tankers for other tasks. At the time of their construction, they were the longest petroleum pipelines ever built. The pipelines remain in use.

Concept and construction[edit]

The pipelines were first proposed in 1940 by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, when it became apparent that large-scale shipment of oil by sea would become untenable in time of war. By 1941, planning was initiated, with construction the following year. Two lines were built by the quasi-public War Emergency Pipelines, Inc. (WEP).

The Big Inch was a 24-inch (610 mm) pipeline for crude oil, running from the East Texas Oil Field at Longview, Texas, to an interim terminal at Norris City, Illinois, and later extended to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. At Phoenixville, the line branched into 20-inch-diameter (510 mm) segments, one serving New York and terminating at Linden, New Jersey, and the other serving Philadelphia and terminating at Chester Junction, Pennsylvania. The Little Big Inch was a largely parallel twenty-inch-diameter line intended for refined products that ran from Beaumont, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas, where it joined the path of the Big Inch. From there it ran along the same right-of-way as the Big Inch to New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Men dug a ditch 4 feet (1.2 m) deep and 3 feet (0.91 m) wide and laid pipe over the Allegheny mountain range, through swamps and forests, under 30 rivers and 200 creeks and lakes, beneath streets, railroad rights-of-way, and through backyards, often during severe weather conditions. The Inch Lines traversed 95 counties in 10 states. Approximately 7,500 individual right-of-way grants and tenants’ consent were procured and construction damage claims paid. About 300 parcels required condemnation proceedings.[1][2]

The first purchase order, for 137,500 short tons (124,700 t) of 24-inch-diameter pipe, was placed on July 2, 1942. To meet a construction deadline of January 1, 1943, the laying of pipe began on August 3, 1942, near Little Rock. Other pipeline crews began work immediately on segments elsewhere in Arkansas and Texas. By September 10 all eight pipelaying crews, each consisting of between 300 and 400 men, were in the field working. The schedule called for 5 miles (8.0 km) of the Big Inch pipeline to be laid each day. But soon men were laying as much as 9 miles (14 km) a day. In all, roughly 7,000,000 cubic yards (5,400,000 m3) of material were excavated. The trench was 36 inches (910 mm) wide and excavated to a depth of 4.5 feet (1.4 m), except in solid rock. Oil began flowing through the Big Inch Line between Texas and Illinois on New Year's Eve 1942.[3]

The first crude oil arrived at Phoenixville via the Big Inch on 14 August 1943, and the first refined product in the Little Big Inch arrived on 2 March 1944. The lines were capable of transporting in excess of 300,000 barrels of oil per day, and the lines were among the largest industrial consumers of electricity in the United States.[4]


WEP was a consortium of the largest oil companies in the United States and included the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, Cities Service Oil Company, Gulf Oil Corporation, Atlantic Refining Company, Tidewater Associated Oil Company, Consolidated Oil Corporation, Shell Oil Company, Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Sun Oil Company, Pan American Petroleum and Transportation Company and the Texas Pipe Line Company.[5] While the WEP was in charge of building and operating the lines, they were owned by the federal Defense Plant Corporation [6]


Until the 1930s, steel pipe did not exceed 12 inches (300 mm) in diameter. Advances in technology led to "big inch" pipe in diameters of up to twenty-four inches.[7]


The Inch Lines were transferred to the War Assets Administration on 2 December 1946 for disposal.[4] Pending sale, the lines were leased and used for natural gas transmission. On 8 February 1947, the pipelines were sold to the Texas East Transmission Corporation for $143,127,000, the largest disposal of war-surplus property following World War II.[6][8] TETCO immediately began to convert the pipelines for permanent use as natural gas transmission lines. However in 1957, the Little Big Inch was converted back to use for petroleum products.[8]

The pipelines remain in use, operated by the Texas Eastern Transmission unit of Spectra Energy.[9] The pipelines have been evaluated and found to be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Big Inch, 1943,page 16
  2. ^ Pipelines of Energy 1967. page 9
  3. ^ Texas Eastern, p. 30
  4. ^ a b Texas Eastern, p. 41
  5. ^ Texas Eastern, p. 16
  6. ^ a b John G. And Palmer Johnson: Big Inch And Little Big Inch from the Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  7. ^ Texas Eastern, p. 12
  8. ^ a b Texas Eastern, p. 42
  9. ^ "Our History". Spectra Energy. Retrieved 18 January 2011. 
  10. ^ "Programmatic Agreement Among the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the State Historic Preservation Officers of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation Regarding the Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines". Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. 2002. Retrieved 18 January 2011. 

External references[edit]

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