Big Inch and Little Big Inch

By: Jerrell Dean Palmer and John G. Johnson

Type: General Entry

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: November 10, 2016

The Big Inch and Little Big Inch were two pipelines laid during World War II from East Texas to the northeast states. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes realized as early as 1940 that shipment of petroleum to the northeast by tanker ships would be impossible in time of war because of German submarines. In 1941, at Ickes's urging, oil industry executives began to plan the building of two pipelines–one, twenty-four inches in diameter, called the Big Inch, to transport crude oil, and another, twenty inches in diameter, called the Little Big Inch, to transport refined products. Although Ickes asked the Federal Allocation Board for steel to build the pipelines, he was turned down in September and again in November 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor another request, now to the War Production Board, was rejected, but Ickes still persuaded Jubal Richard Parten to head the Petroleum Administration for War transportation department. On June 10, 1942, the WPB gave approval for the first section of the Big Inch, which stopped in Illinois. Construction was through a private company, War Emergency Pipelines, Incorporated, but the pipelines were owned by the federal government through its Defense Plant Corporation, a subsidiary of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

Work began on the Big Inch on August 3, 1942. The WPB approved the second leg of the pipeline on October 26, 1942. A ditch four feet deep, three feet wide and 1,254 miles long was to be dug from Longview across the Mississippi River to Southern Illinois and then east to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, with twenty-inch lines from there to New York City and Philadelphia. Crude oil was delivered to the end of the first leg, Norris City, Illinois, on February 13, 1943. By August 14, 1943, the Big Inch had been completed. In January 1943 approval was given for the first half of the Little Big Inch; approval for the entire line was given on April 2. This line, beginning in the refinery complex between Houston and Port Arthur and ending in Linden, New Jersey, was completed on March 2, 1944. Cost of the two lines was $146 million, financed entirely by the RFC. Together the pipelines carried over 350 million barrels of crude oil and refined products to the East Coast before the war in Europe ended in May 1945.

After the war, the pipelines became the focus of a clash of interest groups, with the oil and gas industry wanting to convert them to natural-gas pipelines and the railroad and coal industries opposing this. The Surplus Property Administration, given the task of determining future use, hired an engineering firm to study options; this study recommended that the pipelines be converted to natural-gas transmission. At the same time the United States Senate held hearings on their future use. In January 1946 the SPA recommended that first preference should be to continue use as in the war to ensure availability of the lines in a national emergency. However, by June 1946 the War Assets Administration announced an auction for the lines. All bids were ultimately rejected because no defined use preference had been established. After a strike by coal miners in November 1946 the WAA solicited bids to lease the lines, with Tennessee Gas and Transmission Company awarded a lease for natural-gas use to run from December 3, 1946, to April 30, 1947. Once it was established that the lines were viable for natural-gas transmission, the WAA again offered them for auction. The high bid of $143,127,000 came from a new corporation, Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, formed by George Rufus and Herman Brown and their partners. The purchase was final on November 14, 1947. As of 1993, Texas Eastern had its headquarters in Houston.

Christopher J. Castaneda, "The Texas-Northeast Connection: The Rise of the Post-World War II Gas Pipeline Industry," Houston Review 12 (1990). James Anthony Clark and Michel T. Halbouty, The Last Boom (New York: Random House, 1972).

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Support Industry
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jerrell Dean Palmer and John G. Johnson, “Big Inch and Little Big Inch,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022,

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June 1, 1995
November 10, 2016

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