A Trillion Feet of Gas

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"A Trillion Feet of Gas"
Author Jon Updike
Language English
Published in The Same Door
Publication type Book
Publisher Knopf
Media type short story
Publication date 1959

"A Trillion Feet of Gas" is a short story by the novelist John Updike, set in the final days of 1956, in New York City, published in his collection The Same Door 1959.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

An American couple, The Forrests, want to introduce a visiting English friend to an authentic American billionaire. They take him to a dinner party where he meets a Texan businessman, John Born.

The Forrests and their friend, Donald King, and Mr. Born discuss the recent re-election of President Dwight David Eisenhower and a gas bill that the President vetoed earlier in the year.

The history that provoked Updike to write a story about such a conversation has been largely forgotten in the intervening half century, but at that time he was able to assume most of his readers would know that on February 6, 1956, Senator Francis Case of South Dakota had said on the U.S. Senate floor that a lobbyist for a natural gas company had left $2500 in cash in an envelope waiting for him, presumably in exchange for his vote on the deregulatory bill. This set off an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and forced creation of a select Senate committee to look into lobbying practices.

The deregulation bill passed anyway, although President Eisenhower vetoed it on February 17.

In the fictional discussion of these events, as Updike portrays it, Mr. Born claims that he is in possession of a trillion feet of natural gas that he has no incentive to sell unless some similar bill is passed in the next session of Congress and signed. On their way home, the Forrests' and Mr. King are a bit confused. They wonder how many zeros are in a trillion — American and UK conventions on that differ — and whether he meant a trillion feet (305 million km) spread out along a pipeline or a trillion cubic feet (28 km³).


  1. ^ French, Sean (February 4, 1995). "Beware the Perilous Pitfalls of Brightly Purple Prose". The Age (Melbourne, Australia).