Big Inch and Little Inch pipelines running through Butler County answered a World War II emergency. The pipelines now carry natural gas from southwestern states. The transmission lines extend more than 1,400 miles from Eastern Texas to the Philadelphia-New York area. The pipelines were conceived in the desperate months of 1942 when the buildup of U. S. arms and men was threatened by a severe oil shortage. Unknown to most Americans because of censorship, German submarines were exacting a crippling toll as they prowled the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. To negate the submarine menace, the government authorized financing April 21, 1942, for the Big Inch Pipeline to be operated by a cooperative formed by U. S. oil companies. Later, it was paralleled by a second line, the Little Inch, so called because it had pipes 20 inches in diameter while the original system was built with 24-inch pipe. The War Emergency Pipelines Inc. began preliminary work on the Big Inch in Butler County in November 1942. The completed Butler County segment was dedicated July 19, 1943. The route entered the county west of Okeana and ran north of Millville and Hamilton through Trenton and south of Middletown into Warren County. (Today it enters Hamilton north of the Main Street-Washington Blvd. intersection before crossing Eaton Avenue and Gordon Smith Blvd.)
It continued east through Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to Phoenixville (near Norristown), where it split -- one branch reaching Bayonne, N. J., opposite New York City; the other to Philadelphia, 1,408 miles from its source at Longview, Texas. The entire Big Inch was completed within 15 months. It involved 15 crews, each with 328 men. Under favorable conditions, a crew could lay a mile of pipe a day.
The system delivered 300,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Oil in the Big Inch took about 20 days to reach Pennsylvania, moving at four feet a second, or three miles an hour. There were about 3,000 barrels in a mile of pipeline. That was the equivalent of 70 seagoing tankers of the World War II era passing through Butler County each day.
The pipelines became surplus government property when the fighting ended in 1945. Feb. 14, 1947, about 18 months after the war ended, the War Assets Administration sold the Big Inch and Little Inch pipelines to Texas Eastern Transmission Corp. for $143 million. Texas Eastern -- one of 13 bidders for the lines -- began operating the system May 1, 1947. The oil pipelines were converted to transporting natural gas for residential, business and industrial use. The Hamilton municipal system -- linked to the Little Inch at a station on North Gilmore Road -- gets much of its natural gas from the pipeline completed in November 1943.