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Squier and Helium

MG G.O. Squire and Helium

A recent article in Time magazine’s on-line news feed (“Time News Feed”) discusses a global shortage of helium. Helium, the article states, is used in “things from MRI machines to semiconductor manufacturing.”

Helium, as this blogger learned when employed at the US Bureau of Mines, in their Helium Field Operations division, is a natural constituent of natural gas. Gas samples collected by the government, with a couple of exceptions (possibly anomalies), was found in trace quantities in most natural gas. In rare exceptions was found at higher concentrations (most notably in the KA, OK and TX area and in Wyoming). Helium at the time of this bloggers employment was of major importance to NASA programs. This blogger was involved in studies of the reserves in Wyoming.

The current shortage of helium is an instance of history repeating itself. During WWI, helium became a vital resource for use in balloons. It offered a much preferred replacement for the flammable hydrogen then in use. This is where MG Squier enters the story. General Squier, whom has been featured in a number of blogs on this site, was a very insightful Army Officer who had the distinction of being both the Chief Signal Officer and the Director of the Army’s Avionic division. What we have discovered is that the General even played a part with helium in that era.

In association with a recent research project, an article was discovered in a January 1919 edition of Engineering World (courtesy of Google Books) where General Squier is quoted from a presentation made in New York City about avionics.

In his speech, according to the Engineering World article, the General notes that one of the greatest scientific achievements of the era was the production of helium in balloon quantities. He goes on to state that helium had only been available in small quantities at extremely high costs. He stated “its pre-war scarcity may be appreciated from the fact that, up to 2 years ago, not more than 100 cu. ft. ever had been obtained, and the usual selling price was about $1700 a cu. ft.”

General Squier also noted soon after the entry of the United States into the war, the Bureau of Mines, learning of the problem from a British confidential memorandum, persuaded the Signal Corps and the Bureau of Steam Engineering of the Navy to approve and finance jointly an experimental program on a large scale.  Crediting the end of the War and the discovery of large quantities of helium in this country made available very large quantities of helium that assured safety from fire opened up a new era for the dirigible balloon.

History has also repeated itself with the discovery of the massive reserves in Wyoming in years preceding this shortage. One can hope that those reserves can soon be placed in production and once again a shortage averted.

Note: This blog composed by Floyd, and edited/posted by Chrissie.

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